What I Listened To In 2011: Brought To You By the Letter W


I listen to a lot of music (though not when I’m writing, funnily enough), and I think a comprehensive list is beyond me, so here’s a look at my two favourite bands of the year.

Note: I chose not to embed videos in this post because it slows down loading time so much – but there are copious links to YouTube videos below.


At the top of the corresponding list of my 2010 listening, I put Warpaint. I’d only just started listening to them then, and I have listened to a lot more of their music in 2011, including their first release, the 2009 EP Exquisite Corpse. Here is a clip of them playing one of the songs from that EP, Krimson, in Auckland at the start of 2011 – a show I wish I’d seen live.

One of the many things I like about Warpaint is their willingness to reinvent their songs in live performance: here are links to extended live performances of the two songs they use as the basis for improvisation, Elephants and Beetles. (One of the things these live performances showcase is what a wonderful rhythm section they have in drummer Stella Mozgawa and bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg – check out Elephants in particular to see this in action.)

Wild Flag and its forerunners

In September, a new band called Wild Flag released its self-titled debut album. The band was new, but the members came from such prominent ’90s bands as Sleater-Kinney, Helium and the lesser-known (to me anyway) Minders. While Warpaint, at least in their recorded incarnation, is music for thinking and dreaming, Wild Flag makes me want to get up and jump around the room. Sometimes, imperilling the cat and the furniture, I do.

Here are Wild Flag’s entertaining videos for Romance and Electric Band, plus a live-in-the-studio version of my favourite song of theirs, Black Tiles, and an extended live workout of Racehorse.

My enjoyment of Wild Flag led me to check out Sleater-Kinney and Helium. 2/3 of Sleater-Kinney, Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss, now form half of Wild Flag, while Mary Timony, the prime mover of Helium, is now co-frontwoman of Wild Flag with Carrie Brownstein. (The fourth member of Wild Flag is Rebecca Cole, whose keyboards keep the band sounding as harsh as Sleater-Kinney often do.)

I’m finding Sleater-Kinney to be an acquired taste that I haven’t fully acquired yet, but I do like this live performance of the epic Zeppelinesque song from their final album The Woods, Let’s Call It Love, which segues into Entertain.

But Helium are great! I now have their 1995 album The Dirt of Luck (I don’t have any idea what that means, either), and here are a couple of my favourite tracks from it, Skeleton and Honeycomb.

What else?

Here are a few other songs and pieces of music, old and new, that have been particular favourites of mine this year.

Kylesa, Don’t Look Back (album version – I can’t find a live version with good enough sound) – and here is a live performance: Kylesa covering Pink Floyd’s Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun

Arcade Fire, Intervention

Motorhead, We Are The Roadcrew (studio version)

The Real Thing, You To Me Are Everything

Smokey Robinson, Cruisin’

Gustav Mahler, Symphony #5 In C Sharp Minor – 4. Adagietto (the “Death in Venice” theme)

Frederick Delius, Walk To The Paradise Garden

Dmitri Shostakovich, Festive Overture

What I Listened To In 2010

Rock (and funk, and disco, and metal, and punk, and blues)

I started listening to rock music in the early 1970s, and the sorts of music I like mostly date from that era: progressive rock, heavy metal, punk and new wave, funk, disco. For a long time I was like a dinosaur trapped in amber (actually, make that a mosquito trapped in amber which has sucked the DNA of a dinosaur trapped in the La Brea tar pits), listening to old and new albums by the same groups I used to listen to in the 1970s.

Then along came YouTube, letting me get a little taste of new bands that sound intriguing. Now I roam across the landscape of new music like a dinosaur that avoided the La Brea tar pits and passed through a temporal rift into 2010 – oh, all right, 1974 then. But at least I listen to some new music sometimes.

Here’s a selection of current favourites:

Warpaint, Bees (2010). Some say “shoegaze”, but I hear echoes of later King Crimson and of Public Image Ltd in their sound. Their late-2010 album The Fool is well worth listening to.

Arcade Fire, Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) (2010). For me, the best song on The Suburbs.

Ana Popovic, Blues for M (2010). A live performance of the final track from her 2009 album Blind for Love. There’s 50 secs of Ana talking to the crowd before the song starts, but if you like blues guitar, it’s worth waiting for.

Joan Jett, A.C.D.C. (2006). Her cover of the old Sweet song.

Opeth, The Drapery Falls (2001). Gorgeous progressive metal – and cookie monster vocals never sounded so good.

Metallica, Fade To Black (1985). I never get tired of this. The sound is not brilliant on that 1985 version (with iconic bass player Cliff Burton), so here’s a 1989 version with better sound.

A Taste of Honey, Boogie Oogie Oogie (1978). Forget the silly song title and, as the song itself suggests, listen to the bass now.

Boston, Don’t Look Back (1978). You can make a whole career out of songs that sound a lot like “More Than A Feeling” so long as they are all as good as this.

David Bowie, Stay. A 2000 performance of Bowie’s funky excursion from 1976’s Station to Station – and the same song from the Dinah Shore Show in 1976. Check out Bowie’s crazy legs in the 1976 version, and Earl Slick on guitar.

The Isley Brothers, Summer Breeze (1973). Their version of the Seals & Croft song, with Ernie Isley outstanding on guitar – as recommended by Chris Bell.


I got a CD of Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 and Symphony No. 1 for Christmas (thanks, Dad!). I was especially pleased to get Symphony No. 1, Prokofiev’s “Classical” Symphony, on CD: a charming 14-minute Haydnesque pastiche. Here is the lovely 4th movement.

Beethoven’s Triple Concerto has been one of my favourite pieces of classical music from the time I first heard it. I have a version with David Oistrakh on violin, Mstislav Rostropovich on cello and Sviatoslav Richter on piano, and the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Herbert von Karajan: heavy hitters indeed! Here are the same three soloists playing the opening of the first movement in Moscow in 1970.

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra recorded all three of Douglas Lilburn’s symphonies, and I have them on one CD. Here is the NZSO playing Lilburn’s single-movement Symphony No. 3.