20. Sunset Rubdown – Random Spirit Lover
Random Spirit Lover sees Spencer Krug split his time between being the demon ringmaster of some sort of keyboard-led musical circus noir and being the hilltop poet of both doom and everyday wisdom. I’ve seen reviews of this that haven’t gotten any further than the vaguely kooky sounds that pop up occasionally and I’ve seen reviews that haven’t got past the slightly bizarre lyrical tangents. More than both, I’ve seen ten legions of Sunset Rubdown reviews declare “when he’s not with Wolf Parade, Swan Lake, Frog Eyes, Destroyer, blab”. And I would like to congratulate those reviewers for knowing how to use Google. Sunset Rubdown does not deserve to be left as a part of the overall life and loves of a busy indie journeyman, because it’s too good for that. It always seems like the place where Spencer can do exactly what he wants with songs, where he directs things rather than just taking part, where he gets the most personality into his lyrics, where the songs sound like they do in his head. Random Spirit Lover sat on my desktop for about 5 weeks too long this year, and I regret it daily.
Jagjaguwar provide the hook-up, song-wise, but Spencer does not know Jeff Mangum’s name. You can be cool without trying. A revelation.
19. Holy Fuck – LP
When I reviewed this for Analogue‘s latest issue, I said at the end that it was a dark horse for album of the year. When the time came to actually compile my own personal totally overblown Album of the Year rundown, things turned out a little differently. That’s more a testament to others than a sign of LP ageing badly in the six weeks or so since I passed judgement on it, because the things that made me put it on so loud that it shook shelves and made radiators resonate while I danced sadly alone one night not too long ago are still there today (do not tell anyone about that, blogosphere, I trust you). The beats are fortified, amped up and racing the keyboards to the finishing line. Holy Fuck make a sort of organised lo-fi amphetamine dance-rock chaos that you might find growing in a cave or somewhere. Or alternatively, live and improvised in a loft in Toronto. Or alternatively, on CD or mp3, recorded for your convenience in what proved to be a valiant though unsuccessful attempt at the best album of 2007.
A well-provisioned MySpace provides Bishop Gregory, Lovely Allen and other vital album tracks, while Coke Machine Glow lands a lower rating than I would’ve, but describes it well.
18. Handsome Furs – Plague Park
Plague Park has all the hallmarks of a true side-project effort. Dan Boeckner is famous from collaborating with Spencer Krug in Wolf Parade. He decided to make an album with his wife. They wrote it at home. The only singing and real playing on it is Dan. If there was ever an album in danger of being a vanity project, this was it. It’s not though. Or if it is, it still sounds great. Proof that minimalism can sound rich, with the help of a mid-90s drum machine, occasional keyboards and his guitar dosed in Canada-sized dollops of reverb, Dan lets his lyrics and particularly his vocal range spread much broader than he did with other projects. He takes wings. The lyrical conceits are idiosyncratic at this stage. Love, nothing and modernity, swimming in these strange metaphors. Like Sunset Rubdown, there’s the feeling that this is how Dan would be doing things if every idea in his head came to full fruition. Every song in the album sounds like a constituent part of a whole scheme, and that whole is as dusty and spacious as the cover art. Marginally better than Spencer’s effort this year. Not that it’s a competition.
Here is what I said about Handsome Furs in Whelans in October, and here are two of the best tracks, What We Had and Handsome Furs Hate This City.
17. Patrick Wolf – The Magic Position
This album came out early in the year and quite possibly leaked in 2006, so it didn’t appear on many end of year lists. That’s the only possibly explanation. The very idea that all the top 50s of the Educated in the world could have ignored The Magic Position is so offensive to me, that I can’t entertain it for a second. Especially seeing as they all hyped it when it was released. The album is a tapestry of swelling violin-led tracks, bouncing pop, fragile Antony-esque piano ballads and very slightly Depeche Mode tunes. There’s even a taste of Xiu Xiu on The Stars. It’s much, much better than anything Wolf has done before, and largely what establishes it are the singles. The Magic Position and Accident & Emergency as a combination make this album special alone. The rest of the salad bowl of sounds are tied together by Wolf’s occasionally breathy semi-croon, and they create a quite captivating and undulating selection. Pity everyone forgot.
The NME article where Patrick had a bit of a sulk, and a hotlink to the video for Accident & Emergency on his website.
16. Gruff Rhys – Candylion
Another salad bowl of an album is Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys’ second solo album. Before we start talking about the music, if there were awards for best album art (and seeing as this is my blog, I may well invent one) Candylion would win hands down for its completely flawless cardboard rendering of what the combination “candylion” would look like. Not all of the album is as sweet as the cover, but the title track (which comes after an intro falsely declaring the album to be for voice and guitar) definitely is. It’s a knowing sort of sweet though, more Bassetts All-Sorts than WKD Blue. It’s mostly in English, with a handful of Welsh songs and one in basic Spanish for some reason. One of Welsh ones, Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru is the highlight, and one of the catchiest songs of the year. Many hours have I walked home from places sans mp3 player with a Welshman’s voice saying “gurry gurry gurry gurry gurry gurry” over and over and over again. Superb stuff. Apart from sweetness and infectiousness, there are slightly less saccharine tunes floating around too. Cycle of Violence sounds a bit like Pinky and Skylor! is a 14 minute behemoth that sounds a small bit like the Velvet Underground. There aren’t weak tracks. Wales is still a world power in music.
MySpace tells the story of Candylion, and YouTube has Gruff and Lisa show us how to make our own, ala Blue Peter.