Tag Archives: list2

The Year. 1. Occident, out on the weekend.

1. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
XLTake a simple, relatively formulaic guitar, bass and drums construction. Adds subtle keys and collegiate vocals. Tacks on an occasional baroque string flourish. And end up with what? Well, with the keys transformational steps in the process mired in the cloudy confusion that obscures the reasons for all great pop music, you end up with the best album of 2008. Nothing to it.

It couldn’t have been any other way. No other album dominated my headphones like this one did, or wrapped up my consciousness in its deceptively simple folds. I first encountered Vampire Weekend late by blogger standards (having missed out on the blue CD-R and attendant hype), but early enough by normal person standards. Some time after Christmas last year, I saw the video for A-Punk and thought it was by-numbers NME bollocks. Then, after returning to college, I was handed a promo copy of the album, a white disc in a clear plastic sleeve. Thanks XL for splashing out there.

I was expecting it to be bad, to be honest. I convinced myself it was for a little while. But it’s impossible to resist it. It’s insidious. Once I’d heard it twice it would not leave the jukebox in my head. Waking up in the morning I would hear the harpsichords of ‘M79’, disembodied, and be unable to remember where I knew them from. Walking down the street, I’d tap the syncopations of the drum pattern in ‘Mansard Roof’ once it kicks in, subconsciously.

But the key song was one that doesn’t sound a whole lot like the quintessence of the album – it doesn’t have African rhythms, fruit-flavoured keys or particularly referential lyrics. Walcott. Sounds like the Walkmen if they’d had a wash. Perfect pop song, perfect length, perfect builds and breakdowns.

Then I saw it. It’s like that all over. I listened again and again, so that it was whole verses, with the lyrics lodged in my memory, that would appear when I was reading newspapers or playing games or walking through college corridors. It became a daily thing for me, one of the few bandnames that survived the initial wearing-off of novelty on my mp3 players.

If they were slipping out of my consciousness towards the end of the year, the gig brought them right back again, and the fact of interviewing them forced me to look at them in different ways, to question different angles, to probe and see what happens. Doing a degree in English literature at the same time as writing for an indie music magazine probably leads to unnecessarily prosaic and theoretical approaches to things. But whatever.

I asked them about it, they told me what they thought, and I really enjoyed hearing it. It changed what I heard again. It became more African just because people elsewhere were talking about it being African. But the interview challenged that too:

“I think the idea that you can only appreciate African music by associating it somehow with poverty is just as ridiculous as saying you can only listen to African music if you’re some rich safari hunter. It really is nothing to do with it. I hope that people who listen to African music, just because they like the sound of it, would also take it upon themselves to be a moral, ethical person. But, you know, those are two separate things. I find that the people who get angry about an American band being interested in African music aren’t offering any alternative. They tend to be the people who exoticise African music, and ghettoise it, as something that can only be appreciated in this particular way.”

And as if to pull things back out of the theory and back to the real world, they play a new song that sounds like Strawberry Jam and a cover of a Fleetwood Mac song at the gig. As if to say “we are a pop band, stop over-thinking it”.

As I listen to it tonight, it’s no less exciting than it has been in the year I’ve heard it. It might be, yet again, an overly subjective choice for best album, but I know other people think it too. And there’s no reason to deny that I’ve listened to it most and enjoyed it more than anything else, more cerebral or more wrought, put out in 2008. I had it clamped to my ears for 12 months. When it wasn’t, it was bouncing around my head. It even made me go to see a band from the Congo with my afro-enthusiast friend. That’s something.

The Year. 2. In Berlin I saw two men fuck in a dark corner of a basketball court.

2. Why? – Alopecia
Anticon
What is this album about? That’s the question that has kept me coming back to this album, something that I never thought I would like so much even when I heard it first in the shadow of a newly-wrought appreciation for oaklandazulasylum and Elephant Eyelash. On every listen, a new line stands out and seems to colour the whole differently, but then on closer inspection it all disappears, like some imagined structure in the clouds of the cover.

It’s impossible to pin down, or I find it impossible anyway. There’s so much to it. For one thing, death is unavoidable on Alopecia, no matter where you look. The first line: “I’m not a ladies man, I’m a landmine, filming my own fake death”. On ‘Fatalist Palmistry’, he sleeps on his back “because it’s good for the spine (and coffin rehearsal)”. On ‘The Song of the Sad Assassin’, Yoni and the perpetual female “you” find a dead body floating in water, and wrap its wound anyway.

So that’s the first step. It’s about death. But that’s just a black background to paint on. All human existence is about death. There are layers still to unwrap. The other universal which is omnipresent on Alopecia is sex, as seen inside the head of Yoni Wolf. Everyone’s normal is someone else’s perverted, but some of the lyrics challenge by most standards. “I’ll suck the marrow out and rape your hollow bones, Yoni”. “I never said I didn’t have syphilis, Miss Listless”. “Stalker’s my whole style, and if I get caught, I’ll deny.”

Now sex and death are universal, and obviously they’ve been done to death [ugh] but when they’re unearthed in such a bizarre and obsessive manner, it’s hard not to see things differently. Need more ingredients? Try Christian imagery. Son of a rabbi, talking about a past or future girlfriend as the “female young messiah”, “what the church-folk mean by the good news” on ‘Simeon’s Dilemma’. It gets thicker than that, though. Perhaps aware of the trade-off sometimes known as ‘selling out’, or perhaps for some other unknowable reason, the martyr references are nothing short of messianic. “If I get lost, or die on a cross, at least I wasn’t born in a manger.” “Does the cock crow thrice until someone is denied?”

I’m not going to get any further with that sort of approach, I doubt. New parts will reveal themselves, but there’ll never be a whole. That’s the thing about lyrics like this. To twist the meaning of what one of the ghostly fathers said about language, it has both a social and an individual aspect. Social is what we can get.

It’s the sex, the death, the weirdly incongruous religious imagery. But individual is what we miss, and what we can never know. When you write a diary, you write, first and last, to yourself. And that’s what Why? is. That’s why it’ll never be see-through. It might not even be see-through to Yoni. It really is something literary though, and it makes me a little sad to think back to those fist-pumping fans singing back to him about raping his hollow bones at Andrew’s Lane. If you say it yourself, maybe it’s a personal sort poetry. If someone else says it to you… isn’t it a threat?

The Year. 3. The kind of guy who would leave you in a K-hole to go play Halo in the other room.

3. Of Montreal – Skeletal Lamping
Polyvinyl
Word on the street has it that the album format is dead, and that pick ‘n’ mix downloading from mp3 megastores like iTunes and eMusic is the way of the future. Well, even if you’re naïve enough to believe that money will continue to change hands as the generations who have never had to pay for music march resolutely on, you’d have to be pretty deluded or incredibly narcissistic to believe that you’d be able to play God with an album and come out the better for it, telling from 30 second previews which songs are worth having and which are likely to be skipped over anyway. Like, on your iPod.

If you do believe that, though, I doubt you’d have much fun with Skeletal Lamping. Following up what seemed to be a perfect synthesis of the Pop Song and incredibly complex, cerebral structures and lyrics on ‘Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?’ (my erstwhile favourite album, though a late challenger may have emerged), Skeletal Lamping eschews the ultimately superficial shell that is the 2-6 minute song. If you were trying to figure out which songs you’d like from 30 second samples on Skeletal Lamping, you’d literally only be hearing about a quarter of the songs, or ‘sketches’ as they might more properly be called.

The concept, as I grasp it, is as follows: Kevin Barnes comes up with what is known in the trade (maybe) as a “bit”. Normally, this would be hewn through hard labour into something approaching a four-minute song. But on Skeletal Lamping, the bit exists in its own right. It segues into another bit, which could be completely different. This process repeats, and occasionally bits might reappear, or an extended sketch which goes verse-chorus-verse-chorus might show up, but the net result is, at the end of an hour or so, a fairly volatile mass of styles.

Could be terrible. Probably sounds terrible. Some people did think it was terrible, perhaps misguidedly expecting that most sacred of taboos, a repeat of the last record. It’s not terrible though. It is, very basically, a mind map. 50%, say, of Kevin Barnes’ mind is reasonably funky. 20-30% is concentrated in doe-eyed pop, some of which crosses over into the 50% funk. Sometimes he turns into Aladdin Sane for about a minute and a half. Sometimes he’s normal and he sings nostalgic love songs. Sometimes he is fucked up and sings from the perspective of a middle-aged pre-op transvestite named Georgie Fruit, who you may have met in the latter stages of Hissing Fauna.

The pieces of the jigsaw often don’t make sense in isolation. But of course they don’t. Who has ever looked at a single jigsaw piece and exclaimed in recognition of genius? That doesn’t happen. It’s a mind-map. It doesn’t make sense by itself. It makes sense as a whole, though, and probably gives a clearer picture of a particularly interesting person/character/person than any of Of Montreal’s previous efforts did, even though they weren’t half as veiled. At moments there is unbearable tension, such as a pitch-black invocation of the ubiquitous “ladies of the spread” who overlook Georgie’s existence. At other moments, there is reckless, screwy disco abandon that would seem like kids’ TV if you hadn’t heard the half-hour of music that came before.

Cokemachineglow said there weren’t moments of transcendence. I got into an argument about this, and shorn of the weapons of sobriety and reasoned detachment, I did what I always do. I got vaguely hysterical and threw my hands to heaven. There are moments of transcendence. So many. First track, Nonpareil of Favor. Its title is a fucking moment of transcendence in itself. Anyone who uses words that are almost exclusive to Macbeth in the title of a song is permanently invited to my house (familiarity with my sometimes musical project is not expected – but about 75% of the songs have Shakespeare references, mostly to Macbeth). The measuredness of the build-up is transcendent. Kevin/Georgie celebrating a love realised in the first (and only) verse is transcendent. Turning the first corner of the album is transcendent in itself, and the sleaze of the second sketch is, through contrast with the first one, transcendent too.

But let anyone stand in front of me and tell me that the three minute wig-out that follows is not transcendent. It struck me (on a bus, as these things are wont to do) that the wig-out at the end of Nonpareil of Favor is both a representation of chaos in the perceptible universe in general and inside the head of Kevin/Georgie. That somebody can make noise sound like something that specific and that complex is surely a sign of genius?

I realise that this review moreso than probably any of the other album reviews I’ve done here is based totally on a subjective view of the album. But in the end, every review is subjective. This CD, complete with David Barnes’ insanely detailed, analogous-to-the-music fold-out cover art, took over my life for a while. So it commands this place. The only question I have: how do you follow this?

The Year. 4. Humming tomorrow’s nursery rhyme.

4. Beach House – Devotion
Bella Union

How important is style to music? I don’t mean style in the sense of the ‘skinny jeans and tight t-shirts’ that the bouncers of certain London “indie-rock” club nights require. I mean the layers, the arrangements, the how of the music. Its realisation. The fact that there is a piano playing that melody instead of a flute. The fact that that word is slurred, rather than sounded properly.

It’s probably a society-wide assumption that style is something that goes on top of music, especially in the essentially post-punk landscape of indie music. I first came across that idea reading about poetry and the debates various crusty Oxbridge types had about the concrete universals and intrinsic beauty or values, below rhyme and rhythm, below the mere words.

I thought it was missing the point then, and I think it’s missing the point now, in the context of music. There’s no such thing as style in that sense. It’s not a paint that you put over some song that you’ve plucked from the ether, or your arse, depending on how flighty your aspirations. The song is its style, nothing more.

And it’s from this theoretical standpoint (very sorry about all that, casual observer) that I oppose the criticism that Beach House’s songs are boring, samey plods with an interminably sickly layer of style-paint coating them. These songs are made up of their lush organ sounds, reverb-soaked guitar lines and misted spider-web shakers. In the very same way that Times New Viking aren’t a noise band with pop songs underneath, but a band with great noisy pop songs, Beach House aren’t playing regular songs and then making them pristine and pretty with layers. It’s a house, if you’ll excuse the pun, built from the ground up. An impressionist faces a blank canvas and ends up with a masterpiece. He doesn’t just colour in between the lines.

It’s another world. There’s a truth somewhere in those low organ chords that seem like they came from nowhere and have nowhere to go. Victoria Legrand’s voice, reminiscent of Nico, gives her romantic evocations a sense of nobility that few peers manage. The album feels like a dream, a Xanadu trip, even though it’s largely about domestic love. There’s also something to be said for its timelessness. It could pass as a 60s album if it tried, but it doesn’t sound derivative or retro. That’s a surefire sign, I think, that it will last.

Final Interlude: Because 2008 was not born in isolation

((Okay, last interlude, sorry this is taking so long. In this episode, Daniel Gray of Underground Wires, Analogue, Totally Dublin and Lorem Ipsum talks about the album that defined his 2008. If I had to pick one of these, it would be… well it would be the top album on the list, but you’ll have to wait for that, or guess it (it’s not that hard). But of the past music that dominated my stereo and headphones in 2008, I would say Blood Visions by Jay Reatard, Kala by M.I.A. and perhaps Slanted + Enchanted fill that gap. Feel free to leave yours, if you’re still paying attention.))Being but a young hopper still in the trial and error stages of his trade on the tough street corners of alternative and indie music 2008 taught me one particularly harsh lesson: As soon as you strongly define your music taste it changes instanteneously. I could rightly be accused of dilletantism given the amount of genre-hopping my pallete did this year- From Julian Cope-recommended Krautrock for breakfast to a Lydia Lunch of no-wave noise rock, a three-course dinner of funk, soul and hip-hop, before ending the day with a nightcap of DC hardcore punk.

 

Perusing most end of year lists leaves me feeling awfully inobservant. I can’t see the charms in Fleet Foxes, the brilliance of Bon Iver, consistency enough in TV on the Radio to warrant a lofty position in the top of most charts. Am I missing something? When I went to form my own list I could find very few releases from 2008 that actually left me feeling the gurgling of excitement deep down in my ribcage sparked off by contact with pure brilliance (though Hair Police, Marnie Stern, Mahjongg, and Indian Jewelry all made my ears perk up). The album that truly left an indelible imprint on my musical consciousness, that made me want to delve into back catalogues, order in special editions to Road Records, hunt out every iota of biographical information, and explore every incendiary note of every explosive song was a less recent release.

23 Skidoo- Seven Songs (Reissue)

If I had the privelege of writing this particular entry this time last year !!! progenitors Outhud and their spontaneous and combustible album ‘S.T.R.E.E.T.D.A.D.’ would be tip top of my 2007 (But Not 2007) list. To my less educated earbuds the NYC outfit were the first of their kind- alchemists of punk, funk, ambient, industrial noise rock, and ethnic polyrhythm, and hypnotists extraordinaire. It was akin to a soap plotline then when I discovered Outhud were not the fathers of the recent NYC punk-funk movement they’d been telling me they were- A revelation from Uncle Simon Reynolds and a subsequent DNA test revealed that the babydaddy was, in fact, British post-punk band 23 Skidoo. Sounding something like Cabaret Voltaire beating the shit out of Fela Kuti down a Sheffield backstreet with a gamelan, Skidoo will sound instantly recognizable to anybody who’s heard !!!’s “Must Be The Moon” dropped in an indie disco- It’s the same template minus the twerpy vocals and trippy lyrics. In fact, if those protruding lumps at the side of your head are functioning correctly you’ll have directly heard 23 Skidoo: The Chemical Brothers cloned their song “Coup” to create ubiquitous big beat gangbang “Block-Rocking Beats”. More relevantly to the music released this year I found cropping up on my ‘to find on Rapidshare’ list their far-reaching influence radiates through bands like Mahjongg, Yeasayer, Gang Gang Dance, Not Squares; any band of white boys incorporating “black” music into their patchwork.

However, while there’s a readily-available list of bands that sound like Skidoo today, those bands bravely staking out new territory and chalking up new chemical equations on the blackboard of the musical landscape while still creating something distinctly pop-orientated are as rare as kedang drums. In this aspect they share most in common with the toast of 2007: Battles. Experimental in the least alienating and masturbatory sense, populist, mindful of craft, and blending together a full platter of familiar ingredients to create an entirely new dish. No band, for me, cooked up such a storm in 2008.

The Year. 5. Your face is on fire, your hair is a mess.

5. Times New Viking – Rip It Off
MatadorI just watched a documentary made by a very embittered middle-aged man about the obsession of record-collecting, the individuals who indulge in it, and what they sacrifice to do so. When offered “warmth” as an explanation as to why one would accumulate 20,000 LPs, one collector retold something that Geddy Lee (of the prog band Rush, who you never have to listen to) explained to him: vinyl isn’t really warmer. The light distortion is just creating that impression, and he only prefers it to CD because it is recreating a recording embedded in his mind.Those sound waves that Neil Young claims are missing – they’re just being filled up with the crackle of static and pick-up buzz. It’s a self-created myth of nostalgia for a youth on the bedroom floor, a fondness for the ritual maybe, but nothing more.

It’s an interesting thought. “Warm”. What does that even mean, in a musical context? How do you describe it? Is cold something like Merriweather Post Pavilion, where every note occupies its own space and the entire song is preserved in crystal? Is warm… Times New Viking?

It certainly fits with Geddy Lee’s theory. Live, Times New Viking are a reasonably polite, guitar-led indie pop band. It has elements of Flying Nun kiwi lo-fi, elements of surf rock, elements of 60s beat bands. Obvious elements of Yo La Tengo’s moments of smaller scope. But on record, it becomes something transcendent. Because Times New Viking create noise. They create those in-between waves, the static. They do it on purpose, too. This isn’t like the Royal Trux or something like that, people kicking their guitars and groaning. These are good, catchy songs. Recorded clean. And then forced, like the weight of the world turning coal into diamonds, into this muddle of colliding music, this mess.

When you can barely hear lyrics, the phrases you think you hear become so much more important. It’s the same thing that made Murmur by REM so great, and that gets people through the sonar-bleep Sigur Rós songs while they wait for the drama to build again. Drop Out equates getting up late and being a wreck so perfectly, even if it doesn’t mean to, that I can’t wake up at 5 ever again without hearing it. And My Head? I’m not sure what’s wrong with my head, but I know there’s something, and it was probably caused by the noise.

Songs like The End Of All Things are made into something unreal by the gain-knob abuse. It sounds like the song that plays out over the credits after the actual, factual apocalypse… “that’s all for everyone, that’s all for you”. And when the noise cuts out, the smoke clears and you can survey what is left of your house and your possessions (and your hearing, after half an hour of this on headphones)… there are about five seconds when you can see into the heart of all of this, and you know that it makes sense. I don’t know why. I can’t tell you why, just like I got the why of it wrong when I did my initial review for Analogue. It just makes sense.

The Year. 6. Do re mi fa so’s star will scream.

<!–[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]–>6. Deerhoof – Offend Maggie

Kill Rock Stars

It’s hard to say anything about Deerhoof that hasn’t been said before. These guys are hardened vets of the highest rank. Satomi Matsuzaki and Greg Saunier plus others have been making genuinely fantastic albums with a barely plausible regularity, given their complexity, for a decade and change. Their music is a dichotomy. It’s pop in its purest, most child-like sense, the sort of thing you could put on at 10 o’clock in the morning over Play-Do figures dancing in a meadow and have some sort of success with those aged 2-5. But it’s also experimental, almost avant garde. And these two senses don’t trade places. They exist simultaneously, in a captivating sort of musical messianic duality.

To be honest, I’m not really qualified to talk about Deerhoof on their own terms. Most people aren’t, I would think. To talk about Offend Maggie in purely indie rock terms is probably as off-base as that Beatles review where he talks about their augmented shifts. But I don’t know anything about Ornette Coleman. So I have to say that, when you jam an absolutely manic musical genius drummer/songwriter into a band with a Japanese woman who was essentially hired because she was quiet but who turned out pretty well, you get weird things. Like the Large Hadron Collider. And about as inexplicable to the man on the street.

So, some specifics about Offend Maggie then. It’s probably the most focused album they’ve ever made. The guitars sound more in charge than ever, and the rhythm makes a serious point of upsetting that authority. Many of the songs are perfect. Offend Maggie the song is fussy but articulated, folky but assured. Basket Ball Get Your Groove Back is the best knowingly insane song Deerhoof have ever knowingly included. Snoopy Waves skips around with some fantastic riffs that I can only describe as groovy. On This Is God Speaking, God has nothing interesting to say, or if he does, it pales in comparison to the instrumental genius on every song surrounding it. Man has come too far.