Top Ten Most Listened To In 2007 (Not From 2007)
ne thing that’s concerned me about ‘music journalism’ for a long time is the perceptions people have and the assumptions they make about how music writers actually listen to music. I don’t know any music writers who listen purely to ‘new’ music, or who listen in a vacuum, for instance. Most of us at Stylus work day jobs or study, and we listen during our commute, in our offices, when we’re out drinking / dancing / drugging / etc, and when we’re just at home by ourselves or with likeminded friends of an evening; just the same as anyone else, pretty much.
Yes there’s a certain compulsion to keep up with the, ahem, zeitgeist as it were, especially given the amount of so-obscure-he-must-have-made-it-up stuff Derek Miller pimps around the virtual office, but most of the time the Recent Reviews By This Author links at the bottom of our latest critiques don’t tell half the story regarding the stuff we spin in our cars or our kitchens.
So with this in mind, today’s Top Ten is, as close as I can tell (I’m not one for scrobbling—last.fm doesn’t work on a hi-fi—so I’m working from memory), is a selection of the records I’ve listened to most this year that aren’t from this year.
10. Lift To Experience - The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads
When I interviewed 65daysofstatic early this year they were supported by the spectacular Josh T. Pearson, and Joe from 65dos loudly sang his praises as we chatted before the gig. Consequently I looked up his legendary, one-album-and-out band, and was pretty much blown away by the rapturous noise of their My-Bloody-Valentine-meets-Jeff-Buckley-in-the-desert-and-summons-angels double concept debut. That awesome voice, those staggering guitars, and the psychedelically devout momentum of the record’s narrative arc have kept me baffled, awed, and enthralled in equal measure since. Sure, it’s not quite an everyday record, but it’s an amazing one.
09. At The Drive-In - Vaya EP
At The Drive-In ‘broke’ during my second year of university thanks to the Ross Robinson-produced Relationship of Command, and I managed to see them play one of their last gigs. Back then I had to get Vaya shipped from the States, but it was worth the effort; this stop-gap EP from between in/CASINO/OUT and RoC remains my favorite work by ATDI. Revisiting it at the end of last year in order to write this started a cycle which has seen me dig it out and play it loud every few weeks since. Sharp, dynamic, impassioned, and nonsensical genius.
08. Jim O’Rourke - Bad Timing
O’Rourke’s Nicholas-Roeg-film-title-aping trilogy of releases for Drag City (Domino in the UK) at the turn of the 21st century started out with this John Fahey-indebted assemblage of four elongated, guitar-led instrumentals before delving into the more orthodox rock / pop territory of Eureka and Insignificance. Having recently installed a new hi-fi in my office, I’ve been desperate for instrumental music to while away the working day without distracting me too much. Bad Timing’s consequently got an awful lot of time on the CD player, but has probably distracted me just as much as any lyrical music would have. Damn those beautiful guitars and, particularly, the audacious brass explosion towards the end of “Happy Trails.”
07. Long Fin Killie - Valentino
I seem to listen to Long Fin Killie, Scotland’s finest postrockers, every Sunday morning while my girlfriend’s still asleep in the next room. This is because they’re brilliant. Valentino, their second record, is a little more concise, frenetic, and focused than their terrific debut, and is one of the best-recorded records I’ve ever heard too. Luke Sutherland’s violin forms as many lead riffs as his guitar does, while his lyrics deal unflinchingly and literately with racism, homophobia, and unbridled sensuality.
As for the band… well, they litter Sutherland’s songs with ideas and turns that would leave almost any other group gasping for breath. Of particular note are David Turner’s astounding drums, which roil and roll at 100mph like a jazz metronome. Long Fin Killie only managed three albums (each named after a tragic hero—Harry Houdini, Rudolph Valentino and Amelia Earhart), but they’re all fantastic; truly one of the great lost bands of the nineties, and a perpetual favorite of mine for the last few years.
06. Two Lone Swordsmen - Fifth Mission
Two Lone Swordsmen’s two albums this year inspired me to delve through their back catalogue beyond Tiny Reminders and From the Double Gone Chapel (and investigate Sabres of Paradise too, for that matter). The duo’s double-CD debut, Fifth Mission, was a bastard to get hold of (I ended up getting a Japanese import for some serious cash), but completely worth it, the spooky, spacious, deep, and organic electro they perfected here a far cry from the frenetic excursions of Tiny Reminders and the crawling, techno-sludge-rock-with-singing of their recent material. Perfect and addictive for somnambulist headphone freaks like me.
05. Kitchens of Distinction - The Death Of Cool
Put simply, this is beautiful, delicately crafted but powerful shoegazing infused with a rich sensuality and epic scope. Singer / bassist Patrick Fitzgerald’s uncompromising political stance (early song “Margaret’s Injection” was about killing Margaret Thatcher) and open homosexuality probably helped to prevent Kitchens Of Distinction (named after an ‘80s British advertising slogan) from gaining the audience they deserved, which is a crying shame because Julian Swales’ swirling, FX-laden guitars need to be heard. Named in honor of Miles Davis’ death, this was their third and probably best album. It’s been out-of-print for an age, but I managed to pick up a secondhand copy this year, and the fantastic, elongated soundscapes and impassioned explosions of energy that make up The Death of Cool have regularly found themselves being given some serious volume from both speakers and headphones since.
04. Jorge Ben - Africa Brasil
An infatuation with the Tropicalia compilation by Soul Jazz Records in 2006 lead me to further investigations of Brazilian music of the late ‘60s and ‘70s—Os Mutantes, Som Imaginaro, Edu Lobo, Caetano Veloso, Rita Lee, Gilberto Gil—and possibly the best album I’ve picked up during my ‘research’ is this fantastic early ‘70s, post-Tropicalia gem from Jorge Ben, which relentlessly soundtracked what little summer we’ve had between the floods in the UK this year. Mixing samba, rock, and a dozen other styles with consummate skill and ease, Jorge Ben does something here that’s truly special—as much as I’ve enjoyed new music this year, for a good month or two this put everything currently exiting into the shade.
03. Stars of the Lid - The Ballasted Orchestra
Bryan’s review of Stars of the Lids’ latest album finally tipped me over the edge into investigating a band that people have been recommending to me for years. …The Tired Sounds Of and The Ballasted Orchestra were subsequent quick purchases, and their vatic drifts have found much rotation on the CD player in my office. Beatific.
02. Spoon - Kill the Moonlight
I’d not heard Spoon until Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, which seems improbable until you remember that I’m in the UK, and their profile here is practically non-existent. Regardless, prompting from a couple of Stylus staffers made me listen to their latest, and straight off the bat it hooked me and reeled me in so hard that inside a week I had everything from Series of Sneaks onwards.
Kill the Moonlight’s slightly irreverent creative edge made it jump out as the pick of the bunch from the moment the tambourine and organ groove of “Small Stakes” kicked into life. I think the key part of Spoon’s appeal to me is that, since Girls Can Tell, they’ve essentially been a stomping rhythm and blues band; as such they make perfect (fast) driving music for the car.
01. Working For A Nuclear Free City - Working For A Nuclear Free City
A couple of online recommendations from people whose taste I have a modicum of trust in led me to the debut album by a gang of four Mancunian kids, released in October of last year but passing me by until about three months ago. Perusing their MySpace reveals a formidable and enticing list of influences, and the mad thing is that, in the space of 14 songs that last just over 40 minutes, they actually do sound like almost all of them, one way or another. So much so that they almost seem like the most eclectic magpie tribute band in the world to start with; it almost feels like well-observed pastiche or homage initially (“So” is the best four-minute Spiritualized instrumental ever, “Forever” sounds more like Manitoba than Caribou does), but there's an eagerness, emotional depth, and attention to detail that makes WFANFC an awful lot more than just gauche copyists.
The hazy, psychedelic, detailed and dynamic sound that the band (who started as a studio-bound creation but have evolved into a live outfit) layer everything in ties together their broad influences into a unified aesthetic. The closest spiritual comparison is perhaps what the Beta Band were doing a decade ago; effortlessly eclectic experimentalism. There’s a debut US release scheduled for October which ties together this album, the Rocket EP, and a dozen or more other previously unreleased tracks into a mammoth 2CD set. Keep an ear out.