Sunday, December 19, 2004And that was 2004.
2004 was an undeniably great year for music and finding ten favourite albums was no easy task. So here they are, in order, kind of.
Interpol – Antics. It was going to have to take something special to follow up 2001’s Turn on the Bright Lights, but Interpol surpassed all expectations with Antics. Antics is a perfect record. So much consideration has gone into the sequencing, production and oh, just everything. Despite so much care and precision it still feels fresh, effortless and natural. Interpol have always been intensely interesting and grand, but Antics feels almost regal in some of its more epic moments. It feels more positive on the whole than Turn on the Bright Lights; some of the franticness has gone, and the songs are mainly written in major keys, but there is still an underlying sadness that is so crucial to Interpol’s sound. So much so, that my friends jokingly refer to them as Winterpol. Antics is almost certainly the most flawless album released this year and will undoubtedly become a classic modern alternative album.
Gwen Stefani – Love Angel Music Baby. L.A.M.B. is the most fun and interesting pop album this year. Fact. While Girls Aloud and just about everyone else was imitating 80s music by wearing H&M’s neon range and having Numan-esque synth backing tracks, Gwen was creating very convincingly authentic 80s music – the finished product is a bit like a “Best of the 80s” compilation, but with Gwen singing every song. Sometimes it sounds like Wham!, sometimes it’s Salt’n’Pepa, other songs sound like vintage Madonna, whilst others refer to the new-wave sound that has influenced No Doubt so much over the years. As Gwen has often stressed this is “just a silly dance record” – it is about good times, yuppie-dom, designer clothes and Gwen’s current muses: the Harajuku girls of Tokyo. Like all the best “silly dance” pop music, it is unashamedly self-referential, celebratory of material wealth and showbiz and completely unpretentious. Every track could be a single, and though most people would love to hate it, there is something undeniably charming about it that would make even the most awkward people try out their dancing shoes.
The Faint – Wet from Birth. Danse Macabre was one of the most fantastically morbid and clever albums of recent years, re-defining electro, re-defining punk. Wet from Birth is a departure of sorts from its macabre theme. The Faint find their sex again. Wet from Birth is sexy, they use the synths like sexual aids and the general feel is a bit dancier – take “Erection” for example. They also use strings for the first time (other than the odd cello on Danse Macabre) and some songs are almost entirely string driven, particularly the romantic album highlight “Southern Belles in London Sing”, which has almost gypsy/ folk-like feel to it, like the Faint have learnt some magic pagan spell. And it is quite a lot heavier in some points, too. I Disappear, Drop Kick the Punks and Paranoiattack are all fairly guitar heavy, but still incredibly hard not to dance to. The end result is a very diverse album. It doesn’t feel as much an entity as Danse Macabre, but the variety is both interesting and exciting. It wouldn’t be fair to say that the album is positive (if one was to describe Danse Macabre as a depressed album) – their lyrics are often critical of consumer culture, media lies, war (“paranoia drops bombs”), but the ethos seems to be that we can at least dance. A great album.
Razorlight – Up All Night. After many delays (almost a year in total!), Razorlight’s debut album finally got its release this June. It entered at number one thanks to “Golden Touch” being the single that everybody in the country seemed to like. Razorlight, like the Killers, achieved a distinct pop perfection through lovely melodies, spiky guitar riffs, sing-along choruses and attitude. Up All Night is full of attitude- that of Johnny Borrel, the scrawny, scarecrow haired, strip-happy, arrogant front man. He commanded huge festival crowds all through the summer, making fringe-sporting indie chickas go weak at the knees by taking his top off after 3 songs – was it really that hot this summer? Up All Night feels like a London album, with area checks (Don’t go back to Dalston) and moaning about the constant presence of “Industry Types”, it’s sometimes hard to understand how people that don’t live in London relate to it as much – I definitely didn’t get the Libertines as much until I moved here, but that is probably just me.
The Killers – Hot Fuss. It was clear when I saw the Killers for the first time that they were going to be big. It was clear to everyone, themselves included. There was knowingness in Brandon Flowers’ performance, an anticipation of the things to come. They released Hot Fuss in June to much acclaim, following the top ten re-release of Mr Brightside. The album is two-thirds brilliant, undeniably one of the best albums this year. It is, however, the earlier songs that are the most strikingly good – you can imagine Mr Record Company Executive ordering the band to “Finish off the album so we can release it before The Festival Season” and the band hurriedly composing, recording and producing some of the less-than-brilliant tracks and lyrics: “Believe me Natalie, there’s an old cliché under your Monet”. And so on. The Times’ early proclamation that “The Killers will be all over 2004 like a rash” was certainly true and Hot Fuss got the mainstream appeal for which it was destined. A re-release of “Somebody Told Me” due in January serves to highlight a slightly greedy desire to milk the album’s success even more, but the Killers will only come out of this laughing.
The Libertines – the Libertines. Much more poppy than their debut, Up the Bracket, their eponymous second album was released the week Pete was in prison for something or other and hope for the future of the Libertines was bleak (as opposed to non-existent now). The listener feels a sort of dramatic irony when listening to it, knowing fair well what became of the likely lads and that they really couldn’t stand each other then. It’s impossible to appreciate it for what it is (a damn good album) when you know every in and out of the Libertines split, but in many ways it makes the album all the more powerful. Songs like “What Katie did” make you want everything to be well again, for Carl and Pete to be sharing a microphone and ripping up some East End pub. Or skipping around the streets of Whitechapel on some long summer evening without a care in the world. One of my few regrets this year was not seeing them once – a surprisingly hard feat when you live in London. Whatever happens next for the Libertines, at least we have these moments of pop perfection immortalised on record.
Franz Ferdinand – Franz Ferdinand. There is nothing to dislike about Franz Ferdinand. Attractive? Check. Well dressed? Check. Intelligent? Check. Make great angular indie pop music that you can dance to? Check check. The list goes on. Some people don’t like them because of these reasons. These people are either repressed or jealous. Their eponymous debut album is of a calibre very rarely found in indie music (until this year, seemingly). It is so accessible and catchy that even stupid and uncultured people like it, which some poor indie bands would love to happen to them. This album sounds so good because the band seem very genuine about the music they make. They don’t try to sound like anyone, they don’t have a sound that you could pinpoint or pigeonhole very easily. It is essentially timeless, but will always be associated with 2004- the year when Franz Ferdinand successfully took over the world for the first time in what will be a long career. Oh yeah, and they are Scottish. Hoorah.
Le Tigre – This Island. Now on a major label and getting the sort of distribution and press they always deserved, Le Tigre look set to finally achieve the success that ought to accompany their genius. In a lot of respects, This Island is much poppier than their previous albums. Firstly they have a brilliant cover of “I’m so Excited” which is heavenly in its not-even-slightly ironic pop brilliance. Then there are songs like Viz, which is JD Samson’s ode to being a masculine identifying lesbian which are really quite serious, but Le Tigre inject so much fun and synth action into it that it is another perfect dance-pop song (ala Deceptacon). The marriage of serious and often controversial issues in lyrical content with good-time electro-dance-pop works well for them in the same way as the Faint, suggesting that if we are going to try and say something and change things, we might as well dance to some great electro-pop in the process. And I, for one, agree wholeheartedly.
Delays – Faded Seaside Glamour. Delays started the year playing at 100 Club. By May they had sold out two consecutive nights at the Astoria and their album was soon to become platinum. Faded Seaside Glamour was released in the winter, but brought rays of hope to grey, cold Britain. Greg’s beautiful vocals and the dreamiest jangly-guitar driven indie pop music were the perfect antidote to anything negative that life may have thrown at us. But it wasn’t all twee summer indie music. There are some real foot-stomping dancey moments there and, from the new material they were playing on tour, they look set to follow that direction more on their soon-to-be-released second album. But until that is released Faded Seaside Glamour will provide us with a glimmer of hope for world peace, or something equally desirable but totally unachievable.
The Knife – Deep Cuts. Half brilliant, half mediocre, Deep Cuts is a half baked cake, hence its lowly position on the top 10. The discerning listener may wonder why the Swedish brother and sister duo did not just make a nine track mini-album and bag the best album of the year award. But with the aid of playlists and Ipods and all this new-fangled technological progress (in other words, skipping the dud tracks) it is one of the best albums of the year. Like a steel band in Iceland, it probably shouldn’t work, but their Caribbean-meets-ice cool synth sound is one of the most interesting and original to be heard in 2004. The band themselves are a bit mysterious and the meaning behind their lyrics is ambiguous to say the least. The music is instantly accessible, but to “understand” the band is not so instant. In fact it’s quite nice not to get them and to ponder over what the song is about or what they are trying to make you think. Mystery is good. So is Calypso-electro. And therefore, so is Deep Cuts.
Albums that would probably be on the list if I’d actually heard them: Hope of the States, Morrissey, PJ Harvey, Selfish Cunt, the Unicorns, Girls Aloud, Annie, Secret Machines. I wish there was more time and more money in my world.
Albums to be excited about in 2005: Bloc Party, Patrick Wolf, Bright Eyes, Bright Eyes, the Raveonettes, Stellastarr*, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Sleater-Kinney, Sons and Daughters (a full one hopefully), Shelly McErlaine (the formerly dark haired one from Alisha’s attic) and probably another Blondie Greatest Hits…it’s been a good two years since the last one.
Sunday, December 05, 2004Neighbours from Lapland
Christmas-time really does bring out the worst in some people. Whether it is stampeding over toddlers on Oxford Street on a Saturday afternoon, buying lynx giftsets in a 3 for 2 in Boots, or decorating your humble abode in enough flashing coloured lights to give even a borderline-epileptic the worst fit of their life, Christmas seems to unite most of Britain in their faux-pas.
However, the Raveonettes got the Christmas spirit just right last year with their aptly titled "the Christmas Song (I wish that I could stay)", a Spector-esque 60s-style classic with gorgeous male/female vocals, hand claps, and all recorded in Bb major. Yum. And because I'm feeling festive (and only because of this song), I uploaded it as a WMA for your downloading pleasure. Right-click here.
Saturday, December 04, 2004Deep Cuts
2004 has been a great year for new music. As discussed earlier this year, the-genre-formerly-known-as-alternative has had some great successes. Bands have been creative and brave and tried things that really just shouldn’t work but really really do. Whether the record buying public has become more open minded, or rather that they were just waiting for bands to try something new is debatable, but 2004’s story can really be defined by the resurgence of indieness, which is no bad thing at all.
One of the most interestingly brilliant albums I’ve come across this year is Deep Cuts by the Knife. The Knife are a Swedish brother and sister duo, making ice-cool electro music with a Caribbean calypso twist. Think Ladytron with steel drums, but much better. On one level the album is the most uplifting pieces of music imaginable. There are gorgeous Euro-English lyrics and pronunciations, anthemic choruses, steel drums and so many different synthesiser lines and sounds and drum machine beats that are just undeniable. It is verging on euphoric. But on another level it is this incredibly bitter-sweet tale of the Other, the outsider, insecurity and difficult modern love. The imagery of the knife, razorblade and cuts run throughout and there is a dark, perverse undertone throughout. With lyrics like “I’m in love with your brother, what’s his name?” in the haunting “Pass This On” with the high pitched wailings in the background and sparse synth sounds a real atmosphere is created. To understand what the Knife are about best, it helps to watch the DVD that comes free with Deep Cuts. They have three low budget videos to accompany some of their songs. An anorexic looking, glammed up transvestite performs the song to a half empty working man’s club in what would appear to be some down-and-out dead town. It’s a kind of tragic, faded glamour that is both ridiculous and chillingly sad. It needs to be seen to be believed – it is very convincing.
Unfortunately the Knife do not play live – they think it would compromise their sound too much. This is a shame because if their DVD is anything to go by, then they would be on of the most interesting bands to photograph. Miming to a backing track would probably be more appropriate anyway! The Knife are certainly a band to believe in and they are clearly all about the music. A line from "You Take My Breath Away" (one of the album's highlights) sums them up perfectly:
"We are the people who come here to stay/ I don't like it easy, I don't like it the straight way".
FYI: there are live photos of every band (other than the Knife, obviously) I have blogged about thus far on the main part of my site.
Friday, December 03, 2004Negativity Rules!
It’s not often that Abstractboy likes to post nasty things about people/bands. There are so many bands right now that are just so good…some are getting the attention they deserve, while many others make the most wonderful music imaginable and never get a single bit of press. Sleeping States, however, just won a demo competition on playlouder.com and a mention I-D magazine – you read about them here first! But let us go back to negativity! NME are generally understood to be able to make bands’ careers - whether this is true or not is subject to debate. But this is a very real threat.
The Black Velvets are one of the worst bands I’ve ever seen. When Abstractboy was on tour with Stellastarr* (headlining) and the Killers earlier this year, they were the opening act. They play a band of cock rock that is just unimaginable. They are your average scally lads, bad hair, tight jeans, unwashed, smelly, drunken. I had the misfortune of seeing them pissed up, like an alcoholic rugby team, singing drunken songs and mock fighting. It could have been worse – the Killers had to share a dressing room with them! After the tour finished, Stellastarr* and the Killers breathed a sigh of relief and we all thought we’d never hear of them again.
Until yesterday. There was a full page article in NME proclaiming to be The Great Hopes for 2005. The band (I’m sure they had a translator in with them) even said that they are "what rock bands were invented for" and gave me the brilliant quote "In Liverpool, all we do is go out and drink, every single night, like". It is so worrying that they probably will have all the success that they really don't deserve. At a time when Bloc Party, Selfish Cunt, the Rakes, Babyshambles and so many other bands are making exciting music that is devoid of all that laddish, primitive cockrocking dirge that really tainted 2003, is it really necessary to have this sort of misogynist unintelligble schmindie-disco fodder being pushed? But with the baggy revival in full swing, courtesy of the equally dreadful and base Kasabian, it looks as though Madleicester is here to stay for a bit longer. Shit.
You have been warned. The Black Velvets are terrible. Don't believe NME. (But if you do buy NME this week you will see a small picture of Abstractboy and Karen O on page 21).