Here are some albums from 2014 that I enjoyed in 2014. Ranking everything in one list would be arbitrary, so I didn’t. There’s a Spotify megamix containing some of the songs I mention, and some I don’t, here. Continue reading 20 in 14
With violent simplicity, a four-day holiday teases with the trappings of summer. Relinquish reason, and fall for this meteorological trick. Continue reading RSD07
A friend’s sister has been in town, visiting from the Garden State. She brings with her the baggage of a gentler pre-campus life: sprinklers on lawns, the station wagon, and the sodium-glare of streetlights on wide tree-lined avenues. Nothing evokes endless estival evenings like Real Estate‘s second album, Days. But at a certain point, I had begun to wonder if Matthew Mondanile’s plangent, cyclical music would overwhelm the elegant simplicity of his childhood friend Martin Courtney’s lyrics, which are lifted wholesale from the imagery of dusky suburbia. Continue reading Eternal summers turn to fall
I was 31% of the way through Infinite Jest when I realised I no longer had any idea what was going on in David Foster Wallace’s novel. It felt like this lengthy diversion about rehabilitation from substance addiction had no origin and no destination, and at roughly the same time I began to yearn for a simpler and yet more powerful meditation on America. I put on R.E.M.’s Automatic For The People. Continue reading And but so R.E.M.
Three closing songs to mark the passing of a year and the predictable dreariness of a new one. Continue reading Glitter, wind, more of the same
People suddenly liked The Horrors circa-Primary Colours because that album was so unexpected, given what had come before it. Once the Southend quintet had settled quietly into their skins, second time round people lost interest. That’s a pity, because a year on Skying has lost none of its weather-drenched majesty. Songs unfurl opulently from quasi-baggy rhythms, like “Dive In” and the opener “Changing The Rain”. They luxuriate in reverb and then snap, in an instant, into thrashy garage rock, as on “Endless Blue”.
At the end of last year, I said it was “an album best enjoyed when you close your eyes to The Horrors’ record collection”; the studious epic “Moving Further Away” is a case in point. Anything, from the chugging rhythm to the soaring-heavenwards synths, might remind you of a different band, a different record, a different era. But that’s not the point. Rather, I think you’re meant to semiconsciously appreciate how these elements of the past have been carefully sculpted into a sleek beast of the future.
The same could be said, and even more easily accepted, on Tame Impala‘s sophomore effort, Lonerism. In 2012, it’s easier to hold up someone like Kevin Parker as a voice of a generation—see how quickly Lena Dunham was given the same tag, despite her representing, in truth, only a tiny fragment of American society. But look past the song-titles and lyrics which speak, yes, of isolation and doubt and guilt (because we’ve already had plenty of that from the PBR&B crowd, and their lyrics are easier to decipher than Parker’s), and much of Lonerism is really a very sunny slice of psych rock, at home at the poolside, with Ray Bans on, accompanied by a crisp Brooklyn lager.
There’s the poppy psychedelia of The Beatles or primetime Flaming Lips; there’s the nod to labelmates Cut Copy in the blissed-out vocals and guitars and the studio trickery. Halfway through the album comes a woozy three-minute slow jam, “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards”, which rolls around an effortless groove and bounces vocal harmonies into the upper reaches of consciousness before vanishing like a burst bubble. That’s representative of the levity this album brings to the fore on several occasions. Same goes for the unexpected way in which “Mind Mischief” transforms from a pretty canonical scuzzy (there’s a word to describe the guitar tones throughout the album) rock song into a spacey love song reminiscent of The Flaming Lips’s “Silver Trembling Hands”.
Only on a few occasions does the music rumble a little more heavily, as on the stomping “Elephant”, which is the kind of perfect pastiche (à la “Drunk Girls” on This Is Happening) so cheerily observant you can instantly forgive it. And even there, there are some magically futuristic moments, which I’d rather not ruin for anyone unlucky enough not to have heard the song. No, for the most part, this album is like a mildly hallucinogenic take on the simple suburban grandeur of Real Estate. And that’s great. On the penultimate song, “Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control” starts out like “Tomorrow Never Knows” but soon shifts into a more triumphalist mood: less twilight zone, more breaking dawn. In the closing two minutes, swirly sound effects threaten to swallow up the song, but wind up just spitting it out into a candyfloss confection. There’s a coda, of course, fleeting and victorious.
So here we have two albums that superficially look backwards but, treated with a little more respect, reveal themselves to be pacing stridently into the future. One is the product of a misunderstood British band whose back-story many are bored of (NME poster-boys with closeted sophisticated tastes); the other, a bedroom genius whose background gets repeated as much as that of Justin Vernon (rooted in Perth, Australia’s most out-of-the-way outpost). But both are worthy of your time and reverence. They take risks; they travel along unconventional arcs; they are the works of iconoclasts.
A while back, I wrote of Spoon and My Morning Jacket, who have been busy keeping rock music alive in an era of laptops, turntables and synthesisers. But now that those bands have become deconstructionists and funk-explorers respectively, who fulfils the role of the revivalist? Continue reading Mahgeetah: rock music in America
I don’t feel able to construct a properly ranked list of my favourite albums of 2011—principally because I didn’t listen to enough albums of 2011. Instead, I am posting morsels of goodness on a Tumblr, which you can find here.
Real Estate make jangling, timeless guitar pop which yearns for a simpler time. The strumming is carefree and golden; the vocals suggest a blissed-out Ian Brown; and the mood is eternally September.
As several people have noticed, there is an elegant simplicity to their having called the opening song of their recent second album “Easy” (see above), because it certainly doesn’t try hard.
And, of even more relevance, I will be seeing these guys play London’s Scala tomorrow night. I expect good things to come of it.