An atypical year. But aren’t they all?
I moved to the mother of all cities — and, yes, it appears that I’ve fell in love with the stupid lump of concrete, stone and history — and ended up somewhat… isolated? It’s a big word, and not really true. Yes, I’m tied to the computer keyboard far too much, but it’s not as if I’m not out all the time. The thing being, the getting out is cheerily unconnected to music. I’ve done less gigs in the Smoke than I did back in Bath, I suspect. Problem being, there’s all these grand array of social groups I’ve only ever dabbled in due to being out in the sticks, and they’ve eaten up all my spare time.
So I feel culturally isolated — my experiences are my own experiences. I’ve ended more Indie Dave than David Kohl, if you will. It’s telling that this was the year of the Beard.
It’s a little like 2005 really — the present curtailed by studying stuff from the recent past plus the mind-warping effect of writing a Phonogram has on me. Go see my Last.fm stats, and I suspect the most played tracks will be the ones which are played in my fictional Never On A Sunday. And, of course, I am inching towards my mid-thirties. I could be too old.
(One really good reason for having a four-trade plan for Phonogram, despite the fact the project could run indefinitely, is that at the current rate, I’m going to be pushing 40 by then. It’s a comic which requires a certain mentality to work. And as I said before, the second I have to fake Phonogram is the second I stop doing it.)
God, this is downbeat. It’s not as if I don’t spend my entire life dancing in this chair.
Anyway — the list. As I said, I’ve felt isolated, and it’s more than just not being immersed in it. A big chunk of the critically adored haven’t registered with me at all. For example, Hercules and Love Affair’s Blind which I almost included because I presumed I must like it, y’know? I mean, why wouldn’t I? And I almost included Portishead just because I was pleased they’d actually bothered getting out of bed again. In terms of stuff which dominated which I have no time for, it’s been a bad year for the letter “F” (Friendly Fires, Fleet Foxes and my continuing grudge against the Foals). Also, some stuff which was all over this year, I adored from last year — Those Dancing Day released their Hitten in the UK at last but I haven’t had the album long enough to decide what I’d big up as a track choice. Most obvious example of the 2007-in-2008 trend was The Ting Ting’s That Not My Name, which got its deserved number one. There’s a few others, where a single was released last year, but I fell for when it was dropped on an album or when it was re-released. They’re included too — in fact, in a few situations my love for older material may push up a certain 2008 track higher.
Rules: These are 40 tracks of the year, unless I’ve miscounted again. They’re chosen on my objective scale of objectiveosity. One track per band. Not necessarily singles, but I tend to lean that way. If a band has multiple things I love, it tends to push the chosen champion track higher. Oh — and I’ve included a link where I’ve been able to do so. And that’s it. Oh — and I’ve come down with a cold while writing this, so I suspect the writing is going to be patchier than it usually is. Is so, apologies, eh?
Oh — and Happy New Year. I feel optimistic about this one. Or, at least, I’m pretending to feel optimistic and hope it fools the universe. Stupid old universe.
40) Annie — I know UR Girlfriend hates me.
Until compiling the list, I hadn’t realised Annie had released more material. Ste Curran has let me down. Again. In a word: pert.
39) Santogold – LES Artistes
Came close to being filed with Hercules and Love Affair in the intro, as I don’t love this nearly as it’s clearly meant to be lived. Still — it’s appealingly oblique. At this moment, my GF shouts up the stairs: “I like this one”. I ask her why. She says it has a horse in the video. Sounds as good a reason as any.
38) Late of the Pier — Focker
Nu-wave falling over the event horizon, compacting in on itself, everyone aboard being driven insane by the sight of that infinite void. And as all terminal events, brutally compelling. The compression of ideas from about half way through until the end twists and turns as unpredictably as the best kind of Space-Horror. As such, kinda stellar.
37) Mountain Goats – Michael Myers Resplendent
Fraction drew my attention to this, dissecting this barely-beating heart from Heretic Pride and waving it at me proudly. I’d had loved it from the title alone.
[Live Youtube. Terrible Quality though]
36) Goldfrapp – A&E
In what’s a quiet trend in the Top 40, Goldfrapp are somebody who I’ve often felt I should like a lot more than I do. Quiet, beautiful, restrained, surgically clever.
35) The Last Shadow Puppets — The Age of Understatement
Flipping that around, something that I suspect I should like an awful lot less. I didn’t go as far as the album, but this was gloriously unexpected. A beat-boom Scott Walker spaghetti-epic in just over three minutes.
34) Sam Sparro – Black and Gold
A recipient of the Razorlight award for everyone-has-a-good-song-no-really-even-Razorlight, this is a sprightly piece of black-tie obviously affluent adult-pop. No, really.
33) Vampire weekend — A Punk
32) Wiley — Wearing my Rolex
SHE HAS MY ROLEX. LIKE, WOTTT? I HATE IT WHEN THEY HAVE MY ROLEX. Still, I’m not Wiley, who turns it into an endlessly circling street koan. Writing this reminds me that I have to rip my Wiley stuff and put it in GTA4 as a playlist. Man can only go so far with Shampoo.
31) La Roux — Quicksand
The Jamie McKelvie influence will be visible here, I suspect. When you’re on AIM to someone most days, there’s a lot of back and forth. So when I introduce him to Ladyhawke, he points me at this, which consumed a good afternoon with some processed… well, this is an odd one. If I were to make an eighties-style fantasy film, I’d have the soundtrack sound like this. Or Ladyha… actually, I totally haven’t thought this metaphor through.
30) Young Knives — Turn Tail
Another scuffed indie smalltown epic, which is the only way to get away with ‘em, I suspect. It twists and turns, and when it shows its teeth about 2:30 — while keeping its intrinsic reigned-in nature — it’s just lovely.
29) Too Drunk to Dream — Magnetic Fields
Much like the Mountain Goats earlier, the Magnetic Fields’ album seemed to disappear from most discussion. Which is a shame, as this is particularly delightful albeit sozzled. It is, I suspect, in Walker’s head, what my entire life sounds like. He’s not entirely wrong.
28) The Ting Tings — Shut Up And Let Me Go
A CSS Mrk 1-esque thing which is this year’s thing which sounded like an Ipod advert even before it was. Not their finest hour, but I felt better including this than Great DJ — which is a better song, but I listened to it mainly last year — and I’d already done The Classic. And I also like including it because it’d annoy McKelvie a little.
I love the Tings for a variety of reasons though — I’ve got this dichotomy in my head that on one side we have the Foals and the other we have the Ting Tings. One prizes communication and the other the exact opposite. The Tings are scarily precise about total nonsense. The Foals are creating total nonsense and passing it off as something profound. The Foals are a lie, a retreat, a surrender (I’ve held a grudge since the Plan B interview where they answered a question along the lines “We like that our lyrics can be interpreted in thousands of different ways” which translates as “We have nothing to say. We’re scared of being judged. We’re scared of being human”. The Tings know that ridicule is nothing to be… oh, you know THAT RIFF).
Also, I’ve just wandered downstairs to make tea, saying at random intervals “Shut up and let me go”. And the lady goes “Hey!” every time.
That’s pop music. Love it.
27) Cansei De Ser Sexy — Move
And talking about Pop, I think the move towards a more organic, rock-related sound on CSS’ second album just didn’t stick. It’s telling that the loveliest moment was a straight eighties-pop slice of lovely, a cocktail with a couple of shots of (char)g(r)in in the chorus.
26) Manda Rin — Guilty Pleasures
For at least a day, I couldn’t get this out of my head. That’s because it was the day I was the shittest runner at Comrade De Campi’s videoshoot and it was played infinitely on loop. I’d have included it for that, but I kept on coming back to Manda doing her obvious-in-the-right-ways thang.
25) Robots in Disguise – The Sex Has Made Me Stupid
Single last year, but only listened to it on the album this one. Perhaps obviously, stupid. Infectiously stupid and, bookended between those dub-chords which start and close it, a little sadly disassociated too. As in, aware of the sadness in being made stupid.
24) MGMT — Kids
Now here’s an fun example of my estrangement. In December, I was drinking with a friend, who’d written the copy for the then-just-published last.fm charts of the year. No-one drinking had read it yet, so we had some fun trying to reverse-engineer (i.e. Guess) what was included, especially in the tracks of the year. One band had six tracks — Coldplay. Then there was a Katy Perry — who isn’t in my list, but who is my pop-crush of 2008 and is singing a song entitled I Kissed A New Games Journalist inside my head RIGHT NOW. And then there was three other tracks, all by the same band. Took us absolutely forever to get it, with me throwing MGMT out there only with some trepidation as I knew the album was actually released first in 2007. That it had dominated the year to such a degree pretty much passed me by. While I won’t say their success is something that makes me especially pleased, it’s also something which I don’t begrudge. Their much-commented hippy-nature is pure 87-Second Summer of love to me, marrying New Order’s synths with sadly optimistic and optimistic sadness. It’s never better than on Kids, my entry into their world, kiss-simple and smile-compulsive.
23) Tilly And The Wall — Beat Control
More eighties-retroisms with a little hapiness on tap (Ah! Ah! Ah!), though the usual footstomping is inaudible. And the bit where the chorus slides over the verse just makes me wish I was happier more often. And I’m happy a lot, y’know?
22) Crystal Castles — Courtship Dancing
Ah — you. I would have words with you, but let’s save it for the back pages of Phonogram. Their somewhat surprising success this year actually prompted a Phonogram B-side that’s being drawn for Adam Cadwell. I didn’t listen to the album anywhere near as much as the immortal Alice Practice EP(And by “Immortal” I mean in the same way that Plastic and nuclear waste are immortal), but since it was constructed around that perfectly toxic core, it’s still essential. Crimewave sounded a little too much like Jamie McKelvie music for me, but Courtship Dancing is just dirty.
21) Be Your Own Pet – Becky
As part of the 2006 flashback, I listened to a lot of ADVENTUURRRRRRRRRREEEEEE!!!!-era Be Your Own Pet. Which is a great piece of historical revisionism, as I wasn’t listening to their stroppy Tigger-does-punk in 2006. From their second and final album — which is another trend — I’d go with Becky, and not just because it was — in an impressively large sense of humour failure from their record company – excised from the US version of the album. Preppy and Trashy Teenage Homicide anthem, in the bloody vein of Zombina And The Skeletones.
20) Flourence and the Machine — Kiss With A Fist
A tantrum of a record, in about every way I can think of. Pop music remains the sort of place where this brand of preciousness really is at least seventy-five percent of the point. Bless those young enough to not know that wisdom.
19) Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds — Dig, Lazarus, Dig.
And bless those old enough to know wisdom isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Sounds like my Dad’s brothers at a Wedding Disco, climbing onto the stage and doing an impromptu endless groove jam. That is, awesome.
18) Joker — Snake Eater
The things which enter my life randomly are wonderful. Kicking_K at Plan B asked if I wanted to do a piece on Joker around the release on this. I couldn’t due to fucking off somewhere or another, but spent a good few days obsessing over this flamboyant urban-noir theatrical dubstep take its Metal Gear Solid 3 source material. If MGS4 had music this fine, it’d be worth sitting through those hour-long cut-scenes.
17) Ladytron — Ghosts
McKelvie spends a good proportion of his time complaining that no-one dances at Ladytron gigs. Which I understand. But occasionally something like Ghosts makes me think the crowd knows exactly what it’s doing. This sounds like slow dancing with a petite creature who looks up to you with kohl-drenched eyes and tells you, quite calmly, they’re holding a knife against your inner thigh. It sounds as loaded with portent as news of a betrayal.
16) Neon Neon — I Lust U
I have no idea if McK likes this, or what his take is on the necessity of dancing to it, but I have to assume “I like it” and “yes, a bit”. Perhaps the only surprising thing about how I’d never wondered how Gruff Rhys would sound drifting atop of something immaculately eighties. I heart it.
15) Matt And Kim — Daylight
John Walker music you can dance to. The rarest breed. Yeah, it doesn’t go anywhere — but when you’re where you want to be, why would you want to move?
14) Frightened Rabbit — Keep Yourself Warm
John Walker music you can’t dance to. An all too common kind. With their second album, I found myself worrying about Frightened Rabbit more than a little. Like the Arcade Fire with their sophomore effort, you feel that their idea of growth actually shows what they think are their best instincts are actually their worse. There’s a sense that they’re about to become — say — Deacon Blue with added unfortunate fucking, or another of those Scottish-semi-trad rock bands who reach towards soul and, by doing so, lose theirs (Travis, Snow Patrol). But sometimes those worries aren’t even there. And sometimes, they manage to make you think those worries aren’t worries after all. This is one of those sometimes.
13) TV On The Radio — Golden Age
Dear Science didn’t take over my brain in the way their earlier albums did, but that doesn’t mean I’m blind to its charms. Golden Age is a song which sounds ever-more relevant in a way which other, more paranoid, songs from the year don’t. But more on them, later. From the first bass note, this is plain refreshment. I don’t think it’s John Walker Music, but if it was, John’s life would be better.
12) Yelle – Je veux te voir
And this is about as far from John Walker music as I can get. Originally in France was 2006, but got a UK release in 2008. About one and a half notes in its pop-electro, but the right one and a half notes and Yelle’s performance is as plastic-confident as anything I’ve listened to this year. Sometimes, I like my pop music invulnerable. Two key sections: First – The ellubiance from 1:40 to the end of the second verse. Secondily – The build from 2:48. Oh yeah — the lyrics are a cheery filthy diss, obv.
11) Glasvegas — Daddy’s Gone
Last year, but re-released this year and if I’m going to talk about Glasvegas, I may as well do so under the title of what remains their best song (Though “My Own Cheating Heart” comes close). Glasvegas… oh, they’re an awkward one. I admire that they actually have an idea, and it’s an idea which if they didn’t commit to as much as they did they’d come across as comedy. In fact, I suspect if they actually ever went genuinely supernova, a single well-judged comedy sketch could bring their career to a halt as surely as Bo Selecta got Craig David’s. I mean — Spector-esque arrangements (Re: Wah!), heart-on-sleeve gruff aggression/romanticism, surf-guitar and recorded by dropping them into the Grand Canyon and sealing over the top. I have trouble working my way through the entire album — especially because Stabbed is pretty much the most excruciating two and a half minutes recorded this year…
Which makes me think they’re actually a singles band. And, as such, Daddy’s Gone is as glorious, self-confident and aesthetically-complete a single as any band have debuted.
10) Black Kids — I’m Not Going To Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance
File under guilty pleasures. Cure-esque concrete-dancefloor romanticism with added cheerleader yelps! and about as indie-pop as wanting someone who you probably aren’t going to get. Unless they’re drunk. And there’s two responses to that situation. One set of humans sit at home and pluck a guitar. Another set go and dance as if they’re watching, as if somehow you can prove something by doing so. I’ve always been the latter, and so is this.
9) The Long Blondes – Guilt
Guilty Pleasures of a different sort. My immediate thought was that it was the definitive Long Blondes title. It’s the oft-unspoken subtext of pretty much all their stories of romance and the lackthereof. Guilt hangs off making that unspoken spoken — you can almost believe Kate that she’s doing what she’s doing for the best of reasons until she feels the need to add that Guilt really does have nothing to do with it. The lady protests.
8 ) Dizzee Rascal feat. Calvin Harris and Chrome – Dance Wiv Me
What does this sound like? It sounds like a Number one.
7) Hot Chip — Ready For The Floor
Hot Chip have always nagged at me, like Goldfrapp earlier, with the sense that I should like them more than I do. Wanting a sounding board, I asked Jamie what he made of Hot Chip. I suspect he didn’t like them and I suspected that considering they’re almost exactly His Sort Of Thing the exact reasons why would be illumination. He didn’t, because Their Sound’s Weak. Hmm. I can see that. Their structures are as intricate as anything — say — The Knife would release, but lack the muscle. Of course, I’m also aware that their lack of muscle is actually what makes their pop quietly radical. Phenomenally, obviously a big load of geeks and aggressively with it, pop songs made by a bunch of lower-order androgynes in heaven. I’m going to put more serious thought into them in the new year. Until then, take this as a nod that I suspect I’m full of shit and they really aren’t.
6) Ladyhawke – Paris Is Burning
Meanwhile, Kitten and I both adore this. Seductive and paranoid in about equal measures, it’s the sort of song which makes me unsure what drug I’m meant to take before realising that with it, I really don’t need to take any. It makes me want to start using my Ipod again in the new year. Which is a drug of a different kind.
5) Of Montreal — Gallery Piece
As I said in the intro, this is at least partially about my love affair with Of Montreal this year, which mainly circles around 2007′s Hissing Fauna… Mainly, but not totally, and this — the most single-trackable of Skeletal Lamping — is about as creepy as waking up to find that somehow someone’s managed to sneak ejaculate from your own body and spread it over your face. Er… girls will have to work up their own metaphor.
Of course, the most disturbing thing about the record is who hasn’t felt like this?
Sane people. That’s who.
4) Amanda Palmer — Runs in the Family
As always, I find Miss Palmer frustrating. I’m fine with it. The frustration is, I think, something of the point. I find her frustrating as much as — say — I find the RPS guys or Jamie. I find her frustrating because, by some trick of art, I feel as if I know her. I can see her weaknesses all too easily — a tendency for the bloody obvious, a questionable ability to create melody (Her covers are, universally, brilliant) — and wish that she’d overcome then. In practice though, I also know that it’s only when the weaknesses aren’t weaknesses at all — they’re her, and her best work comes from they’re turned into what powers her art. Case in point — Runs in the Family, which is a itinerary of every part of the bloody obvious she can cram into three minutes that swaps velocity for melody to brutal effect. I worry and feel proud of her in a way which I haven’t since Girl Anachronism.
[Youtube. Er... not the real video.]
3) Future of the Left – The Hope that House Built
I’m getting ahead of myself with this one, which is me all over. While FoTL haven’t released anything new this year, they’ve had this teaser of what’s next on their MySpace for the entire period and, as such, has become one of my quietly iconic singles. So much, in fact, I nabbed its spooneristic title for my first Phonogram essay.
When I listen to this the oppressive anti-US-hegemony nature of this, I find myself wondering: If we’re doomed, why does it feel so right? That contrast, as much as the tautness of the music, drives the song — and me — onwards.
Also, cunting hell, I’ve miscounted the list. Far too much work to re-number, I’m afraid.
2) The Indelicates – America
Oddly, while The Future of the Left’s take on modern cynicism still seems relevant, the Indelicates finest already seems older than it actually is. Where Golden Age seems of this age, this neat skewering of the political left’s cowardice and naivety is of another. America, the Great Demon, doesn’t seem as mentally oppressive a creature after the election. I suspect that’s going to be passing — because I remain too cynical to hope (I’d love to be proved wrong) — but right here, right now, the America which the song describes simply isn’t what anyone’s thinking of any more.
It’s trickier in other ways too. Simon Tyer’s description of it as S*M*A*S*H as produced by Steinman is something which I’d have never had come up with myself, but immediately recognise as totally on the money. Also, I realise that most wouldn’t take that as a recommendation. But… well, since when has that mattered?
The reason why it still works — and works better than anything else by them — is that the Indelicates’ caustic certainty turns against itself. While Our Daughters Will Never Be Free is compelling in its scornful determination, and its white-line-in-phosphorous essential, that America’s internal logic takes it to a place where the Indelicates wish they weren’t is what gives it power.
Put simply: America is the best option we have. We have no other options. And, as such, Julia’s voice on her “Or nothing at all” at 3:42 sounds like nails sliding down a theoretical blackboard, which they’re realising is a cliff and they’re falling, falling away, self-immolating in protest.
1) Estelle — American Boy
But, occasionally, when thinking about the US, it’s best not to think about the US too much. American Boy is less about the America, than the boy, the special relationship turned into a special relationship. Airy, flirty, plain delicious.
0) Los Campesinos — We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed
Okay. Some more.
Just before New Years, Matt Sheret asked me about the Number 1. Said I hadn’t a clue. He said it should be this. I mean, obviously it should be this, for self-referentiality’s sake alone. I laughed, and said that that would be the worst thing ever. I’ve changed my mind. Well, actually, that’s not true — I think it’s probably the worst thing ever, and it’s a worst thing ever which suddenly amuses me and these things are worth pursuing. And two albums in a year gives a lot of leverage on the “multiple songs lead to the best song being pushed up the list” rule.
Last year, I described Los Campesinos “as beautiful and as doomed a pop-band as I’ve ever seen”. Less than a year later, Gareth paraphrases it for the title of their second album. It still seems as apposite. There’s something about Los Campsinos which wind up some people terribly. If you were annoyed by me using the phrase “wind up some people terribly”, you’re probably one of them.
In other words, there’s a lightness to Los Campesinos which make people suspect dilettantism — that they’re writing about nothing, feeling nothing. Which is a difficult position to argue against, unless you do something like actually listen to the fucking records.
Los Camp’s problem’s never been a lack of emotion — but rather a surfeit. The problem — and this is where they lose people yet again — is that it’s married to an equal surfeit of ideas, albeit ones inside their own self-sufficient aesthetic universe. It’s never shown better than this title track, which is as internally-conflicting, confusing, overwhelming, graceful and contradictory song as life being lived.
Which is what I like about Los Campesinos — they’re unafraid to be Los Campesinos, to be themselves. Which is a different thing from the boring old issue of authenticity. This is about transparency, the idea that you can throw your obsessions into art’s frame and, by doing so, demonstrate the blessed democratic nature of experience and existence. And some people will never forgive you for that.
Los Campesinos: Beautiful. Doomed.