Thursday, December 31, 2009

The future's here

We're not doing the usual end of year essay this year, because as befits the decade where nothing of lasting note was bequeathed other than lots of slop about mp3 culture masking the slow slip backwards into swing, crooning, variety and easy, uncritical nostalgia, we couldn't think of anything to really say anew.

So instead, as this is a forward thinking blog, ahead of our official ten For '10, which runs from 3rd January, let's have a great big list of albums to look forward to in 2010. Yeah!


Vampire Weekend - Contra: 11th January

Eels - End Times: 18th January

Fyfe Dangerfield - Fly Yellow Moon: 18th January

Owen Pallett (Final Fantasy) - Heartland: 18th January
He's just had to change his working name for trademark reasons, so how come they took so long to notice? This is "designed to exist simultaneously as an album, a 45-minute piece of orchestral music and a set of songs for looped violin and voice", with dramatis personae of "a farmer named Lewis and the fictional world of Spectrum".

Scout Niblett - The Calcination Of Scout Niblett: 18th January

Spoon - Transference: 18th January

Beach House - Teen Dream: 25th January

Everybody Was In The French Resistance... Now - Fixin' The Charts: 25th January
Eddie Argos of many, many bands (primarily Art Brut) and Dyan Valdes of The Blood Arm explore the concept of answer songs to rock's back catalogue. Fuller details here.

Tindersticks - Falling Down A Mountain: 25th January

Lightspeed Champion - Life Is Sweet! Nice To Meet You: 1st February
Not unsurprisingly the now NY-based Dev Hynes has taken another complete right turn, this one into piano-based chamber pop influenced by classical, musical theatre and Todd Rundgren.

Los Campesinos! - Romance Is Boring: 1st February
Catch our liveTwittering of this back a week before Christmas Day? Well, that's why you need to be following us.

Gil Scott-Heron - I'm New Here: 8th February

Massive Attack - Heligoland: 8th February
Damon Albarn, Tunde Adebimpe, Guy Garvey, Horace Andy, Martina Topley Bird and Hope Sandoval contribute, and rumour also has it that Burial is to helm a remix album.

Yeasayer - Odd Blood: 8th February

Field Music - Field Music (Measure): 15th February

The School - Loveless Unbeliever: 15th February

Shearwater - The Golden Archipelago: 15th February
The last in a trilogy of albums themed around man's impact with nature and comes with a 50 page book of photos and other ephemera collected by Meiburg.

Shearwater - The Golden Archipelago from KMS on Vimeo.

Swanton Bombs - Mumbo Jumbo And Murder: 15th February

David Byrne & Fatboy Slim - Here Lies Love: 22nd February
Their much talked about a little while ago concept album about Imelda Marcos, out as a 2 CD plus 100 page book box set of sorts, with a guest list including and Tori Amos, Martha Wainwright, Steve Earle, Cyndi Lauper, Róisín Murphy, Florence Welch, Santigold, Natalie Merchant, St Vincent and B-52 Kate Pierson.

Quasi - American Gong: 22nd February

Archie Bronson Outfit - Coconut: 1st March

Emma Pollock - The Law Of Large Numbers: 1st March

Laura Marling - I Speak Because I Can: 1st March
Recorded by Ethan Johns (Kings of Leon, Ryan Adams, Rufus Wainwright) with Mumford & Sons as backup. Warning: Marling has talked of things being "more fleshed out" and "rootsy".

Broken Bells - Broken Bells: 8th March
James Mercer of the Shins and Danger Mouse collaborating, with no other guests bar strings.

Liars - Sisterworld: 8th March
Supposedly based on "alternate spaces people create in order to maintain identity in a city like LA". These people have heard it.

Thomas White - The Maximalist: 8th March
There'll also be a new Restlesslist album, Coral Island Girl, at some point this year, and as long ago as December 2008 Electric Soft Parade were promising an imminent double album called Blue Music.

Miles Kurosky - The Desert Of Shallow Effects: 9th March (US release)
Kurosky was leader of the much beloved and missed San Francisco maxi-pop band Beulah. This is his first release in the six years since their split.


The Indelicates: February
Recorded in a converted East Berlin radio station. They've revealed some of the song titles, and you can only wonder what Indelicates songs called Jerusalem, Europe, Sympathy For The Devil, Be Afraid Of Your Parents and Anthem For Doomed Youth will be like.

Blood Red Shoes - Fire Like This: March
Steven Ansell says "the idea was to make a record like In Utero, a rock record with real heart, no macho crap".

David Thomas Broughton - Outbreeding: March

Gorillaz - Plastic Beach: March
Snoop Dogg, Lou Reed, Mos Def, De La Soul, Barry Gibb, Bobby Womack and the Horrors have all been linked with what Albarn says is "the most pop record" he's ever been involved with.

Lucky Soul - A Coming Of Age: March

MGMT - Congratulations: March
Pete 'Sonic Boom' Kember has done some production, Royal Trux's Jennifer Herrema adds vocals. Prog has been invoked.

Teenage Fanclub - Shadows: March

!!!: April

The Acorn: April

David Tattersall - Happy For A While: April
Inevitable that there'd be some Wave Pictures action - we're still waiting for the full electric album recorded at about the same time as If You Leave It Alone, but in the meantime Tattersall has recorded an album co-written with Stanley Brinks (Andre Herman Dune's current identity)

Meursault: April
We're told by an informed source that Neil and Pete have also been working on a collaboration with King Creosote and Fence newbie Animal Magic Tricks for soft release before then.

Mystery Jets: April
Produced by Chris Thomas (For Your Pleasure, Never Mind The Bollocks, Different Class, Elton John, U2, Pretenders)

Arcade Fire: May

The Chap: May

Beastie Boys - Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 1
Originally set for September but delayed indefinitely after Adam Yauch's cancer diagnosis. He's now in recovery and hoping for something in the first half of the year.

Broken Social Scene
John McEntire is at the helm for an album recorded over early summer, and they come back out to play at the Winter Olympics launch party in February.

Told Folly Of Youth their new album would be inspired by David Essex and the Electric Eels.

Darren Hayman - Essex Arms
2009's Pram Town was the first part of a trilogy about suburban living and new towns, Harlow in particular. Promised are "songs about joy riding and dog fighting in the heart of the countryside."

The Fall - Our Future Your Clutter
Having accidentally turned the heads of a few Faryl Smith fans (we can but hope), they're now on Domino and augmenting a fulsome set of reissues with a new record apparently featuring a track entitled Chino Splashback.

The Futureheads
Ross Millard says these songs are "a lot more complicated", David Brewis working on some of the sessions as they were sharing a studio with Field Music. Barry Hyde puts it down as "neo-classical north-east punk-folk music".

Completed by July, Nick Cave's opportunity to let off even more steam - after his book he must be positively Vesuvius-like by now - is described by Warren Ellis as "stoner rock meets Sly Stone via Amon Duul".

I Am Kloot
As with their ace 2001 debut Natural History, Guy Garvey (with bandmate Craig Potter) is producing the hope/cynicism-laden trio's fifth album.

LCD Soundsystem
James Murphy spent three months in LA on initial recording, got delayed by other projects and is still putting extra touches to it for a potential spring release. "Wonky and maybe a bit more synth-driven, but not necessarily more dancey" is his preview.

Rose Elinor Dougall - Without Why
Seems to be completed, but no suggested estimates yet. She's also worked on Mark Ronson's new album, which is a prospect we don't mind admitting has left us heavily vexed. Oh, and there's also a Pipettes album (whoever's in them now) out at some point, which Martin Rushent has produced, but again that seems a heavily moveable feast.

The Strokes
Sounds like a lot of disputing took up the half of the year they've spent in the studio once they got all their side projects out of their system, but with UK festivals booked for mid-June it seems they have a target at least. Nick Valensi says to expect "music from the future".

The Walkmen
According to reports they recorded thirteen songs in five days in August and are aiming for spring.


The Avalanches
Album number two is turning into the hipster's Chinese Democracy. We're now nine years on from the Australian release of Since I Left You, three from when Modular Records claimed to have heard it and, at time of writing, eight months since the band declared they were just in the process of clearing samples. Supposedly that has been completed now. It'd better be worth it.

Have been playing new songs live in the second half of 2009.

Belle And Sebastian
Stuart Murdoch's not filmed God Help The Girl yet like he promised, but he has hinted that everyone has been rehearsing together again with the aim of a new record.

Blonde Redhead
Were in the studio as long ago as March/April.

British Sea Power
Noble blogged in November that producer Graham Sutton has moved in with Yan and they have an album's worth of songs on the go. Rumours say early summer.

A new album on their own has been promised to complement the Focus Group linkup, the longest mini-album in history.

Broken Records
Aiming to get the sophomore release out in September, according to recent quotes.

Cat Power
Sun, the album promised for last year, has been shelved in favour of a lot of new songs recorded solo. Emotional vulnerability pictured, as ever.

All we have to go on is this from John Baillie Jnr: "2010: new album, new shows, new fun times!"

New label Warner Bros claim activities restart in March with the new songs that have slowly been emerging and developing over the last couple of years.

Fleet Foxes
Robin Pecknold claims the songs he's writing are "less poppy" and "a bit less upbeat. Not darker, some of it has a more exuberant feeling to it. But some of it is just more realistic... maybe the next album will be pretty boring to most people." Late summer/early autumn is the reckoning.

Yannis Phillipakis claims they've taken inspiration from disco edits, funk, dub and classic soul while working in their own Oxford studio. Not Antidotes II, essentially.

The Go! Team
Ian Parton says their third LP will be more solidly based on melodies and vocals rather than constructed around samples.

I Like Trains
Not iLiKETRAiNS any more, they only started recording last month but have been playing new songs live for a little while, word from which is something darker and more layered.

Sam Fogarino says their fourth full-length will be more like Turn On The Bright Lights. Then again, Paul Banks says it'll be orchestral. Could go either way.

Jens Lekman
Now living in Melbourne, Australia, Lekman is working on new songs but who ever knows with Jens what's going to happen with them.

Johnny Flynn
Returned to work with A Larum producer Ryan Hadlock in November.

"We are concentrating very hard on making the best album imaginable. Call it rainbow-pop... calypso tropicalia, but without bongos."

Given their maven tendencies we'd love this to be a really outre effort that takes them right out of the safe pop sphere they've started to drift into, but Polydor rejected the first "dense, psychedelic" effort claiming it was "too experimental". So that's going to be no good. Needs must, though. Ross Robinson, for some reason, is producing the second sessions.

Les Savy Fav
Syd recently Tweeted that he and Seth went into the band's first new rehearsal in a year with twenty new songs.

Madame Ray
Is a title of a Man Ray-inspired track on the Long Blondes' Someone To Drive You Home written by Kate Jackson, and is also to be the name under which Jackson's solo guise will lurk. Produced by Bernard Butler *gulp* she describes it as "a big pop record".

Napoleon IIIrd
Reported to have set an album aside early last year.

Pagan Wanderer Lu - European Monsoon
We have a tracklisting; we have a notion that the songs will be less lo-fi, largely more personal and "quite different, both lyrically and musically, from what I’ve become known for"; we hear most of them are already down on tape. As for release, no idea. (EDIT: Andy Regan - cheers, Andy - says in the comments it's awaiting mixing and will be April at the earliest)

Panda Bear
Animal Collective are edging towards a break (and a film soundtrack, but all priorities in good order), so Noah Lennox is preparing a new solo record which he says will be "really basic and kind of raw and simple and are electronic... The tone is a lot darker and it sounds sort of dramatic or romantic to me."

Patrick Wolf - The Conqueror
He talked about The Bachelor being a double album, remember. This is the second half, apparently more upbeat in tone and featuring - oh lord - Motown, disco and house influences.

Ed O'Brien has confirmed they're going back 'in' with Nigel Godrich in January, but we know how long a good Radiohead studio session can take.

"Produced by Jacknife Lee" is turning into more of a curse than a blessing, but there you go.

Sky Larkin
They've spent the last few months, by the looks of their communiques, locked in a crypt under a Victorian church which they're using for writing and recording.

Sufjan Stevens
Having been busying himself with The BQE over the last couple of years, he's started playing ambitious new songs live and despite recent comments to the contrary he's even more recently said he wants to get into recording a new album. No state affiliations this time.

The White Stripes
Other bands out of his system, Jack told Rolling Stone in May that he and Meg were working towards some new songs and would possibly have something out in 2010.

And then, of course, there'll be everything that emerges and surprises everyone...

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

That was the year that wasn't

One last Spotify playlist for the year, perhaps ever - selections from our top 50 albums and as many tracks as you can find

With one post left this year, and that's about next year, may we extend thanks to everyone who's commented, got involved emailed, spammed* or otherwise enjoyed STN this year, quite a trying one all told, but with a few adjustments and (broadly) your help next year should just fly by in a haze of great music. Cheers, then.

* apart from that Chinese one that somehow left a load of text on every single post. Actually, not spammers. Fuck off, spammers.

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2009: Number 1

Well, it's Veckatimest, of course. It felt like some sort of moment of high stakes gold immediately before the tipping point, a crossing of the American alt rubicon. But it was always meant to be so, from when two tracks made their way into the ether during 2008, While You Wait For The Others on a radio session in February, Two Weeks on Letterman in July (on Letterman! A brand new debuting song! By a band who wouldn't necessarily be at all known to its viewers!), bolstering anticipation to what for more fragile bands might have been untenable levels. Those songs in their nascent single take forms seemed as detailed and as careful as the best of Yellow House but that tiny bit more approachable, not quite pop but more accessible while still painting itself in vivid colours. When the full album arrived it was clear that, quite against the prevailing winds of online fandom, this was not an album to experience as a transcode. Chris Taylor's own production work is too multi-layered, too lush and microscopically detailed for flat 128kbps to do justice to. And that's what makes them what they are, and this album what it is in a sea of post-Fleet Foxes new semi-weird American college radio music. Precocious and precious, sonically attached while still sounding organic, it sounds like a record for hazy late summer evenings by the lake but works just as well on knackered headphones in a British back room in December. Comparisons like the Beach Boys are pat at best, but taking the harmonies and the misleadingly sun dappled melodies into consideration there's something here that seems to belong to that great American lineage.

These songs don't just stick in a hook and some harmonised backing vocals and hope for the best but unspool in their own time, marking out their peaks evenly and carefully and then making sure they don't come across as predictable. The surges and washes of sympathetic, occasionally fingerpicked acoustic guitar and drums that ease Southern Point in and recur a couple of times later might be recognisable from Yellow House, but the mid-section takes it somewhere completely different, starting in a propulsive ride and the repetition of "you'll find me now... will I return to you", marking out the distance between dreams and memory, before a bouncing piano loop is bisected by arpeggiating guitars and a sudden rush of percussive bike chain-esque rattling. All We Ask meanders around its own radio signals with no vocals for the first minute, and when Daniel Rossen does arrive he's content to think about what might have been and might still be (key lyric: "I can't get out of what I’m into with you") before marching Beatles strings arrive, the drums steadfastly to go widescreen and it turns out not to be so much an explosion as a muddying up of the patches to "lead us on". Ready, Able answers that call, perambulating round the edge of a stately, lilting waltz even flow of progressive bass, pattern forming organ and a dirty guitar sound that is never allowed to get going.

When they do dial it up a bit, it's still far more about the texture and the subtlety than the anthemic. Two Weeks, the big radio hit as such, works itself up on staccato piano and Ed Droste's heartfelt if slightly lugubrious lead vocal before letting loose a few crescendos of choirs of BV doo-wop angels. The little touches round the end, a handful of squiggles, clatters and arpeggios around the edges, make it all the more sumptuous. Cheerleader's stuttering drums act as leverage for Droste's wandering, wondering vocal and layers of choir, slow walking bass and occasional morse code guitar, all feeling dialled down without slowing the song down from a stately march before an appopriately woody, bongo frenzy fade. The closest we come to a proper hook comes in While You Wait For The Others, which could be the vibrating downsized riffs or the wordless choral fills in what passes for a chorus, almost masking what turns out to be a bitter breakup sway before breaking out into a huge seeming exposition of existing themes which fades into more harmonic gorgeousness leading into I Live With You, which over its five minutes starts with Disney strings, turns into Rossen's minimal single chord call to the heavens and gathers and drops off strings, brass, female backing vocals, synths, Christopher Bear’s storming cymbal/bass drum runs and a massive Spiritualized/Flaming Lips aura of invincibility through size along the way. It's very un-Veckatimest, but simultaneously makes perfect sense before the cracked, ruminatively introspective torch song Foreground brings the curtain down on a perfectly pitched record as complete album. And who knew the world still had one of those in it by 2009.

Some things are meant to be couched in greatness terms. A great album can be many things; a truly magnificent album is one content to reveal extra wonders and levels with every listen no matter how many listens you are down the line. Other albums detailed here over the last few days may provide sharp immediate shocks, but the superior albums by and large will retain some of their mystique and mystery while magnifying and ekeing out moments of wondrousness. Baroque chamber pop has a new standard bearer, and the decade has one of its defining classics.

Two Weeks

The full list

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2009: Number 2

Andy Falkous became briefly notorious in September when his blog about Travels With Myself And Another leaking two months ahead of release, before the band had received their copies, was used in a UK Music advert against pirating and more broadly filesharing, which was printed right in the middle of the Featured Artists Coalition to-do. As righteous, funny, impassioned and magnificent as it was, it also did Falkous a massive disservice. After all, you'd like to think that people might at some point move on to caring broadly about the music, this uniquely, well, righteous, funny, impassioned and magnificent band like no other in Britain, perhaps the only NME adored band of recent years not to see any extra sales ora airplay out of it. Well, obviously they're never going to be for mass public consumption. Just too cussed, too obtuse, too full-on for mass consumption, and out of such tunnel-eyed vision of a singular art Falco has perhaps, taking nothing away from Kelson Mathais or Jack Egglestone, helmed the album of his storied career. While we evidently found an album more attuned to multi-layered greatness, we think this was the album we by far listened to most throughout 2009.

Now, what we could do at this point, especially now we've committed ourselves to making every one of these overviews longer than the previous one, is copy over a great wodge of Falco zingers, add "I think this is a very loud and very good album" to the end and go and do some ironing. After all, you cannot go into detail on an album like this. Not only would it constitute giving away the best lines, but it is what it is - 33 minutes of pretty much HGV hit riffs, drums and bass lines, finding a new way to express anger as an energy. It's an album full of moments, when the bludgeon force hits and when idea meets vocal mike. Arming Eritrea - the wrong way round, it turned out - sounding a little pensive as it works round a single figure to begin with? Well, that's quickly destroyed by huge, dirty stabs of guitar as Falkous slips into one of his perennial traits, addressing an unknown object by name (cf Emma on the surrealist Shellac of Stand By Your Manatee, whose parents use plastic forks), on manhood and not being a cynic, before drowning everything in a visceral tidal wave sweeping everything in its path away. As he screams over the deluge it sounds positively one man and his pedals industrial in its scope. We find him screaming his thorax out about after hours street fighting over tin can bee buzzing bass on Chin Music, then kicking in a pub stomp sea shanty singalong out of the words "come join, come join our hopeless cause" on The Hope That House Built as if it's a mantra for life. "In the end everybody wins"? You'd like to think so. Throwing Bricks At Trains (nearly the title of a Mclusky radio session-only obscurity, connections fans) introduces as our dramatis personae Reginald J Trotsfield and "his lieutenant, the fearsome Brown", small town small scale bored criminals whose titularly minded nights out are framed in repetitive knackered keyboard buzz and Kelson-led Big Rock harmony backing vocals. The actively scary Mathias is on his own mission to Valhalla throughout, riding the bumpiest of low down and dirty basslines throughout the Jesus Lizard backwards rush of Land Of My Formers ("when in Rome, remember home is always here for you") and actively disturbing Falco's delivery through synth low end like tectonic plate movement during You Need Satan More Than He Needs You. Given that song is about the twin simultaneous issues of active practice of occult ceremonies and modern parentage both takes some doing and seems quite fitting. Channelling the anger that only a band who barely half sell venues even in London for all the acclaim and Kings Reach Tower print, That Damned Fly utilises what Josh Homme used to term robot rock, a battery of monotonously churning riffage, to rip apart the Barfly chain and "greedy promoters... without the young and the desperate they won't have anyone else" with glee ("there must be a logic behind the madness/If it's financial then it's deeply flawed") That they can do that, and rumination on dinosaur sociology Yin/Post-Yin, and also Lapsed Catholics' monologue stream of conscious that starts by mixing up The Shawshank Redemption and Jacob's Ladder, describes Rupert Murdoch as Satan and gradually gives way to a wall of everything ("Be aware! Be alert!")... well, that's the measure of this remarkable band and album, a collective punch right in the kisser from a fearlessly powerful power trio, raging, melodically savage, cauterisingly dry, fat free, ferociously played. Glorious.


The Hope That House Built

The full list

Monday, December 28, 2009

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2009: Number 3

Having shown 00s indie guitar music a third way with the remarkable Limbo, Panto last year, Wild Beasts could have rested on their laurels for a year. The path they marked out is one that surely would reward further investigation, given the timidity of anyone else so far to fuse Associates ballroom murkiness, Smiths intrigue, Orange Juice limber funk and weapons grade obtuse lucidity. It is in truth far too close to call to say whether Two Dancers definitively bettered it, but it seems far more refined, slightly more in hock to the Eighties way of doing things without actually being retrogressive. It's a long held and expressed theory of ours that outside ra-ra and panstick signifiers at least the first half of that much maligned or over-romanticised decade was the sort of place where musical imagination and floridity was allowed to run unchecked, occasionally in the upper echelons of the public gaze. Two Dancers ended up charting at 68, but its sense of purpose and soaring coherency almost challenged those who didn't buy it to prove their own worthiness to regard whatever they preferred ahead of it.

Of course most of those people will answer with three words - "that bloke's singing" - but Hayden Thorpe's gurling falsetto is as much part of the core Wild Beasts lingua franca as the post-modern arcane language and the pin sharp rhythmic bloc, utilising vocals, guitar, bass, drums and the odd keyboard yet still so completely against what we now know as 'indie' in its guileless appropriation of what was left behind in the charge for Absolute Radio playlists. The vaudeville Morrisseyisms that crept into Limbo, Panto have largely been grown out of, though, this a very responsible album if not strictly an adult one despite some of the themes ("His hairy hands, his falling fists/hHs dancing cock down by his knees"? I see) The whole air is of something vaguely familiar but repurposed into something entirely their own, both in terms of basic sound and where they fit in, or don't. Take Hooting And Howling, in which radio echoes of Prefab Sprout's Cars And Girls are taken in a modified version of the first album's occasionally theatrical direction, rhyming "brutes" and "cahoots", while the ringing guitar is pointed into space and Chris Talbot's sympathetically driving tom-tom heavy work makes one of many attempts to justify his place as alt-pop's current most underrated drummer. The staccato funk white boy dance of All The King's Men sends out a clarion call to "girls from Roedean, girls from Shipley, girls from Hounslow, girls from Whitby" as Thorpe and Tom Fleming start out by impersonating each other - that's the former doing the monk's chorus and the latter shreiking "Watch me! Watch me!" - before the latter unpicks the desires and truths of the relationship game, sounding ungallant even when referring to potential girl interest as "birthing machines". The Fun Powder Plot is about the motivation behind Fathers 4 Justice, but if you didn't catch the lyrics "we cry for the cause because the courts have left us lonely/disowned us daddies like the poopers of the party" you'd never guess there was political intent behind the vaguely tropicalia undulating percussion and swinging like a modern guitar band isn't allegedly supposed to, let alone "this is a booty call, my boot up your arsehole". Because, unlikely as it might seem from some people who look like that, it's a very sexual record, or a record of sexuality. We Still Got The Taste Dancing On Our Tongues shimmers with delight and opportunity out on the town, Thorpe declaring "when we pucker up our lips are bee-stung", putting poetry to casual carnal desire. It's hard to tell whether the two parts of the title track are really connected, but their Billy Mackenzie-ish dramatic urge means they can pass from our Fleming-voiced narrator being "pulled half-alive out of the sea" to calling someone an "unpluckable flower of the moon", with an undercurrent of poverty and street violence. This Is Our Lot might be their calling card, a sensitive paen to the young men "all quiffed and cropped", finding out what their emotions and later their bodies are for. Its rhythmic shifts, superb band interplay, unshowy but emotive and spectacular when is deemed necessary and arcane syntax around playful but carefully constructed notions make Two Dancers a timeless album. Timeless as in out of current time and place, or timeless as in one for the ages. Your choice.


All The King's Men

The full list

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Tracks of our year IV

Randan Discotheque - Daily Record 18th May 1983 [Spotify] [Myspace stream]
The most unlikely thing we heard all year, perhaps. Edinburgh band make a scratchy, slightly synthy song out of stories in an old newspaper, like I, Ludicrous but namechecking Beverley Allitt and Simon Stainrod.

Rose Elinor Dougall - Start/Stop/Synchro [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
The keyboard part from Broadcast's The Book Lovers is sped up a bit and gets to frame a glorious pop-noir lament wherein Dougall gets to unleash her inner English folkie. Funny, she used to be in a band where the musicians hid away, and now she's a solo singer she puts her live band in her video.

The Rosie Taylor Project - Lovers Or Something Like It [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]

The Scaramanga Six - Misadventure [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
They've been thereabout for as long as we can think (six albums, actually) and give a good name to melodic rock by taking it so far out of the arenas and into the sort of warped arrangements the Cardiacs might recognise it hardly recognises itself any more but for the underpinning tropes.

The Second Hand Marching Band - Lies [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]

Seeland - Library [Spotify] [Myspace stream]
Former members of Broadcast and Plone make music like - no, surprise us - the BBC Radiophonic Orchestra, Joe Meek and the sci-fi end of 60s psychedelia. Their underlying pop nous however takes them nearer Stereolab status.

Sons Of Noel And Adrian - Black Side Of The River [YouTube]

Stairs To Korea - Boy Bear It In Mind [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
The press pack says we called this debut single of the year. We might have been impetuous, but we might have been right.

Standard Fare - Dancing [Myspace stream] [YouTube]

Still Corners - History Of Love [Myspace stream]
Proper dream-pop that circles its elegaic prey as if in a David Lynch scene, beautifully coloured - check the plucked strings and droning organ - after a Cocteaus fashion.

Suburban Kids With Biblical Names - 1999 [Myspace stream]

Sufjan Stevens - You Are The Blood [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
Undoubted highlight of the no slouch Dark Was The Night charity compilation, a ten minute war of choral folk attrition featuring electronic effects, male-female harmonies, found sounds, brass fanfares, a glitch segment, piano balladry, distorted guitar solos and everything on top of everything else to close. And it's a cover!

Superman Revenge Squad - We're Here For Duration [Myspace stream]
Some explanation. We've gone on enough about how Ben Parker is one of our favourite British songwriters, but 2009 was his annus miraculous, or whatever the exact phrase is. And yet we still found loopholes to keep his two releases this year out of our album list, We're Here For Duration... We Hope! as it's only available from himself and the magnificent, pretty much essential Nosferatu D2 album We’re Gonna Walk Around This City With Our Headphones On To Block Out The Noise because it's all pre-existing songs. Which were only available from the duo. Hmm. That doesn't make sense. Let's be honest, keeping them out of the way on a whim makes things easier for ourselves. But both are superb, and you must, must buy both. This is Nosferatu D2's Flying Things And Pests, recorded at their last gig in March 2007 (supporting Los Campesinos!, FWIW)

Surf City - Headin' Inside [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]

Swanton Bombs - Shock [Spotify]

Teitur - Catherine the Waitress [Myspace stream] [YouTube]

Telepathe - Can't Stand It [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
Funny album, Dance Mother, being all too-cool NY scenester for its own good for the first half or so before gradually mutating into inventive post-electro warping with Dave Sitek's hand at the controls.

Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring - Take Your Own Good Advice [Spotify] [Myspace stream]
THWFOS released a fine, lovingly innocent album called How I Wasted My Youth. We highlighted it on here. They promptly split up and made their entire back catalogue free to download. BEHOLD OUR INFLUENCE.

Threatmantics - Little Bird [Spotify] [YouTube]
Rock'n'roll viola-led hoedown with an air of the Fall? Why not?

Three Trapped Tigers - 6 [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
Sounding like Battles covering Squarepusher live with Boards Of Canada manning the desk, as ever, and what's going on in that video?

Tigers That Talked - Black Heart, Blue Eyes [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]

Tubelord - Propeller [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
Our First American Friends was perhaps a little ponderous given the heavier end of their live set, but no question they have the commitment for it.

The Twilight Sad - I Became A Prostitute [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
For all the critical acclaim a band we've never quite got with, in truth, apart from this single. They'll doubtless be cockahoop to know they've finally cracked it with that.

Underground Railroad - Lots Of Cars [Myspace stream]

We Were Promised Jetpacks - Quiet Little Voices [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]

Withered Hand - Religious Songs [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
Dan Wilson's cracked vocal and existentially self-regarding folk songs have made him something of a legend in Edinburgh. You get the impression he couldn't fit in otherwise.

Wonderswan - Furrpile [Myspace stream]
Actually do sound like Pavement and Sonic Youth crossed over, as opposed to all those bands who just claim they do.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Heads Will Roll [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
People are easily impressed with changes in style, aren't they? Even so, Karen O suits the role of disco-not-disco ringleader.

Young British Artists - Bring The Sun [Spotify] [Myspace stream]
And to finally finish, some Mancunians making claustrophobic, electronically hinting, skyscrapingly ambitious sonic cathedrals. And that's all the cliche conventions we have for now.

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2009: Number 4

Not having ProTools we can't go into detail about normalising and the mastering cut, but it's ironic and interesting that in the midst of 'the loudness war', the turning up of everything over everything else to wreck all subtlety in new recordings, the most interesting record put out by a sizeable British label at least in the second half of 2009 dealt in space, minimalism, almost bleakness, almost as much about what it didn't say or express itself as as what it does. Many comparisons have been thrown The XX's way, from Young Marble Giants to Timbaland to the Cocteaus to Burial, but for us the nearest comparative point is Massive Attack's Mezzanine. That was the album where 3D reached back for the post-punk darkness he grew up on - the Pop Group, early Cure, dub. That album was all about textures and low frequency creepiness over funkiness, and while the close-miked intimacy makes this album more welcoming than that oppositional iciness there's that same air of nameless, dank vulnerability with sponge sides. Need the deal sealing? Oliver Sim has exactly the same vocal timbre as 3D.

Not to suggest that this is in any way a straight rip. It's the atmospherics that make this what it is, but not in the same dread-coated sense. Guitars dance delicately around the deep electronically enhanced bass as Jamie Smith's pre-programmed but played live drum patterns play around with the abstract echoes of cutting edge hip-hop and R&B rhythms, at once open and claustrophobic well before Sim and Romy Madley Croft have had the chance to start trading off each other's lovelorn prose at even closer quarters. When they do join us on VCR it brings an immediate night time feel to proceedings, not quite narcoleptic, not even in that sense, but of 3am unstructered and unguarded thought processes. There's a lyrical preoccupation with how relationships work, grow and fall apart that goes beyond most of British guitar-bass-drums' prissiness about getting too close, too emotionally attached. Crystalised seperates every instrument into seperate entities so the woody, chiming two-string riff and prowling, minimal bass really do sound like they're curling round each other for anxious warmth and company long before the dual vocals reassure, of sorts, "don't think that I'm pushing you away when you're the one that I've kept closest". By the end they're singing different lines over each other. Heart Skipped A Beat aches with longing for basic connection; the two act play of Fantasy, riding in on an enormous bass throb before Sim begins singing from the other end of an echoey corridor as if lost in his own mind, and Shelter, Croft's key lyric "can I make it better with the lights turned off" delivered with a crystalline poignancy that echoes the reverbing central guitar line, threatens to answer it. At the same time there's a streak of playfulness without turning into clever-cleverness even when what's being expressed over it runs off unflinching honesty and deep levels of personal connection. Witness the way Islands' programmed bottom line occasionally makes like it's got briefly stuck as the pair coo "I am yours now so now I don’t ever have to leave". Basic Space sounds like an R&B production stripped back to its barest notation before introducing a drum pattern that sounds like nobody so much as Womack & Womack (whose Teardrops they often cover live), but the narrative finds its sex life completely conflicted about the basic need of sex and the trade-off suggested by such and the resultant permanent link. Is the guitar on Infinity supposed to resemble Chris Isaak's Wicked Game? Whatever, Sim's half of the bargain seems appropriately love desperate even as Croft is refusing to give up the affair "because I care too much". Again, in expressing such carnal confusion the space is the key, allowing room to breathe - ironically the one thing Basic Space suggests is metaphorically lacking in Croft's approach - and in such room for... manoevure? A moment to consider where this is going? Such moral confusion and confession works because of the overdrive vacuum, almost a negative print of most current trends (look at the records that surround it in this countdown, for several) and an absolute triumph of a fully formed, singular arrival.



The full list

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Tracks of our year III

The Kabeedies - Little Brains [Spotify] [YouTube]

The Kiara Elles - Odio [YouTube]

Laura Marling — Goodbye England (Covered In Snow) [Spotify] [YouTube]
Still has the most unerringly gorgeous folk voice, still writes songs of textural beauty with utmost care and attention. Even if it nearly turns into the mice's song from Bagpuss at one point.

Le Loup - Beach Town [Myspace stream] [YouTube]

Left With Pictures - 1, 2, 3, Go! [Myspace stream]
Starts with very nearly the Smoke On The Water riff played on piano, and turns into classic Lucksmiths-recalling summer pop.

Let's Wrestle - My Arms Don't Bend That Way, Damn It! [Spotify] [Myspace stream]
Slacker new wave savant in the scrappy power-pop lineage of Buzzcocks, The Wedding Present and The Cribs. That's what we wrote about the album, and this careers better than most.

Lord Cut-Glass - Even Jesus Couldn't Love You [Spotify] [Myspace stream]

Los Campesinos! - The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
Ah, they'd have to get their noses in here somewhere. Continuing down the dark path We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed suggested. Gareth supplies the dark imagery suggesting anorexia, social outcasts and drowning suicide. If Romance Is Boring is all this good... oh, yeah, it is.

The Lovely Eggs - O Death [Spotify]
It's a song about carving insults into lemons that switches from playschool lo-fi sweetness to metal riffing. Who could resist?

Lucky Soul - Woah Billy! [YouTube]

The Maccabees – No Kind Words [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
Weird that so many people talked about this album as turning them into Arcade Fire. Maybe it's some minor bit we didn't spot at first. Anyway, this is where they turned the freneticism down and introduced an almost shimmering building up to a classic guitar race for the line.

Madness – The Liberty Of Norton Folgate [YouTube]
Others rated the album higher than us - too in thrall to 80s production to sound as timeless, ironically, as the best of their 80s work - but the ambitious style switches, post-Peter Ackroyd sociology of the captial narrative and obvious joy of the ten minute title track put many a British band of similar vintage to shame on its own.

Magpie Wedding - September Song
From a tremendous six-track EP, Torches, the Bologna-based collective got it right straight out of the gate, and in a way that's difficult to pin down to simple comparisons, in near enough radio silence, which is rare these days. Just on this track they channel an emotionally turmoiled Scout Niblett fronting Modest Mouse on Asthmatic Kitty Records. Or something like that.

Mat Riviere - FYH [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
Latest cab off the Brainlove Records rank, Riviere plays around with a wall of knackered electronics and doomy voiced prognoses of unfulfilment a la Why? playing with the second hand keyboards in Cash Converters.

The Medusa Snare - Ixtab [Myspace stream]
It might on the surface sound like the first post-Pains Of Being Pure At Heart band, no bad thing in itself, but two of ver Snare's old lot the Manhattan Love Suicides were POBPAH's support band of choice and they owe as much in their fuzzbomb attack to the Dunedin sound and the Magnetic Fields.

Meursault - William Henry Miller Pt 1 [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
One of two 12"s released in December, a reworking of an old favourite marries banjo to subtle electronics to emotion splitting effect, something Meursault are already learned hands at.

Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson - Buriedfed [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
Again qualifying through a first UK release being this year, which rules out Bon Iver comparisons. Does slightly resemble Tunde Adebimpe vocally, though, in this shuffling rage against the world and the human condition. Grizzly Bear's Chris Taylor's typically spaciously deep production helps it sound great.

Minnaars - Are Lovers [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
Since being bigged up on our Class Of '09 selection, they've comprehensively failed to get a UK label despite being able to release a mini-album in Europe and tour it. BEHOLD OUR INFLUENCE.

The Mountain Goats - Psalms 40:2 [Spotify] [Myspace stream]
Maybe John Darnielle hasn't been the same confessional songwriter since upgrading to the full band, but on this track he really got to bare his teeth as much as his cryptic soul.

Muddy Suzuki - D-Punk/Shimmering [Myspace stream]

Napoleon IIIrd - The Strong Nuclear Force [Spotify] [Myspace stream]

Nat Johnson & the Figureheads — Wonderful Emergency [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]

Navvy - Disco [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]

The Northwestern - What Did I Do [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
Sam Herlihy and Simon Jones of Hope Of The States pick themselves up and start again with something less grandiose but, in a kind of Bunnymen dark melodic way, just as earpricking.

The Pastels/Tenniscoats - Vivid Youth [Spotify] [YouTube]
The Scotland/Japan cross-cultural exchange brought us unhurriedly sparkling space age lounge music, dream pop in the literal sense.

Peggy Sue - Lover Gone [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
For a duo (alright, trio now) whose USP is intuitively harmonied simple folk-pop there's a lot going on underneath here, both musically - plucked strings, school percussion - and emotionally, commemorating the death of a long relationship. And it's under two minutes long.

The Pete Green Corporate Juggernaut - Hey Dr Beeching [YouTube]
The whistles aren't on the record. What is is a jangly elegy for the lines lost to the Beeching Axe from Sheffield-via-Grimsby's most perturbed songsmith. Download it, why not.

The Phenomenal Handclap Band - 15 To 20 [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]

Picture Books In Winter - T.T.Y.N. [Myspace stream]

Pulled Apart By Horses - I Punched A Lion In The Throat [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
Rock and/or roll! As with Dinosaur Pile-Up lumped in with some sort of semi-mythical grunge revival, theirs is a swivel-eyed Jesus Lizard full-on attack spearheaded by a series of hoary rock riffs being twisted around or just smashed to pieces.

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2009: Number 5

There's a difference, sometimes a great gulf, between a great live band and a great recorded band. It's all about energy levels, what a performer gives personally to their audience and what it does to that audience's pheremones, serotonin levels and eardrums. Dananananaykroyd, you'd think, would be most susceptible to this, being that their gigs are more like some great lost Washington DC underground post-hardcore band throwing a community support meeting with mescaline on tap. What hope does a band realistically have of capturing the lightning in a bottle atomic energy and Wall Of Cuddles on record? Well, apart from the latter, a very good chance. See, at the root of such madness is a set of songs that so carefully tread the line between dissonance and sussedness that they can't help but sound vital. They have the Awesome Pals! gene we've discussed before, where listening and appreciating almost feels like entry to a secret club where you can't place exactly what they do, especially not directly in terms of their immediate peers, but at the same time what they do feels extraordinary and something you'd love to be a part of. And if that doesn't make sense, then just take it that they're a band who make the extraordinary feel everyday, near enough a new benchmark for those who turn up and fuzz out in this country.

The opening track here, for instance. It's ninety seconds long, it features no words, and yet it sets their celebrated 'fight-pop' stall out perfectly. The double drummers crash round the periphery while guitarists David Roy and Duncan Robertson switch from huge power chords to intricate little runs before everything disintegrates into a mess of feedback and cymbals for the second half of the song-ette. The first vocal comes at the outset of Watch This!, a chanted chorus of the bandname, following which John Bailie Jnr stalks out his territory with one well chosen word: "Hiya!" Then things start clanging into and over each other, the two drummers clattering in time while Calum Gunn joins him for verbal sparring and the pair of them begin attempting to bring the house down by merely the force of effort. They sound restless, because they are restless. For the fact that six of these eleven tracks had been previously released, and two of those new five songs total two and a half minutes, working with Machine has brought a whole new sonic language to these already not exactly underplayed songs. The Greater Than Symbol And The Hash would be hard rock if not for its strutting riff, followed by a squealing mess of everything thrown down the stairs that passes for a midway breakdown, followed by an enormous slab of anthemic granite over which Gunn goes positively post-modern screamo. Totally Bone explodes out of the box with double drum rolling led on by a virtual guitar fanfare and the killer opening line "since I became emasculated, can you take me aside?" Black Wax is what Dananananaykroyd think pop songs sound like. It's more jangly, it's peppered by rhythmic handclaps and features a huge "whooooo!" before the chorus. It is, by the way, nobody else's idea of pop. Ever. Those sorts of musical motif are what really makes Hey Everyone! work. It's full of little moments - the first time the central Pink Sabbath riff appears over cyclonic drums, the mass introductory chant and HGV sized bludgeoning figure at the start of the chorus Some Dresses, the way everything interlocks during the drawn-out intro to Song One Puzzle, the becalmed "turn your hissy fits into sissy hits" last minute and a half of 1993. Hey Everyone! is one almighty storm, but one so meticulously planned out that it has a certain crooked melody hidden under all the noise screes and barrage of cross-purpose vocally giving of all. Any band that can even out handclaps and hardcore pummelling must be special.


Some Dresses

The full list

Friday, December 25, 2009

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2009: Number 6

"And it starts like..."

Waited Up Til It Was Light was such a complete statement that, short of going gabba, a second Johnny Foreigner full length a year later was always going to be evolution rather than revolution, a re-statement of what they're good at and how they drive a coach and horses through 99.5% of British bands with what we described this time last year as "barely controlled hysteria, sucrose rush replacing the sugar, technical witchcraft you're not supposed to be recognising." Grace And The Bigger Picture, an attempt to document their year on the road, is by nature more piecemeal in purest song terms - take off the hidden track and associated gap and it's 15 tracks in 36 and a half minutes - but there's something relentless, even uncompromising, about that very fact. They're going to write songs of the utmost pace that sees guitar, bass, drums and yelps crash headlong into each other and somehow emerge as fractured nuggets of hyper-alt pop. For all that, it's actually a grower. Who knew.

Let's talk about Alexei's guitar style, because it doesn't get talked about a lot in detail but it's unlike anyone else in his immediate sphere. You can tell he knows his Owls and American Football and Kinsella brothers, because while he's not a tapper it's full of those kind of geometrically implausible moments, peaks and crescendos that keep everything faster and louder than everything else. Listen for that ridiculously precise mini-solo delivered almost as throwaway towards the end of Choose Yr Side And Shut Up!, for instance. And yet, somehow, Junior Laidley just keeps up with it all. And it's not just stylistically that he suggests a direct debt. Like Berrow hero Craig Finn phrases recur from earlier - those "arcs across the city" make a slight return early in Choose Yr Side And Shut Up!, which itself has been divested of its earlier, slower coda, now I’llchoosemysideandshutup, Alright. Dark Harbourzz' title appears as a lyric in at least two other songs and Feels Like Summer's "some summers" clarion call reoccurs at the end of The Coast Was Never Clear. Lyrically there are many reasons to be fearful about albums on life on the road but Alexei's world is clearly a dark one where they "see the stars like holiday heaven/Now we're nine months on I'm having revelations in some student union", or "sit and watch the riots on the last night, dropping all the lamps till the fires are our only light". Not only do they know what they do best but, with Alex Newport's production help, they've refined it into an attacking formation. Criminals clamps a chantalong chorus about culture versus development - "closed your clubs and sold you out for what?" - to a whole load of distorted vapour trail guitar. Custom Scenes And The Parties That Make Them, thrown into disarray by comstant travel, transmogrifies from somewhere close to Eyes Wide Terrified to something more forward thrusting with a brief break for a three-part roundel. It's not just in the ballads - see the acoustic forty second as if they couldn't be arsed to come up with any more (Graces) - that they've found a way to play with the general musical theme. More Heart Less Tongue rides on an insistent piano loop, glitched up on slight reprise More Tongue Less Heart; Every Cloakroom Ever is full of treated guitar delay, arrhythmic fills and an almost West Coast feel to the usual sound even as Alexei reassures "don't doubt your worth". Kingston Called, They Want Their Lost Youth Back, meanwhile, appears to be trying to play itself at three times normal speed. Ultimately, as The Coast Was Always Clear progresses from contemplative mid-section to crashing self-referential close, it's the sound of a trio comfortable in their own skins, that is to say incredibly itchy.



The full list

Oh, alright.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Tracks of our year II

Dinosaur Pile-Up - Summer Hit Single [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
For about two weeks they were at the vanguard of the New Grunge movement, but when that passed they were revealed as just plain great Dinosaur Jr devotees who do it better than most. Anyone else think there's a melodic similarity to Grandaddy's Summer Here Kids?

Dirty Projectors - Stillness Is The Move [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
Such a glorious take of a certain sphere of 90s R&B that when Solange Knowles covered it she pretty much copied Amber Coffman's delivery. Obviously not that straight-up a take, not when Dave Longstreth's got his ethno-chordage on.

Doves - Kingdom Of Rust [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
So the album of the same title turned out not to be up to much, but the long distance yearning of the title at least fleshed out the country influences Jez talked about in advance while still being essentially Doves.

The Drums - Let's Go Surfing [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
For all the hype the suspicion from these quarters is they only really have the one great song and it's the one they put out first, but it is a really good song, full of jittery bass and earworm whistling.

The Duckworth Lewis Method - Gentlemen And Players [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
Ireland's finest exponents of Cricket Pop gave us a uniquely odd yet accomplished themed album, reviewed here for TLOBF.

Ebony Bones - The Muzik [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
"Stop doing that job related task!" Ms Bones seemed to drop straight off the Ones To Watch reckoning right after the start of the year - indeed, while huge in France and highly regarded in America her album tour ignored her home country - but here she went hell for leather running DFA, MIA, the Go! Team and everything else that makes a percussion-based riot into each other, plus a load of London glottal stops on top.

The Embassy - Some Indulgence [Spotify] [Myspace stream]
Tacking was released four years ago in their native Sweden, presumably waiting until New Order were out of the way to come over here trailing a fine update of the jangle-dance that band did so well in their mid-period.

Everything Everything - Photoshop Handsome [Myspace stream] [YouTube]

Thee Fair Ohs - Summer Lake [Myspace stream]

Fashoda Crisis - Moremonkeythanmanman [Myspace stream]
Plenty have channelled the triumverate triumphs of Shellac's stop-start high wire act and Mclusky's black humoured bass frequency bothering visceral attack; few combine the two as well as these. More, please!

The Flowers Of Hell - Opus 66 Part 1 [Spotify] [Myspace stream]
Grandiose name, grandiose sound. A transatlantic orchestral rock collective, they build like post-rock into spaced out elegance.

Foxes! - Oh Rosie [Myspace stream]

Frankie & The Heartstrings - Hunger
Creation story from Sunderland's ragged glory, perhaps the first band of the decade to call to mind the JoBoxers ("Dexys on Postcard" they say, which is also good enough)

Franz Ferdinand - Lucid Dreams [Spotify] [YouTube]
From a record that up to this point constituted a object lesson in taking your previous sound and diluting it until it tastes of nothing, a dialled back awkward stomp that turns into dark industrial house halfway through sounded like the sort of progress they should have been about all along.

Friendship - The Graveyard Shift [Myspace stream] [YouTube]

Full English Breakfast - Song For A Nut [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
Yeah, that's about right. Magnificently odd and very English, a whirring Lawrence Hayward meets Edwyn Collins nugget about a peanut hitch-hiker.

Gallops - Oh, The Manatee [Myspace stream]
Saw these live last month where their arrythmic Battles-ish electro-math came to the fore splendidly. Much digital propulsiveness of excellence to come, we suspect.

Golden Silvers - True Romance (True No.9 Blues) [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
The 1980s. In particular, some bastard union of Ian Dury, early Spandau Ballet, Aztec Camera and Wham Rap, all disco keyboard stabs, funk rhythm and stream of conscious lyrics. If only the rest of their work was as undeniable.

Hatcham Social - Murder In The Dark [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
The 1980s. This time, the intelligent Postcard Records jangle of a Josef K at their most sprightly. Again, why can't they always be like this?

His Clancyness - Vampire Summer [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
Seems like we've not been able to complete a week this year without something new from Jonathan Clancy's lo-fi loops and sonar echo project. From the many we've picked out his attempt at channelling an analogue Panda Bear.

The Horrors - Sea Within A Sea [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
Too much goth melodrama by rote for us to fall for the album as much as a lot have, but as with anything else if anything confirmed they at least aren't the backcombed laughing stocks of yore it was their washed out arpeggiating motorik epic. And if it's been bothering you as much as it's been bothering us, the bloke at the start is Robert Duncan, Gus from Drop The Dead Donkey.

I Concur - Sobotka [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]

I Was A King - Norman Bleik [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
It sounds, as the title suggests, like something off Grand Prix. There are few higher complements.

Ice, Sea, Dead People - My Twin Brother's A Brother [Myspace stream] [YouTube]

Internet Forever - Cover The Walls [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]

Jack Penate - Tonight's Today [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
Sod the Horrors, who'd have ever imagined this? Alright, after this he went back to his reliable self, but everyone has one great song in them, maybe, and Penate's is a euphoric township groove.

Jason Lytle - Birds Encouraged Him [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
Spotty solo debut from the ex-Grandaddy... well, whole, more often than not, the high point being this attempt to submerge M Ward cracked balladry within a Soft Bulletin Flaming Lips framework.

Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard - Roll Bus Roll [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]

Jesca Hoop - Four Dreams [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
From Hunting My Dress, a curiously charming album that unhelpfully came out right at the end of November, the Elbow-feted Hoop tries freak folk, blues spiritual, psych and modern folk all at the same time.

Johnny Flynn - The Mountain Is Burning [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]

Jonquil - Fighting Smiles [Myspace stream]
Sure they used to be a folk band, albeit a very unlinear one. Now they seem to have gone tropical odd-pop and the world of possibility is audibly opening out to them.
An STN Christmas Spotify playlist. You know, just in case.

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2009: Number 7

Emmy The Great took her time in getting here. First Love was released nearly three years after her debut 7", a time when Laura Marling had just made her live debut and Kate Nash was about to book her first open mike. As all sorts of fellow UK alt-folk community members - Noah And The Whale, Lightspeed Champion, Jeremy Warmsley - raced past her she bided her time, found willing co-creatives (Euan Hinshelwood and Tom Rogerson essentially became two thirds of the Emmy The Great collective name) and released a set of songs beefed up from her extensive demo collection. In that time Emma-Lee Moss developed past the diary entries-to-folk songwriter cliche so she could produce something like MIA, a spare lament to a lover killed in a car crash (“suddenly there’s one where there used to be two”) with Moss trapped in the passenger seat considering the mixtape still playing.

Not that that means she’s abandoned the even greater songwriter cliche, affairs of the heart. Fate landed another cosmic joke as the title track referred to emotions of a past love evoked by hearing “Hallelujah, the original Leonard Cohen version”, released just as Alexandra Burke took the song as her own, but it finds itself caught between the joy of a new affair and how it seems to have ended badly, at the culmination of which Moss admits “I wish that I’d never come/But now that I have, I would do it again/I would forget that I’d piss on a grave”. Come again? The girl group-ish sway of We Almost Had A Baby plays the twinkling and backing harmonic coos off against the sour lyrics in which Moss wishes the (real life, and very specifically referred to) ex who helped turn her from girl to woman had impregnated her so she had something to permanently attach herself to him and “I’ll let you know if you have to come and choose a name”, not so much self-pitying as over-assertive. Her rare ability is to connect raw emotions with a fleshed out narrative, taking small details in the great scheme of things and magnifying them to show where they fit in. Absentee starting the album at a family gathering observing the way people around us change and City Song ends it as the protagonist “took the road down to the city as it called”. In Dylan she feels obliged to prove her cultural awareness and empathy to a disbelieving male; in 24 she critiques men who let the world slip them by while esconsed in their own world by comparison to Jack Bauer. The intimate On The Museum Island tells of fleeing to Berlin with a close friend as escape after the high profile death of her famous father, affectionately pitched and winningly summing up her new predicament with the assertion “you’d taken your last ever bus”. There are intriguing liturgial references - Kyrie Eleison in Absentee, “Gloria in excelsis Deo” in The Easter Parade, Bad Things Coming, We Are Safe rhetorically asking a third party “are there restaurants on Jericho?” Produced by the band and released on Moss' own label, taken as narrative First Love is a semi-cathartic mess of an album on an emotional level, one which catches itself up in its own mass of contradictions and whirl of changing lives, not necessarily ultimately for better or worse. Moss is teaching herself to treat the two imposters of success and disappointment the same and coming out the other side better if not necessarily wiser for her experiences, leavened with the stark humour necessary for someone who puts herself on the line time and again.

This is an edited version of a review that originally appeared on The Line Of Best Fit


First Love

The full list

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tracks of our year I

Not everybody makes an album good enough for our top 50 (or one that we remember to put in); not everybody made an album. Siphoning off those with albums in our extended list to reflect what has been quite a good year if you know where to look and have the patience to continue looking, these are our 120 - ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY, because we don't know how many is too many - 'other' favourite tracks of the year, presented over the four not directly festive of the next five days in alphabetical order. Don't ask us for an order now, and don't think that the ones without notes are always less good than the ones with, because when you're writing about 120 individual songs it gets a bit tough over time.

A Classic Education - Best Regards [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
The original and best (probably, although not the last to appear here, and not Jonathan Clancy's last either) of our small stream of Bologna based discoveries, with Jeremy Warmsley behind the desk, produced a 7" of dramatic intent and Fanfarlo-ish expansive pop.

Ace Bushy Striptease - "Arrogance Is My Middle Name", Said Will Davies Arrogantly [YouTube]
No shortage of places to start with Birmingham's collapsing indie-pop lo-fi mavens, so we'll stick a pin in this one and present it. And it's on one of their free albums, so you can all share in it

Acres, Acres - Diamonds From Coal [Myspace stream]
Yeah, Warmsley made it in under his own steam again, then. His band project has superceded his solo self for the time being and its first stirrings were glorious Shins/Beulah maxi-pop of the fretful. Can you still download it free from here? Only one way to find out.

Alan MX - Warpsichord [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]

Allo, Darlin' - Henry Rollins Don't Dance [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
Unaffected uke-led indiepop about changing men who consider themselves too punk for their long suffering girlfriends. Fair enough.

And So I Watch You From Afar - Set Guitars To Kill [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]

Banjo Or Freakout - Upside Down [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
Alessio Natalizia's gauzy, hazy acoustic releases so far have been so varied in tone that an album will be fascinating if it finds a consistent thread of some sort.

Bearsuit - Muscle Belt [Spotify]

Beth Jeans Houghton — I Will Return, I Promise [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]

The Bitter Springs - And Even Now [Spotify] [YouTube]
Ah, the grand old men of sarky south London back room of a pub pop. Simon Rivers turns his attention to, well, himself and his defiance against the fly by night pop world against a pleasingly indie disco setting.

Bombay Bicycle Club - Always Like This [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
Elastic riff, dual choruses, air of not having to try too hard - why isn't their sound, ahem, always like this?

Bon Iver - Blood Bank [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]

Brakes - Hey Hey [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
There was something a little to clean and planned out about Touchdown, a great shame after the unkempt high standards of the first two albums. The first single rocked and rollicked like rockfall, though.

Broadcast And The Focus Group - The Be Colony [YouTube]
The only thing you can definitively call a normal pop song on their Investigate Witch Cults Of The Radio Age collaboration, albeit a pop song beamed through space to the space age bachelor pad.

The Broken Family Band - Cinema vs House [YouTube]
We said goodbye to indie-country's most indefatigable this year; surely Steven Adams will resurface somewhere, but in the meantime this is a prime example of his curiously effective lyrical gifts.

Calories - Let's Pretend That We're Older [Myspace stream]
The former Distophia tend to blow hot and cold and we're not convinced by them live, but we never really got Distophia at all. We know this makes us bad people, because several good people have told us so. Anyway, this is langorous-thrashy great.

Cant - Ghosts [Spotify]
Grizzly Bear's sonic landscaper in chief Chris Taylor forms a neat triangle with the sounds of that band and their other spinoff Department Of Eagles, an eerie version of the former, a harmonic hint of the latter. Amazing, but you knew that, right?

Cats & Cats & Cats - A Boy Called Haunts [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]

Cats On Fire - Letters From A Voyage To Sweden [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
Our Temperance Movement disappointed, being even more Smithsian than before, but they can charmingly chime when the mood takes them and their live cover of Your Woman is second to none.

The Champagne Socialists - Blue Genes [Spotify] [Myspace stream]
Refugees from Bricolage and The Royal We, and since this single changing their name to Neverever, the duo took The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart to the heart of Talulah Gosh, and then to girl group nirvana.

The Chapman Family - Kids [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
Not a cult.

Chapel Club - Surfacing [Myspace stream]
Brooding, electronically enhanced dark ambition resolved in a menacing Dream A Little Dream quote. Oi, White Lies, you could have sounded like this if you cared.

Colourmusic - Yes! [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]

Copy Haho - Wrong Direction [Myspace stream] [YouTube]

Cryptacize - Blue Tears [Myspace stream] [YouTube]

Darren Hayman - Amy And Rachel [Spotify]
Pram Town wasn't a Hayman classic all told, but the tale of the pair whose band "mixed R&B and death metal" was a triumph of his wry lyrical gift. Talkbox solo!

David Cronenberg's Wife - The Fight Song [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]

The Decemberists - Isn't It A Lovely Night? [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]
The Hazards Of Love was a huge disappointment, proving that going out of your comfort zone is all well and good as long as there's something worth finding outside that zone. At least here Colin Meloy and Becky Stark combine to find hitherto untapped melodies amid country-folk beauty.

Dent May And His Magnificent Ukelele - Meet Me In The Garden [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]

Dinosaur Jr – Over It [Spotify] [Myspace stream] [YouTube]