2010: A Year In Music Awesomeness

I’m going to admit it straight away, I’ve spent a lot of time looking back at the decade that has just passed. I’ve pulled up lists of my favourite songs and albums of the decade, and hunted through the indie scenes’ most loved bands of the 00s for my inspiration. I think I may be beginning to feel the effects of noughties-overdose so, as a remedy to this malignant condition, I bring you a look into the future. Some of the following albums are confirmed, others merely rumoured, but if they do all pop up during the earliest 10% of the brave new decade we are about to encounter, then be thankful. Because it will mean 2010 will surely be an awesome time for good music.

Release Date Confirmed:

Vampire Weekend – Contra (January 12)

The self-titled debut goes down as a guilty pleasure for me. I had a bit of a garage-rock phase, Kings Of Leon and The Strokes and The White Stripes, which I like to think I have sort of got over. The elitist in me scoffs at my youthful folly, but I can’t help but enjoy Vampire Weekend’s energy and hooks, which makes their second album of particular interest to me. By the sounds of the first couple of released tracks, “Horchata” and “Cousins”, Contra will be more of the same, slight but memorable guitar-rock, but whether it will contain a hit the size of “A-Punk” is another matter.

Anticipation Factor: 7/10

Yeasayer – Odd Blood (February 9)

Though I wasn’t the biggest fan of Yeasayer’s debut, All Hour Cymbals, there were one or two tracks that successfully combined the catchiness of pop with eccentric instruments and surreal moods. It is with a mixture of hope and trepidation that I listened to their new offering, Ambling Alp, and it seems that the signs are good for the new album. Provided that Odd Blood shows some consistency, this second record could show Yeasayer step up a league in quality.

Anticipation Factor: 6/10

Massive Attack – Heligoland (February 9)

I should try and stop my brain from considering this to be Massive Attack’s Third. There are similarities, the long gap between albums, the cinematic side-projects, but unlike Portishead, Massive Attack have not had a particularly good pre-release build-up. Splitting The Atom EP was lethargic and mediocre, but the fact is it’s an EP and the material on it was clearly not considered good enough for the album. The odds are high that Massive Attack have a large amount of material stashed away, some of it is bound to be quality. And the cameo list alone (Damon Albarn, Tunde Adebimpe, Martina Topley-Bird, Guy Garvey) is worthy of note.

Anticipation Factor: 7/10

Frightened Rabbit – The Winter Of Mixed Drinks (March 1)

The step up from Sing The Greys to The Midnight Organ Fight was notable, if they could pull off another such leap this could be one of the biggest albums of the year. I’m expecting something on a par with Organ Fight myself, a few more basic bittersweet odes which seem to be their comfort zone. It is interesting to note that the band have hired a fifth member, whose purpose is to provide “various instruments”, which hints at a fuller, more layered sound. This is also backed up by a single, “Swim until You Can’t See Land”, which is a soft, slightly ethereal affair, driven by the sly couplet “are you a man or are you a bag of sand?”

Anticipation Factor: 8/10

Release Date TBA:

The National – Untitled

In an interview with Pitchfork, Bryce Dessner stated that “The album will definitely come out in 2010. It could be early. It’ll be some time between January and May, I think”. If they stick to that then we’re a maximum six months away from a new album by The National. Now I prefer Alligator to Boxer, so in terms of career trajectory they’re actually on a downward slope at the moment in my mind (only by a miniscule amount, of course), but still, if this is on a par with their back catalogue thus far, I would still happily shell out a stupid amount of money to get it the first day. A couple of videos of new tracks being played have surfaced around YouTube (search QTV Runaway for one particularly spellbinding track), and the material seems as strong as ever, although nothing that screams “first single”, which is the sort of track they need if they’re going to get the exposure they deserve. Either way, this is still the album that raises my pulse more than any other pencilled in for 2010.

Anticipation Factor: 10/10

LCD Soundsystem – Untitled

A recent release of “Bye Bye Bayou”, a cover of an Alan Vega track, did little to whet the general appetite for new LCD Soundsystem records, but leaving sensationally understated messages such as “back in nyc. in the studio. making record” on his (legitimate) Facebook page certainly did. No idea which direction it will be going in, what the tracks will sound like, or whether it’ll be more than just 50 minutes of silence. Still, there won’t be long to wait, as it is scheduled for sometime in March, but until then James Murphy will be keeping his filthy electro-rock cards close to his chest.

Anticipation factor: 9/10

Broken Social Scene – Untitled

BSS were in the studio back in May, and as a full band too, rather than the many side projects and split ends that seem to occupy most of Kevin Drew and co’s time. Even they have said it is too early to define the direction of their sound, or whether it is in fact staying in the same place, but the chance are this will be out before May. Not a lot of details on this, and not much new live material to go on, as the band members have been busy being other bands’ band members. Still, this album is worthy of note as Broken Social Scene are finally once again coming together as one entity to record.

Anticipation Factor: 8/10

Rumoured Releases:

Radiohead, Arcade Fire, My Bloody Valentine, Portishead, Wolf Parade, The Strokes

That is a hell of a list. A whole lot of music-lovers would give away prized possessions to see those bands pull out an album from the top of their creative drawers this year. Most of these bands have confirmed that they’re working on new albums, and are aiming for 2010 releases, so we could be seeing these albums popping up around a year from now.

Radiohead are, of course, a law unto themselves, so any attempt to predict their movements seems as futile as predicting the outcome of the LHC. What was “These Are My Twisted Words” anyway, a sign? A red herring? An experiment? A whole new branch of cryptography could be opened up trying to determine Thom Yorke’s methods of madness. In that particular field, I am but an amateur.

Arcade Fire have spent the time since making Neon Bible fairly wisely, writing part of the score for Richard Kelly’s “The Box”, indulging in side-projects and touring, which I hope means they will be able to pull out something less mediocre and tiresome come album three. A return to delicacy over fist-pumping politicking would be a good place to start. Nothing confirmed on album status, but rumour has it they have just spent three weeks recording in the Magic Shop studio. Which is news indeed.

Portishead have confirmed that they plan to release their new album in 2010, although this is of course open to delay, unfortunately. No new material has been released, and it is more likely that the album will not reach us until 2011, but I’d happily wait another 11 years if the end product is as good as Third. If they can build on the darkness and lush agony displayed on their last release then the new album may well be my early contender for best album of the decade 2010s, though.

News on the other three bands there seems to involve less strong words and more hushed whispers. A new My Bloody Valentine record would certainly be an event to make any critic and audiophile alike take a sharp intake of breath. A third Wolf Parade album would hopefully right the wrongs that Second Album Syndrome caused “Mount Zoomer”, and The Strokes IV (as hysterical NME kids dubbed it) would give Casablancas and co.  the opportunity to prove they can go beyond one-trick pony status.

All in all, and even ignoring the inevitable debut stunners of the ilk of Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes, 2010 will be amazing. There will be failures and successes amongst these albums, but the failures will at least be interesting ones, while we, the listeners, will watch over the evolution of some of the current decades best bands into the new decade with perhaps more anticipation than ever before.

EDIT:

How could I have missed out the new Laura Marling album? No title yet, but the new tracks are great live, she seems to have matured lyrically and the full band is being used more effectively than ever. The rumoured February release is not official, but it will surely be out in the first quarter of 2010. A lot of second albums are rushed out due to demands after successful debuts, but a bit of patience never harmed an album, so lets hope theres good reason for the extra few months wait.

Anticipation Factor: Sorry for forgetting you/10

The Video Bin

So I watch a lot of music videos and live music clips on YouTube. There are a lot of gems for fans of music as a visual artform as opposed to merely audio. And it is surprising how often the videos are high quality, as well. So as to link this particular medium of enjoying music with my blog, I have created The Video Bin, every now and again I will dump a few YouTube links here for your viewing pleasure, if you so wish. Recently there’s been a surplus of odd-ball music videos being made, perhaps to run parallel with the surplus of odd-ball bands. And where does that surplus end up? In The Video Bin, of course! What would be the point of this exercise if they didn’t?

Anyway, I’ve just drunk a litre of Tesco brand energy drink, and can’t focus too well. Have these various videos to while away the time between now and the release of the new album by The National. That’s coming out soon right? Please say it’s coming out soon, Matt Berninger. Please do.

Don’t ask if this will be a regular thing or not. I have no idea. Just enjoy the plasticine and sliding Jarvis Cocker. And the four-headed man. And Beth frikkin’ Gibbons. That should be enough for you.

The Wednesday Countdown: Short Songs

Here come list number two of my Wednesday Countdown series, concentrating this time on the songs that may be short in girth, but are large in impact. The criteria for this particular list is the following, tracks must be shorter than two minutes (it’s worth noting that Blur’s slight classic “Song 2” comes in at 2 minutes 1 second), maximum one per artist, and the selection is based around both the quality of the song as well as how it fits onto the album it occupies. That last point is there because short songs are often interludes, designed as a transition between tracks. Thus the movement into the next track is taken into account, as you can probably tell looking at the top few songs, if you are aware of the albums involved.

Anyway, here it is.

Top 10 Short Songs

1. Laura Marling – Crawled Out Of The Sea (Interlude) (1:16)

2. Pink Floyd – The Happiest Days of Our Lives (1:50)

3. Portishead – Deep Water (1:39)

4. The White Stripes – Hypnotize (1:48)

5. Modest Mouse – Wild Packs of Family Dogs (1:49)

6. Foo Fighters – Doll (1:23)

7. The Decemberists – The Wanting Comes In Waves (Reprise) (1:31)

8. Radiohead – You Never Wash Up After Yourself (1:44)

9. Iron & Wine – Die (1:07)

10. Elbow – Puncture Repair (1:48)

Laura Marling perfectly anticipated the question “can a 76 second song be anthemic?” with “Crawled Out Of The Sea”, an elegantly simple love ode that does both jobs, leading smartly into “My Manic & I” on the album, but sounding very well-rounded in its own right. I confess that its position at number one was finalized not by the track itself, but by quite how amazing it sounds live. The sound of a number of hip London folk artists coming together and crying the main refrain together is one that will not soon leave me.

As ever, let me know what songs are missing, I don’t mind being reminded how wrong I am sometimes!

(Side Note: Does this compensate for me missing out “Mexico” on the last list? Because on further listening, it really is good…)

Yo La Tengo – I Am Not Afraid Of You and I Will Beat Your Ass

(Side Note: I’m well aware of my faults as a writer, my main fault being that I’m not one. Writers construct thoroughly planned, cleverly worded and structurally sound articles. I write biased, neurotically-charged posts made up on a whim and written hurriedly, with very little proof-reading. Acceptance of these facts is the first step on the path to redemption, and I plan on starting here, by doing what proper music writers could chuck out in their sleep, but something I avoid unreservedly, an actual album review. Not a summary, a short review or a track-by-track rating. An actual, full-length review. Well, an attempt at one anyway, if I fail, I’ll go back to random lists, vague discussions on wide-ranging subjects and occasional topical points.)

The first thing you notice about I Am Not Afraid Of You and I Will Beat Your Ass, if you are someone with the mentality to make snap judgements on albums, is the title. Rolling it around your mind, you may wonder to yourself, is this intended to be a light-hearted comedy title, or should the message be taken deadly seriously? Will Yo La Tengo, a band known for skipping nonchalantly between musical styles, actually beat you to the ground with their sounds?

If this 2006 release were the prize-fighter its title implied, it would not be a big-swinging one-hit KO kind of boxer, more the kind of long-lasting fighter that will wear you down with a number of swift blows. The individual tracks may not hit hard, but after the albums 77 minute running length is up it might feel that way.

Most accurately described as a conglomeration of the ideas Yo La Tengo have produced throughout their career, IANAOYAIWBYA (apologies for the acronym problem) acts as a neat summary of the bands’ previous work, offering fans of the back catalogue more of the same, whilst introducing newcomers to their varied style.

It is difficult to discuss this album without throwing the word “varied” in a few times. Opening with the epic sonic jam, “Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind”, in which a bass drone and a gorgeously carefree guitar swim around each other in a frenzy of noise, each member shows off a breath-taking level of skill. Ira Kaplan’s summery call to “slide, slide, slide down the waterslide” fits perfectly amongst the rubble of sound, immediately disproving any potential claims that this would be better suited as an instrumental. Along with the closing track, which copies this formula, the sounds seem to imitate pop whilst never quite achieving it. The existence of these two tracks, which together total 23 minutes, is quite unexpected considering the filling that comes between these two thick slices of musical bread.

The soothing soft-pop of “Mr Tough” and “Beanbag Chair” seem instantly recognisable, which would be a bad thing if the whole album were peppered with these kinds of derivative moments of recollection, but the variety of styles on display ensures that as a whole the album stays fresh throughout. The lapses into pop may detract those who wish for more complex fare, but there is a sense of fun that is infectious and spills over into the moodier tracks such as “I Feel Like Going Home” and “Black Flowers”.

A great strength of this album is that it engaged the listener in genres most indie bands dare not touch. The laid back jazz of “Sometimes I Don’t Get You” is a surprise but it is suited to the album, and forms a triptych of nods to the 60s alongside the Byrds-esque swooning of “The Race Is On Again” and the classic rock ‘n’ roll present on “Watch Out For Me Ronnie”. Yo La Tengo stand out from some of their counterparts not necessarily because they are more skilful at the straightforward indie guitar songs, but because they devote so much time to songs that stray from the expected style.

Unfortunately, the wealth of ideas does have its down-sides. The album is too long, and though you can certainly make a case for keeping every track on the album, that doesn’t mean they should be there. By the time the final track is reached, “The Story of Yo La Tengo” is reached, the listener has been pounded with enough body blows to have them waiting for the bell to sound, making its 12 minute length unwelcome. There is no doubt the track is a fine achievement on its own, but incorporating it at the end of an album that is already packed to bursting makes it difficult to sustain the attempted mood.

The melancholy instrumental “Daphnia”, which could be considered the middle track, also seems out of place. The structure of two vast jams, one at either end, with light pop tracks and a haze of varied genres in between, would work fine, so why feel the need for a sparse, tedious 9 minute groan of a track? It dislodges the fine atmosphere built up by the surrounding songs, and seems to lack any purpose or direction, either on its own or as part of the album.

Minor niggles aside, this is a very good album, which offers new listeners a reference point with which to look back over two decade of classic indie, yet seems to be the album that Yo La Tengo were slowly building towards all those years. This is a fine achievement, and definitely worth listening to, because even if you only find a few tracks that suit your tastes, you will find it difficult to get those tracks out of your head.

I get hammered forget that you exist

Sometimes it’s easier to fall in love with a song when you know you shouldn’t. Some words are too close to home, there is sometimes a rising interlude or calming coda that makes your breathing heavy. It’s easier to fall when you never notice the ground disappear.

Some songs bring out the worst in me. If a song is too emotional, if it connects too much, sometimes it can just be confusing, whether those emotions were ever yours in the first place, or whether the right piece of music at the right time fills you up. A song should not be able to make decisions for you. But those words can breed ideas in your head. Something somewhere has gone wrong and a skilled hand wants to fix it, and you want to be fixed. Its too easy, sometimes, to lapse into over-analysis. I don’t think we all share the same pain, but sometimes two people go through eerily similar circumstances, and one has the power to put the experience to music, and the other listens in, understanding and believing where there should just be dull and passive acceptance.

Would it be easier if life didn’t have this effect on me? Would it be easy to take your emotional cues from “real-life” events? There’s a reason music can choke you up, though, and its because of shared knowledge. We can’t all understand the same situations but maybe, in small groups, we can know the reactions of others, and they can become our own reactions. I don’t think I can explain much better.

i’m working on my backwards walk
walking with no shoes or socks
and the time rewinds to the end of may
i wish we’d never met then met today

i’m working on my faults and cracks
filling in the blanks and gaps
and when i write them out they don’t make sense
i need you to pencil in the rest

i’m working on drawing a straight line
and i’ll draw until i get one right
it’s bold and dark girl, can’t you see
i done drawn a line between you and me

i’m working on erasing you
just don’t have the proper tools
i get hammered, forget that you exist
there’s no way i’m forgetting this

i’m working hard on walking out
shoes keep sticking to the ground
my clothes won’t let me close the door
these trousers seem to love your floor

i been working on my backwards walk
there’s nowhere else for me to go
except back to you just one last time
say yes before i change my mind

say yes before i…

you’re the shit and i’m knee-deep in it

you’re the shit and i’m knee-deep in it

you’re the shit and i’m knee-deep in it

you’re the shit and i’m knee-deep in it


The Wednesday Countdown: The National Anthems

This is my new idea. One new list, the conditions of which are utterly random and chosen by me some time during the week, posted every Wednesday. They will probably be top 10s, unless I am smothered by ideas, in which case it’ll be longer. Really, this weekly exercise is an attempt to start some passionate musical conversation a la High Fidelity (/filling quota of monthly High Fidelity references).

This week, I have decided not to do the top 10 National Anthems, despite the title of this post, but instead to do the top 10 songs with a country in the title. I then hope that some suggestions will be provided below that I have missed out, and I welcome anger at how I dare mis out so-and-so or whatever. Suggest whatever you like, and say whatever you like (unless anybody suggests Razorlight’s America, in which case I will forcibly and repeatedly ram their forehand against a doorknob until they resemble a Zombie Dr Manhatten).

This list is definitely restricted to countries, so there will be no room for REM’s “Radio Free Europe”, nor The Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy In The UK” (God knows what the UK is, but in my head, it can never be A countries, it could be a collection of countries, but it is not a country). Those are my rules, and its my list. But please, contribute where necessary.

Top 10 Tracks With A Country In The Title

1. The Guillemots – Trains To Brazil

2. LCD Soundystem – North American Scum

3. Arcade Fire – Haiti

4. Morrissey – Irish Blood, English Heart

5. Wilco – Ashes Of American Flags

6. The Beatles – Norwegian Wood (The Bird Has Flown)

7. Neutral Milk Hotel – Holland, 1945

8. Hugh Laurie – America

9. Dead Kennedys – Holiday In Cambodia

10. Matt Stone and Trey Parker – Blame Canada

Should I be more worried that two of these are comedy songs (three, depending on your interpretation of The Dead Kennedys)? Oh well, patriotism is a joke, so, whatever.

Albums I discovered (Mid Oct – Mid Nov)

Title really explains it, this is my second post I’ve made regarding purchases/ first listens/ re-discoveries that I’ve made over the past month, along with my feelings on them. I did promise you one of these a month, and so I feel I’ve planned things quite nicely. 14th of every month expect an update on my wild and wacky music taste (please note, for reasons of clarity, that my music taste is neither wild nor wacky).

LCD Soundsystem – LCD Soundsystem

An immediately addictive mixture of electronic pulses and guitar anger, LCD Soundsystem typifies what his sound is about with a constant barrage of tracks crafted to encourage you to lose your senses. The peak of the opening is at the start, in 5 minutes “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” achieves more in the field of combining rock and dance than Hot Chip have managed in their entire career (bar “Over And Over”, of course). The album carries a frenetic sense of joy that is difficult not to fall for, but does not do so well at the other end of the emotional spectrum. It’s odd for me, having only heard “Sound Of Silver” beforehand, to think that James “All My Friends” Murphy would fail at portraying tenderness in his music, but those parts of the album that aim at wistful emotions are the ones that let it down, “Too Much Love” being a prime example. I would not want to hear a whole album of “Tribulations”-esque funk fun, but it has to be said that the weakest parts are when this formula is avoided. Overall though, a very good listen, and a great mood-enhancer.

The Antlers – In The Attic Of The Universe

Slow mood music is what drives The Antlers, and they are very skilled at creating sparse sounds and melodies. On this particular album, however, a sound is developed slightly, but never grows in the listener’s mind to be particularly enjoyable. Another album which I can appreciate the quality of without being able to say that the quality leaves a positive impact on me. The problem is that individual tracks fail at feeling like a piece of work in their own right. The opening and closing tracks, “In The Attic” and “Stairs To The Attic”, are very well written and atmospheric, but they bookend 17 minutes of what can be best described as a “lump” of music. It feels as if it just sits there, as a mass of sound without an actual purpose. Sure it is pleasant, but I couldn’t possibly assign it any purpose, not as a “lump”, nor as its constituent parts. And that is disappointing considering their skill and implies that potentially they can combine both long-period mood and individually interesting tracks.

Wolf Parade – Apologies To The Queen Mary

This is the sort of straightforward indie-rock album that starts off feeling ordinary and grows with each listen to become a very stirring record in its own right. If there is such a thing as a generic classic, this feels like it. The differences between Wolf Parade and the bands they will inevitably going to be compared with (Frog Eyes, The National), is wafer-thin, but with that wafer they manage to do enough to make their album feel special. “You Are A Runner And I Am My Father’s Son” is a stop-start introduction to the band, the harsh vocals recall Isaac Brock (well, the man himself did provide the production after all), coughing out eccentric gems such as “I’ll build a house inside of you, I’ll go in through the mouth, I’ll draw three figures on your heart” whilst a slapped piano and stop-start drumming jerk the landscape every which way. If the top two or three tracks were removed this album would be consistently decent, with a slack ending (“Dinner Bells” over-extends itself more than once during its 7 1/2 minute duration), so the placing of the key songs is of utmost importance, and it is pulled off well, with the eerily dramatic stand-out “I’ll Believe In Anything” seeming to pull up the quality of the surrounding tracks as opposed to making them seem worse. Nothing you won’t have heard before, but if you want more of the same, this will give you it better than most other similar albums.

Islands – Vapours

“Vapours” arrives with me desperately wishing for Islands to slip back into pop sensibilities, to cut out the flab that weighed down the second album and to hear some of the variety in styles and lyrics that made “Return To The Sea” so compelling. Well, I would call “Vapours” patchy, but it is certainly a head in the right direction in comparison to “Arm’s Way”. The opener “Switched On” is an instant reminder that Islands have some electronica-influence also, crashing cymbals and tribal drums dancing around staccato piano and filthily-toned guitar, breaking suddenly away into a vocal croon and retro-synth. This settles down into more of what is expected from Thorburn’s vocals soon enough, and for the opening few minutes of the album it seems to be that the template of “Return To The Sea” would be the direction this record would take. The title track is a strong point, its stop-start nature allowing the various instruments to show off, and with the lyrics sounding crisp and coming in at under three minutes to remind the listener that this will be the welcome lean affair after the bloated “Arm’s Way”. The skill at taking a physical plotline and mixing it into the cauldron of music is shown most openly on “Disarming The Car Bomb”, fairly standard indie instruments surround almost laughably surreal lyrics such as “I had my doubts about it, when I heard your henchmen shout it”. For the most part the album does not reach these highs. Unconventional often enough to be interesting, there isn’t too much that is fantastic, and they are extended periods where ideas fail to hit their target. It has plenty of hooks, and there is pop abound here, but the gall to mix up the styles without warning or reason that helped “Return To The Sea” along is missing, and the best songs are good, not great. Plenty to enjoy, a definite improvement on “Arm’s Way”, but unfortunately too mediocre in too many places.

Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion

I really did want this to be as good as the hype has it be. The tide of positive opinion did indeed have me believing that this was a rebirth of Beach Boys style psychedelia, and that AC formed the third point of a triangle with Grizzly Bear and Fleet Foxes. I was underwhelmed. Perhaps because of these high expectations, or perhaps because this album is somewhat deceiving. It wants you to think it is far more complex than it in fact is, because what it is, is simple pop songs wrapped in layers of electronic haze like a force field between the listener and the song’s core. No doubt this method adds to the mood, and is a fundamental part of the style within which Animal Collective exist, but all I think as I listen is, did this wall of sonic sound really need to be there all the time? Could they not have at least felt around outside of their comfort zone a little? I am in shock that some refer to this album as experimental, mainly for the reason that this album does not even have the guts to experiment within its own genre, let alone within music as a whole. I’ve focused too much on the negatives because I want to make the point that this should not be anywhere near Veckatimest on end-of-year polls, but there’s certainly positives too, the oft-discussed “My Girls” and “Lion In A Coma” most notably. But the incessant sound and unflinching refusal to change really does grate by the albums end.

Don’t expect me back with another one of these on December 14th, as I am assuming plans for that day. Day after, though, I will be happy to provide you with a new months’ worth of discovered listening.