I’ve written previously about sprezzatura—the hard labour undertaken in order to appear carelessly stylish—in relation to Spoon’s underappreciated 2020 LP, Transference. But Brooklyn immigrants Parquet Courts achieve what might be considered sprezzatura‘s opposite on their latest work, Human Performance: casually executed precision. The end-product resembles a cocktail of rock canon greats—Velvet Underground, The Clash, and The Kinks, primarily—but with a somewhat nihilistic worldview that’s cleverly updated for this millennials’ age. As Brooklyn transplants, and subterranean romantics, they bring an outsider’s perspective to the most happening scene in the most happening city on the most happening planet in the galaxy. Their surface scruffiness is shot through with a surprising amount of melodrama and trickery. And their facility with non sequiturs and Dadaist slogans lends their work a cheerily surreal swerve. Continue reading The Antislacktivists
“Everything that keeps them together is falling apart.” —Isaac Brock
On Hot Chip’s “Motion Sickness”, Alexis Taylor uses his gushing love affair with music as a cipher for the joys of lifelong companionship. It’s a song I mentally well up to virtually every time I hear it.
A few months ago, during the debate in the House of Commons to legislate for gay marriage, speaking in favour of the motion the MP Guy Opperman proclaimed, “I am not married. I have yet to find the woman who would want to marry someone such as me—but she is out there, Mr Speaker, I promise you.” Continue reading Month of Sundays
“Put an ocean and a river between everything, yourself and home.” Sometimes, Matt Berninger seems to advise in The National’s “England”, you have to get a little distance between you and the things, and people, dear to you. Paul Haggis’s “Crash” was a clunky metaphor for how Los Angelenos are only brought together by traumatic collisions. Before germ theory found currency, people thought the origin of epidemics lay in ‘bad air’, or, miasma, emanating from rotting organic matter. Continue reading Miasma
Snow brings a bundle of emotions wrapped up in pillows of fragile beauty. The stillness of the garden, as flakes come to rest, silently, upon the lawn. The feeling of limbo, either stranded in the house or resorting to the lazy predictability of fireside conversations with comfortable friends in the pub. The lack of adventurousness, pitted against stirrings of the heart bereft of an adequate outlet. The realisation that the blank white mass will turn to mucky slush and glistening films of ice. Such is the stuff of a wintry playlist. Continue reading Snow Wave
“And I heard of that Japanese girl, who jumped into the volcano—
Was she trying to make it back,
Back into the womb of the world?”—Beck, “Volcano”
- Pink Floyd — One of These Days
- Shy Child — Disconnected
- Yo La Tengo — Saturday
- Blur — The Universal
- Kanye West — Who Will Survive in America
- TV On The Radio — Love Dog
- Spoon — Out Go The Lights
- Cut Copy — Strangers In The Wind
- Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds — Midnight Man
- J Dilla — Last Donut of the Night
- Pulp — Sunrise
This time last year, I bored you all to death with my fifteen favourite albums of 2009. At the time, I suggested my list was not very useful because I had spent much of the year catching up on older music thanks to Spotify.
A year on, plus ça change. A friend told me he was surprised to see Fleetwood Mac extremely high on the list of most-listened to music on Spotify. I told him I was probably the reason behind this.
Nevertheless, for (non)completists’ sake, I shall persist with this probably pointless exercise. It might give you some weird insight into my warped tastes, at least.
Because I don’t wish to look like a slacker, you can also expect me to publish a list with albums I will get round to listening to in the near future. Continue reading Under-informed profligacy – Favourite Albums of 2010
“Is anyone out there wasting their lives
On booze and drugs and husbands and wives and making money?”
Grinderman 2 isn’t that dissimilar, thematically, from Nick Cave‘s day job – there’s a fair bit of religion, and a preoccupation with hedonistic perils, among other things. Musically, however, it’s unafraid to stretch out a bit: “Evil” is the sludgiest bit of stoner rock-cum-death metal I’ve ever heard Cave wail over, and the dissonant jazz squalls on “Worm Tamer” are left untouched by maracas. Perhaps the closest the album gets to the brooding balladry of, say, The Boatman’s Call, or the non-garage rock portions of Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, is “When My Baby Comes”.
After an opening trio of swaggering, dirty blues, such respite is welcome, especially when it comes draped in mandolin adornments and boasts an opening passage with a close resemblance, dare I say it, to “Night of the Lotus Eaters”. Lucky, then, that “When My Baby Comes” also boasts one of Cave’s finest (and novel) choruses, which eventually erupts into a second half that’s substantially different. As in, the string arrangement is swept upwards into a frenzied shriek, the mandolin totally vanishes, and the predominant instrumentation comes from a howling lead guitar piercing through a filthy, groaning bassline.
Towards the end, all this madness is swallowed up into a fog of creepy FX, but only temporarily, because then the bass kicks in again with hurricane-like force for a desperate coda overlaid with a similarly impassioned vocal arrangement.
I’ve already listened to this one song at least five times today, and there’s still a good eight hours of it left.
Always good to see Nick Cave’s 9-to-5 office hours paying dividend, whichever outlet from which it may emerge. Grinderman’s eponymous first album was a lecherous riot and a blessed offering to Onan. This time round, the primates are out and the wolfman is in, as evidenced by artwork and lyrics currently doing the rounds.
None of this can prepare you, however, for the hungry, visceral power of lead single, “Heathen Child”, which is best heard in conjunction with its John Hillcoat-directed video. Warning: this video is nothing like The Road. Consistently hilarious in its lyrics (“She don’t care about Allah – she is the Allah”) and bursting with Warren Ellis’ typically squalling noisemakers, “Heathen Child” is a seething, slithering mountain of MENACE, and it’s out to get you, personally.
She’s sitting in the bathtub, sucking her thumb…
Oh, and did I mention there’s a special version of the song (entitled “Super Heathen Child”, because Nick Cave doesn’t care about looking ridiculous) engorged with a guitar solo from Mr. Robert Fripp?
The album, Grinderman 2, is out on September 13th. Prepare for a snarling monster of bluesy madness that makes Jack White’s chimerical side-projects look like Fisher Price nursery rhymes.
I’m man enough to admit that the following albums leave me pretty much in tears by the time they finish:
- Amon Tobin – Supermodified (occasionally)
- Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
- Blur – 13
- Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
- Godspeed You Black Emperor! – Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven
- Interpol – Turn On The Bright Lights
- Jaga Jazzist – What We Must
- Jonny Greenwood – There Will Be Blood
- LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
- Low – Drums And Guns
- M83 – Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts
- Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!
- Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
- Portishead – Third
- Pulp – We Love Life
- Radiohead – OK Computer
- Radiohead – Kid A
- The Shins – Wincing The Night Away
- TV On The Radio – Return To Cookie Mountain
- Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
What does this tell me? Well, other than that I’m possibly an emotional trainwreck, it also suggests that I’m a real sucker for killer album closers, notably those that are long, protracted, portentous and often outstay their welcome. Sometimes, these final songs are emotionally charged to such a degree that I feel utterly drained. At other times, it’s just the pent-up sadness that eventually emerges from an album full of grief, depression or sadness. When a songwriter lays his soul bare on record, it’s hard for me to not empathise.
This has made me sound like someone close to the brink, which I’m not, so I’ll stop now.
Historically, I’ve been pretty shoddy with blogs. I create them and I obsess over them and I pour my soul into them and then I forget all about them and they vanish into the ether. Sometimes, along the way, some of my posts get unusually high levels of exposure, but then, as time wears on, they too fade away into obscurity. It’s a perennial problem that I’m hoping to dispel with this blog. Part of the reason for this wholesale new year’s resolution is the constant collaboration of Michael, who’s going to be manning the blog on an equal footing, which will hopefully up the stakes of competition and force me into being responsible about the upkeep of the blog, and my own article-count.
In the downtime since I forgot all about my previous blog, Interstellar Overdrive, I’ve occasionally been posting music-related ramblings and links on my Facebook profile, chief among them my Top 18 Albums of 2008 (because 18 is such an auspicious number). In the interests of giving my writings some sort of recent context, here, then, is a verbatim copy of that list:
- Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!
- TV On The Radio – Dear Science,
- Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
- Hercules & Love Affair – Hercules & Love Affair
- Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
- Deerhunter – Microcastle
- Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid
- Portishead – Third
- British Sea Power – Do You Like Rock Music?
- Calexico – Carried To Dust
- Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
- Johnny Greenwood – There Will Be Blood
- Flying Lotus – Los Angeles
- The Last Shadow Puppets – The Age Of The Understatement
- Hot Chip – Made In The Dark
- Foals – Antidotes
- Santogold – Santogold
Honourable Mention: The Week That Was – The Week That Was
Now I realise that 17/18 is not really a typical number for such lists, but I actually think there was something of a paucity of good albums in 2008 – certainly not a vintage year like 2007. The albums listed are those that I rate not only for the quality of the songs, but also for the structure and composition of the album. For me, the year was characterised by several high-profile duds and one-hit wonders, without really delivering a large quantity of really special albums. That said, there are a few more albums given high praise by music reviewers which I have yet to hear, so I’m willing to accept that this list is far from definitive. Certainly at the tail end of my list, the albums become a little bit flawed, particularly Hot Chip, Foals and Santogold.
Finally, The Week That Was is the quasi-solo project from a member of one of favourite unheard-of bands, Field Music, who are currently on some sort of untruthful hiatus. Their 2007 album, Tones Of Town, really struck a chord with me, and I can’t think why they’ve never achieved the fame of their close friends Maxïmo Park and the Futureheads. Please have a listen to their material; it’s beautiful and uplifting.
As a little tack-on piece, here are the albums I’m most looking forward to in 2009:
Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
Franz Ferdinand – Tonight: Franz Ferdinand
Antony & The Johnsons – The Crying Light
The Decemberists – The Hazards Of Love
Patrick Wolf – Battle (now with added Tilda Swinton!)
Unnamed James Murphy side-project
Possible new Arctic Monkeys album
I’m sure there’s plenty more in store, but that’s all for now.
UPDATE: In the interests of not appearing to be a smug idiot, I have now included the Bon Iver record. In actual fact, it was first released in 2007 (as evidenced by its appearance on the Top 50 Albums of 2007 on Pitchfork) but I’m willing to accept that virtually everyone else, myself included, only heard it in 2008. So in it goes at number 11.
P.S. In the interests of competition, I would love for Michael to post his possible list of Top Albums from last year.