Tag Archives: Xiu Xiu

People’s List #99. I’ll always be nicer to the cat than I am to you

99. Xiu Xiu – Dear God I Hate Myself

Released: 2010

When I got it: Leak, promo or leak-as-promo. Never paid for it.

What I originally thought: I thought it was the 9th best album of 2010. Convenient having these comprehensive records. My original interaction with Dear God I Hate Myself was a little strange for me because at that point I had lost the original zeal I had for Xiu Xiu (which was strong) and was listening partly out of obligation-to-past-self, but I really did like it. It was a packaging of the Jamie Stewart angsty stuff into actual pop song-sized boxes, and it had variety, and it wasn’t actually difficult to listen to.

The interim: I interviewed Jamie Stewart for Totally Dublin, fulfilling a late teenage dream. I didn’t listen to or think about Xiu Xiu that much after that, really.

What I think now: Pretty much the same as I thought before but with more focus and distance. I am less guilty about the fact that I was forgetting the songs that made me cry and the songs that saved my life and all that stuff. Having spent a lot of my time listening to things like Tune-yards and The Blow and Solex in the interim, I appreciate it for its scatty pop sensibility more than its emotional earnestness, but that could just be because I’m not depressed. The title track is still anthemic and hipstery genre tourism is a low-key favourite mode of mine. I will probably listen to this more, now.

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The Year. 10-7

10. Adebisi Shank – This Is The Second Album Of A Band Called Adebisi Shank [IRL]

Okay, so everybody loves Adebisi Shank. They pack out the Button Factory, we all agree that they belong in this sort of list, and their songs sound bigger than France. But think about how strange that is for a minute. Conor O’Brien guests, but it’s a struggle to even figure out what’s him. The next closest thing to singing is monotone vocoding on Genki Shank. What’s relatable about antsy prog guitars? Or about anything? It’s not clear. My only guesses are stupidly abstract things like ‘saturated primary colours’ or ‘this song sounds a bit like Duplo’. It’s fantastical, and, conveniently for the purposes of this sentence, fantastic too. Micromachines plays like a song from the first album recut to soundtrack an adventure game. Genki Shank tumbles from neck-snap post-hardcore into Rocky Balboa territory. Bones is a Paul Simon song performed by a robot from the past programmed to simulate the future. And International Dreambeat, well that’s obviously a rainbow. This is a distillation of all the might of the first album, a bunch of dreams in 8-bit colour, all of Japan and the inner beauty of kitsch stuff most people like with a raised eyebrow. And this is a joke about this being a review of the second album by Adebisi Shank.
An interview I did in the first issue of TN2 I edited, pp. 6-7, plus a video of the infamous stage invasion at the launch in Whelans.

Adebisi Shank – International Dreambeat

9. Xiu Xiu – Dear God I Hate Myself [US]

Calling your album something this blunt is a pretty strong rebuff to a culture of ironic appreciation and knowing self-deprecation, especially if you have the kind of haircut Jamie Stewart has. So, with vocal intonation, confrontational lyrics, frantic meshes of blips, beats and guitar notes and doses of silence, Dear God I Hate Myself sets out to render unipolar depression into a form still roughly bound by the conventions of the pop song. Of course, this, or something approaching this, is what Xiu Xiu has been about for its entire existence. But this is somehow different to deal with. The thumb and index finger plucking of Hyunhye’s Theme, matched with chromatic flourishes and some Chinese strings, is a “you” song, a confused atmosphere for Stewart to inhabit while he writes his letter to a friend. But then comes the title track, probably the most accessible Xiu Xiu song in terms of its combination of sounding like a normal song and its being upbeat. It’s a strange combination, listening to “and I will never feel happy/and I will never feel normal” before being compelled to join in on the nigh-anthemic chorus. “Dear God, I hate myself.” For whatever reason, that moment breaks down some of this-is-weird barrier of unrelatability Xiu Xiu can carry, and that transfers to the whole album, making it probably the best of all eight.
Transcript of Totally Dublin interview from here, and controversial make-self-sick video.

Xiu Xiu – Dear God I Hate Myself

8. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening [US]

I had an argument about this album just after it came out. I was for it, my adversary was against it. For every point I made – less filler than previous albums, great individual tracks, James Murphy’s personality, Drunk Girls sounding like our mutual friends when they are, in fact, drunk girls – he held the exact opposite opinion. We agreed on one thing, though. Dance Yrself Clean. If there’s even been a reason to lament the process of opening shrink wrap, removing vinyl, putting it on a record player and sitting down to actually listen to it for the first time, Dance Yrself Clean is it. It’s not a grower. It’s there already. You turn it up loud, because it’s quiet, and Murphy starts to wax with a hint of dejection about socialising or whatever. Then it blows up. Sheets of synth and bass. One of those rare endorphin surges, like when In The Flowers pops or Mr. Grieves turns. It’s a fucking white marble sculpture of a song. And, despite the opinion of my friend, that’s not all that’s good about This Is Happening. Murphy’s on form throughout, whether complaining about Village Voice gossip columnist Michael Musso or love being like an astronaut. The beats are in the pocket, building slow and repetitive as they do, unafraid of overstaying their welcome. And they sound like his record collection, still. From this position, I can say ‘serious’ or ‘cop-out’ or ‘hard to define’. And I have done, in conversation, for months. If album-making, rock band-touring LCD Soundsystem does end up finishing here, it’s a good way to go.
Pitchfork interview and loads of fun Drunk Girls video.

LCD Soundsystem – Dance Yrself Clean

7. Earl Sweatshirt – Earl [US]

Tyler, the Creator takes on the job of introducing his brother and newest OFWGKTA member Earl. “Earl, Earl say something. Trust me guys, he’s a rapper. Say something!” So he does. “I’m a hot and bothered astronaut crashing while jacking off to bufferin’ vids of Asher Roth eatin’ apple sauce.” Which is obviously a different way to embark on a rap career. As a debut album, Earl’s the equivalent of opening an Ikea flat pack and watching it turn into the Sagrada Familia without touching it. This kind of convoluted, sometimes forced DOOM-y rhyming seems like it shouldn’t be coming from someone young enough to be sent to boot camp by his mother for doing it, but there’s shit here that a polished 30 year old rapper couldn’t even dream of. Leftfield similes: “I’m attracted to you like teenyboppers to Apple Stores.” Cartoonishly provocatory pronouncements: “Wave hi to the Ritalin regiment, double S shit, swastikas on the Letterman bitch.” And yes, plenty of rape, both date- and otherwise. But the point is, this is the kind of imagination only one other dude in the world has anything similar to, and that’s his brother, who put his album out on Christmas Day 2009 and thus avoided this list narrowly. On that (Bastard by Tyler the Creator), Earl calls himself the reincarnation of ’98 Eminem. If Eminem was this weird, the last decade would have been a stranger place.
Download Earl and all the other OF shit for free at their site (at the top), and look at this.

Earl Sweatshirt – Earl

Essentially cheating.

So the internet at home doesn’t work, so I missed Lo-Fi Friday. Sorry, the entire genre of lo-fi. Instead of that, here’s a veritable plethora of live reviews I haven’t done, in very truncated form owing to fading memory. A few sentences each. Explanation for new readers: I review everything, so I have to do this whether you want it or not.

Swans: People seem to talk about Swans in “legend” terms, but while they do make physically affecting music, they take themselves awful seriously and aren’t as ‘experimental’ as they’re often talked about as being. Gira saying “Jesus Christ” blank-faced over the same chord every song was is faintly ridiculous, and arriving in something other than a black t-shirt made me feel a little awkward. Still, worth seeing.

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Xiu Xiu/Former Ghosts: Former Ghosts also required a suspension of disbelief, but unlike Michael Gira, it’s less difficult to feel like you’re pulling for Freddy Rupert. Highly strung, sometimes infectious, always energetic. Xiu Xiu were still as good as they were last time, and the noise-drenched Fabulous Muscles was unparallelled. The weight of sound and emotion that Jamie Stewart can get into the parts that are sound, and the desolate weight that he can get into the parts that are silence, is sheer and never not impressive, and even though they’re not a band, they’re one of the best live bands around at the moment.

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Adebisi Shank: Only got about 80% of this due to other commitments. It’s Adebisi Shank, so you’re assuming perfect game and then taking points off for flaws. The sound in the Button Factory wasn’t great, and Europa will never be their best song no matter how many times they say that from the stage. Still great.

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State vs. AU: Cloud Castle Lake were, as usual, hypnotic and excellent. Preferring their faster stuff, vaguely disconcerting and chaotic, to the slower stuff which is also good but closer to other stuff. Lowly Knights were a good ol’ nu-folk group of no note. Grand Pocket Orchestra I should stop talking about, but they’re on top of their game right now.

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I have a feeling I forgot something. Regular service tomorrow.

Got the spirit, but lose the feeling.

Falling behind here, but between the shoddy service of Time Warner Cable (NAMED AND SHAMED) and a cycle of daily recreation spiralling quickly into Dali-esque ridiculousness, I can’t really help that.

This gig, though, is the first one I’ve been to at the Williamsburg Waterfront. The Waterfront gigs seem to be Important to the People of Williamsburg in some discernable but slightly nebulous way. I gather that they were under threat from something, possibly the recession, but that they were saved. More on that later.

The line-up is amazing. Deerhoof & Xiu Xiu combined, performing Unknown Pleasures in its entirety. Why? I don’t know why. But wait, the last support was also called Why? You might know and love Why? already, but if you don’t, maybe reading me yammer incorrigibly about their live shows and their album will help. Also on the bill were Pictureplane and Fang Island.

I showed up early enough to catch the start of the show, but Pictureplane were horrifyingly bad the last time I saw them, so I got a slice of pizza and watched some of the World Cup final, which was on that day. I got into one of my favourite types of conversation with the other pizza eaters – the kind where Americans don’t know what they’re talking about regarding football and I friendlily inform them of the actual state of affairs. Examples of some claims: “that was definitely offsides” accompanied by an attempt to explain the offside rule incorrectly, when what had actually happened was a foul, and the pizza man claiming that Brazil were playing when, in fact, they were not playing.

I got to the place and sat around for a bit while Fang Island emo’d out on stage. Guess what you can’t buy at Williamsburg Waterfront? Coke. As in Coca Cola. Can’t be had. Your choices are Brooklyn Lager, water or Vitamin Water. Which is ridiculous. I got a crab juice.

Here’s where it starts getting good though.

Organ fades up with Yoni still not on the stage. He strolls out in a retro shirt and a pair of Kappa shorts with hair so short at the sides it’s essentially a mohawk, and does the Fall of Mr. Fifths, potentially my favourite ever Why? song. It’s a good start.

The rest of the set flies by. He does some Eskimo Snow stuff, and the crowd reaction is noticeably more muted, but for the most part he sticks to the Alopecia hits – no Crushed Bones or Rubber Traits, but plenty of other great songs and of course the opportunity to actually look at a man while he tells you about getting stuck into his therapist or failing to mate or taking loads of cocaine or having syphilis or weaving anger into a gadzai to bring to an alma mater’s holiday fundraiser boutique thing.

He also did the Do The Right Thing dance. Which was a highlight.

There are more highlights. The organiser/outdoor MC/shouter of the word Brooklyn emerges after Why? and thanks the corporate sponsors or whoever else needs to be thanked. Then he says this:

“People always ask me why the Senior State Senator of New York State cares so much about keeping these events at the Waterfront. You know what I tell them? It’s because the Senior State Senator of New York State is FUCKING AWESOME!”

Uh oh… they’re not going to…

And there he is, the Senior State Senator of New York State, a cleanly, white-haired Jewish-looking man in his 70s, standing on the stage about to give a speech. Bad taste in the mouth already. But wait, a challenger appears. A long-haired guy of about 25, two rows from the front:

“FREE PALESTIIIIIIIIIIINE! FREE PALESTIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINE! WHY ARE YOU STRANGLING A PEOPLE? FREE GAZA!”

The Senator tries to speak.
“FREE PALESTINE!”

Senator’s confused. But he’s a Senator, and the two ways to become an elected representative are being smart and knowing how to manipulate large amounts of people. So he pulls it back.

“LET’S JUST HAVE FUN!”

Crowd cheers. Guess what he shouts next. Guess.

“THIS IS BROOKLYN AT ITS BEST!”

Yeah, he shouted Brooklyn. It always works.

“THIS IS NEW YORK AT ITS BEST!”

It is pretty good actually. Free gig, great bands, Waterfront.

“LET’S FORGET ABOUT POLITICS!”

Um… if you insist, elected political representative who is clearly on the stage to remind people that he is their buddy and they should vote for him…

“ENJOY THE SHOW!”

He exits. Bizarre, bizarre stuff. Point 1: get off the stage, state senator. This is a rock show. It doesn’t even fit. Point 2: even if you want Palestine freed, maybe shout it twice or hold up a flag and refuse to cheer even when the senator shouts the word Brooklyn, but it gets a little awkward if you’re shouting over him. Luckily, Greg Saunier shows up and starts setting up his drums.

So, Deerhoof and Xiu Xiu combining their significant forces to cover Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division. We know they’re friends. Greg Saunier, Deerhoof’s drummer and primary compositional genius, produced The Air Force by Xiu Xiu, and they’re both based in San Francisco. But putting them together was the best drunken idea anyone ever had. Line-up as follows:

Greg Saunier (Deerhoof) – drums
Satomi Matsuzaki (Deerhoof) – noise guitar (normally bassist/vocalist)
Ed Rodriguez (Deerhoof) – bass (normally guitarist)
John Dieterich (Deerhoof) – lead guitar
Angela Seo (Xiu Xiu) – synth, breaking glass (seriously)
Jamie Stewart (Xiu Xiu) – vocals

I’m sure it’s consensus knowledge that Greg Saunier is one of the best drummers around, and John Dieterich is one of the best guitarists around. And Jamie Stewart, even if camp whispering is not your bag for some reason (it should be), is a huge personality. So hopes were high.

They play the album straight through and don’t address the crowd. It’s meaty as fuck, heavier than Joy Division probably ever played it and as dark as they did too. Mosh pits form at various points, with the biggest one happening, predictably, during She’s Lost Control. Shadowplay is a facemelter. While the tempo keeps up, the crowd stay with it, and though attentions wander a little when the closer starts its dirge-like trudge, the sight of Angela Seo throwing three wine glasses at a time into a barrel and then crushing them with a large metal stick keeps me from being distracted at any rate.

It ends and I leave to try make the Roots and Talib Kweli at Prospect Park for some real Brooklyn-shouting, safe in the knowledge that I’ve seen something I would never see if I’d stayed home to work in the bookshop.

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I will become outrageous.

Some degree of suspension of disbelief is pretty much compulsory when you go to see Xiu Xiu. You will stand there as Jamie Stewart and band, which in this iteration is just Angela Seo, set up equipment, look confused, tweak knobs and ask the soundman in polite California English whether the monitors are turned on. After a few minutes, there’ll be a thumbs up to the soundman.

And then the curtains raise. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Stewart goes from 0 to something approaching Noh theatre in about 3 seconds flat. With the self-confidence of someone who’s been declaiming self-loathing over alternating pop, noise and silence for about a decade, he opens with the quietest song imaginable, plucking sparse chords and whispering with a violently pained expression on his brow.

Whelans drops to silence. You can hear Kasabian or Primal Scream or whatever, drifting in ambiently from the front bar. Stewart is impervious. Audience obedience and rapt attention established ab initio, it just means that when the noise does come (and the noise will always come), it’s going to wreak that much more damage.

This happens with Gray Death, the opener and first single off Dear God I Hate Myself. It’s hard to describe the absolute presence of Xiu Xiu live – I can say they’re intense, they’re heavy on a gravity’s pull type level, they’re absolutely earnest, but it doesn’t conjure up what it’s actually like.

Listening to my new favourite lines in the Xiu Xiu canon, “If you’re expecting consolation, I will become outrageous/If you expect me to be outrageous, I will be extra-outrageous”, I thought of two things. One, this is a different type of outrage to Ashley Cole’s pants and Iris Robinson’s Calvinist satan incarnate. It’s an obsolete concept, but a lot of Xiu Xiu’s appeal is in what is DOES, beyond thought, in the hackles it raises once you’ve submitted to the desolate self-pity. Two, I tried to think of what various friends would think if they were there. Would they be as bowled over by the sheer weight of the thing, or would they just think he was being ridiculous?

Right after Gray Death came the title track of the album. If those friends weren’t able to take Gray Death, they definitely wouldn’t manage Dear God I Hate Myself, the lines of the chorus elongated to differentiate them from the recorded version as if to say “I am not just singing this, I am saying it”. It actually approaches being hard to watch at times, but if it’s not cathartic for Stewart, it’s cathartic to watch.

Without Caralee McElroy (who left to play in Cold Cave), Ches Smith and Devin Hoff (who are possibly just not on this tour), a set of only new material wouldn’t have been that surprising, but lo, there was Boy Soprano. And there, absolutely rampant in its noisy new incarnation, was the closest thing Xiu Xiu have to a hit, I Luv The Valley OH!

Complete with its scream “OH!”

Couldn’t really ask for more, except for maybe an encore. Jamie doesn’t seem to do encores though. His wave goodbye seemed enthusiastic, grateful and extremely spazzy, but when he and Angela did eventually re-emerge, it was to plug shit out.

Still, this is something properly unique, still in its prime. So no complaints here.

Here is Angela Seo making herself sick to the strains of Dear God I Hate Myself. It was taken off YouTube (scroll down, February 6th).

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Transcript: Xiu Xiu

Xiu Xiu play Dublin tonight. They’ve been one of my favourite bands since mid-to-late teenagedom, and I narrowly missed interviewing Jamie Stewart for Analogue two years ago, but it did eventually happen for Totally Dublin. Ongoing thanks to Dan for putting me on phone lines to geniuses once a month. The cut version of this is in the current issue Totally Dublin, still in racks near you for free (if you are in Dublin, which you obviously might not be).

Can I especially draw your attention to the part about a Spencer Krug collaboration, which is a follow-up from this Sunset Rubdown interview.

I thought I would jump right in. I listened to Gray Death and there’s a line in it that struck me. “You expect me to be outrageous, I will be extra-outrageous.” What do you think of that as an introduction to Xiu Xiu?

It’s a little self-serving for me to say that it might be. It’s probably not wholly inaccurate. It kind of comes more from some advice that my dad gave me. He was in music and said that the regret that he had was not feeling like he had ever took things too far, and before he died he advised me to try to take things too far in music. So it’s sort of a bit of an homage to his advice I guess.

With the title of the album, and having a picture of yourself on the front of it, it seems kind of confrontational. Was that the intent?

I think the intent was just to express feeling that way sometimes. Maybe in some ways it’s… I guess right now… how to put this… extreme negative emotion is sometimes looked down upon as being ingenuine. So in addition to being an autobiographical comment, it’s an attempt to make extreme negative emotion something that doesn’t necessarily have to be hidden away.

Do you think that, with extreme negative emotion being something that’s been around a while with Xiu Xiu, you’ve had a problem with people interpreting you as theatre rather than something serious?

People are free to interpret thing any way that they want. I know that it’s not that, and there’s nothing I can do other than to be honest in my own attempt at expressing that. I guess that comment about trying to be open about extreme negative emotion isn’t really a response to people sometimes perceiving Xiu Xiu as being theatrical as opposed to genuine. It’s more a comment on a greater societal perception as opposed to perception of Xiu Xiu.

And what do you think about the perception of Xiu Xiu as confessional? Is that accurate, or is it something else?

Oh, yeah, all of the songs are about something real that is happening. And almost by definition, saying something that is honest is confessional.

So would you say you’re writing to get past real experiences or problems, or is it something different to that?

It’s more an attempt to document them. I don’t really feel cleansed for having wrote a song about something. It clarifies an issue, but it doesn’t make it go away. It gives the energy behind it some place to go, but it doesn’t make it go away.

When Women As Lovers, on the attendant press release or whatever, it said that it was the most accessible album to date “on a human level”. That kind of stuck with me. Is the new album yet more accessible, or have you moved away from that idea?

At the risk of betraying a friend, I didn’t actually write that line about Women As Lovers. I don’t know if I necessarily agree with it. We’ve never done anything to attempt to be accessible. We’ve really pointedly played around with pop structures and pop types of songs because we like pop songs, but the point of that is not to be accessible, it’s to make the music that reflects what we’re interested at the time. I would say that Dear God I Hate Myself’s arrangements are extraordinarily influenced by pop music, and whether that makes something accessible by default, I don’t know. The point is not to try to be accessible, it’s to try to be as good as we can be.

And how has Caralee leaving effected the band?

Um, not very much. With the exception of the very start of the record, she wasn’t very involved despite several attempts on my part to get her involved. She made it pretty clear she wasn’t interested in working on it. She hasn’t really been involved with the band since the last tour that we did, which would have been 2008.

And it hasn’t changed the way you work at all?

Not really, she wasn’t all that involved with the writing. She was very involved with the touring and just did a small amount of writing, so it didn’t change too much. I mean there’s some things she’s very good at. She has a very cool voice, and it’s a drag not having her voice in the band any more, but aside from that the writing process hasn’t changed that much.

I’ve always wondered with regard to playing live, if it’s difficult for you to sing the songs night in night out, or if you have a detachment from them.

No, it is difficult. The point would be to not have a detachment from them. It would be the opposite of what I’ve always tried to do with this band. It gets exhausting for sure.

I’ve asked that question to a couple of different people and gotten different answers as to how earnest they are every night of a tour. So it’s interesting.

I try as hard as I can to be as honest as I can every single night. Sometimes that is achieved and sometimes it’s not, but the intent to do it is definitely there. It’s always going to be there. If I don’t hit it, it’s not because I’m not trying to, but you can’t always be exactly perfect in the way that you want to be, of course.

Okay, this question has a bit of a back story. A couple of months ago I interviewed Spencer Krug from Sunset Rubdown, and I had read while doing research for that, someone had asked him who he would like to collaborate with, and he mentioned you. So I asked him about that again, and he said that he’d met you and you’d talked about it, but I was wondering if that’s something that’s in any way still on the cards?

Yeah, I pretty recently sent him and Camilla some music, and I believe he e-mailed me back about it, but I haven’t had a chance to check it yet. So hopefully it’s on the table. It’s certainly in the works, but as to how far along it is I don’t know. It’s certainly something that I’m very interested in.

That’s cool. That’s something that I would be very much looking forward to hearing.

Me too, I hope it works out.

That’s pretty much all I’ve got, but to finish I thought in homage to Chocolate Makes You Happy I’d ask, what makes you happy at the moment?

Oh. Well, it’s really cold where I live right now, and I grew up in California so I’m not used to it being cold. And I’m really interested in birdwatching and I’m concerned about the birds that are in my yard, so I’ve began to put gallons and gallons of birdfeed in the grass. So my front yard is completely infested with the local birds. Looking at them every morning makes me pretty happy. However chocolate still makes me very happy as well.

And what keeps you awake?

What doesn’t keep me awake. I’ve had a bad time sleeping since I was a little kid. Horrible, horrible, horrible sense of anxiety every night.

The Year. 10-7.

10. Xiu Xiu – Women As Lovers
Kill Rock StarsWhen Women As Lovers was released, it was billed as the most accessible Xiu Xiu album yet. There are several reasons to support this assertion: one might be that every song is melodically-based, a departure from the frictive noise pieces that have appeared and sometimes defined the band’s albums to date. You could also point to overtly accessible songs: the cover of Under Pressure, with vocal duties split between the worldly Michael Gira, the enchantingly innocent-sounding Caralee McElroy and the manic homosexual street preacher style of Jamie Stewart himself. No Friend Oh! with its pop chorus and non-difficult melodies is another example. However. However, however, however.

Who could be taken in by this idle talk? Women As Lovers might seem consumable, but it’s not, and it’s probably not meant to be. It is, as with everything from Jamie Stewart, concerned with the unbearable heaviness of existence. Torture in Guantanamo. His dead father’s sex life. Intolerance. Percoset. Self-consciousness. Loneliness. In a voice that could be used to terrorise children into bed for fear of being cut into pieces and taken away in a black bag. This is heavily depressing stuff to listen to, and no doubt it’s heavily depressing stuff to make.

But that’s why Xiu Xiu exist. Seekers of happiness stroll no further. Women As Lovers is everything bad, set in high contrast on a stage with nightmarish gargoyles carved where the gold leaf and pegasi should bed. When it leaves itself room to seethe, like on Master Of The Bump (Kurt Stambaugh I Can Feel The Soil Falling Over My Head), it evokes empathy. When it builds itself up in balls of tension, it calls forth a more inexplicable sense of sadness. But the emotion never ceases, like a bumpy rollercoaster that only goes down. Music as nightmare.

9. El Guincho – Alegranza
Young TurksIt’s a rare treat to be able to use words like “spectacular” or “extravaganza” about an album that is even remotely listenable. Imagine the joy, then, of finding Barcelona resident El Guincho’s Alegranza. Straddling the hitherto underrated no-man’s-land between latter-day Animal Collective and tropicalia compilations, Alegranza is essentially a beach party in a can, the soundtrack to an imaginary ur-summer. The result of applying lo-fi looping techniques to the cheesiest of musical sources is an unrelenting, swirling, euphoric experience. It is not mere reckelss abandon, however, with the same notes of childish wonder (and a couple of melodies) from Panda Bear’s Person Pitch making appearances. The highlight, Kalise, is repetitive almost to the point of infuriation for three and a half minutes, until it recedes without warning into a chorus that approaches anaesthesis in its fulfilled joyousness. Just like the inevitable but slightly embarrassing situation of involuntarily singing random words that sound vaguely like the original Spanish, any words I use to try to explain how much fun El Guincho is on a sunny day are meaningless. Alegranza means joy. In translation I mean. But you get what I’m saying.

((This is from Analogue. Last one from there, I promise.))

8. Jeremy Jay – A Place Where We Could Go
KTake the Everly Brothers. Strain off their smile for the benefit of Good Christian Television Viewers, and remove the harmonies. Put more reverb on everything. Then imagine what would happen if a very strange, soft-spoken Patrick Wolf-esque Californian in a v-neck and tie took the first verse of any classic song and just repeated the lines with more and more emphasis every time. There’s something very ordinary about Jeremy Jay’s music, referential as it is to 50s teen drama ballads, David Bowie, Buddy Holly, Jonathan Richman and French chanteuses. But there’s also something spectacularly surreal about it. Maybe that’s what an absence of audible influences from after 1972 will do.

Jeremy Jay is as tall and thin as a Topman model, and to be honest, he looks exactly like one. Jeremy Jay grew up in California but for some reason his family was Francophone within the household. Jeremy Jay is on K Records. Jeremy Jay seems like a cookie-cutter hyper-literate bohemian type, but a brief MySpace exchange revealed that he’s not much of a speller. There’s a lot that doesn’t make sense about Jeremy Jay, and that’s what makes him so impossibly intriguing. I mean, what is this guy picturing when he closes his eyes and listens to his own music? Much more pertinently, what should the listener be picturing?

The mystery of Jeremy Jay is a part of what endeared him to me. But he definitely doesn’t lack the songs to back it up. Beautiful Rebel and Heavenly Creatures as a tandem would blow the shit out of most of the crackly remasters they sell in infomercials late at night on the lesser channels. Escape To Aspen, just like everything on the album, seems barely held together with thread, but it is still toe-tappingly catchy and strangely beautiful. But the title track is the highlight. “We’ll meet super late. And we’ll go for a walk. Dream kisses. Danger. Romance. No-one knows.” Not sung, but spoken urgently. Is he poking fun at himself or is he serious? Does it matter?

7. So Cow – I’m Siding With My Captors
Covert BearIf success in music came proportional to merit instead of by fickle democratic means, So Cow would be sitting on a multi-platinum catalogue, appearing on “OMG! The 90s!” specials on Channel 4 and marrying Zooey Deschanel. Alas.

What are the best Irish albums ever? Loveless? U2? Something by that glut of late 80s bands that are held in such high esteem? I’ve got a suggestion. Nobody would ever print this in a broadsheet, but I’m Siding With My Captors is genuinely up there. It’s short, seamless and literally spotless in terms of the absence of chaff. There is no such thing as a highlight, because there aren’t any low points. Only the style of delivery changes.

Greetings is a plaintive, self-doubting, heartrending love song, perfectly measured over two minutes, and it would be perfect for radio in a parallel universe. On the more unwieldy end of the guitar pop is the 52 second One Hundred Helens, a semi-surreal and deceptively unhurried piece enumerating the Helens on So Cow’s street.

Shackleton is another in the line of Brian Kelly songs about inadequacy and love, led by a wavering synth-organ sound over what sounds like a Casio preset drum track. “One day I’ll write the song you deserve babe, I’ll give it all I have/One day I’ll write the song you require, until then, la-la-la”.

Lines like that are the overt signs, but throughout the all-too-brief 29 minutes of the album, there is an all-pervasive sadness that sets it apart from These Truly Are End Times. These aren’t character songs, and they’re not all that cased in metaphor either. It documents a life, not just lyrically, but in the reverb-soaked chords, the impossibly knotted riffs over weird bar lengths, the progressions that feel just slightly wrong. I probably say this online at the same rate that poverty claims victims in the developing world, but So Cow is the real thing . Though I am confident that ongoing lack of recognition will thankfully still provide no obstacle to his making albums as good as this.