alexsarll: (default)
I'm nowhere near as finger-on-the-pulse as I was (but then who is?); more even than not knowing about the cool new thing, it's a matter of simply not getting it when I do hear it. The more music you've heard, the more the new music sounds like the old, and you begin to understand how Mojo readers happen. Still, there are enough exceptions to prevent one altogether becoming one's uncles.

10. Bad Love - Summer Camp
Sheer froth, like John Hughes minus the tension or Wet Hot American Summer minus the snark. But when the world appears to be setting up a multiple apocalypse sweepstakes, sometimes you need a vision of an endless summer where the biggest threat is Bobbi inviting the wrong boy to the prom.

9. The Race for Space - Public Service Broadcasting
It doesn't quite tug my heartstrings like the utter Britishness of their debut, but setting the brief moment of interplanetary possibility (see #1) to danceable backings (which would be awesome if there remained anywhere to dance) was always going to get me on side.

8. Beat The Champ - The Mountain Goats
For me, their best album since Heretic Pride - what's come between I liked rather than loving. The theme this time is wrestling, which I've always said would be the sport I got into if I ever got into a sport.

7. At Least For Now - Benjamin Clementine
Austere yet playful, majestic yet intimate, incredibly strange yet somehow able to win the Mercury. Reminiscent, in fact, of the last Mercury winner I recall placing on one of these - I Am A Bird Now, ten years ago. Antony, incidentally, is now going by Anohni, and made a late claim on my song of the year with the haunting, despairing, borderline evil '4 Degrees'.

6. The Most Important Place In The World - Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat
The former Arab Strap 'singer' continues to age disgracefully; the best tracks here are founded precisely in the awareness that behaviour which was heroic a decade or two ago just makes you look like an arse in middle age. And yet, it keeps happening. Room for a couple of suitably bleak state-of-the-nation tracks, too.

5. Rose of the Lanes - Cleaners from Venus
I wrote a whole press release about this one, of which the only thing I can remember is "the poet laureate of late summer afternoons". Wonderfully wistful, cantankerous, Dickensian in the good ways rather than the George Osborne sense.

4. Art Angels - Grimes
I'm still catching up with Grimes, at once enticed and delayed by the sheer strangeness of her music - like Björk reborn on a half-shell from the foam of the Internet. If only all her generation were like this, the world would be saved. Or possibly even more doomed, but it'd sound amazing either way.

3. To Us, The Beautiful! - Franz Nicolay
"To us, the beautiful - and to those who disagree, may their eyes fall out!" Which somehow wouldn't have sounded half so powerful if he were beautiful by any conventional standard. Defiant songs of love, loss and partying by the former Hold Steady collaborator who - in the continued absence of Jason Webley - is surely our finest accordion troubadour.

2. FFS
The union of Franz Ferdinand and Sparks sounded great on paper, but could have easily been a mere novelty on record - or even abandoned altogether, as when FF worked with Xenomania. And yet, from the opening of 'Johnny Delusional' ('inchoate yearning' is one of my favourite musical registers), this lived up to the promise.

1. Elevator Music - The Indelicates
Look, I'm sure there was one year they put an album out and it didn't top my list. But it wasn't this slow a year, and their album wasn't about one of my especial hobby-horses - humanity's shameful, feeble abandonment of the stars. This one is. Heartbreaking. Also, a concept album. Which despite what a few moany punks may still claim, is generally the very best sort of album.
alexsarll: (default)
Yeah, it's late. But not by much, and just when I was starting to pull it together I saw a brilliant piece by Ian Watson about the perils of doing an Albums of the Year list before the year is done. And after today, I'm quite glad to have a chance to look back to 2014, which often seemed like a pig of a year at the time, but now comes across as almost innocent.

20. Margaret - Jason Webley and Friends
A scrapbook found in a skip inspires a collaborative album celebrating the life of a doomed poetess and heiress. The sort of project which would never have travelled much past its home town before the Internet, and so a timely reminder that the modern world ain't all bad.

19. Puppet Loosely Strung - The Correspondents
Jazz that interests me in the least stopped being made decades ago. But every now and again a band comes along - The Real Tuesday Weld are another - who know that the good stuff is still ripe for a plunder. This itchy pair are another example of that.

18. Popular Problems - Leonard Cohen
Dear Heather was a trial, but the records since then have achieved something astonishing - they almost make old age sound worthwhile.

17. The Bunjies Test - Philip Jeays
Having made worrying hints of retirement, Britain's Jacques Brel made a welcome return in 2014. The ballads were always excellent, but now I even like the political songs; I'm not sure whether he's got a little less polemical, the situation has got more desperate, or most likely both.

16. Urge for Offal - Half Man Half Biscuit
I once tried to explain HMHB to a young American, before rapidly realising the effort was doomed. Long may these contrary bastards thrive, reminding those with ears to hear that the Wirral was always the cool side of the Mersey.

15. The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett - Eels
Not a happy album as such, but E sounds like he's come to some sort of terms with the world, and it makes me glad.

14. The Tyburn Tree - John Harle & Marc Almond
Marc Almond keeps plugging away, generally making albums I vaguely like rather than love, too often drawing on the same somewhat stale signifiers. Whoever Harle is, he's dragged Almond out of that rut, and instead given us a lunatic nursery rhyme of London's dark past. Should be played very quietly in the rooms of the plutocrats devouring the city whenever they try to sleep.

13. Angels & Devils - The Bug
Another London album, this time capturing the sound of the city's present. Which is to say it's tense, claustrophobic, on edge and liable to lash out. I'm not sure I even enjoy listening to it, but it doesnt half capture a mood and a moment.

12. City Air - The Soft Close-Ups
Ultimately I still prefer them in their synth/guitar duo and acoustic modes, but their full band album still has much to delight, not least the tiny, universal tragedy of Housman setting 'Your Likely Years'.

12. Love Letters - Metronomy
These past few years, I've tried to crack down on the inclusion of 'like the last one, but not quite as good' albums. And OK, this isn't quite as good as The English Riviera, but that was one of my favourite albums of recent years. And this is no mere facsimile - where that was precise this is woozy. It's a little later in the evening, and things are getting sloppy.

11. Worse Things - Penny Orchids
Generally, when I see bands with a klezmer or Tom Waits influence, I enjoy them at first and then gradually lose all patience. Early on, Penny Orchids were often a bit too loud for the songs to breathe, but with time they've really got the balance sorted and now they've produced this - largely a rise-and-fall concept album, it's punky and wry and regretful all at once.

10. Return to Bohemia - Cleaners from Venus
Martin Newell is still going, a Dickensian figure who veers between sixties-tinged pop and the sound of Essex meadows as summer fades. Sadly this album also includes one track of his satirical poetry, but hey, it's not like he only releases on cassette anymore so it's easily skipped.

9. Run The Jewels 2
I have more or less entirely lost track of hip hop, bar the odd Nicki Minaj video, and it was seldom a genre which produced consistently good albums even when I liked it most. But these guys are exceptional in so very many ways. As urgent in its filth and silliness as its protest songs, because life isn't neat.

8. Ruled By Dreams - Andrew Montgomery
Andrew Montgomery used to sing in Geneva, who were amazing but hampered by post-Britpop production on their first album and post-post-Britpop dance crossover production on their second. Somehow, his voice has lost none of its purity in the intervening decades (nor does he seem to have aged in any other way), and he's now his own boss, and has made something which feels at once sacred and playful.

7. Floral Tributes - John Moore
The best former Mary Chain drummer in music returns, with all the joie de vivre we'd come to expect from him, ie, none. Music for drinking alone.

6. Company - The Drink
I've known some of The Drink for years, and enjoyed their previous bands, but they were generally variations on the theme of white boy indie. And then they found the quite remarkable voice of Dearbhla Minogue and now they make stuff that sounds like highlife and Krautrock and I don't even know what else, and you can almost see the 'levelled up' graphic flashing.

5. St. Vincent
I'd never disliked Annie Clark, but nor had I quite clicked with her before this. I need to go back to the early stuff, check out whether she was always so twitchy and iconic, like the midpoint of Davids Byrne and Bowie. Kept sneaking its way up the list on account of my forgetting that the rest of it isn't *quite* as good as 'Digital Witness'.

4. LP1 - FKA Twigs
An unusually high placing for a broadsheet darling. I can understand why she gets pissed off at being called 'alt-R&B' - this spooked, sensual stew sounds far more like someone turned the peaks of Zola Jesus into an injectable form.

3. To Be Kind - Swans
Debatable whether this should even be here; I've only been able to listen to the whole album once because it's terrifying. Also incredibly long. Its inclusion here feels a bit like dropping a mass grave in to an architecture awards shortlist, but fuck me, it's some kind of achievement and it needs to be recognised. I've not really listened to Swans since I used to take the piss out of them for songs like 'Raping A Slave' and 'Time Is Money (Bastard)', but I suspect they're finally making the music they always thought they were.

2. The Winter of 88 - Seafieldroad
Wide-open piano songs about Scotland, islands, freedom and cold. It's not a religious album, but it always makes me think of little stone churches on clifftops. I am only slightly biased in its favour on account of it mentioning my name in the title track (the marvels of crowdfunding - I'm not sure I've ever been namechecked on a studio recording before).

1. Blood & Brambles - Mikey Georgeson
I had written "this would be even higher if it had only included 'Moth In The Flame'", and then it went and ended up on top anyhow. Formerly known as Mr Solo, the Vessel and (by the confused) David Devant, I always knew he'd do something under his own name one day, but not that it would be quite so wise and wistful and generally lovely.
alexsarll: (default)
I remember doing one of these with 52 entries, an album which had really impressed me for every week of the year. Last year, 20. This year - a Top Ten. Wow. Obviously there were lots of other albums with brilliant bits (Her Parents, Teeth of the Sea), ones which were pleasant enough backdrops (Ejecta, Edwyn Collins), ones which were only moderately coasting (British Sea Power, no pun intended). But when you're summing up and trying to make 'almost as good as an Elcka comeback album might be' (Filthy Boy) sound like a warm recommendation, you know it's time to hack and slash the list. Honourable mentions to Lady Gaga, Mike Patton and Monster Magnet - who, if still a long way from their imperial height, have made stuff a lot more worthy of ear-space than most of their work in the interim. Dishonourable mentions to David Bowie, Adam Ant, Suede, Justin Timberlake and George Pringle. Between them, each has made music that gave sparkle to a decade. Together, they've convinced an old triskaidekaphobic that 2013 was indeed destined to suck.

Read more... )
alexsarll: (default)
It hasn't been a vintage year for music, has it? I've tried a fair chunk of the stuff making the more mainstream album-of-the-year lists, and at best found a track or two pleasant enough. Some of my favourite acts released profoundly underwhelming records - Pet Shop Boys have now perpetrated a couple in a row, but I had high hopes for Words and Music by Saint Etienne, only to find too much of it sounding oddly tired. Sproatly Smith, Death Grips, Martin Rossiter and Gallon Drunk all released albums which had glorious moments but felt samey when taken as a whole; Godspeed, Madness and Guillemots (that plan to release four albums this year went well, didn't it?) all seemed to be operating well within their comfort zones. And I think the only hit single I registered with any interest was 'Gangnam Style'. Still, let's attempt to pull together a Top 20 from the wreckage...Read more... )
alexsarll: (crest)
Yes, well. Not a vintage year, was it? I've only got a Top 20, which I think is the least since I started doing these. On the plus side, that means it's feasible to write a little bit about *why* each album is ace, something I never really had time for before.

And let's mix things up and do it countdown-style )
alexsarll: (crest)
Yes, it's that time of year again; I think I've heard everything that's coming out (and the Duran Duran was really not worth waiting for), I've listened back to the ones I couldn't make up my mind about, and then I've started juggling positions and seeing which orders made sense. Nonetheless, this list is of necessity provisional; I completely missed until this year the arrival of at least two albums which should have been in 2009's top 20, by Circulus and George Pringle. It should also go without saying that like any such list, it is entirely subjective. And Number One is really not going to surprise anyone to whom I've talked about music in the past couple of years. So without further ado, the chart rundown )...and there was a 30-40, but halfway through putting in the HTML for the italics, I decided no, all of those are either too samey or too patchy. They had lovely moments, but they weren't great albums. And moments don't make albums. A lot of my favourite songs this year - Big Boi's 'Shutterbug', Robyn's 'Dancing On My Own', My Chemical Romance's 'Na Na Na', Shrag's 'Rabbit Kids', Underworld's 'Between Stars' - were from albums other people really rated, but which to me sounded like more than half filler. Then you had Spoiler Alert!'s 'Booster Gold' and Mitch Benn's 'I'm Proud of the BBC' (an EP track and a stand-alone single, respectively), and Gaga's 'Telephone' from a 2009 album. I don't buy the whole death of the album line, mind; there have always been great singles that hunt alone, or live on patchy albums. But I have found that when an album isn't physically present, it can no longer nag at you from the corner of your eye. When it's not even digitally present, when there's only access to it - on Spotify, most especially, with its refusal to tell you what you were doing even the five searches back that it used to manage unless you specifically note an item at the time - then only a song itself, lodged in the brain can remind you about an album, remind you that you were briefly very impressed, pull you back. And it doesn't happen as often as I would have expected. Is that determined by the music the year had on offer, or is it a general thing? No idea. But looking back at that list, thinking about all the albums that didn't make it, an awful lot of music this year has sounded tired. That is not in itself a bad thing - tiredness is an emotion which, like any other, can set the tone for great art. But not all of them were accomplishing that transmutation and, even when you think about the ones who were...well, it's not the best of zeitgeists, is it?
alexsarll: (Default)
I can't be faffed with all these lists of the decade which are doing the rounds - not least because I haven't been keeping an ongoing list through the decade, so I'd end up with some sort of half-remembered mess I'd be regretting within the week. But this I do every year, and keep a running tally for, and justify because I know it's got a couple of friends into a few great records over the years and really, how much more than that can any of us hope to accomplish with our LJs?

The Top 40 )

But blazes, haven't there been a lot of disappointments? Franz Ferdinand, Pet Shop Boys and Jarvis were among those who made a brave effort to work with new production teams who ought to have produced the goods, but they all came a cropper by so doing, Morrissey, Depeche Mode, Eminem and Marilyn Manson, meanwhile, were among those content to churn out more of the same old same old - especially disappointing in Manson's case, when the preceding Eat Me Drink Me had been the first sign of any new direction in his work for years. And Springsteen...well, for someone so blue collar he's never really been reliable, but this year's album was still one of his more leaden efforts, and in the theme from The Wrestler contained quite possibly his worst song ever. I don't think he's lost it, you understand - there have been bad albums from him before, and will be again, but always interspersed with greatness.
Nor, I thought, was there really a Song Of The Year, something ubiquitous and inarguable, not even a covert Johnny Boy-style one within certain circles. I would ask whether I missed it, but the nature of a 'Get Ur Freak On' or 'Can't Get You Out Of My Head' or 'Umbrella' is that it's unmissable right through at least the summer, and then as the nights close in, as nostalgia for summer, however bad that summer was. I suppose the closest this year came would be the offerings from Cheryl Cole, Lady Gaga and La Roux - but I stumble on not having actually liked any of them, in spite of the first two at least being things which on paper should have been right up my street. Or at least, that was how I felt until Gaga's deluxe reissue of the album which had failed to impress me turned out in fact to be another, better album, trailed with 'Bad Romance', and suddenly she had the material to match the concept, and just as the year stuttered to a close, suddenly it had its anthem. It doesn't normally work this way but then, isn't it a song about precisely that?
alexsarll: (crest)
David Devant have new material! And Brontosaurus Chorus do too, but that doesn't come as quite such a surprise, them not having been however many years now without any. Still, let joy be unconfined! Anyway, it's that time of year, isn't it? The NME have printed their predictably predictable list, so I might as well tell you what were really the Albums of the Year, 2008 )

As for singles - or I suppose we should just say 'tracks' nowadays...it wasn't a bad year, but there was no Song Of The Year, was there? By which I mean something both brilliant and ubiquitous, an 'Umbrella' or 'Get Ur Freak On' or 'Can't Get You Out Of My Head'. 'Wearing My Rolex' felt like it could be that song, but it was too early and didn't hang around like it ought to have done, ditto 'Ready For The Floor' (in spite of that brilliant proto-Dark Knight video) and Hercules & Love Affair's 'Blind'. MGMT's 'Time To Pretend' and Black Kids' 'I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You'...too hipster to win over the world, perhaps? Both wonderful, though. I think the song which'll probably take me right back to 2008 in years to come is 'I.W.I.S.H.I.W.A.S.Gay'; alas, if it does conquer the rest of the world, it's not going to be 'til next year now.

Best book title I've seen recently: Building Confidence - For Dummies.
alexsarll: (crest)
Oh, Internet, I really thought we had something! In spite of the slash and the spoilers and the people on the BBC's Have Your Say pages, I liked you, and part of that was because you always told me about the new stuff first. But the news that Pixar are doing a John Carter of Mars trilogy? Well yes, you can give me a link now, but I learned about this from some dead trees! What do you have to say for yourself?
What's that? You have some spoiler-free mini-episodes of The Wire?
Oh, dear Internet - how could I ever have doubted you?

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland didn't leave me feeling massively festive, but I think the weather may have been to blame for at least part of that - rainy but warm is surely the antithesis of all that is meteorologically christmassy? I was more impressed by the impromptu excursion afters to Itsenaisyyspaiva which if you didn't know, and I didn't, was the 90th anniversary of Finnish independence. Good night; global warming, Eschaton and Putin permitting, the centenary should be awesome.

An edited Torchwood transmission for the tinies? This strikes me as a bad idea. Either you're saying that the adult content is tacked-on - a few swears and breasts thrown in to spice up a Doctorless Who spin-off - or you're going to end up with disjointed stories that don't make any sense, like those godawful teatime transmissions of Angel on Channel 4. Neither is good.

Those of you on the SB board will already have seen this, but for the benefit of everyone else - my albums of the year. There was some really good stuff out, but nothing as OMG THIS IS AMAZING as the top albums of last year, where stuff like Amy Winehouse, The Long Blondes, Muse and Neil Diamond genuinely startled me with sheer radiant magnificence.
My Top 40 Albums Of 2007 )

And remember, kids - last Black Plastic of the year tomorrow - don't miss out! Or get sufficiently drunk and engrossed in Graham Greene beforehand that you end up in a small home counties station which later investigation suggests doesn't actually exist!

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