01-06/2008: Part Three...

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6 jul 2008, 20:12

Part Three

A Moment Of Clarity
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It’s only dawned on me in recent weeks that, with regards to my music tastes, I am a miserable person. Whenever the moment moves me, I can listen to more upbeat stuff certainly, but even my nights out seem to be informed by a downbeat miserablism. Insofact, a friend on this site rather chirpily confirmed this after I recommended him an album of my acquired tastes… slow, melodic, heartbroken, most often wordless. And upon hitting shuffle on my iTunes last night, I was a little perturbed to find myself skipping through the happier stuff for more morally and emotionally ambiguous tracks. Whether it’s the fact that I spend most of my days completely wound up and frustrated, having rock stars calling me “a smartarse cunt” on the phone or that the new series of Big Brother has severely fucked up my sleeping patterns, I suppose my leaning towards this sort of music more than reeks of cliché. Thank God I’m not so square that I’m listening to Enya, eh? (Incidentally “smartarse” evaded my spellcheck underlining, whereas Microsoft Office cannot recognise the term “cunt”… I would have made a crack regarding their CEO over this but then “spellcheck” was dealt the red squiggles also… }:^/)

One such group who have enjoyed noted success this year with a tranquil new sound as well as innumerable spellcheck errors are Goldfrapp, the English electronica duo who simply refuse to let their fans have an easy ride. Some have tried to argue that Seventh Tree, the group’s forth album, is a few steps down from pop paradigms Black Cherry and Supernature, but it would be pointless to compare it to their two prior albums precisely because the group’s new sound couldn’t be more different. Though its parochial touches are similar to that of their debut CD, Felt Mountain, Tree presents the group at their most accomplished and heartfelt, jettisoning the glamour vacuum whilst displaying a wealth of emotion hitherto unheard in their work, or if so not quite so vividly. Dusting off her jaded sexual persona in favour of something more ethereal and mysterious, Alison hasn’t hit heights of this swoonsome solemnity before, she and sonic confidante Will Gregory crafting lighter-than-air bucolic gems, some informed by regret and sorrow (opener Clowns), others unabashedly joyful (freewheeling commercial moment, Caravan Girl). Complemented with co-production from Mark Ellis, a.k.a. Flood, that fuses the guitars, strings and harps together within a bubble of faint white noise, the album is an incandescent delight that never hits a note lower than beautiful. And A&E is most definitely the single of the year thus far, if not their finest song yet…

Another band that have enlisted the fabled Flood to assist their work in creating a beautiful soundscape are Sigur Rós with their fifth album, Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, which falls a little short of their best work (Ágætis byrjun and Takk... in particular) but is still especially enchanting compared with popular music at large today. Most likely down to Flood’s influence, this LP finds the Rós in a more referential mood than their crystalline past works, certainly making their music more identifiable and sacrificing a little of their unique identity. Lead single Gobbledigook embraces an Animal Collective style jam of drums, guitars and yell-along vocals and Ára bátur plays like an outtake from a Craig Armstrong album, a gorgeous slow burn swell of piano, strings and choirboys. There’s also an air of commerciality surrounding most tracks, particularly Með suð í eyrum’s opening rhythm section and the whole of Inní mér syngur vitleysingur, the latter playing like a sequel to Takk…’s Hoppípolla. This is just nitpicking though, not only because the Rós appear incapable of creating anything less than gorgeous but also that the album can be rightly called their darker offering since the ( ) album, particularly closing track All alright (their first in English). Pop-inflected or not, it’s still chock full of some of the most beautiful music to be released this year and you cannot fail to be moved it.

An album that can be fairly surmised as a more commercial outing for its progenitor is French musician Anthony Gonzalez, or as the pop world calls him, M83. Continuing the band’s work after cohort Nicolas Fromageau’s departure, new album Saturdays = Youth enhances the prior albums’ shoegaze aesthetic with a more conventional approach, a heavier use of guitar and more pronounced vocals front and centre. The result is a lost soundtrack to the best Brat Pack movie that was never made, the very titles suggesting soundtrack cues rather than stand alone songs concerning characters on the brink of adulthood, single Graveyard Girl’s sweet synths giving way halfway through for a spoken monologue that stays just on the right side of knowing pastiche of irksome teendom. The album is front-loaded, its better compositions taking up the album’s first half (wistful opener You, Appearing and the delightful Kim & Jessie in particular) that the second half doesn’t quite get around to topping emotionally, but it’s all infused with a tender sense of wonder and playfulness, even the overlong closing instrumental, Midnight Souls Still Remain, which could be the lost film’s closing credit cue… and how ‘80s is that title?

My premier chilled album of the year, as many will have known already down to my harping on about it incessantly since I got hold of it months ago, is Lizz Wright’s The Orchard, an album positively epic in its understatement and soul. Jazz singer Wright invites comparisons to the great soul singers of the past in that her tremulous voice never loses its integrity, every lyric and note felt purely in a transcendent performance. Handling shifts in wit and emotion flawlessly, the music behind Wright’s melodious swathes inhabits a similarly effortless restraint between R&B and country, the heat of her Deep South roots emanating from every track. Whether lamenting unrequited heartbreak on Strange or sashaying sassily through My Heart, Wright’s ability to summon a wealth of emotions in a single note is undeniable; Hey Mann in particular finds her celebrating a new romance with such sincerity and earnestness that the smile on her face as she sings is made haltingly real. In terms of emotional dexterity and effortless cool, it outdoes any other patented diva-warbling released this year, pleasingly bereft of all the bells and whistles afforded to singers with a fraction of the musicianship Wright is in possession of. To be enjoyed on a warm summer evening with a cold drink and the world buzzing past faintly in the background for optimum soul refreshment.

Further revisions have led me to belatedly include two more more albums that I can't help listening to... ultra-chilled melodious folk rockers Fleet Foxes with their self-titled LP and The Last Shadow Puppets with The Age of the Understatement, lovely stuff that, whilst not cracking into my top fifteen so far, still reps worthy mentions all around.

Journey’s End
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And so just a brief epilogue to tally my Top 10 Albums this year, as well as give shout-outs to all of my friends on this site, without whom, most of this music would never have been brought to my attention. And we can look forward to more wonderful music in the next six months… And there are honestly too many to get excited about without squealing contentedly; if it’s anywhere near as good as the last six months, there’s no doubt I’m in for a lot of scrobbling this year!

My Top 10!
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10) Afterparty Babies by Cadence Weapon
09) Anywhere I Lay My Head by Scarlett Johansson
08) Hercules And Love Affair by Hercules and Love Affair
07) Bring Ya To The Brink by Cyndi Lauper
06) Songs In A&E by Spiritualized
05) Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust by Sigur Rós
04) Third by Portishead
03) Santogold by Santogold
02) Seventh Tree by Goldfrapp
01) The Orchard by Lizz Wright

So, what do you guys think?? Let me know...

Oh... and Björk!

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