Wednesday, 19 August 2009

The year so far

I'll start off by asking that you all please excuse me. I have been up since before 7 this morning with a raging allergy and it's now too hot to try and get back to sleep so I thought what better time to jot down some of my musings on the 'year in music' so far.

Being the half glass full guy that I am I'm not completely dismissive of the albums that have so far graced out ears this year. That said I don't think it has been a classic year so far. It started out with a bit of a bang, the new Animal Collective album gave everyone something to rave about, and spend their new FNAC vouchers on, but whilst undeniably an excellent Animal Collective album it is still an Animal Collective album and therefore only really playable when you want to show how hip you really are. (Ditto Bat For Lashes - an act I can never take seriously after she spent an entire evening poncing around with a ridiculous pout, thinking she was the coolest thing since sliced bread, a few years ago at the Luminere in London)

After that the year kinda rumbled on with nothing earth-shattering coming out. There were a couple of nice releases from the Handsome Furs, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Peaches which pricked up the ears of those fans (like me) of that indie-synth-disco sound that has been done all to well in previous years. I like the slightly menacing sound of all three of those albums and I have played them a lot but as albums I don't think they stand up to too much intense analysis. Face Control has some awkward jumps in style which would have been easy to iron out and some dull bits of filler. It's Blitz is much better than its predecessor but you really feel that Karen O is playing catch up with this style rather than being, as she arguably was to begin with, ahead of the field, the first 3 tracks are excellent dancefloor fillers though and the Erol Alkan remix of Zero one of my tracks of the year. Peaches' I Feel Cream is all a bit samey for my liking, the album starts out interesting enough with some nice hip-thrusting tunes, Talk To Me being the particular favourite and the perfect excuse to engage in some dancefloor campery, but then falls into some repetitive dance nightmare that it can't get out of.

The best of this synth and drum machine infused indie (or indie infused synth music) came from Wolf Parade's singer/guitarist Dan Boeckner's side project, The Handsome Furs. Teaming up with his wife, a brave man indeed, the second album by this duo provided one of the highlights of the opening months of the year. Face Control is a great, driving album that just fills me with a sense of urgency. It's a really enlivening album and live it was really cool to see the guys going absolutely crazy on stage. (Still my only gig of the year!!!)

The beginning of the year also saw some middling releases from Sunset Rubdown, Fever Ray and Crystal Antlers (who feature in the next section) whose albums just really didn't live up to the expectations I had for them after previous great releases (in the case of Fever Ray this is obviously releases by The Knife that I am referring to). They're not bad album, just a bit disappointing.

After last years lo-fi noisemongering successes of No Age and Times New Viking (with the lesser starlets too numerous to mention here but Japanther deserve an honourable mention) did we really need a new kid on the block? Especially a new kid as over-hyped as Wavves? After a few listens to the new album I decided no.

If noise is what you are after then Wales' very own Future of the Left are finally emerging from the post Mclusky dust cloud with something like their very own sound now. They've drawn for themselves a nice little niche in the Half Man Half Biscuit meets Fugazi corner of indie/punk. The rolling toms, thundering bass and mad mad vocals of Travels With Myself and Another are finally filling me with the same kind of excitement as the first two Mclusky albums (an excitement I feared I would never regain after the rubbish third album).

(You have to excuse my for a few hours now - I've just inspired myself to have a 'listen to Mcclusy and jump around period)

On a calmer, but not less interesting note, there have been a number of interesting albums in that little pigeonhole you might label indiepop. The first to hit my radar was Grizzly Bear's latest, Veckatimest (a title which I profoundly dislike and can never type) which contains some lovely pop gems and has this haunting melodic quality and which, quite rightfully, propelled them into the big leagues with a lot of press. After the Grizzlies came a couple of albums pressed on me by S, Upper Air by the Bowerbirds and Bitte Orka by the Dirty Projectors. I have to admit that both took a few listens to grown on me, by which point I had annoyingly ignored the Bowerbirds gig in Lisbon, but they are both beautiful albums in very different ways and the Dirty Projectors have produced something much more interesting than I thought them capable of. I remember being distinctly unimpressed with them when I was preparing for my visit to Primavera Sound and they didn't even make my shortlist of bands to see. The Bowerbirds have remarkably managed to come unscathed from supporting Bon Iver, last year's story of unrepeatable success, without sounding like every other indiefolk band in existence.

The pick of the bunch in terms of indiepop though has to be Phoenix whose Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart manages to be such a wonderful multi-use album, al ready I have played it during a dinner party, many a quiet evening in and also danced away to it all night. If you haven't heard it yet then please please give the whole thing a listen and if it doesn't bring one smile to your face then you're probably dead inside.

Finally, in terms of new albums this year, we come to 'the weird and wonderful section' and the albums that populate this section defy reasonably or easy labeling. I have already written a post dedicated to Magic Arm (whose album I am actually listening to now as I type) and I run the risk of hyperbole, the more I listen to the album the more I like it and I'm beginning to run out of adequate descriptions. I approached Ambivalence Avenue, the new album by Britain's Bibio with quite a bit of skepticism - new Warp release, compared frequently to Boards of Canada, is this going to be another of the million and one Warp released Boards of Canada clones (this is a lie, I actually quite like 99% of the Warp released Boards of Canada clones) but what they have actually released is an album that twists and turns with every track sounding different, not in a disjointed way but in a way the reaches down to the inner eclectic inside you and really makes you wonder what is coming next.

Urgh...I'd write more, I really would but I have a job and I'd better get on with it.

I just want to say though, this is merely a few of my thoughts on what's been released up to now but suffice it to say that there is much more that I have discovered and rediscovered which will be making an appearance sooner or later in here.

Here's a video or 3 of songs that I've loved this year:

Bibio - Jealous of Roses

Gwen McCrae - 90% Of Me Is You

Mclusky - To Hell With Good Intentions

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