Birdwatching 12/1/10

January 14, 2011

I felt somewhat fortunate to be a birdwatcher in Manchester last weekend, as I saw a bird which, although commonplace in London parks these days, is still somewhat less numerous in this neck of the woods – the Ring-Necked Parakeet.

The Better Half and I were on a little stroll around Fog Lane Park, where the birds are regularly seen. Between spells of protecting TBH from scary dogs, I started to hear some fairly raucous calls, which TBH thought might be gulls, but struck me as more parrot-like.  Then we bumped into a gentleman toting proper binoculars and standing with the attitude of someone who’d just seen something. So I sidled up for a chat.  He reported three of the parakeets and advised me that I’d hear them before I saw them.

We had a nice chat and watched one of the resident Nuthatches for a while, before TBH and I moved on, without the birds having returned to the trees. Then, as we walked away, I heard the mother and father of all rackets emanating from the trees. There was no way it could be anything but the parakeets, so I dragged TBH back and we monitored the trees – you’d imagine that a bright green bird would be pretty easy to see, but it still took us a while to spot them – a pair, on low branches in trees, not that far above head height.

We slowly walked towards them, sharing the one small pair of binoculars we had with us, getting gradually better views and I have to say, I was totally charmed. When they’d finished yawping, the birds (a male, with the black ring around the neck and a female, without), indulged in some mutual preening, before executing what could well my favourite ever special bird move – a cheeky lateral sidle across the branch.

What a cracker!

It felt so strange and really exciting to see genuinely wild parrots in a park in Didsbury – they add a splash of exotic, bright colour, of glamour even, into our wonderful, but usually more modest local fauna.  That we only saw a single pair somehow made it more special (seeing birds in multitudes feels maybe less intimate, in some ways).  I am sure that the
parakeets will increase in numbers, now that they’ve established a foothold in south Manchester, but for now, there are still only a few of these emerald green beauts here, descended from intrepid escapees and unfazed by the harsh English winters.

As they nest in tree-holes, like many native British birds, their expansion will have to be monitored – and their racket could conceivably become a problem in residential areas – but nobody who sees one in their local park could be anything but delighted that Ring-Necked Parakeets have flourished in this country.  If colourful, charismatic birds like them and my Waxwings keep showing up, I might make a birdwatcher of TBH yet!

Birdwatching 26/12/10

December 26, 2010

The Christmas break provided more birdwatching opporrunities than I’d expected. On Christmas Eve morning, my first glance out of the back window of my mum’s house revealed three birds up in the trees beyond her wall and a quick scout with the bins was rewarded by another tribe of those unforgettable, unmistakeable Waxwings (Bohemian Waxwings, to give them their full name). And they do look rather bohemian with their rouged faces, dashing flashes of white, red and yellow on the wings and of course, that jaunty crest. I’ve been happily changing the desktop backgrounds on all computers I come across to Waxwing images for the past couple of weeks.

The flock, when they all turned up, numbered around 35. Going outside for a closer look, I heard the birds’ distinctive, light trilling and saw four perched on a neighbouring house’s TV aerial. An even closer encounter followed when they moved to the roof of my mum’s house, before two of the birds hopped onto the roof to eat snow from the tiles.  I was starting to feel like the Pied Piper of Waxwings by this time.

As the birds had been attracted by the red berry-bearing tree behind the house, it was only natural to expect thrushes, but I didn’t expect a ‘full house’. Four Redwings were present for most of the day, along with a single Song Thrush, briefly a Fieldfare and then right at the death, a Mistle Thrush put in an appearance and gobbled some berries.

The Waxwings haven’t reappeared since and there are only a few berries left, so it’s unrealistic to expect them to return now.

I then went off to my dad’s place in more rural Swanwick.  His house backs onto farmland and the family keep well-stocked feeders in the spacious back garden. A quick scan of the garden didn’t turn up anything out of the ordinary, but my stepmum later alerted me to a star visitor on a feeder, a Great Spotted Woodpecker. I hadn’t seen a female before, so was initially confused by the lack of a bright red crown.

My dad and I then walked two boisterous Jack Russells over the back fields, but in fading light, didn’t turn up much, except for a tribe of Fieldfares, several Redwings and a pair of Meadow Pipits.

This morning, I was up early (by my standards, but certainly not by my dad’s) for another walk across the fields. Redwings were everywhere.  I turned off the main path and into woodland. Emerging from under a bridge, I was greeted by a bold-as-brass Robin, which I stopped to whistle at. I then spotted a male Bullfinch and a Treecreeper scurrying and lingering briefly on the underside of a branch, before taking wing (watching them walk around on the trees, it doesn’t seem right that they can fly).

Moving further into the woods, I had a Kestrel overhead and a Wren flitting in tufts of snowy grass around me; zooming past me it stopped briefly to ‘scold’ in buzzing tones, before disappearing under another grassy tuft. Wrens are so charismatic, such tiny little hyperactive things. It’s incredible that there are actually smaller British birds – the kinglet species, Goldcrest and Firecrest. It also surprises me to learn that the Wren is the most common British breeding bird, but then, as a city dweller, I spend much more time in the company of Magpies, Black-Headed Gulls and Feral Pigeons.

Refreshingly, in all my time in Swanwick, I never saw one Feral Pigeon, although a colony of about 250 Woodpigeons were in residence on the slightly thawed farmland as I walked towards the woods.

Birdwatching, 20/12/10

December 21, 2010

This year, I have rekindled an interest which stretches back to my childhood by doing quite a lot of birdwatching. Close to where I live is a nature reserve, which includes two Water Parks (Chorlton and Sale), woods and grassland, which attracts an admirable variety of birdlife.

So far this year, I have managed to identify 75 different species of birds, mostly but not all at the Chorlton nature reserve.  Any committed birdwatcher would be able to tell you a year list of 75 means I’ve not seen quite a few reasonably common residents and visitors, but with the help of the authorities on the Manchester Birding website, I’ve managed to see at least a couple of species not regularly seen in this part of the country.

This week, however, I saw something extraordinary in the middle of Chorlton itself. Generally, if you’re walking down Manchester Road, you’re unlikely to see anything more exotic than a Goldfinch, but Friday and Saturday were a little different.

I was off work on Friday and somewhat off-colour, having stayed up late after playing a King Tree & The Roots gig to watch English wickets clatter Down Under.  By 1pm-ish, I had managed to rouse myself to the extent that leaving the house didn’t seem like total folly. I had also checked my emails, which included a message on the County Bird Forum to say that Waxwings had been sighted at Stockport Train Station that morning.

As the picture shows, the Waxwing is an extremely handsome bird and one not normally found this far west in Britain at all.  However, the severity of the winter has forced this Scandinavian native to migrate in much larger numbers than usual, a phenomenon known as an irruption.

Over the past month, Bird Forum members had listed sightings in various town centres – Wigan, Bolton, Stockport – so when I saw a plump-looking, greyish bird sitting in a tree on Manchester Road, my interest was aroused. It turned out to be a Goldfinch, which was sitting grumbling away with its mate, but I started to look up in the trees with far more interest than usual.

I saw a Mistle Thrush wheeling around on manoeuvres, which piqued me further, as sightings of Waxwings are generally accompanied by reports of grumpy Mistle Thrushes attempting to see the Viking intruders off their territory.

I went back home with milk, The Independent and so on, but my mind was made up to go for a walk later in the afternoon, Despite the cold, it was sunny and I needed fresh air.  The Bird Forum reported a Short-Eared Owl at the Chorlton nature reserve, so I decided I might as well take a stroll that way and see what I could see.  But first, I figured, it wouldn’t harm anything to take the binoculars and have a quick wander down Manchester Road, in the direction of the Mistle Thrush’s patch.

As I walked up towards Chorlton Library, I saw three dark silhouettes alight in the tree directly outside. Starlings, I was convinced, but I carried on walking in that direction. A few seconds later, I figured I might as well take a look, just to confirm that they were Starlings. They were – but miraculously, a tribe of Waxwings were sitting on the branch below. It was one of those golden moments and it took a second look to convince myself that I wasn’t going insane.

I got closer and became gradually apparent that there were lots of them. Once I’d finished shaking my head, grinning broadly, cackling to myself, ringing my Better Half and texting Phil, I started to count the Waxwings. I got to 20 before a few flew away.  The whole tribe then quickly disappeared over the school playground next to the library, to be replaced in the tree by a heavy mob of six Mistle Thrushes, the most I’ve ever seen in one place.

As I checked on the identity of all the thrushes, a gentleman approcahed me to ask if I was a birdwatcher and if so, was it possible that he might have seen a woodpecker in Whalley Range. I told him it was.

The next day, Saturday, was Christmas Shopping day, but when my Better Half and I walked up towards the library, I heard the light, gentle trilling of the tribe again.  I ran back home through the snow and ice for my binoculars, convinced that TBH should see this – fortunately, the birds were still there when I trotted back; and of course, TBH was delighted with them. How could anyone not be?

A passing couple with an ornithological interest came over and took a look through my bins and we all had a great view of the flock, which on this occasion was monitored by only one speckled thursh, which sat hunched rigidly, outnumbered and unable to dislodge the intruders.

I’ll post up my year list when we get to 2011 (who knows, I might get to add to it before then) and file updates when I see anything of interest.  Highlights of the year are probably Scaup, Tree Pipit, Little Egret and best of all, the Waxwings – but I’ll say more on all this another time.

Diary 6/11/10

November 6, 2010

Massive congratulations to FC United of Manchester, who progressed to the second round of the FA Cup by beating Rochdale 3-2 away, courtesy of a controversial last-second winner. It’s the stuff cup dreams are made of; FC play in the Evostik Premier Division and none of the players are professional – one is a residential childcare worker, one makes PVC windows, another is a steel erector… Meanwhile, League One promotion contenders Rochdale featured Craig Dawson, who has already been sold to Premier League West Bromwich Albion for £500,000 and Chris O’Grady, who has often been linked with moves to Championship clubs.

The FC story is a wonderful one. Formed by Manchester United fans who could not accept the takeover of their club by the Glazers, FC have very quickly progressed through the tiers of English football and are now three levels below the Football League. Their fans used Friday night’s ESPN coverage as a showcase for their vociferous, boisterous and positive support – singing constantly, with songs by Slade (‘Cum On Feel The Noize’), Sam Cooke (‘Under The Boardwalk’) and The Beach Boys (‘Sloop John B’) all adapted for their needs. Unfortunately, this excitement spilled into a pitch invasion when Nicky Platt scored the opening goal and red flares were lit at certain points.

Behaviour is less closely monitored at lower levels of the game, so there is a fear that certain undesireable elements of the football fraternity might adopt FC United as ‘their’ club, but I applaud the desire to build a United for the community, not for corporate raiders and star players to make millions. FC United welcomes paying members, who have a say on club matters. It’s similar to the FC Barcelona model (‘mes que un club’), which protects the institution from the sort of share-hoovering sharks who have scented blood in the TV money-soaked waters of the Premier League.

On Bonfire Night, FC United fans waved a banner bearing the image of Alan Moore‘s V, from V for Vendetta.  In Moore’s nightmare vision of a near-future Britain taken over by fascists, it is V who revives the spirit of Guido Fawkes and blows up the Houses of Parliament. Doubtless, the Rebels’ fans see themselves in the same light – independent spirits, rising against the tyranny of oppression, greed and vested interests, reclaiming something they see as rightfully theirs – the spirit of Manchester United.

I hope that FC managed to raise the money they need to move into their proposed new 5,000-capacity stadium in Newton Heath – if they do, I will certainly go to see them. The atmosphere their fans generated at Rochdale’s Spotlands was fantastic, in what was essentially a home tie for FC.

Diary 29/10/10

October 29, 2010

OK, so I am listening to Katy Lied by Steely Dan on repeat while I work today.

The Man Don’t Give A Fuck by Super Furry Animals is based on a Steely Dan sample. Apparently, the Dan turned down the sample request flat, but relented when they were offered 95% of the proceeds….

The refreshing thing about this album is that it’s just so different from what I usually find myself listening to. They’re cheesy bastards and the one with the fruitier voice annoys me at times (his lyrics are too ‘I’ focused), but they’re also capable of producing incredible melodic moments. Plus they focused pretty closely on their harmonies.  From a technical standpoint, you can’t fault them.

Trev has lent me some stuff by a band called Best Coast, so I’ll listen to that and see if I can move on from the Dan….

In other news, finished season two of Damages. Enjoyed the fact that the corrupt energy trader character, a coke, hookers and stiletto-dagger kind of a guy, is the spit of George Osborne. It became so fast-paced and twisty towards the end of the series that I gave up trying to keep up and just went with it. As these things are wont to do, it wrapped up pretty neatly in the end.  Good entertainment.

Diary 24/10/10

October 24, 2010

Ben bought me the Steely Dan album Katy Lied as a belated birthday present – If I don’t get Aja for Christmas, I’ll be extremely surprised… Ben has fallen way in love with Steely Dan.

My relationship with the Dan is a little more complex. Yes, their name references William Burroughs and yes, they clearly have massive brains, but in a lot of ways, they are the anti-punk band – and punk is still, I think, where my heart lies. At least my definition of punk. I think punk is personal – I’m not a dogmatic punk and don’t really have interest in a lot of the punk canon (such a concept shouldn’t exist, of course). I just think the spirit of self-determination that runs through the heart of the movement is inspiring and empowering.

There’s a lot more that could be said on this topic and I’ll probably say it in the end – for example, now, it strikes me that could you say Steely Dan are more of an anti-punk force than The Eagles? Certainly not.

Ben is with three bands these days, most notably Asteroids!, who have been going since Tim left The Generalissimos. The rest of the ‘mos enlisted Ben, at his brother Tim’s suggestion (Tim Warren, the former Polytechnic and King Tree & The Roots drummer, as well as guitar / bassist for Delicate Hammers). It’s shaping up nicely and I’m looking forward to seeing them play live soon.

We were all out for Wales’ MC Coc Oen‘s birthday recently. For anyone who doesn’t know, he’s the voice of Delicate Hammers and the Insidious Junkbox podcast series, as well as a solo EP named Zombie Autograph Hunter. All fine work. The Junbox series is essentially his homage to John Peel – chuntering in between an esoteric selection of new and old tunes, much in the way that the likes of Ted from Cloud Sounds and Ola from Ola’s Kool Kitchen do. It’s great that people carry the Peel spirit with them in their hearts and continue to put time and effort into supporting bands who don’t have the marketing muscle of a corporation behind them. From an independent musician’s perspective, I can tell you that such shows are like beacons in the dark when you’re trying to find your way. It can get lonely out there, so the airplay these ‘e’-Js (if you will) offer is invaluable.

Cultural Diary 22/10/10

October 22, 2010

Gideon Osborne will be pleased with Wayne Rooney‘s timing. Wazza has taken the attention of a considerable part of the nation off the forthcoming wave of spending cuts. Rooney’s bizarre U-turn is the sort of media sideshow that will temporarily take at least some of the heat off the Coalition.

Can the fans forgive Rooney? Can Fergie ever genuinely forgive him? Will his form suddenly recover once he gets back from his ankle injury?

Went to see the Robin Ince Bad Books Show last night – not bad.  Ince is an old-skool leftie, kind of like a teetotal MJ Hibbett, but with a stack of awful paperbacks instead of an acoustic. He gave over a fair portion of the show to lecturing the assembled students about the dangers of right-wing thinking (he equates the left with ‘compassion’). In the end though, he did get to reading out sections of paperbacks that would otherwise have remained in the dustbin of history for good. Giant Killer Crabs, Sex Is Not Compulsory and classic Mills & Boon all got an airing, amidst the political rants and anecdotes about his toddler son, Archie. Sadly, the book that I suspect started the whole thing, The Secrets of Picking Up Sexy Girls, has been lost – but of course, Ince knows it well enough to recite chapter and verse from it anyway (and jolly disturbing it is too).

The other neat thing about the idea from Ince’s perspective is that it is self-sustaining. Fans approach him to hand over hilariously bad books they have discovered mouldering in their local charity shop and so provide the comic with more potential material. I would love him to do a documentary about these dreadful books, preferably featuring an interview with the author of the giant killer crab series….

Definitely had one too many last night, despite my better half’s warnings.

(L-R): P. Brewis, D. Brewis, Andrew Moore (who left the band and is now training to be a chef. True fact)

So rather this than talk, grab your keys and get to work / Cos them that do nothing make no mistakes” – Field Music – Them That Do Nothing

I’ve got this sneaking suspicion that Peter Brewis is a bit of a genius.  Make sure to watch him during a Field Music set – the care and precision with which he works his way through odd but wholly methodical, inside-out drum patterns, the adeptness with which he plays every instrument, his seeming immunity to error – the way he conducts and encourages the new band members, guitarist Kevin Dosdale and bassist Ian Black, cajoling them with conspiratorial looks and broad grins.  Also check the solo album he produced during Field Music’s hiatus, as The Week That Was (why did it take me so long to work out how good that record is?

We’re a few months ahead of the release of the new album, which the band have decided to call Field Music, even though their first album was also called Field Music.  Somebody somewhere has added the word Measure in brackets to distinguish the two.

The group play a lot of new material during their 90-minute set and are typically eager to thank their audience for the opportunity.  Let’s call it an advance road-test, at a very reasonable door tariff – £7  is not a lot more than you pay to see a bunch of no-marks at a ‘showcase night’, over at the dear old Night & Day.

At first listen, the new stuff sounds definitely, proudly English, in a way that not many groups do any more, since it became the overwhelming cultural norm to draw almost your entire sphere of influence from the American underground and canon.  Field Music have never sounded remotely American and for that, they should be applauded.

There’s a streak of the seventies running through their sound, very definitely a touch of early Roxy Music, even a little Pink Floyd (a group whose sound and ethos I’ve always rejected). I once met Peter at a Futureheads concert – I still feel guilty for distracting him as he tried to enjoy the headliners – and remember being somewhat stunned when I asked who their main influences were and he just said ‘Queen’.  Full stop.   Queen were, to me, everything that was wrong with music.  Yet here was a group whose intriguing, canny music was giving me so much pleasure and there was the influence, from right out of the Red Zone, as far as I was concerned.  Balls, another preconception to be dismantled.

Back to the Deaf Institute show. For now, it’s hard to unpick the lock of the new material.  It’s dextrously played, never formulaic, riddled with ideas, time signature changes, unexpected twists.  That prog inclination rears its head when Dosdale and David Brewis play twin lead guitar with slightly abashed smiles (‘are we actually allowed to do this?’). The odd dip into the back catalogue rewards the faithful, but there’s no Closer At Hand, no You Can Decide – a particularly vivacious rendition of the latter moons ago at The Roadhouse is still one of my favourite ever live moments.  We do get Shorter, Shorter, If Only The Moon Were Up and an encore of It’s Not The Only Way To Feel Happy, but plenty of gems are missing – which is a great sign in itself.

Now I’ve been fortunate enough to hear the new record, I can tell you it’s a double album, which is something in itself.  Who makes double albums?  Since punk orthodoxy became the default, the idea of a rock album that doesn’t fit onto one side of a C90 has been somewhat verboten.  Double albums were pomp-rock excess and prog long-windedness.  But iTunes and so forth changes the concept of the album, which can now be as long or as short as you like.  If you don’t like a track, just deselect it.  Re-order the tracks, if you want.  Fuck it.  An album’s just a collection of songs.  The group give you a proposed order, but once you have it, it’s yours to deconstruct.

If Queen are OK, everything I have ever believed must be reassessed. Even YES might be acceptable...

Independence, goddamnit!  Field Music have their own studio, they produce music as they like.  They talked seriously about getting proper jobs, so they didn’t have to bother with the PR duties that go with being a ‘professional band’ and could just work at home in the evenings.  They’d do music whether they made money out of it or not.  They don’t think they’re rock stars.  They don’t want to be rock stars.  Peter’s defiant chorus line from the superb new track Them That Do Nothing sums them up very nicely indeed – that attitude is what I love about them.

Field Music are starting to become an English institution and we’re well short of those.  That they went on ‘official hiatus’ after their second LP, Tones of Town, was worrying for the state of the musical nation; that they are back is a great relief.  Their originality, work ethic and commitment is an inspiration.  Hopefully, that lengthy hiatus has had the desired effect and they’ll kick on from here.

euros_3

Euros Childs

Euros Childs went overground when his youthful, eccentric (and fitfully brilliant) band Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci signed a major label record deal in the late 90s.  He’s still writing eccentric (and sometimes brilliant) songs to this day, but now, they feature lines like ‘Write a song and send it off / Sign a contract and get ripped off’.

Elsewhere in a stripped-down set culled from the new Son of Euro Child LP (available for free here), Childs pays homage to bread (‘not the TV show or the shit band, the foodstuff’) and claims to have written another song whilst house-sitting for Ian McShane – then adorns a superficially inoffensive pop number, How Do You Do, with the lyric ‘If I had a monkey, he would shit in your shoes’, before shifting it into another world entirely with an unsettling, deliberately off-key chorus croon.

You have to wonder how this uniquely talented but musically wilful man ever found himself in bed with The Man – it’s about as logical as the remorselessly experimental Faust being signed as ‘the German Beatles’.  Still, the pioneering spirit of John Cale flows through Childs’ frequently delicious melodies (although there’s no attempt at the VU man’s granite-stern grandeur) and his restless creativity means that people will always have  time for him. Childs is a bit of a wizard in an era where magic doesn’t happen.  Long may he run.

lovejoy

'Euros mate, I'm off to film another series of Deadwood - can you pop round and look after the yucca plant whilst I'm gone? Feel free to have a tinkle on the baby grand."

Yo La Tengo‘s spectrum ranges from the fiery (Ira Kaplan’s unhinged guitar storms are frequently unleashed tonight) to the delicate and restrained (Georgia Hubley’s perfect drumming and muted, reflective vocal style are also often permitted to shine, best exemplified by the new and beautiful When It’s Dark, which sounds gorgeous with just two acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies.)

Possibly the evening’s only clunker is Avalon Or Someone Very Similar, which swoons wonderfully on the new and excellent album Popular Songs, but fails live, because Kaplan simply can’t sing that high.  In fact, I assumed Hubley took lead vocal on the song and was very puzzled to see the grizzled guitarist attempting a strangled castrato – you’ve heard better vocal performances at a ‘showcase night’  on a wet Tuesday in the Night & Day.

Fortunately, this misjudgement aside, all is well. For the intellect, there’s the bloody-minded, hypnotic growl of More Stars Than There Are In Heaven, powered by bassman James McNew’s metronomic baritone guitar thrum.  Then Periodically Double or Triple, which drops in on the line ‘Never read Proust, seems a little too long’, before proceeding on a loose-limbed bent, incorporating a cheeky Smile-era Beach Boys interlude and a fifteen-second pause.

YoLaTengo

For the indie rockers among us who want to dance, the frankly barnstorming Something To Hide provokes widespread delight, even without the killer organ riff that picks up and carries the chorus on the record.  Then there’s the timeless Sugarcube, from the classic I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One LP – as resplendent as ever – and a triumphant encore cover of Bob Dylan’s I Wanna Be Your Lover, with keyboards from Childs and his bassist Stephen Black (who performs solo as Sweet Baboo and played an excellent set at Fuel in Withington recently).  Kaplan teases the audience by saying ‘when we come to a city, we like to do a cover that’s connected, but we couldn’t think of any bands from Manchester’.  But of course, the legendary ‘Albert Hall’ (er, try Free Trade Hall) ’66 Dylan and The Hawks bootleg was recorded here.  Kaplan’s no Dylan, but the band whoop it up in fine style.

That capped it, or so we thought – but at the insistence of one totally determined audience member, the band stay on for one more, flickering through the candlelit, dusky You Can Have It All, an inspired reinvention of what was originally a George McCrae funk number.  It was a wonderful call from our friend in the crowd and I’m grateful for what followed – it was a special, rare moment of genuinely fine musicality.

Yet more much-needed magic to confound my cynicism.

19804mountain-goats-03-reel

John Darnielle is not a rock star.  Bespectacled, middle-aged, unrepentantly unremarkable in appearance, he has forged his reputation without recourse to fancy tricks.  He’s not even a great musician – his guitar style is very simple, he misses chord changes, his piano-playing is far from flub-free.  No, the reason Darnielle has a sold out Ruby Lounge singing almost every word of most of his songs back at him is the quality of his writing.

Once he twigs that his devotees can sing Up The Wolves just as well as he can, he laughs, pulls away from he mic and lets them do it.  Afterwards, smiling, he says, ‘I used to dream that maybe if I became a good songwriter, British people would sing my song back to me in a pub’.

Obviously whip-smart, Darnielle’s frenetic rhythm guitar and intensely rapped vocal is matched by a hugely enjoyable line in banter. Tonight, he fits in plenty of older numbers for the hardcore fans, as well as a selection from the excellent new album, The Light of the World to Come.  His total command of his audience means he’s able to deliver the brilliant, high-tempo relationship-breakdown blast No Children alongside the difficult, tender, genuinely moving Matthew 25:21, a song that manages to address losing a loved one to cancer without sounding trite, histrionic or schmaltzy.  This song, more than any other aired tonight, reveals the depth of intelligence and emotion behind the writing.

mountain-goats-life-of-world-to-come

Darnielle’s more extrovert, splenetic side is hugely entertaining and has gained him his ultra-loyal band of followers, but the sheer class of the songwriting on Life of the World to Come serves notice that he is an artist in his prime, deserving of a much wider following.  For now though, it’s just extremely encouraging to see such a literate, unconventional and brave songwriter connecting with a fanbase that makes up its lack of numbers with the bookish ardour of its faith.

After another song is delivered back to Darnielle by the fans without a missed lyric, he stops and says, ‘you guys are obviously way awesome’.

It could have been stagecraft, but I think he genuinely meant it.

Link to free mp3 download of Genesis 3:23 from the new album – which could well the best free download anyone gives you this year.