My plan to write about my favourite music of last year in three parts, and put the tracks from each one up on Muxtape has been foiled. The music industry appears to have shut the site down, part of its continuing campaign to make time run backwards to the 1980s.
So I’ll post the rest of my list in this post, rather than split it pointlessly into two. And, like every MP3 blog out there in the 21st century, I’ll just let you grab the files (183MB) for a limited time only. If you’ve read the first part, let’s move on.
AGF — PRIVATEbirds
I first heard this a few years ago, maybe 2004, or 2003 when it came out, on some music blog or other. It didn’t click with me until sometime last year it popped up on random play and grabbed me with its randomness. I love music that sounds deconstructed, like it’s been shattered and put back together by someone who never heard the original, struggling to find a rhythm and melody. I’m also a sucker for a female voice with an East European(?) accent. The rest of the album is similar and good.
Gang of Four — Damaged Goods
Somewhere early last year I found this song online, having been embarrassingly unaware of Gang of Four until then. Then I bought the 1979 album, Entertainment and it was hard to decide which single track to list here. The music reminds me of travelling to the BBC at White City last summer. Maybe I needed that angry preparation first thing in the morning. Later in the year I read more about them courtesy of Greil Marcus, which only made me like them more, but more of him shortly.
George Pringle — Kill Her if You Can, Loverboy
I thought I was good at keeping track of where I first heard things, but this is another whose origins escape me. Maybe on Rob Da Bank’s Radio 1 show or podcast. If it’s not East European ladies’ voices luring me in it’s posh totty, and I love the over-literate talking over the sound of a tiny but expensive box of electronics. Again, hard to choose which of her songs to list here, as they’re all similarly alluring.
Meg Baird — Do What You Gotta Do
Finally, the system works: I heard this from Sean on Said the Gramophone:
Once they became familiar, the opening chords gained a power that stop me silent. I listen in a kind of trance. I hang on. Baird harmonising with herself, sadly singing, and overhead just endless white sky, a cool steady thing that will never push free from over the high-rises.
Apparently a cover of a song by Jimmy Webb of Wichita Lineman and MacArthur Park fame, although I don’t think I know it. Anyway, I love this version, although the rest of the album was a tad too trad folky to be my ideal cup of tea.
Throw Me the Statue — Young Sensualists
A couple of weeks later Sean wrote about this track:
Young Sensualists is pensive, honest, filled with the blossom-scent of nostalgia; the story of two pals, a mutual crush, and the way a friendship can simply end. It’s not a warning, a confession or an elegy — it’s a recollection, a witnessing, a message in a bottle (for the sea to read). … a speak-singing that’s ruminative and playful, like when you’re sitting on an unfamiliar couch, staring at the wall, remembering; and your left hand dangles off the side, dangles without your thinking about it, and it strokes and pets and moves across the fur of your dear friend’s kittens.
The rest of the album, although good, also didn’t grab me as much as this, as is so often the way with tracks posted to MP3 blogs.
Camera Obscura — Super Trouper
Do I like this so much because I already love Camera Obscura’s sickly sweet twee pop? Or because I have a soft spot for ABBA’s Super Trouper, having recorded it on my very first cassette of music taped off the radio, in 1981? Probably both. But I can’t be alone, as Rob Da Bank played it on his Sunday Best podcast. It’s got a tambourine, how bad can it be?
Robin Allender — The School Field
Another great find by Sean:
I’m not sure Robin Allender can tell us anything that we’ve never heard. The vocabulary of guitar and voice is not, as some might think, limitless. But there is much in the reminder: reminders of autumn nights, or the Red House Painters, or love, or loss, or lying in your bed as evening falls and waiting for the world to sway against you. The way a nightingale can remind you of all nightingales, or the way the idea of nightingales can remind you of one in particular. The way a beauty can shock a forgotten feeling out of you: a certain walk, a certain laugh, a certain sky, a certain place. Robin Allender used to be called The Inconsolable but he sounds like someone who has been consoled. Someone who remembered the names of the constellations, who remembered night after night that he could pick up his guitar and summon every memory he had ever had.
I don’t think it’s only the mention of Red House Painters that makes me love this track.
In a moment you’ll see that I don’t only get my music from Sean:
Later they go for a swim in the pool.
No, doesn’t make much sense out of context; you’d better read the rest of Sean’s post. I don’t know the non-Optimimi Version of this, but I bet it’s not a patch on this. Somehow it makes me both want to dance and to lie down and dream.
Liliput — Split
Here we go. Last summer I read Paul Morley’s In the Fascist Bathroom: Punk in Pop Music 1977-1992. He’s one of the few writers that makes me feel physically excited as I read him and he always introduces me to music I wish I’d known about for years.
There’s a lot of dada provocation in Liliput. They really don’t care what anyone thinks of them, and they’ll try anything: Split is like a free-for-all at a playground, petulant and full of rule breaking, with cries of (I think) “Hopscotch!” alternating with I don’t know what.
I could listen to this over and over (in fact, I am) and get more ready to break the world each time. It’s from 1980 and it sounds like the intervening three decades of music should never have happened.
Kleenex — Heidis Head
Given that Kleenex and Liliput are, I think, different names for the same bunch of people I’m breaking my rule of only one track by each artist. I think we’ll survive. Paul Morley again:
There is no analogue for this music in the records of any other pop group. To find a real match for its spirit you have to go back to the Berlin dada collages of Hannah Höch: from 1918 through the twenties she cut women’s heads and bodies out of newspapers and magazines, cut them up again, pasted them together as grotesques, and somehow put a twinkle in the eyes of every strange face. You can hear it happen in Heidis Head.
Flipper — Brainwash
The last, for the moment, from In the Fascist Bathroom:
The response to this record is unvarying: “What is that? What are they doing? When does it end?” It might be the most conceptually extreme bit of anticommunication (or the most conceptually extreme shaggy-dog story) punk has yet churned up, but it’s equally accessible to ten-year-olds and Mohawked pit divers — an old-fashioned novelty record.
I love dialogue that never finishes and having the same unfinished line over and over and over is like some horrific re-living of a terrible embarrassing moment. This track was one of the starting points for the scene I wrote recently at college, although I ditched the extreme concept for something more accessible. Eighteen years ago, at art college, I’d probably have stuck with it and produced something that no one could love. I’m not sure if that’s progress.
Just Jack — Starz in Their Eyes
Going from the best of post-punk to this, which I believe was quite a hit, makes me feel all dirty. Ugh. I heard this during the only window of time that I listen to live radio these days, a snippet of the unbearable Zane Lowe while making dinner. This track stuck in my head and, although I feel somehow ashamed, like a man caught flirting with school girls, it’s still a catchy little number.
The Long Blondes — Once and Never Again
Like a couple of tracks from the first part of this list, I heard this on the now defunct Take Your Medicine podcast. Being oblivious to popular popular culture the Long Blondes were someone I thought I could best ignore, like any band featured in the Guardian’s Guide. But no, this is ace, non stop! I almost bought the album but while I’m sure I saw it available without DRM at one point I can no longer. Ah well. I’m sure it’s good too.
Billie the Vision and the Dancers — A Beautiful Night in Oslo
I came across this on the sporadically great Not Your Usual Bollocks podcast. This little tale couldn’t be cuddlier. Cute story, friendly voice, catchy tune, Seinfeld references… what more could you ask for? Pay what you like downloads of all their albums? Sure, why not!
Irene Krall — Going to California
Another soft spot of mine is songs about California and this one, from Gilles Peterson Digs America 2, hits all the correct sunny, jazzy buttons.
Basia Bulat — Snakes and Ladders
The album this is from, Oh, My Darling, is one of my favourites of last year. On the very first day of that year, Sean Said the Gramophone wrote:
One of my favourite things about this album is the way the drums are played on songs like this. They hurtle at double-speed, ratatat-tat, chasing the singer breathless. So many female songwriters take-it-always-easy, languishing in slow piano chords and then the occasional strident bit. Here it’s like the band (Basia, drums, strings) are throwing themselves down a hill, feet scarcely keeping up with their feelings, this close to tumbling head-over-heels into something. And indeed so it is: “It’s the way we come undone / what a perfect accident / oh we danced around them all / like we didn’t even notice / oh / at the way we’d come undone.”
Gal and Lad — Going to Maine
A catchy perky plea, and, being a cover of a Mountain Goats song, possibly just a stand in for them this year. No, just a stand in implies it’s not worthy of the place. Forget the Mountain Goats for a moment, it’s great!
KMD — Plumskinnz
Although I listen to a reasonable amount of rap it rarely makes it to my yearly favourites. I don’t know why. When it does it’s this laid back little number with jazzy samples and a flowery perkiness that could have you believe De La Soul and Digable Planets are hidden behind the set. Ah whatever, nice.
In the Country — How to Get Acquainted
Talking of jazz… well, no, this hardly seems like jazz. It’s more like while a piano plays, someone carries all the other instruments up some stairs occasionally dropping xylophone keys. Then he drops more and more, until all the instruments are slowly tumbling and bouncing. It’s almost a racket but they’re musical instruments so you want to hear the tune and the rhythm in there somewhere and it’s in there, somewhere. The rest of the album’s similarly good.
Vampire Weekend — Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
I think I’m supposed to dislike Vampire Weekend because its members went to good universities or something. Or because they sound too much like African music. Or because they sound too much like Paul Simon who sounded too much like African music. If you’re looking for excuses like that, how about: Because they sound too much like Penguin Cafe Orchestra? But these are just excuses for why you shouldn’t like them even though the music’s good. The music’s good. That’s enough.
Cam’ron — Just Us
When it’s not 1990s retro rap it’s gimmicky stuff like this!? Rapping over Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing? What’s wrong with me. Yeah but… I looked at some forums for what people said about this and few people had a good word to say. But that’s the internet really isn’t it. As “Demetrick” said: “THIS SHIT GO SO HARD FUCK ALL DEEZ HATAZ TALKIN DOWN ON KILLA CAM”. Exactly. Besides Demetrick, you could fart over Don’t Stop Believing and it’d sound awesome.
Emmy the Great — Easter Parade
Although I’d already heard a track or two by Emmy the Great, it wasn’t until I saw her playing, in support, at the Union Chapel that I realised I had to find more. She was scatterbrained and slightly annoying but the songs… gorgeous in both lyrics and tunes. I keep changing my mind between Easter Parade and MIA being my favourite of the year. Last time I looked I found it hard to buy anything by her but if this takes your fancy do hunt for more, as everything I’ve heard has been wonderful.
SoKo — I’ll Kill Her
I suddenly seemed to hear this in many places around the end of last year and although I only picked it up via Said the Gramophone’s Best of 2007 I still listened to it enough for it to make my own 2007 favourites:
A jilted lover in heavy eyeshadow and a hungover French accent. SoKo’s hate-song recalls Herman Dune but without that band’s warm whimsy — her wry wit is more like a hidden shiv, something she can’t wait to slip between her adversary’s ribs. The year’s most unhappy smile.
Charlie Rich — Feel Like Going Home (Demo)
For the final track, a departure from the rigid order in which I first heard them. Because it just feels like the end. Found, again, via Paul Morley’s In the Fascist Bathroom:
In 1973, after more than sixteen years as a little-known country soul singer, would-be bluesman, hopeful rocker, and secret jazz pianist, Rich was on the verge of the success that has since made his fortune. Thus he sat at the piano and, rolling his fingers over the keys until he found the deepest, plainest gospel chords, recorded a song he had just written about failure. It remains the strongest moment of Rich’s career — a match for Ray Charles’s Georgia on My Mind or Otis Redding’s Try a Little Tenderness, and somehow more indomitable than either.