Monthly Archives: December 2008

The Year. Interlude 3: Free Download

<!–[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 <![endif]–><!–[if gte mso 9]> <![endif]–> <!–[if gte mso 10]> /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:”Table Normal”; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:””; mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0cm; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-ansi-language:#0400; mso-fareast-language:#0400; mso-bidi-language:#0400;} <![endif]–><!–[if gte mso 9]> <![endif]–><!–[if gte mso 9]> <![endif]–>((To take you through this, Brian Kelly a.k.a. So Cow. The man needs no introduction, but if you need one, try here. See what I did there?))

Dublin Duck Dispensary – Luanqibazao

Rack and Ruin

 

Luanqibazao was the best Irish album released this year. I think. Not many will agree. But then they will have had both the advantage of actually listening to a lot of Irish music (I don’t really bother keeping up anymore, save GPO and Adebisi) and they will most likely have had the disadvantage of not even knowing this collection exists.

 

 

It’s been tagged as no-fi. Incorrect. This is fi. It’s pop-fi and it’s smile-fi. It’s gallop-fi and it’s fist-fi. It’s a selection of timeless pop moments run through a single adventurous, curious mind, that of Bobby Aherne. This isn’t about your Times New Vikings and your Lovvers’, this is about your Abbas (Mamma Mia!, not Mahmoud) and your early Beatles singles. Peg it with Slanted and Enchanted if you must indie-schmindie it up, but it’s far lovelier.

 

 

I can’t claim to have any idea what Aherne is singing about. I’m content not knowing either. It’s his world, after all. The arrangements on these songs are ridiculously more interesting than most others I’ve heard this year. There’s thought going into this, people. Original thought in that most played out of musical arenas.

 

 

There are standouts. Happy Holidays fizzes and spazzes. Break A Leg falls over itself in restrained giddiness before becoming something really quite beautiful. Roald Dahl is perfectly-judged childish pop dramatics. Brain Damage shames and embarrasses most contemporary bands in its 25 seconds.

 

 

Then again, I think Deerhunter and Beach House suck shit, so what do I know.

 

 

((I play in Bobby’s live band, so I felt awkward posting about the album, but I couldn’t let a list of 25 go without mentioning it, purely for the way it got into my head and fucked shit around this year. You can still get it for free on Rack and Ruin, along with acupofteaandasliceofcake and They Do The Police In Different Voices))

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The Year. 15-11.

15. Fight Like Apes and the Mystery of the Golden Medallion
Model Citizen
A disclaimer: I know the production is dodgy. I know Something Global sounds bizarrely like Avril Lavigne. I know all that. It took me a month to get over minor differences in inflection on the songs that were on the EP. But I got there in the end. And as a collection of songs, it’d be remiss of me to leave this out just because it wasn’t the album to put Dublin on the world indie map. So many of these songs are undeniable. Lend Me Your Face, Jake Summers and Do You Karate are all the pulse-raising clumps of alternapop they were last year. But it’s heartening to note that the rookie Digifucker is, in all its abstraction, dejection and aggression, probably the album highlight. And Tie Me Up With Jackets, the lyrical high point of the Apes so far, wraps up a Side A that could fight almost anything and win. The second half is patchier, but that’s forgivable. Hot Press insanely said that it was the best thing in the world in 2008. It’s not, but it’s a remarkable display of off-kilter songwriting ability, and I have a feeling it will still stand on its feet in ten or twenty years because of it. Now, who has Steve Albini’s phone number?
MySpace, or if you’re interested, this is a blog named after a line from Jake Summers.

14. Roots Manuva – Slime and Reason
Big DadaHaving watched Dizzee Rascal and Estelle zoom past him to worldwide audiences and financial reward with half the lyrical talent,‭ ‬it would be easy to forgive Rodney Smith some bitterness.‭ ‬However,‭ ‬Slime and Reason’s opening line,‭ “‬A lot of people don’t know about Smith‭”‬,‭ ‬seems more like a simple statement of fact than a complaint.‭ ‬This album doesn’t acknowledge anything in its surroundings.‭ ‬Rather,‭ ‬it is the newest chapter in an isolated musical portrait of the artist.The music channels the place-in-time feeling of Jamaica’s Studio One recordings from the‭ ‬1960s and‭ ‬1970s.‭ ‬However,‭ ‬the dancehall carnival feeling is skin deep only.‭ ‬Smith is one of the difficult school of rappers that fight with their demons on acetate for the world to hear.‭ ‬Consistently throughout,‭ ‬but especially on closer‭ The Struggle‭‬,‭ ‬we find him enumerating the difficulties of balancing artistic advancement and the need to provide for others.There are few rappers in the world who can deal with real internal turmoil and lyrical skill in a successful way.‭ ‬Nas is one.‭ ‬Roots Manuva is another.‭ ‬There is enough universal wisdom in Slime and Reason to make it one of the most vital hip hop albums I’ve ever heard.
This review originally from Analogue. The video to Again and Again is pretty excellent, and you should check this uninformed review against that of the experts.

13. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Real Emotional Trash
Domino“Of all my stoned digressions, some have mutated into the truth”. That’s the first line of Real Emotional Trash, and that’s the premise. Follow the music where it wants to go. Wait for the beauty to reveal itself. In a world of indie rock that Malkmus perceives to be divided between the Gang of Four devotees and those who love Pavement, an album in the milieu of long-deleted 60s bands in the psychedelic slipstream of the more cocksure likes of Hendrix and The Doors is likely to be a curveball. Many felt it didn’t work, but my gut feeling is that comparative listening is hurting Malkmus. You can only judge an album on its own isolate merits. And Real Emotional Trash is not devoid of those, even if they are longer and a little more esoteric than those that preceded it. Simply following the music where it wants to go paints pictures with subtle and novel shades. But it is the clearings in the dense forest of fretplay that provide the true transcendence. When Out of Reaches or Gardenia pop out of the furore, context makes them something strangely, and differently, beautiful.
SM is at least my second favourite interview I’ve ever done. This video might be better though.

12. Wolf Parade At Mount Zoomer
Sub PopSpencer Krug is a font of genius. This is a truth self-evident. Picture his input to anything as a white light. The question is not whether or not the germ of inspiration is going to be there, the question is how it’s going to translate to music. In front of the white light, you could put any number of things. You could have slides of colour, or you could cast shadows, or block it off, or whatever. That all comes from the context. How do you listen to a new Wolf Parade album when the guy who wrote almost all of the truly great songs on the last one has spent the last three years taking his music into new, complex and much more developed regions with a different band? You just have to go with it. It works, too. It’s not quite the opus that the unjustly underrated Random Spirit Lover unfolded into, but the spidery, proggy character of Mount Zoomer stakes its own claim. It’s surprisingly unified for what is now essentially a side project for both primary songwriters. Songs such as Boeckner’s bare, aching Fine Young Cannibals and Krug’s more knotted but equally aching Call It A Ritual sit well together and create a slightly gothic feeling that evokes the wildness that the title describes.
Dan Gray did an interview which was pretty good, and Pitchfork did several.

11. No Age – Nouns
Sub PopI read a lot of magazines and blogs, and a lot of my friends do too, so I’ve slowly developed quite a stockpile of indie rock anecdotes. With some of them, I can remember the page and issue of the magazine it came from. With others, it’s just a vague recollection, or something I was told in passing. My favourite No Age anecdote is one of the latter. I was once told that Nouns was recorded and mixed in full, then played through a guitar amp and recorded again with a single microphone. This recording is the one that ended up being released. I’m not sure if this is actually true, but it sounds a lot like it and it’s a good story. It’s loud and it’s muddy. Everything is distorted. But it has more going for it than the half-attentive stoner shoegaze it might be, just on production values. Eraser bristles with static electricity before releasing it and heading into a hooky chorus. And Teen Creeps, as I have noted here before, is one of the tracks of the year. It’s not often that music perceptibly explodes on your speakers, but this does.
Metacritic is an interesting one here for such a divisive record, but bring the band and you have two friends for life.

The Year. Interlude 2: Homemade, stapled-together super-limited EP

((So Cow will feature on this list more conventionally, don’t worry, but as well as the excellent I’m Siding With My Captors, his output this year featured another work worthy of note. Destined to be apocryphal, this CD-R in a hand-daubed canvas sleeve did not fit the mandate of the list. But, being Ireland’s best ever musical product, it would be criminally remiss to leave anything he made out the yearly reckoning. So I asked the infinitely more qualified Bobby Aherne of HiFi Popcorn, State and Dublin Duck Dispensary to do it.))Like Mr. McCausland before me, I shall begin this intermissionary kudos by speculating as to why our Stupefied host has neglected from including my assigned album on his rundown. Perhaps it’s because the status of Wackity Schmackity Doo as an actual album is ambiguous; despite its 13 tracks, its creator instead prefers to refer to it as an EP. Or perhaps it’s because it remains sinfully unreleased; its existence confined to 25 CD-Rs sold in Galway’s Roisin Dubh on a night in early September. Another likely reason is that it would be slightly unorthodox and overly-enviable for one young man to hog two spaces on a ‘Top 25’ list for a year in which hundreds of very worthwhile albums reared their heads; a fact testament to Brian Kelly’s high status as Ireland’s Europe’s very own Jay Lindsey.

So Cow – Wackity Schmackity Doo
Unreleased

Wackity Schmackity Doo (taking its title from a Patton Oswalt gag) was conceived and birthed in a single weekend in So Cow’s garden shed. This might explain Kelly’s less-wrought-than-normal lyrics, as well as some of the more off-kilter bits, but it does little to explain the colourful splashes of snotty yet adorable punk rock (like the any-other-band-would-kill-for ‘Outskirts’ or ‘The ‘You’re Nice’ Mysteries’) or the band-jamming cohesion of this curt solo experiment as a whole. It may not be a concept album, but it does have a conceptual timeline: So Cow welcomes you to his radio station (102.4FM), So Cow wants to be your boyfriend, So Cow thinks he was a bad (shitty, even) boyfriend, So Cow gets bored singing about relationships and instead composes some R.P.G. video game soundtracks and strums a mandolin for a few minutes before returning with an earnest reimagining of the ‘Only Fools and Horses’ theme tune. The Wall it ain’t, but these impromptu eccentricities are what make it – only twelve weeks after its creation – a lost classic.

So actually, in summation, the most likely reason that Those Geese Were Stupefied is omitting this strange and sparkling gemstone from his ‘Best of 2008’ list is so that he can feature its inevitably celebrated reissue on his ‘Best of 2028’ list. For those who wait, good things can’t fail to come.

((Bobby is the default James Boswell to So Cow’s Dr. Johnson, as proven by this interview. If you need this CD-R, your best bet is some sustained pestering.))

The Year. 20-16.

20. Port O’Brien – All We Could Do Was Sing
City Slang

You know how your English teacher in school told you not to start your story with waking up? Well, Port O’Brien don’t care what your English teacher says. All We Could Do Was Sing opens with a fantastic, cathartic track called “I Woke Up Today”, sung (or shouted) by everyone in the band in unison. It’s one of those songs that turns into the only thing you can think about for a couple of weeks. Communal and celebratory. Other than this, Port O’Brien do a good line in nautically-themed folky indie. From ‘Moby Dick’ to ‘The Old Man and the Sea’, the ocean has always been an excellent paradigm for the more solitary emotions in the spectrum. Port O’Brien sell the sea myth pretty hard, but the fact that main songwriter Van Pierszalowski genuinely does commercially fish for salmon makes for heightened fascination with his lyrics. ‘Fisherman’s Son’ is a particularly salient example of this, expressing the conflict that arises from having to drop real life and go to sea for several months. The closer, ‘Valdez’, is a short, sleepy ditty that begins with the line “Exxon, Exxon, clean it up” and sounds like it was recorded on a dictaphone buried under a large pile of laundry. The album is varied enough to be continuously interesting, and if ever you wanted a break from the stresses of real life, there are worse places to look for it than Port O’Brien.
This review differs to the others, and is kind of spazzy, because I did it for Analogue right after I got the CD. The original print review, a live review and a full length interview all archived on the Analogue site.

19. Parenthetical Girls – Entanglements
Slender Means Society

A sprawling orchestral pop album conceived and realised over the course of four years by a man who claims not to “know a G from an A”. Worried? Don’t be. The defining moment of this album comes at its very beginning, as if to rebut scepticism and speak for itself before anyone has a chance to second guess it. A piano key is tentatively struck. A few chords are sounded, as if to test not only the instrument, but also the ear of the listener. Then, a flourish of violins and Zac Pennington appears to take it the rest of the way. ‘Four Words’ is very much emblematic of the album as a whole – a vocal narrative of literate lust, familiar from previous releases, but carefully supported by an impossibly complex artifice of hundreds of individual instrumental tracks from bumbling brass to Andrew Bird-esque pizzicatos. One possible criticism is that the arrangements, while all orchestral or at least “big” in some way, don’t necessarily follow any central theme, and the mood can swing between the baroque and the Disney soundtrack from song to song. But that is a small price to pay for a record of such sustained poise and elegance. And the pop tunes are here too, by the way.
Here’s a music video, and here’s a good interview from The Torture Garden blog.

18. Santogold – Santogold
Atlantic
So what is Santi White, if not a high-end cash-in on Maya Arulpragasam’s adoption as culturally “important” in the UK, and as hot shit in the USA? What is this, if not M.I.A.-lite? Let’s investigate – similar vocal style, similar sense of style writ large, but without the pervasive politics and fear underwriting the pulp tendencies. ‘Creator’ is the first single off the album, produced by Switch, the man responsible for much of Kala, and it very much recalls M.I.A.’s atonal sung-rap and dirty beats. But the true standout is the second single and opening track of the album, and it blocks that line of thought completely. ‘L.E.S. Artistes’ is three and a half minutes of perfectly juxtaposed artiness and emotion rolled into a pop song, and it casts its positive shadow on the rest of the album. It’s not Maya A, it’s… Karen O? ‘Shove It’ sees White ride a dub bassline into the future, and ‘I’m A Lady’ comes across like a new ‘Gigantic’ by the Pixies with Kim Deal’s puerile lyrics subbed out for considered maturity and an updated genius pop chorus. The mish-mash of styles that makes up the album could make it awkwardly disjointed, but instead it creates what comes across as a fantastic extended demo-tape to spite the world. What Santi White is essentially saying is that she can do anything, and she can do it well. Compelling listening.
The magnificent L.E.S. Artistes from Pitchfork.tv, and the nuclear weirdness of an unrelated Santo Gold at his site.

17. The Mae Shi – Hllyh
Moshi Moshi

I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for all of this. I just don’t know what it is. You see, I literally walked in on the Mae Shi by accident, having been guestlisted for another band. I missed the write-ups, the historification by blog and trial-by-comments-section that usually characterise my introduction to an American band. So I’m not completely sure what I’m supposed to think of Hlllyh. All I know about their context is that one of them was wearing a No Age bandana, which he gave to Coady, possibly assuming it would be returned. This lack of grounding makes it very hard to know what to make of spazzy, synthy, poppy hardcore with very overt Old Testament rapture influences in the lyrics. It’s more than influence, really. It’s at the point of being a concept album. When the singer says, speaking as God, “they lost the scent, and I don’t even care why they didn’t repent/We need a new creation” on ‘Pwnd’, it’s so left-field compared to anything else I’ve ever heard that I really don’t know what to think. Maybe I’m supposed to be perplexed. I could do the research, but I’m not sure I want to, like the apocalyptic evangelists the Mae Shi reference/are. If missionaries put this kind of perverse pop punk energy into proselytising, I’m sure millions more would be saved.
Only a link to a
previous post here because, like I said, I’m not doing the legwork here.

16. Department of Eagles – In Ear Park
4AD

You know what? Grizzly Bear have taken way too long following up Yellow House. That album was, and still stands as, a work of singular originality and genius. But what do Rossen, Droste and company spend their time doing nowadays? Well, Ed Droste leaks Animal Collective songs. And Daniel Rossen? Well, he makes interesting albums with pre-Grizzly Bear bandmates. Much of Rossen’s trademarks from the fatherband are still present: the guitars are split between folky fingerpicking and 50s palm-mute plucking, and the arrangements are largely no different. However, the influence of Fred Nicolaus adds a certain spice, and his Destroyer-esque voice is a welcome change of pace to Rossen’s effortless drawl. In fact, Nicolaus’ ‘Teenagers’ is a definite highlight. There is also, I fancy, a vaguely perceptible hint of GB touring partners Radiohead slipping into some of the lush arrangements. On the whole, though, the mood is the same as that of Yellow House – play this alone, late at night, and let it work its magic.
Plenty (including a rooftop P4K session and a Takeaway Show) to be had on the DoE site and then also a great Daytrotter to enjoy.

The Year. Interlude 1: Compilation

((Some things didn’t fit into my conception of this list. Compilations, EPs, other… surprises. So I’m bringing in the big-hitters to help me out. First in a series of linking guest-posts is Darragh McCausland, of Analogue, State, Asleep On The Compost Heap and his kitchen.))

Jay Reatard – Matador Singles ’08
MatadorSo Karl is delegating out the artists who he doesn’t think fit the criteria for his albums of the year list. I don’t know whether to admire or worry about such fastidiousness. Any frozen heads in your fridge Karl? We shouldn’t give a fuck that Jay Reatard’s singles collection is not technically an album because

A: it sounds like one (a brilliantly coherent one too)

B: Jay certainly wouldn’t give a fuck either

For what it’s worth, the music on this collection of singles isn’t futuristic, world-changing or anything like that. It’s just a bunch of reatardedly awesome pop/punk tunes, which doesn’t for one second dip in quality, tempo or attitude. Jay is a rare creature in the current rock landscape, an old school songsmith who just gets on with the business of churning out these thrilling songs, hopefully oblivious to the hurricane of hype building around him.

((Watch this snivelling interview with Nitsuh Abebe and then watch the blistering live set, all on Pitchfork.tv.))

The Year. 25-21

25. This Is The Album Of A Band Called Adebisi Shank
Richter Collective

Adebisi Shank emanate from one of the most productive scenes in Irish music, that of bands who seem to have spent adolescence listening to metal but have now discovered their inner maths geek. What sets Adebisi Shank apart from other purveyors of spastic, geometric rock is the direct connection between feeling and music. It’s like a print-screen of a hyperactive, manic depressive mind. They are not simply showing off rhythmic ability, rehearsing the different ways in which you can play fast in an unusual time signature. It’s much more measured than that. While at points, songs can seem like the individual band members are battling each other with their instruments, the whole is as tempered in its way as a piece of classical music. Nothing happens for longer than it has to, and the result is something intensely expressive and almost incandescent. I also saw, while sharemining for new music, a post on an American forum saying that this album was fantastic, and I felt a little happier in the knowledge that a song called ‘Mini Rockers’ is getting onto Floridian iPods. Fitting ambassadors.
This picture pretty much says it all, and then this collective commits it to wax.


24. Correcto – Correcto
Domino

Indie rock from the island of Britain is in ebb at the moment, and the cartoonised post-punk sound that launched a number of bands to the mainstream in the first half of the decade has tainted everything with its own descent into pastiche. That’s a pity, because Correcto, from Glasgow, make the kind of catchy but clever music that is almost ingrained enough in British music since 1976 as to be the new traditional at this point. On the upbeat songs, Danny Saunders’ flawed voice rides large Buzzcocks-esque guitars to places at least as interesting as the Postcard Records offspring of Glasgow circa 1980, and on the quieter arrangements he channels the pint-and-a-bag-of-crisps-at-the-battle-of-the-bands style of Half Man Half Biscuit. Self-awareness is the order of the day, with the self-portrait ‘Walking To Town’ carrying the refreshing admission “I look like a fucking goon”. Another perceptive observation on the next track: “No-one over thirty can do the Watusi”. And ‘Joni’ is one of the most criminally-overlooked pieces of pop genius in the last decade. A self-deprecating running commentary on popular culture is a welcome respite in a world where much of the good music is coming from the no-child-left-behind sincerity of North America.
Check out Joni if you haven’t heard its infectious strains, and then head to MySpace to commiserate with the band over the fact that no-one actually seems to care about them at all.


23. The Dodos – Visiter
FrenchkissI have never had much of a tolerance for Americana. Those straightforward, folky albums that tumble down through the filter of the make-or-break American indie axis have always been unavoidably naff to me, no matter how hard I tried to see what so many people were seeing. Years of this mean that I’m no longer excited by acoustic music. It needs to have a really big twist to win me over. The Dodos have. With an acoustic guitar and a drum kit, they paint layers and more layers, and then go digging in them for the elusive melody that no-one has found yet. The magically liberating tool that is the loop-pedal has been around for a while now, but few have avoided the potential for excessive meddling like Meric Long. His rapid strums, along with the outdoorsy drums of Logan Kroeber, provide a bustling backing for the introverted-extrovert songs he sings. The freak wins the battle with the folk, and the likes of ‘Red and Purple’ or ‘Fools’ are some of the most memorable songs of the year.
Ball it over to Pitchfork.tv for the fairly stunning video for Fools, and then stall the ball to Daytrotter for the old songs/new songs/demos/unreleased songs/explanations you’ve come to expect and love from them.

22. Ponytail – Ice Cream Spiritual
We Are Free
Ponytail are a band who have a lot of fun. This becomes immediately apparent at the 15 second mark, as Molly Spiegel releases forth a piercing, feral peal to conjure up the full glory of her Baltimore bandmates’ instrumental assault. Ponytail channel Cool bands like Sonic Youth and their lesser-known (or simply lesser) comrades at times, but they bring an enthusiasm to the table, often in the form of simply playing fast, that makes this effectively instrumental 8-song effort excitingly original. There is also a definite Japanophile tendency that goes a ways to explaining the unselfconscious mentalness of tracks like ‘Late For School’. It’s also fun to see that, just like post-Strokes bands began to show up in the aftermath of Is This It?, there is such a thing as post-Deerhoof in the world today.The cover art, trippy and hand-daubed, is a pretty good indication of how this sounds. But the real tell is the exclamation mark snuck in at the end of the title. ! pretty much sums it up.
Check Ponytail out on, looking exactly like they sound, on MySpace, and then check out the perpetually useful about.com for advice on how to sport your own.


21. Marnie Stern – This Is It And I Am It And You Are It And So Is That And He Is It And She Is It And It Is It And That Is That
Kill Rock Stars

More notes required. Exponentially more drums hit per bar required. More words per title required. Marnie Stern’s second album is an explosion of unrelenting excess from the first avalanche of music halfway through the opener ‘Prime’ to the last tapped arpeggios of closer ‘The Devil Is In The Details’. On first glance, Marnie’s music seems to reside in a bizarre psychedelic-perceptive cave within the milieu of Van Halen-esque classic rock, but better touchstones would be the life-affirming likes of The Mae Shi, the hemidemisemiquaver hi-hat proggishness of Battles, or the positive apocalypticism of Lightning Bolt. It’s rather refreshing to see guitar virtuosity of this magnitude attached to someone with their head in the real world. And though she has a tendency to declaim the poetry of whatever comes into her head, her stream of consciousness aphorisms make it all the more urgent.
Read Matthew ‘Fluxblog’ Perpetua’s interview with Marnie Stern at Pitchfork, then regret missing her kissing booth.

Housekeeping

Some odds, some ends:

  • Found this out while standing in Tower Records (if you’re an employee of Tower Records reading this, I’m sorry I stand around in your shop whenever I’m waiting to do anything for any amount of time up to an hour) – for some reason I assume to be related to the release of The Sound of The Smiths, a shitload of Smiths 7″ singles have been re-released. I’m going to buy as many as I can find next time I’m in town.
  • Kevin Barnes interview hangs in the ether – last Thursday, went to ghostly answering machine. Tonight, he answered, but very nicely asked to reschedule due to soundcheck. As the old saying goes: don’t try to do a phone interview with your heroes.
  • Don’t go to the Analogue site, it’s afflicted with some sort of virus at the moment.
  • The programme on TG4 with the Kerryman who talks to his paintings while he teaches you to paint is my favourite programme.