Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Year. 20-16

20. Sunset Rubdown - Random Spirit Lover

Random Spirit Lover sees Spencer Krug split his time between being the demon ringmaster of some sort of keyboard-led musical circus noir and being the hilltop poet of both doom and everyday wisdom. I've seen reviews of this that haven't gotten any further than the vaguely kooky sounds that pop up occasionally and I've seen reviews that haven't got past the slightly bizarre lyrical tangents. More than both, I've seen ten legions of Sunset Rubdown reviews declare "when he's not with Wolf Parade, Swan Lake, Frog Eyes, Destroyer, blab". And I would like to congratulate those reviewers for knowing how to use Google. Sunset Rubdown does not deserve to be left as a part of the overall life and loves of a busy indie journeyman, because it's too good for that. It always seems like the place where Spencer can do exactly what he wants with songs, where he directs things rather than just taking part, where he gets the most personality into his lyrics, where the songs sound like they do in his head. Random Spirit Lover sat on my desktop for about 5 weeks too long this year, and I regret it daily.
Jagjaguwar provide the hook-up, song-wise, but Spencer does not know Jeff Mangum's name. You can be cool without trying. A revelation.

19. Holy Fuck - LP

When I reviewed this for Analogue's latest issue, I said at the end that it was a dark horse for album of the year. When the time came to actually compile my own personal totally overblown Album of the Year rundown, things turned out a little differently. That's more a testament to others than a sign of LP ageing badly in the six weeks or so since I passed judgement on it, because the things that made me put it on so loud that it shook shelves and made radiators resonate while I danced sadly alone one night not too long ago are still there today (do not tell anyone about that, blogosphere, I trust you). The beats are fortified, amped up and racing the keyboards to the finishing line. Holy Fuck make a sort of organised lo-fi amphetamine dance-rock chaos that you might find growing in a cave or somewhere. Or alternatively, live and improvised in a loft in Toronto. Or alternatively, on CD or mp3, recorded for your convenience in what proved to be a valiant though unsuccessful attempt at the best album of 2007.
A well-provisioned MySpace provides Bishop Gregory, Lovely Allen and other vital album tracks, while Coke Machine Glow lands a lower rating than I would've, but describes it well.

18. Handsome Furs - Plague Park
Sub Pop

Plague Park has all the hallmarks of a true side-project effort. Dan Boeckner is famous from collaborating with Spencer Krug in Wolf Parade. He decided to make an album with his wife. They wrote it at home. The only singing and real playing on it is Dan. If there was ever an album in danger of being a vanity project, this was it. It's not though. Or if it is, it still sounds great. Proof that minimalism can sound rich, with the help of a mid-90s drum machine, occasional keyboards and his guitar dosed in Canada-sized dollops of reverb, Dan lets his lyrics and particularly his vocal range spread much broader than he did with other projects. He takes wings. The lyrical conceits are idiosyncratic at this stage. Love, nothing and modernity, swimming in these strange metaphors. Like Sunset Rubdown, there's the feeling that this is how Dan would be doing things if every idea in his head came to full fruition. Every song in the album sounds like a constituent part of a whole scheme, and that whole is as dusty and spacious as the cover art. Marginally better than Spencer's effort this year. Not that it's a competition.
Here is what I said about Handsome Furs in Whelans in October, and here are two of the best tracks, What We Had and Handsome Furs Hate This City.

17. Patrick Wolf - The Magic Position

This album came out early in the year and quite possibly leaked in 2006, so it didn't appear on many end of year lists. That's the only possibly explanation. The very idea that all the top 50s of the Educated in the world could have ignored The Magic Position is so offensive to me, that I can't entertain it for a second. Especially seeing as they all hyped it when it was released. The album is a tapestry of swelling violin-led tracks, bouncing pop, fragile Antony-esque piano ballads and very slightly Depeche Mode tunes. There's even a taste of Xiu Xiu on The Stars. It's much, much better than anything Wolf has done before, and largely what establishes it are the singles. The Magic Position and Accident & Emergency as a combination make this album special alone. The rest of the salad bowl of sounds are tied together by Wolf's occasionally breathy semi-croon, and they create a quite captivating and undulating selection. Pity everyone forgot.
The NME article where Patrick had a bit of a sulk, and a hotlink to the video for Accident & Emergency on his website.

16. Gruff Rhys - Candylion
Rough Trade

Another salad bowl of an album is Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys' second solo album. Before we start talking about the music, if there were awards for best album art (and seeing as this is my blog, I may well invent one) Candylion would win hands down for its completely flawless cardboard rendering of what the combination "candylion" would look like. Not all of the album is as sweet as the cover, but the title track (which comes after an intro falsely declaring the album to be for voice and guitar) definitely is. It's a knowing sort of sweet though, more Bassetts All-Sorts than WKD Blue. It's mostly in English, with a handful of Welsh songs and one in basic Spanish for some reason. One of Welsh ones, Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru is the highlight, and one of the catchiest songs of the year. Many hours have I walked home from places sans mp3 player with a Welshman's voice saying "gurry gurry gurry gurry gurry gurry" over and over and over again. Superb stuff. Apart from sweetness and infectiousness, there are slightly less saccharine tunes floating around too. Cycle of Violence sounds a bit like Pinky and Skylor! is a 14 minute behemoth that sounds a small bit like the Velvet Underground. There aren't weak tracks. Wales is still a world power in music.
MySpace tells the story of Candylion, and YouTube has Gruff and Lisa show us how to make our own, ala Blue Peter.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Year. 25-21

25. Thinguma*jigsaw - (awakeinwhitechapel)
Deserted Village

awakeinwhitechapel (which possibly breaks down as "A Wake In Whitechapel") is a vibrantly original album made in Ireland by a duo from Oslo, Norway, keeling under its own heady atmospherics and resplendent in its lyrical charm. There is lyricism a lot greater that which than the sloganeering brigades of Ireland generally possess in evidence, possibly due to a love of modernist literature both Joycean and otherwise. It's great to hear. They get more atmosphere with a flute, a banjo and a musical saw than a lot of bands could manage with an orchestra. It's pointless to point to influences here, because it sounds so shockingly original. Not physically shocking obviously, but there is a definite feeling that only comes when you first hear a band who you cannot immediately place in the sort of tapestry of post-Beatles music, and thinguma*jigsaw evoke that feeling very strongly.
An explanation of the album, whose concept (there seems to be one) you might otherwise miss. Not for the formalists among you.
MySpace - Serpentsapple gets especial recommendation.

24. Interpol - Our Love To Admire


If we're judging by the overall feeling of an album and its lyrical themes, this is the third time Interpol have made this album and the only difference is that this is the first time they've openly admitted that they're looking for the widest audience possible, That's not really a surprise to anyone who has heard both Turn On The Bright Lights and Antics though, so the move to a major from Matador and the ridiculously blatant single can be fairly easily overlooked. Being popular - and trying to be even more popular - doesn't stop Our Love To Admire being a good album. Pioneer To The Falls shares an aesthetic with the two previous album openers, but it is easily the best as a song, and there are various Interpol melodies and tricks that are perfected here. The bass and drums are turned down a little, and there is slightly less urgency, but sounding lazy is no bad thing sometimes, and Interpol have managed to stay pretty safely within the confines of being on-form. I await the next album with interest and a critical ear though. Only Oasis have tried to make the same album more than three times, and it wouldn't be nice to see Interpol go that way.
MySpace has a few songs off this and they have a decent website too if you have time to kill.

23. The White Stripes - Icky Thump

White Stripes albums sit on roaring singles generally, that's why they're so big in the mainstream. There's a single on each album that announces the mood of the album as a whole: Dead Leaves... on White Blood Cells, Seven Nation Army on Elephant, Blue Orchid or arguably My Doorbell on Get Behind Me Satan. Icky Thump is no different. While some of the tracks could fit easily on any of their albums or any blues rock album since 1969, Icky Thump the song tears new arseholes left, right and centre, hates White America more effectively than Eminem ever managed beside a Zeppelin-esque riff and deservedly lends its name to the album. Elsewhere, new ground is only occasionally tread, but the uneasy personal lyrics that pop up now and then and the usual White Stripes dynamics make this a worthy listen.
MySpace doesn't really advertise the best of Icky Thump, but Jack White multitasking on Jools should make up for that.

22. So Cow - These Truly Are End Times

Covert Bear

Like Wilde, Shaw, Joyce and Beckett before him, Brian Kelly deserted his native land to seek fame and fortune in foreign climes. Not for him the bright lights of Manhattan, the avenues of Paris or the proud, cultured London streets. He went to Seoul. These Truly Are End Times is lo-fi partly due to circumstance and partly due to choice, and the hand-drawn cover will give a good idea of the kind of thing in question. There are some seriously catchy songs on it, the kind of thing that would have charted in an alternative universe, but either uncompromising indie principles or a frankly shocking lack of major label interest keeps These Truly Are End Times a well-kept secret. Only Hawaii, Arizona, certain bars in Korea, Deerhoof and Ireland seem to be aware of this album, so do not waste this opportunity. It's the best album by an Irish artist this year quite easily.
So Cow talks End Times on his site, and there are mp3s there too but go here for Moon Geun Young, Casablanca and some new tracks.

21. The Polyphonic Spree - The Fragile Army

If this album was a small, unrelated piece of cinematography, it would be the scene in Battle Royale in the classroom after they discover they've been drugged 'n' dragged, and Beat Takeshi plays them a video. The video has a ridiculously perky Japanese (duh) girl in a Battle Royale bodywarmer, if I recall, talking like an anime character about the brilliant adventure they're about to embark on. Takeshi claps enthusiastically. The class are fear-stricken. I don't know why The Fragile Army reminds me of that, but it does. Maybe Takeshi is Tim DeLaughter, ageing star rallying the troops from the front, and the class are the rest of the Spree. Or maybe some time earlier in the year I listened to TFA and watched Battle Royale on the same night. This is super-fidelity, super-sincere, super-twee, saccharine overdose stuff, like a mildly beefier version of previous Spree. There are some melodies borrowed from The Beginning Stages Of... and Together We're Heavy, but there are cracking new ones too and some heart-lifting pop music like no-one else can do.

Tim and his army keep a blog that could be worth reading, and their article-free MySpace has a mash-up of the album.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Jens Lekman

Google the name Jens. If your Google is the same as mine (and I assume it is), the first result will be this website. Nothing to do with Jens Lehmann, or any other Jens. Jens Lekman, Swedish indie crooner extraordinaire and sexiest man in Indie Rock according to my bro Scott's readers* takes that honour.

He probably deserves it too, not that Google is a meritocracy. Being the sexiest man in the credible world has not gone to his head, judging from his performance at Whelans. Comfortable and earnest, he took the stage with his "percussionist" (apparently Swedish for "occasional bongo tapper") Tammy after a decent performance from Fat Cat's Dakota farmboy Tom Brosseau, where he made his announcement. "I'm doing this show for the money. I'm broke."

Luckily, as my friend observed, Swedish people are generally equipped with better senses of humour than most Northern Europeans. It's probably true though. He didn't bring a full band because he couldn't afford it, so he played through most of Night Falls Over Kortedala with only his guitar, his bongoist and occasional looped oohs for support. He explained several songs rather charmingly, bringing a little humanity to what sometimes can seem polished or unambitious music. "Why don't you tell us a funny story, Jens?", Jens asked himself, and he obliged.

The backing track kicked in for the last two songs before the pretend-end of the set, including the highlight Opposite of Hallelujah, which is one of the singles of the year I reckon (because actual physical single release is irrelevant when you have the internet) but the encore songs were again endearingly stripped down, like the rest of the set. Seeing Jens Lekman stripped of band and samples is just a different way of experiencing the music I think. Not worse, anyway. Not that I have anything to compare with. I enjoyed myself a lot, and I'm definitely a bigger Jens fan now than I was before.

Oh, and some famous guy played a few songs with him on violin. Big clap to you Dublin for cheering the three-song special guest five times as much as the headline act. I'd take Jens any day, I'll be honest.


*Note: I do not actually know Scott Lapatine or any other Stereogum contributor, and they are certainly not my bros.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Blue Lights All Around!

Support band had a French name and sounded exactly the same as Daft Punk. They had a song called "We Don't Speak French" which would only have been funny if they weren't so clearly derivative.

Of Montreal came next. Straight out of Athens, GA, and fresh from a delicious sell-out to T-Mobile and various "commercials" in America, they indie-kids-can-dance'd their way across the Button Factory stage for their second Dublin date on the Hissing Fauna... tour. They played Crawdaddy earlier on in the year, and I thought it was brilliant. My friends didn't though. Maybe I was glazen-eyed with fanboydom. Because, as I've alluded to before on this blog, I came to the conclusion on the long walk from Stephen's Green corner to Tripod one day that Of Montreal are my favourite band.

After that gig I got my copy of Hissing Fauna... signed by everyone in the band, I talked to Kevin for a little while about his lyrics and I shook the glitter out of my hair. I definitely had one of those bleary experiences. TBMC had to live up to that.

To be honest, it was about equal, or maybe a little worse. They avoided the usual problem of bands who visit the same place twice on the one tour by playing a very different set, with a LOT of stuff off older albums than Hissing Fauna... and this was good. Four off Satanic Panic In The Attic, which was the first Of Montreal album I ever got way back in whatever year, 2003 or 4 or something. And four (I think) off Sunlandic Twins, which is almost the equal of Hissing Fauna...

He wore absurd clothes. BP Helium was dressed as Bowie instead of Eno. But the strange stage dance guys with the glitter weren't there, and the spectacle was a little lessened. It was a good gig, not a great gig, as Eamon Dunphy might say, and even the look on the pointless bouncer's face as Kevin danced in fishnets to Gronlandic Edit couldn't bring back the kind of furore I got at Crawdaddy.


Friday, December 7, 2007


I've spent a lot of the last 10 days or so finding out from WK Wimsatt and Cleanth Brooks about what exactly a successful criticism consists of. And I genuinely do feel more educated now. Unfortunately though, the whole point of blogging is to give personal accounts of stuff, so I will have to betray my new-found New Critical outlook and do this old-school.

Liars was one of my least cool gig experiences, which is ironic (but not very ironic) because they're on of the coolest bands I've been to see. Angus Andrew was wearing the lovely white suit you see above (even though I stole that picture from a New York online newspaper of some description), and they looked overall like a Brooklyn post-punk band. Which is apt, because they were. Are they still? Probably not. Doesn't matter, because they've added being accepted in haute music circles to looking cool. Which is good news.

Reasons it wasn't cool: I turned up at 8 because it said 8 on the tickets, none of my friends were at it so I was by myself for the first time in a while, gigs I'm not at should have no effect on the fucking gig I pay for, the third support missed a flight, the doors opened at around 9 and nothing happened for hours, I drank four pints of Paulaner by myself, I jerked and rocked out beside some Northern Irish guys for the entire Liars set.

Saving graces:

Bats are very good. They're like indie playing metalcore. Or metalcore playing indie. Or genre-ignoring playing genre-ignoring.

Liars were really cathartic, and generally great. The two guitarists (labelled thus for convenience) basically made noise for the entire night, the drummer went "bom bom bom" fairly insistently and Angus gave the thumbs down while Australianising some cavernous sounds from the microphone.

They played plenty off Drum's Not Dead, which surprised me. I assumed that because they shifted sound between Drum and the self-titled, that they would have sort of shifted ethos or something. But they didn't. I used to be really into Drum's Not Dead, so that was good news.

But even better news: they played lots off Liars too. And Liars is so much better than Drum's Not Dead. I didn't think so when I got it first, but in terms of scope, the breadth of sounds they get together on one album without losing their intensity, it's just a much better record. There are some TUNES on it too, in the sense that Noel Gallagher or someone would refer to FOOKIN' TUNES. Songs that make sense, that have hooks. But there's noise too.

Everything was fed through the live catharsis-machine though. And Plaster Casts fucking destroyed the place. I was waiting for it for the whole gig, and last song comes around. It tears holes in everything. I can't explain it better, or I don't want to. It's primal shit.

This was up there, for me. The "Of The Year" lists are on their way, don't worry. And this'll be there, high.


Saturday, December 1, 2007

Wonderful Counsellor

I saw this un-fucking-believable Canadian band the other night in Kennedys or the Boom Boom Room or some other underdog venue that you wouldn't have thought of checking the listings for. They played this really bizarre, incredibly inspired music... it was like a cross between twee and post-rock. And they had more members than the Polyphonic Spree. I am not shitting you.

Well no, I am shitting you. I was at Handel's Messiah, performed by the University of Dublin Choral Society with the Dublin Sinfonia in the Public Theatre in Trinity (a venue notable for its gigantic portrait of Queen Elizabeth staring down damning all Catholics). I did this mainly because my friend (who sounds normally like a suburban Ronnie Drew) was in the bass section of the choir.

I unfortunately do not have the required training to talk in an informed way about opera (is it even opera?), but I had a good time. Several of my friends left after the first half (which was an hour long). I can understand why. But I enjoyed it. The only thing I can do is draw parallels with things I know. Some bits did what those really shivery Radiohead bits do. Other times, there was too much harpsichord for my taste. Still. HALLELUJAH. What a song.