The Year. Interlude: 2010, A Year of Reconciliation

This is a guest post by Quarter Inch Collective mogul and Ginola singer Ian Maleney. As Quarter Inch he’s putting out an excellent-seeming compilation featuring Squarehead, Patrick Kelleher, Cloud Castle Lake, No Monster Club and others covering their favourite song of 2010. Soon. Check it out.

I’m going to warn you: I’ve spent the hours preceding my writing of this here post reading Mark Richardson archives and struggling with a head cold. It may border on the incoherent at times, though that may emphasize the point I’m trying to make. Or not make. Or something. Anyway, I guess what I want to do with this little particle of your time is explore with you the idea I found most interesting in 2k10. Not really sure what that idea is yet, but hopefully that’ll be somewhat clearer by the end.

Mountain Man – Soft Skin

I’m going to start with Mountain Man and their rather special debut album, ‘Made The Harbour’. ‘Made The Harbour’ is a unique bit of work, being just about as bare as it’s really possible for a record to be at this point. It’s three girls in a room, sometimes with a guitar though more often not, singing songs that
(on a strictly musical level) could have been written just about anytime in the last century and a half. There’s a bit more to it than that though. The recording space of an abandoned, century-old ice-cream parlour pervades the record, adding a timeless, isolated air to the whole album. Then there’s songs like ‘How’m I Doin?’ and ‘Sewee Sewee’, that are in essence nothing more than throwaway showcases of startlingly beautiful harmony married to a pair of age-old melodies. All of this might lead you to think that Mountain Man are operating on a different plane to the rest of the world, locating themselves
firmly upon some fog-covered mountain high among the Rockies. Not quite so.

Through their total embrace of the form they work in, this fireside folk music made for dewy nights beneath the stars, they have brought it right up to date. Listen to the lyrics. I mean, really listen. For such a naturalistic album, these are three very worldly girls. Images of farm-girls at harvest time aside,
it’s not often such a wholesome sound is wrought with such youthful passion – ‘We’re so wet and we’re so tight, knead me down into the floor tonight. Can’t you understand I’m trying to be a good woman?’ It’s this odd mix of free-spirited, liberated minds with such a staid and traditional sound that gives the album it’s unique essence. This frank openness, both in intention and execution, allows ‘Made The Harbour’ to sit happily among the best records of the year, tied to them through a bond of subtle confidence in it’s own voice, making no excuses for its shortcomings, its silences or its honesty.

Careful now, we’re about to make a short leap across a musical divide. I’d like to bring in everybody’s favourite electronic boy wonder into the equation. Enter James Blake. In 2010, this young Londoner released some of the most interesting and progressive slices of electronic music to be found anywhere.
What does this have to do with Mountain Man? Well, I see the same combination of past and present in his work as I do in Mountain Man’s, the same ability to utilise the past, thrive in the present and go some way towards defining the future. Blake revels in space, though his is a digitally created one. No
old, creaky buildings here, just reams of cutting edge technology and carefully manipulated reverb algorithms. Where Mountain Man communicate with intensely emotional lyrics and sensuous images (I’m back in Leaving Cert English, help!), Blake subverts language, going for a more abstract, though no less powerful, emotional pull. Blake understands the underlying nature of sound and texture better than most, turning unintelligible vocal samples into heart-rending melodies. Like his peers, Mount Kimbie and Joy Orbison, he has the knack of making the most inherently mechanic and computerized sounds into something that appears human-made.

James Blake – CMYK

Blake also seems to have twigged the necessity for such a form. His future live shows promise a full band, no laptops in sight, bringing the barrier between man and machine ever lower. Blake’s music is the riposte to the likes of Kraftwerk, who envisaged a robotic future and defined popular electronic music for almost forty years. Blake and his ilk are re-imagining that definition, just like Mountain Man, and dragging a traditional form into brave new territories.

So I guess this is what I see in 2010, a year of reconciliation, though one with a distinctly forward trajectory. I don’t mean to imply that all, or even most, of the music of the year fits this bill but there’s enough to make it something of a trend. You need only look at Mount Kimbie, How To Dress Well, Flying Lotus, Baths, Laura Marling or Perfume Genius for further examples. There’s a lot more but
there’s no need to turn this into a list. After a decade where the musical world fragmented and changed beyond belief, our musicians are finding their feet again. They are building on the past, embracing traditions and understanding that everything is open to interpretation. We’ve been released from the
shackles and we’re learning a new way to move.

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