hat use is the writer that doesn’t write? None whatsoever. This is me trying to be useful again. It’s not particularly bound to stuff released in 2005, and this year it’s going to involve a few albums as well. In short, me getting pissy about people calling Annie’s “Heartbeat” a single in 2004 when it wasn’t actually released as an official single till February 2005… that may have come back to bite me in the ass a bit, yes.
Over the next four days, I’m writing about the records I need to write about from this year just passed. Some of them you’ll have heard of (no, honest you will), some of them you won’t, but hopefully I’ll have you made you feel like listening to all of them may constitute something of a worthwhile exercise by the end of it.
(at this juncture I feel I should frog-march you over to Edward O’s Top 100 Singles Of 2005, because it, much like the man himself, is fucking boss)
Woodbine – Tea Time Assortment
Brummie slouchcore practitioners Woodbine write a song about biscuits. That’s biscuits as in biscuits, not biscuits as in drugs, penises, sex, or a metaphor for Anglo-Irish relations. “Tea Time Assortment” is the sound of everything that is getting in the way of you being a healthy, happy, productive and useful member of modern society. Guitars unwind slowly, every strum bashing them that bit more out of tune. Susan Dillane’s voice breathes off into the distance, about six inches to the left. “I offered you a Jaffa Cake / You took, I had to eat the rest / You made back rest out of digestive…” This is the sound of sitting in your room watching another unremarkable Wednesday afternoon float by your face. You eat biscuits, because you can’t be bothered going to the kitchen. Time passes, and you let it, because you’ve no idea what to do with it, so you don’t bother trying. You are surprised by how quickly you get through the Jaffa Cakes, and are slightly disappointed to realise you now only have Kit-Kats left. Without your noticing, three hours have just vanished. You procrastinate for another three hours while playing FreeCell in order to celebrate the fact that you are alive, you just can’t really figure out what happens next, and so you decide to actively avoid having anything happen next, except you don’t realise it at the time, because you’re too busy trying to decide which red five to put on top of the six of clubs. (Dr Gillian McKeith, the panel of Would Like To Meet, Nicky Campbell, all major news networks, Andrew Neill, Donald Trump, the Daily Mail, the casts of the various branches of CSI and that twat that plays Inspector Lynley would not approve of this record. Treasure it.)
Find it on: Best Before End (Domino)
The Clientele – Since K Got Over Me
You do realise it at night-time, when the day’s passed and you’ve run out of hours. “Since K Got Over Me” is fucking desolate, lonely, and cold, maybe more so than any other single of this past year. The production helps, of course. Nothing like a nice bit of reverb to make the fake memories start flooding in. But it’s the lyrics, the delivery of them. “Everything’s so lucid, and so creepy.” “There’s. A Hole. In. Side. My. Skull. With. Warm. Air. Blowing. In.” It’s panic attacks and sudden flashes of nervous energy, when everything just stops and seems as though it won’t ever be able to start again. The big bubbles of doubt that swallow you up and stop you dead, the feeling that you’ve in some way cracked through the surface of your soul and want to be blinded by what’s underneath, except you’re not, because there’s nothing there. The moments when everything is just void. Walk through the streets at night when the streetlamps are on with this in your ears (which is what it effectively feels like any time you listen to it, in any case) and it feels like nothing might ever happen again.
Find it on: Strange Geometry (Pointy)
DJ Scotch Egg – Scotch Chicken
On a pretty much entirely unrelated note, Brighton’s favourite beardy Japanese exchange student released his debut album this year, with this as the highlight. This is the kind of song that could spark a national craze amongst teenagers for running into walls. Off-beat bleeps make the soundcard of Scotch Egg’s Gameboy go an awful lot faster than it ought to. It starts to have a nervous breakdown. Enter Scotch Egg.
“WE FUCKING FUCK IT UP!!! KFC!!! KFC!!!”
This does not really help matters. It goes faster, except now with added DOOSHDOOSHDOOSHDOOSH and various nightmare bleeps and squiggles lobbed in. Scotch Egg continues to yell about KFC over the top. You sense he may be making this up as he goes along.
There is then a pause.
If they gave out New Year’s Honours for services to profanity, Scotch Egg would be the Earl Of Northumberland.
Find it on: KFC Core (Adaadat)
The Lovers – La Le
This being the season for HOT NEW ACTS FOR 2006, our British chums may be about to find themselves in the midst of a scheisskrieg (oh, the things we pick up from watching the German Eurovision final) of articles about how hot and vibrant the Yorkshire music scene is. I speak as one who had to sit and listen to his mother reading one such article rather loudly in the car at the weekend. “INTEREST in the REGION has been sparked by SUCH BANDS as Leeds’ KAISER CHIEFS and Sheffield’s ARCTIC MONKEYS, with A AND R MEN from UP and DOWN the country flocking to venues such as the BROAD WALK in SHEFFIELD, where the ARCTIC MONKEYS played their DEBUT GIG…”
Anyway, the point is that none of these articles will be touching SHEFFIELD’S THE LOVERS, for various reasons. One being that they’re actually French. They also consist of an Actual Romantic Couple—he’s ever so slightly sleazy and has a moustache of Gary Neville-esque proportions, she’s ever so slightly tipsy and dresses in a sparkly bunny girl outfit, except with a top hat instead of the ears—and a friend of theirs who has an electric drum kit. Oh, and there’s the songs, too, of which this is the only one I can remember, with the kind of drumbeat that would send Tex Avery’s characters into a state of delirium, shuffling away incessantly, as Him and Her alternate masculine and feminine nouns. “La la la la la la, feminine.” “Le le le le le le, masculine.” If it doesn’t drive you mental the first time you listen to it, it’ll eat your brain the second time. Fiver says they’re Dom Passantino’s favourite band by April.
Find it on: The Lovers (Voila)
Lisa Scott Lee – Electric
Another part of The Lovers’ appeal is that they can do the whole “knowingly sexy” thing very well indeed. Lisa Scott Lee, however, couldn’t if she tried. And fuck knows “Electric” tries hard enough. Imagine, for a second, that Britney Spears’ second album had seen her decide to collaborate with the writers of This Is Spinal Tap. That’s sort of how this sounds. You are about to be bamboozled out of your face.
Take meImagine if someone had decided to make a song consisting entirely of Sinead Quinn proclaiming you to be a “jun-keeeee”.
Out of your pocket
Into your socket
To launch a rocket
Yeah yeah yeah yeah
I can’t resistPerhaps a cop series that consists entirely of R Kelly waggling his gun and asking “Whooo is this mystery lay-dee / That you’re talking to?”
It’s all over
Watching you closelyCos you’d think that Trapped In The Closet couldn’t really be surpassed in terms of non-stop streams of WTF. However, given that it only lasts about three minutes and twenty seconds, “Electric” comes mightily close. It’s only got the one major misconception—that being that any vaguely electricity-related terminology can be made to sound sexy if sung huskily enough—but by Christ does it ever run with it.
Ain’t no batteries required
Feel meThere is a vague sort of girl-group-rap thing that functions as the chorus, but it’s done so fast that I can’t make out any of the lyrics. It’s quite good, though.
See spotsAnd actually, the slamming electric-horn beat that underpins it all is certainly nothing to be sniffed at, probably on a level with “Don’t Play Nice” or some such, even if that also means it sounds a couple of years out of date. It may even have been enough to merit a mention on its own. The lyrics… they just seal the deal.
Now we’re connected
This pre-Find it on: Electric EP (Concept)
set is selected
Yeah yeah yeah yeah
Junior Senior – Hey Hey My My Yo Yo
And then there’s the other kind of lyrics that make you laugh out loud, specifically “My spelling ain’t good, cos I’m so street!” Yes, Junior Senior were back, and you couldn’t find their album for sale outside of Scandinavia. Arse. HHMMYY took the sunshine quotient of their debut album and turned it up to levels that mere mortals probably ought not to be exposed to. It’s a bit tricky to listen to all the way through, but in its component parts the pop music on display here is fucking jaw-dropping. “Take My Time,” for instance. Bass-line: light, prominent, fast, Chic-esque. Guitars: sound the way that Nicholaus Arson from The Hives looks. Handclaps: omnipotent. And it has Kate Pierson from the B-52’s on guest vocals. It feels like what happens when pop assembled from the component parts goes right, every individual element makes you nod your head and say “Yes!” when you notice it, and you can’t help but admire the fact that there are people in this world who have the chutzpah to put them all together into one song. When every section succeeds every other section, there is a definite sense of “and this bit goes here,” and a joy that it’s actually there.
Does that make it a hollow experience? Fuck no! The reason why the identification is such a joyous thing is because it’s backed by Junior Senior’s rock-solid faith in pop music as redemptive force, and fuelled by their love of collective recall—every little borrowed lick or vocal adlib, every “Keep talkin’!,” and perhaps especially that bit in “We R The Handclaps” where the repeated chant of “We r the handclaps!” *clap-clap!* “We r the handclaps!” *clap-clap* is briefly interrupted by a Brian Blessed-esque rumble of “I am the basssss!”—not to show how clever they are but because they’re in love with and in thrall to pop as the positive emotional trigger, the thing to make it all alright. Hopefully, it’ll be allowed outside Scandinavia at some point in the future.
Find it on: Hey Hey My My Yo Yo (Crunchy Frog)
King Creosote – You Are Could I?
José Gonzalez – Hand On Your Heart
You see, the trouble with me is I can never find the words. Last year I had to write a review of a King Creosote gig, and it was like pulling teeth. It shouldn’t be hard—he’s not a complicated man, and his music isn’t either. I liked the gig, dammit. And yet, in the end, I just ended up dribbling some guff along the lines of “Isn’t it great how, even in this day and age, there remain people who are unafraid to incorporate the accordion into their popular musics?”
Sometimes, it really isn’t a matter of life and death. The problem with King Creosote was that his support act had made it seem like it was. José Gonzalez on record can sometimes be dismissed as yet another blow for “proper music”; a fairly thin, quiet voice, delicate acoustic guitar—tasteful, yes? File it next to Jack Johnson. Get it out at “dinner parties.” “Enjoy Jacob’s Creek with Friends.”
So why, when I saw the man live, did I nearly cry three times? It all seems so very broadsheet music journalism to be eulogising about the delights of just watching one man and his acoustic guitar, and even more so to then add “but he can really play”… but José Gonzalez is not a fucking Puritan. James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful” was fucking inescapable this year, its intro a death knell in so many ways: that horrifically sheeny classical guitar twang that felt like its understatement had been formulated and controlled by Laboratoire Garnier, so self-righteous in its “nudity”—“you see? These aren’t chords, these are individual notes, each hand-picked from the most authentic airwaves known to man” (cut to shot of Peruvian hill-farmer smiling in gratitude). “You’re Beautiful” is a vile record, one that uses “beauty” and “authenticity” as some kind of fucking commodity, something to be smug about, with a message of nothing at the core. And José has shit-all to do with that.
There was something bloody entrancing that night, watching his fingers dancing across those strings, spinning and weaving the heartbreak so sweetly. It’s not about just standing and admiring the “craft,” though, but what they do with it. José creates rhythms, grooves with the guitar, constructing looped sequences of notes to hypnotise, and I can’t damn well pull away. His cover of Kylie’s “Hand On Your Heart” is incredible, the sound of defeat in his delivery of “Look me in the eye and tell me we are really through” so resounding… It should be so wrong. It isn’t. He’s restless, never satisfied with himself, never proud or smug, just trying to cling to the things he can be sure of.
King Creosote is a far cheerier proposition, but equally stuck because modern British music is conditioning its audience to think that all singers with guitars are the same—they’re bland, unthreatening, background music. Occasionally you catch a word or two, you think it’s deep. Soulful. It’s in some way enhanced because the singer pronounces the letter I like it’s the letter R. Our language is turned to mush by glib platitudes and vague regretfulness. And King Creosote’s charms feel as though they’re lost in a field of “good” and “tuneful” and “soulful.”
King Creosote is music for drinking round someone’s house at three o’clock in the morning. “Got any vodka?” “Nah, we’ve got some rum, but it’s a bit rank.” “Eh, go on then.” King Creosote rollicks. I feel a bit ashamed that my favourite song of his is “You Are Could I?”, because he didn’t play it live, but it’s pretty much him at the peak of his rollicking powers, cheerily lazy drumming and strumming with some members of The Earlies trying to make a noise like a pipe organ, as the King trills “Are you therrre? Are you squaaare? Are you fairrr? Are you baaare?” It fair gallops along with this formula, occasionally lobbing in some incredibly tortured fiddles to squeak along for the ride, and the incalculable jauntiness of it all has little trouble propelling it the required distance. It doesn’t feel like enough to say that, and I’m still rather cross about “that whole singer-songwriter thing,” but I suspect a bit more rum ought to sort that out nicely enough.
Find it on: KC Rules OK (679) / Stay In The Shade EP (Peacefrog)
Ralph Myerz & The Jack Herren Band – L.i.p.s.t.i.c.k.
Things I love about the internet: including something like this in the UK Singles Jukebox is sufficient to make people think it might wind up being a hit. In reality, it never stood a chance—too little oomph for dancing to, and expecting the sound of the mellotron to act as a trigger for ass-shaking seems optimistic at best. It is an utter beauty of a record, though, a waltz to the disco beat, possessed of the kind of delicate slinkiness that maybe only “Inside & Out” could rival this year. That lack of oomph might be the trump card, really, it lets the vocalist work her way round the instruments so much better. She sounds kind of like Annie, but less coy, and armed with much worse chat-up lines—“Stick around / I’ve got lipstick on / Turn around, turn around / You’ve got dark shades on,” for instance. The mood is too perfect to be worrying about that, though, because this is a song for two people to dance to, in the way couples do: slowly, intimately, either looking into the other’s eyes or at nothing at all; like the rest of the room doesn’t exist, never has existed, and never will. She’s asking. You’re dancing.
Find it on: Your New Best Friends (Emperor Norton)
Feminnem – Call Me
Feminnem (presumably so called because they aren’t allowed to use chainsaws anymore either) were Bosnia & Herzegovina’s 2005 Eurovision entry, and their grand plan for winning can be summed up as follows:
1) Do a song that sounds like a wedding band playing ABBA.To describe Femminem’s performance as being “enthusiastic” would be selling it rather short. They seize what would otherwise have been a fairly humdrum, also-ran entry in the canon of “Eurovision songs that sound a bit like ‘Chain Reaction’” and shake it till it bleeds. Their opening intonation of “Call meh!” is about as close as you get to variation or subtlety, because with a brief “Whoo!” they proceed to set about their job with as much pace and force as they can muster. You would have thought that no-one in the world could relish lines of the calibre of “I used to think we could never make it / A million hearts could never beat as one / But now, miracle is not so hard to find,” but they somehow manage it. “I’m so happy to be here, cos it’s the time”—then all three of them in unison—“OF! MY! LIIIIIIFE!” I think I laughed through the entirety of this when they performed it on the night, because I just couldn’t quite believe it existed, nor could I comprehend the sheer ferocity of their delight at Being On Eurovision. Of course, they ended up finishing 14th, behind lots of other songs that weren’t anything like as great, but it didn’t matter. Very rarely has anyone’s commitment to Sparkle Motion been less in doubt.
2) Pepper it with corporate anthem-standard lyrics about how fantastic Eurovision is, how honoured you are to be at the fiftieth anniversary of Eurovision, “united in a song, that’s all it takes”, that kind of thing.
3) YELL. KEEP YELLING. DO NOT AT ANY POINT STOP YELLING. YELL AS IF YOUR VERY EXISTENCE DEPENDS UPON IT. DESTROY ALL COMPETITION WITH YOUR YELLING. DESTROY THE VENUE WITH YOUR YELLING. DESTROY THE WHOLE OF FUCKING KIEV IF NECESSARY. JUST KEEP. FUCKING. YELLING.
Find it on: Eurovision Song Contest – Kiev 2005 (EMI)
Gemma Hayes – Happy Sad
Another song where the performance majorly outstrips the songwriting, the one slight problem with that being that this time the singer wrote the song herself. Here’s the chorus:
I’m happy sadBut god, that voice of hers is something. The song’s about writer’s block, attempting to cure it through love, etc., nothing too original. It’s the way she sells it, though, the way the “it comes easy to me” in the last chorus sounds like it’s being pulled from the pits of her guts; the gorgeous, dulcet breathing of “The roads don’t love you, they still don’t pretend to…” at the start of the outro, a memo to herself perhaps. It’s a love song, it’s not the greatest, but she sings it like it ought to be, dreaming of the object of her affection, and then longing, craving for them with every syllable she breathes.
I’m broken down
But I’m upbeat
When you come around
I’m happy sad
And it comes easy to me
I’m never one or the other
Find it on: The Roads Don’t Love You (Source)
The Delgados – Girls Of Valour
Just a brief note: The Delgados are still my favourite band ever. “Girls Of Valour” was their last ever single, and a damn good way to go out. I wrote possibly all I needed to about it here. The B-side was their Peel Session cover of “The Last Rose Of Summer.” If you like the sound of Emma Pollock’s voice (n.b. you do), then you ought to get it because it will make you go very misty-eyed indeed. Just her and some electric drone. Gosh yes.
But yeah, this is an end-year piece written by me, so obviously I’m gonna point out that they had a record out this year. And then they split, so 2006 will be The Year Of The Solo Projects. Can’t wait.
Find it on: Universal Audio (Chemikal Underground)
Giant Drag – Kevin Is Gay
I was very excited upon hearing this record, because I suddenly thought “FINALLY! A band about which I can say: “obvious Drop Nineteens influence!’” It would later occur to me that I have only ever heard two songs by the Drop Nineteens, neither of which sounded much like this (the guitars sort of do, though), but never mind. “Kevin Is Gay” is scuzzulent shoegaze, big slapping drums and guitar throbs, all for Annie Hardy to slur her way across with all the attention to detail of an eight year old riding a lawnmower. The half-arsed abandon is magic, especially with the intro: Hardy mutters something along the lines of “Haryoogin! Foryoogin—” and then cuts herself off by immediately tearing into the guitar riff. At the end she gives up on whatever lyrics there were and starts meowing along to the guitars instead. There is then some more muttering to take the song to the three-minute mark, cos as we all know, that’s how long all the best pop songs last.
That should be a criticism. It really, really isn’t.
Find it on: Hearts And Unicorns (Kickball)
Laura Cantrell – Humming By The Flowered Vine
I only reviewed one album this year. And it was this one. Much like The Delgados, it wouldn’t feel right leaving her out of the end-year thing, even if I ran out of words about it a long time ago. Which I did.
Find it on: Humming By The Flowered Vine (Matador)
The Futureheads – Hounds of Love; Decent Days And Nights (Max Tundra Remix); Area
I’ve run out of words about “Hounds Of Love,” too, but then again I did write an awful lot about it in March. It’s my single of the year, because none of the other singles released this year came as close to giving me a heart attack.
The rest of The Futureheads’ singles this year were rather less promising, being as they were a re-release of “Decent Days and Nights,” which did exactly as well as it had done the previous year while “Carnival Kids” sat cursing on the sidelines, and “Area,” a new track that will apparently not be on their upcoming second album. Now, “Area” isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination—it’s quick, it’s catchy, the group syllable chanting is just as effective as on “Hounds Of Love”—it’s just you’d have expected a wee bit more. It wouldn’t have been out of place on their first album, but at the same time probably wouldn’t have been out of place on Maximo Park’s album either. It’s a little too “by the numbers,” as though the basic elements of the Futureheads have been in some way distilled and removed and put back in place, but with a straggly bit at the end that kind of undoes the good bits that came before.
You see, there’s two sides to the ‘heads. You have the side that does stuff like “Area,” gets excited about getting a lift in Dave Grohl’s private jet to T In The Park, is signed to Warners, has a street team network, blah blah blah, yes?
Then there’s the side that enables them to put out B-Sides like the Max Tundra remix of “Decent Days & Nights.” Tundra removes all the guitars from the equation, thus making it OK for Alex Macpherson to like, then sets about dismembering the vocals, taking snatches and isolating them, scattering them among a string quartet and their xylophonist chums. The Futureheads are made to play by someone else’s rules for a change, waiting for the orchestration to get out of the way before they burst in. It takes all their strengths, though, and shunts them right to the fore, because any idiot can make a guitar jerk about (LOL THE DEPARTURE LOL)—The Futureheads’ strength is their organisation, which Tundra takes and twists to his advantage—he structures and plants their harmonies around his springtime cinematics, with each individual ‘head given individual lines, till the end, where they all sing the chorus in unison. It’s spellbinding, and I’d struggle to think of any other guitar band with whom you could get away with it. That’s the side of the Futureheads I’m hoping their second album keeps in touch with, at the very least. We shall see later this year.
Find it on: The Futureheads (679) / Area EP (679) / Decent Days & Nights EP (679) (I can’t remember which of the CD’s it’s on, though)
Mia Dyson – Parking Lots
Multiple props to Miss C. Bastow of Somewhere In Australia for plonking this on the Stypod in April (as an accompaniment to this article here). “Parking Lots” is a slow, slow jam of a song, the kind of rolling bluesy number that goes on for ages, and yet still feels about twice as long as it actually is. Pay no attention to the lyrics, cos this one is all about the sloth. Dyson’s singing like she’s trying to keep herself awake, her words all drowsy, woozy avowals (“aww baby, I don’t wanna see, nobody but me lyin’ next to you,” that sort of thing), while the band plays on in a similar mood. About half-way through there’s a guitar solo that’s practically heroic in its awkwardness, lurching from one jerked-out note to the next. It feels fantastic, like dancing in stocking feet on your own, slowly, deliberately, shuffling your way across the lino. The dead hours of the early morning, nothing to do the day after, not much done the day before. A slice of toast, a mug of hot chocolate, and a girl with a voice like tobacco talkin’ ‘bout the talkin’ love blues, whatever the hell they’re meant to be. It’s pretty sweet.
Find it on: Parking Lots (Black Door)
Verbalicious – Don’t Play Nice
If there was a downside to “Hounds Of Love” going top 10, it was quite probably that it helped keep this single out of that week’s top 10, which is presumably why Verbalicious pretty much vanished afterwards. I’ve just tried Googling her, and it turns up no clues at all—a ton of lyrics sites, an ‘official website’ that’s hosted on Geocities and optimistically announces that her debut album will be released in autumn 2004, and a Wikipedia entry that stops at the point that this single charted.
It’s weird, because the confidence with which she dispatches this song is breathtaking. Every line is delivered with a huge smirk on her face, as if these rhymes really are redefining hip-hop as we know it. Closer inspection reveals that they definitely aren’t (“Nice girls oughta be in bed this time / Cos spitting this early is considered a crime”), but Verba’s sheer gall wins you over like no-one’s business. It’s not a pose, like how British pop-urban crossovers (there’s gotta be a better way of describing it than that, but I can’t think what) tend to sound, because she’s not in thrall to anyone—all doubts about things like whether the chorus and the verses go together at all are summarily squished, because this is a Verbalicious record, and Verbalicious sucking simply is not an option, you eejit.
So yeah, fuck knows what happened.
Find it on: Don’t Play Nice EP (All Around The World)
Shiina Ringo – Ringo Catalog
I can’t remember how or where I stumbled across Shiina Ringo, only that it was an MP3 blog of some description (if you suspect it was you, then please gesticulate wildly in the comments box. Oh, and thanks!) and it was at some point earlier this year. A swift bit of research reveals that this song is actually from 2003, but we’ll conveniently ignore that for the time being, because this sort of thing is far too good to be excluded on the grounds of a piddling little abstract concept like “time.”
“Ringo Catalog,” as the name might suggest, is one of those songs that could be described as being like fifteen different songs in one, or a thousand different ideas at once. It feels a little as though that’s a slightly lazy form of praise, though, like any song which contains a really fast bit that suddenly interrupts itself for a piano solo and then launches into a filter-house rap-break can be objectively declared good. There has to be a conviction behind it all to make it work, though, and that’s why “Ringo Catalog” excels. It’s not enough to not know what’s coming next, you have to want to know. Anticipation, excitement, all that kinda crap—it’s tempting to say that this delivers it like no other, not because it’s true or justifiable at all, but because when listening to it only superlatives seem to fit. The amount of shifts in tone and arrangement in this song certainly aren’t innumerable—there can’t be more than about twenty separate bits—but it’s the way they all fit into each other, the way none of them could easily be identified as coming from anywhere else, and the density of sheer stuff that’s in every bit that renders counting irrelevant. There’s a four second sax solo about a minute in. It just wanders in during a quiet bit, blows a few notes, wanders off again. Every transition is made of noises, melodies upon and within melodies, noises that don’t just sound like they have no place within pop songs, they just flat out do not have any place within pop songs. There is actual, proper guitar shredding all over the place. They must have to change drummers at the interval or something to save the poor bugger from collapse from all the tempo shifts he has to put up with.
And that’s without even talking about Shiina herself, the way her vocals aren’t actually in the song that often, but are timed between the instrumentation bits. She’s the main attraction, but this isn’t about her. Do you get what I mean? Cos I’ve no idea. She picks and chooses between English and Japanese (this song is from Japan, by the way) depending on which she feels works better at the time, and this bilingualism gives it the feeling like these are words snatched from other situations, other times and places, conversations, scenes from films you haven’t seen. She lets slip “You never had the time” at the start of a quiet section, which is probably a bit post-grunge in some way and which has its end signalled by a xylophone cascading. It’s when everything’s going full tilt that she really comes into her own. There’s this weird delay effect on her voice, that makes her sound like there’s fifteen of her singing at once, and they’re all being shot at lightspeed through the cosmos towards… something, and there’s poor lunatic session musicians hammering the living shite out of their equipment in a feeble attempt at keeping up with them, disintegrating in flames and burning up in the atmosphere. We close with a sudden stop, and the sound of some machines winding to a halt.
I will never, ever understand this record. It’s fantastic.
Find it on: Ringo no Uta (Toshiba EMI)
Do Me Bad Things – Move In Stereo (Liv Ullman On Drums)
Do Me Bad Things, on the other hand, were from Croydon. Where I’m from, yes. They also made a kind of maximalist pop type noise, and were often accused of being a vaguely incoherent mess, throwing in noises for the sake of it, and just generally being A Bit Farty. They got a reasonable push off a major label subsidiary (Must Destroy, same label as The Darkness and Goldie Lookin’ Chain), were hawked around as “the British Scissor Sisters” (at least, that’s what I vaguely remember happening), got on CD:UK before their first proper single was released, and then their second single, “What’s Hideous,” made the Radio 1 playlist. It was advertised incessantly on Saturday morning telly, in between ringtone adverts. It charted at #33. That would prove to be the peak of DMBT’s career.
“Move In Stereo” was the single that came after it, pretty much their last ‘proper’ single, and it’s astounding just how much of an epitaph it sounds. It rumbles on for five minutes of soft-rock, end-credit, super-over-produced excess. Every time it seems as though it’s about to end, the backing vocals kick in, or another guitar solo starts, or there’s a drum fill, or the chorus comes back but with more backing vocals, or there’s another verse, or the chorus comes back again but this time louder and with some more guitars thrown in. It can’t bear to finish, it has to steal one more bow, just make absolutely sure everyone knows it’s leaving, that it is saying goodbye, just cling on for one more song, one more twirl round the dancefloor, make sure we thanked each and every one of our mothers, the production crew, the A&R’s, Rob and Nicky and Helen and Duncan and everyone at the PR company, half-inch a sandwich for the car journey home, check in the mirror to make sure it’s got its scarf on right, make sure it hasn’t left anything behind, check it’s still got its keys, mobile, is that the time, we’ve missed Lost, never mind, it’s being repeated on Sunday, just say bye again, here comes the sax solo, we’re fading out…
“Move In Stereo” is a sad record, then, but a joyous one too. It’s a record that’s obviously been made in the context of soft-rock and that sort of thing, that knows what it’s doing. It piles on the excess because that what one does in this situation, you know? That’s pop. That’s entertainment! The ride is glorious, the guitars so histrionic, mock-heroic, and whether they meant it or not, so damned emotive. Every flail and thrash they make, you make too. You feel it.
The real bugger, though, is the backing vocals. Now, Do Me Bad Things were a nine-piece, and five of them were vocalists. Only two took lead vocal duties, though, the other three were backing singers. They make this song, because they’re the one element the producer couldn’t quite control. Everything else could get sheened and buffed up no problem, like they’re 10cc or what have you but with the post-millenial spin type fandango, yeah? Those backing vocals, though, they are from Croydon. They sound like a school choir, hesitant but pluck-ridden, slightly embarrassed to be here, all the while slightly disbelieving that they are here at all. When they sing “Maybe I should try and look away-ay,” it’s that little crack in the ‘away’ that gets me every single bloody time. That, as Leonard Cohen would say, is how the light gets in.
Because that’s what ties Do Me Bad Things right back to this old town of mine, that’s the suburb calling them away again. “Move In Stereo” is the suburban dream dying. The grandeur, the make-up, the excess—this is our escape from Saturday afternoons in BHS. We don’t know what we want, and we don’t know how to get it, but we know what we don’t want, and we saw this film once, yeah? Audrey Hepburn—she didn’t work in Boots. Vin Diesel, it is safe to say, doesn’t even know that the homewares department of Allders exists. That moment is Do Me Bad Things looking in the mirror and freezing, the doubt suddenly grips—what the hell are we doing? We’re from Croydon! How has this happened? When do we get found out? How long can we keep this up for? Where did the saxophone come from? Why are we fading?
“Move In Stereo” has the noise of “Ringo Catalog,” but without the drive at the heart of it. “Move In Stereo” knows what it wants to sound like, but beyond it seeming like a fun thing to do, it doesn’t know why. It makes its noises because that’s what the records it was influenced by did. These are the records we want to make, because this is the way that we feel free. Isn’t it?
The single flopped. The album pretty much did as well. They split at the start of this year. I don’t think anyone really noticed.
Find it on: Yes! (Must Destroy)
Bloc Party – This Modern Love
Swerve? Nah, you just know who this lot are, innit?
Back in January, I struggled to get this lot. My Futureheads infatuation had led to an extremely unflattering spate of jealousy whenever I saw that Paul Epworth had dared to work with any other British guitar band, and would immediately begin to find reasons to start hating on those bands, picking out things to give me an excuse to distance my beloved Sunderlanders from them. Bloc Party were easy targets, it seemed—messy, unfocused—all those lyrics, pfft. No harmonising. Too verse-chorus for my liking. Ooh, jerky guitar, well fucking done. Oh yes, yes, obviously you’ve never heard the Gang of Four.
I’d not counted on this song taking the stillborn “British guitar band does ballad” thing and actually giving it something to cry about. Bloc Party are about the spaces in between, about the clarity. Nothing blends in. It’s like looking through 3-D glasses, the sensation of depth that they give, 2-D objects are picked out in relief and you suddenly notice everything. “This Modern Love”’s real immobilising power comes from the vocals, the fairly basic trick of putting alternating lines in alternating ears, but the clarity of distinction between the parts means you notice it, and those simple lines mean that much more. It’s never one continuous thing, because it’s not a continuous, coherent stream of thoughts.
Baby, you’ve got to/Be more discerningIt’s that intersection when it really clicks, the moment (not to be too obvious) the heart skips a beat. The confused feelings finally tie together, it is love after all.
I’ve never known/What’s good for me
Baby, you’ve got to/Be more demanding
I will be yours…
I’ll pay for you… anytime
I’ll pay for you…
It’s one unified vocal from that point, as he remembers the events to that point and uses them to steady and reassure himself—“You said that wanted to eat up my sadness/Well just jump right inside me and gorge away”—but then the doubt resurfaces, this time as the scream of pain, not two separate voices but one echoed one—“What are you holding out for? What’s always in the way? Why so damn absent-minded? Why so damn unprepared?”
This song says more than the damp mists of Keane and Coldplay blah fucking blah. This made so much more sense a year ago.
Do you want to come over/And kill some timeFind it on: Silent Alarm (Wichita)
Do you want to come over/And kill some time
Do you want to come over/And kill some time
Throw your arms around me
Eisley – Marvelous Things
So what in the hell am I doing loving this one? Because this does everything “This Modern Love” avoids. It’s a big, chuffy US Christian radio rock record, with lyrics about being afraid of the dark, following rabbits through fields, “I woke the dawn / Saw horses growing out the lawn”—I mean, the fuck are you on?
“Magic”… sss. I’ve always hated that word, right back from when I was a kid. “Share the magic… of Walt Disney’s Pocahontas!” Then there were stage magicians, who I think I turned right against after watching some David Copperfield TV special. Claudia Schiffer asks him how he does the “flying” thing, he turns to her and says “Can you keep a secret?” She nods.
“So can I.”
On the plus side, this did enable me to get a very firm understanding of the word “shitehawk.”
“Marvelous Things” isn’t about the magic, though, but rather the belief in it. The singer does genuinely sound a bit scared in her trilling—“Oh, and marvellous things, but they are, they are, they are giving me the creeeeps…” And fuck it, I have a pretty high twee threshold, so I’m all for this. The two female vocalists have this peculiar harmonising thing going on, as the slow, deliberate guitars drive that chorus forward, and suddenly I’m singing along with a grin like the Singing Nun. It’s a bit daft, and oh so terribly endearing with it. Snugglesome, shall we say.
Find it on: Room Noises (Reprise)
The Cuban Boys – The Nation Needs You
This, fortunately, is slightly easier to explain. The Cuban Boys turn their usual trick of pounding 4/4 beats (as always, check with someone who knows first) upon which they lay their themed samples, interspersed with the usual filter-house effects and such. This isn’t the most complicated formula, but it usually comes up trumps because of the fact that the Cubans have a sense of humour, can pick samples like nobody’s business, and are generally very adept at knowing which filter-house effect to put where. “The Nation Needs You,” then, is their tribute to John Peel, their chief (and quite possibly only) champion on British radio. They make their banging, and intersperse it with samples of a) his talking on the radio and b) “Down Down” by Status Quo. It is, quite frankly, inspired. And, best of all, you can
Find it on: this page, absolutely free, in both ‘radio edit’ and ‘extended mix’ versions. The extended mix features Peel ranting marvellously about people nicking styluses from the Radio 1 studios—“If I ever find out who it is, you’ll be able to identify them because they’ll have a pair of Doc Martens sticking out of their backside”—and really is extremely required listening.
The Colorblind James Experience – Considering A Move To Memphis
“The Nation Needs You” was recorded to mark John Peel Day, a nationwide day of musical events to commemorate the anniversary of Peel’s final broadcast on UK radio (October 13th). This resulted in our student radio station getting permission to do a seven-hour broadcast from the student union bar, playing records that were championed by Peel, and they asked me to help. So what I did was get on Soulseek the night before and hunt down the people who were sharing every song that had ever charted in Peel’s end-of-year listener poll, the Festive 50, and then download the ones that I didn’t have or didn’t recognise. As you can imagine, I downloaded an awful lot of stuff that night, a fair amount of which I’ve yet to get round to hearing.
One of the things that immediately leapt out, though, was this one, simply because The Colorblind James Experience is a really great name for a band. The song is no less idiosyncratic. It’s a near-seven-minute jangly beat poem from 1987. Colorblind James is, well, considering a move to Memphis, and imagines it in delightfully vague terms. “I’m bound to meet up with someone I might know… I’ll head off down to Beale Street, and watch the Jug Band show. I’ll shake hands with Gus Cannon—he’s someone I should know.” The backing is all chirpy jangling and “baba daba baba” harmonics, with occasional little solos from the double bass and the banjo and so on. It keeps on like this for the entire duration of the song, and brings about this air of peculiar civic optimism that only American records really seem able to do, the quirks within the whitewash that US peculiarists revel in. It’s very merry, very odd, and really very lovable.
Find it on: Greatest Hits (Stub Daddy) – purchasing details can be found here
Melt Banana – Shield For Your Eyes, A Beast In The Well On Your Hand
A major resolution of mine this year is to get a job because I need to purchase Melt Banana records, dammit. Yes, this song’s from 2003 as well, but Melt Banana feel like they’ve played a reasonably hefty part in my life in 2005 and this is the only song of theirs that I can actually remember:
Me and some friends put on a club night in a bar in Leeds, to which we attract a grand total of 22 people. I spend most of the night sat at the ticket desk looking a bit glum and staring intently at the door, because there must be a market for the Girls Aloud/Stalingrad/Wedding Present crossover audience in this town dammit. This song is the only one I end up dancing to all evening.I really do need to buy their records.
I play this while DJ’ing at the aforementioned John Peel Day event, and watch the customers slowly drain away whilst air-drumming like a loon.
I actually get to see them play live at Joseph’s Well in Leeds in November or thereabouts. The crowd is somewhat fucked, because the support acts were local grindcore chappies Reth and, er, Khanate, who did their Khanate thing for forty-five ultra-slow and heavy minutes (my mate Will disses them for not being sufficiently ‘doom’). This song is what Melt Banana open with. Mentalism is multiple and widespread. They are fast, they are intense, they are ridiculous amounts of fun. Two pale young men have come dressed like the guitarist, with dust masks taped to their mouths and wearing neon-ish boiler suits, and as a result look like Altern-8. The singer looks up and off to her left throughout with a grin locked tightly on her face, swaying and dancing in a most un-nerving manner. The drumming is psychotic. The guitaring is more psychotic, because it has pedals. The bassist can’t be more than four and a half feet tall and could out-stare concrete. “SHOOT OFF THE PIG’S HEAD! SHOOT OFF THE BAT’S TAIL!” Instead of having a slow song in the middle of the set to change pace, Melt Banana play about ten thirty-second songs in a row, pausing between each one to thank the audience.
Find it on: Cell-Scape (A Zap)
West End Girls – Domino Dancing
Back to the records that don’t sound particularly promising on paper, then. West End Girls are two girls from Sweden who cover the songs of the Pet Shop Boys, in the Scandinavian pop style. Yes, I remember the A*Teens too, and people do keep assuring me that they were occasionally Not Shit, but never mind all that, because these two are cut from a somewhat different cloth. The A*Teens were always a very S Club-esque proposition, all very Sunday School. The West End Girls, however, dress in builder’s helmets. I am not sure why this is.
They have also organised themselves in the Pet Shop Boys manner. Isabelle sings, Rosanna stands, expressionless, behind her. The vocals are very, very aware of the darkness of the lyrics, and are a dead-on mix of regret, anger, distance and heartbreak. “When you look around d’you wonder: do you play to win, or are you just a baaad loser?” is delivered with severely probing intent, and when she “(watches) them all fall down” she really does sound like she’s seen them all before. The vowels are harsh, the ‘s’’s have thorns on, and the water is an awful lot deeper than it looks on the surface.
Find it on: Domino Dancing EP (Columbia)
Dancing DJ’s vs. Roxette – Fading Like A Flower
And on the other end of the cultural exchange… Roxette get filter-housed. This is all about the stutters, cutting up and looping snatches of the chorus, speeding it up so that “Everytime I see you oh I try—to—hideaway” becomes a matter of the utmost urgency, and “Everytime you leave the room I feel—I’m—fading like a!” is a massive headrush. It’s a simple formula, sometimes it goes right, sometimes it doesn’t. “Fading Like A Flower” just so happens to hit it right on the screws.
Find it on: Fading Like A Flower EP (All Around The World)
Gorillaz – DARE
So yes, why is it that all those end-year pieces are picking “Feel Good Inc.” over this one? Admittedly, FGI did coincide with my major period of “TAKE THIS ALBARNERY AWAY FROM ME,” but still. That has a bassline that I feel no shame in describing as “smug” and a guest rap that is pretty much coincidental, whereas this has Shaun Ryder delivering the most unexpectedly effective hook of the year. I keep finding myself muttering “It’s DARE!” at entirely inappropriate moments in public in any case, which I’d presume must count for something…
Find it on: Demon Days (Parlophone)
Saint Etienne – Lightning Strikes Twice
And somewhere in the middle of all this, Saint Etienne had an album out! Which I’ve still not got my hands on, which means all I’ve heard of it is this one.
So bloody goood… this song is witchcraft, no two ways about it. The way Sarah Cracknell takes the “everyone” in the chorus and lets it out of her mouth as slow as she can, rolling it round, squeezing every last drop of juice from it, rejoicing in her proclamation that “Ev—ree—one should have a reason to believe, so I still believe that lightning could strike twice for me, yay-ee-yay-ee-yeahhh…” It all sounds like some Platonic ideal, like all the elements of “perfect pop” have come together and collided—electronic space-bass, wobbling ominously, perfect shift into the slightly higher middle eight, then drop out the backing for another of those “Ev—ree—one” moments, bring it all back together for the grand finale, turn up the backing vocals, disappear into the night unseen, act like it never happened. The kind of sensory overload that leaves you buzzing for days after.
Find it on: Tales From Turnpike House (Heavenly)
Franz Ferdinand – Do You Want To
And then, there’s this. Franz Ferdinand have an epiphany—“We are popstars. YES!” Cue the pantomime.
The glory of “Do You Want To” is the way in which it takes everything that’s to hate about Franz Ferdinand and turns it into a gigantic bloody virtue. The unearned sneer in Alex Kapranos’ smirk is transformed into the kink in his maniacal cackling. The affected intellectual ennui explodes into the out and out condescension of “I love your friends, they’re all so arrrty, oh yeah!” The fact that, essentially, all the songs on that first album can be described as “Hello pretty lady, have you ever seen Â Bout de Souffle? Oh, it’s very good, if you like that sort of thing” is shamelessly flaunted—“I’m gonna make somebody love me, and now I know that it’s you! You’re lucky, lucky, YOU’RE SO LUCKY!”
“Do You Want To” is Franz Ferdinand leering drunkenly at their expectations, to the extent that the expectations aren’t entirely sure that they want to be associated with them any more. It is hedonistic to a degree to which serious artists are not meant to be, as though it was high-fiving itself before it even came out of the womb. It is sheer, reckless, fun-having. “We are going to write Count Duckula on the wall! YES!”
It never slows down (the bit where it’s just the drums thumping isn’t any slower than the rest of it). It never apologises to anyone, because it isn’t aware of their existence outside of their capacity to serve it alcohol. The “do doo de-doo, do doo-de-doo!” bit is not sung, it is fucking bellowed.
By Christ it’s good.
Find it on: You Could Have It So Much Better With… (Domino)
Sarah Nixey – The Collector
As I suspect I’ve mentioned elsewhere on quite a few occasions, I used to have a rather hefty crush on Sarah Nixey back when I was 16 or so. It was the springtime of Black Box Recorder’s The Facts Of Life album and her voice was everywhere in my head, cold, cutting, smirking—“experimentation, familiarisation; it’s all a nature-walk.” Happy times.
Anyway, BBR ran their course a couple of years ago, and her first solo material sneaked out at the end of last year. It’s rather good, too, in a kind of understated English electro-pop fashion. This is her first time writing her own lyrics, and so the tone is slightly lighter than when she was the mouthpiece for Luke Haines and John Moore (i.e. she doesn’t seem to want to kill anyone). It’s a tale of “a boy who never smiled,” collecting butterflies in order to preserve them behind glass for their own protection. I’d imagine the analogy’s obvious enough.
The chorus is the clincher: “You cast your net and pull me in; you always win this game.” The maturity of tone, the anger and the pity—you don’t get that shit with Sophie Ellis-Bextor. Then again, you could probably dance to Sophie Ellis-Bextor. Score draw, then.
Find it on: it’s one of those download-only things, details here.
Jim Noir – Tower Of Love
Further understated English electro-pop, but of a slightly differing hue. Jim Noir is one of those classic maverick loners that English pop music throws up from time to time; the promo sleeve proudly announces “everything done by Jim Noir.” This detachment is probably the major reason why Tower Of Love is such an engaging piece of work. His lyrical themes are much the same as most British tweecore indie: being shy around girls, playing football, “If you don’t give my football back I’m gonna get my dad on you,” computers being rubbish, being romantically sensitive, that sort of thing. All the signs basically point to this being yet another forgettable indie album, copies of which will be littering Music & Video Exchanges up and down the country inside about six months.
What sets Jim apart is the care and attention to detail with which he invests his doodlings. The lyrics never really rise beyond the level of vague mutterings (I repeat: “If you don’t give my football back, I’m gonna get my dad on you”), but the arrangements are gorgeous, with dense layers of guitars that sound like the Byrds relocated to Somerset, picking and strumming their way over the fields, with Tiny Tim carrying a tree behind them in order to provide shade where necessary. Noir also knows how to use his own voice, and doubles himself up for backing vocal duties—he knows he doesn’t have much of a voice beyond a vaguely beguiling Mancunian mumble, so he gets the volume by multiplying himself, each re-iteration at a slightly differing speed. Best of all, the title track sounds like it’s been lifted off an episode of The Organist Entertains. This isn’t just good by twee-pop standards—this is a great album full stop.
Find it on: Tower Of Love (My Dad)
The Russian Futurists – Still Life
This isn’t a million miles away from Our Jim, if you’re looking for a more useful reference point, except this is all samples, and it bumps. Yes, “we both know, it’s just some paint on some canvas but it’s still life” could very well be a deep and clever lyric in some way, but what we’re concerned with is that horn sample, the one-fingered keyboard riff, the peak-and-trough of the drums, the feeling of the plates sliding up and on top of each other, an irresistible shoulder-shuffle across the floor. A loop like this and you don’t have anything more to explain.
Find it on: Our Thickness (Upper Class)
Charlotte Hatherley – Bastardo
The Charlotte Hatherley solo album adventure is quite an odd thing, really. In it, we discovered that she can write super-catchy guitar pop just as well as her Ash colleague Tim Wheeler, has a much better voice for singing it than he does, and as such she sold nowhere near as many records as Ash did. “Bastardo” laid its head down at #31 in The Week That “Hounds Of Love” Happened, despite its video being a fantastic parody of the kind of photo stories one would find in Bunty or Jackie annuals, featuring The Cream Of British Comedic Talent That Were In Shaun Of The Dead In Some Capacity. The song is a rip-roaring bubblegum romp about a nasty boy who steals Charlotte’s guitar, and features the letter O being gleefully brutalised to the extent that even Steeleye Span would be thinking “Hey, steady on there!” But no, away she goes: “Oh, Ant-oniaowww!” “He’s gone back to Mexicouww-ooh-whoa-oh-whoa!” Were Avril Lavigne to ever cover this, the internet would shit itself so hard it would be broken for a fortnight.
Find it on: Grey Will Fade (Double Dragon)
The Faders – No Sleep Tonight
The reaction for a Faders cover of it… probably a bit more muted. The Faders found themselves swept up in the post-Busted backwash of boy-and-girl-bands With Guitars, and not even having Midge Ure’s daughter as their frontwoman could save them. What’s weird is that, like “Don’t Play Nice” a few blurbs ago, “No Sleep Tonight” was a hell of a statement of intent. It nicked the “Lust For Life” drums and turned them into bombs, as the thing round which the whole chorus was centred—“You can’t stop this—“ *DOOSH-DOOSH!* “feeee-ling!” The vocals were performed with an incredible degree of raunchiness, far more than Busted or McFly could ever manage, because Busted and McFly were too busy taking cues off Green Day and Blink-182.
Please, do not bring the Noise Next Door into this.
But somehow, “No Sleep Tonight” just failed to capture anyone’s imagination and stalled outside the top 10, which meant they were viewed as pretty much over the hill by the time the follow-up single rolled around. That missed the top 20; that was the end of that, then. *DOOSH-DOOSH!*
Find it on: No Sleep Tonight EP (Polydor)
Open Hand – Tough Girl
As “Lust For Life” was to “No Sleep Tonight,” so, peculiarly, “Much Against Everyone’s Advice” seems to be to “Tough Girl.” Except this time, the similarity pretty much stops with the guitar line, and it doesn’t really bear much weight there—the melody’s the same, but now more American; beefier, like rock music for those who drive cars with cattle skulls on the bonnet. And now it’s a duet between a man and a woman. And they sound like they want to rip each other’s genitals out—in the sexual manner, you understand. All the time the band thunders away, while they sound like they’re eating each other’s faces off. “I’d like to know what it takes for you to feel this free-ee, yeah!” “YEAH-EAH-EAH!” Actually, yeah, this doesn’t really sound very much like Soulwax at all.
Find it on: You & Me (Trustkill)
The Foreign Exchange – Sincere
Another man, another woman, another duet. They have some problems to work out. He’s a rapper, she’s a singer, and the spark has gone. As he puts it, “went from lovin’ one another to just payin’ our bills.”
Please note that at no point during this song is there ever any doubt that they will get back together and everything will be brilliant again. That’s because of the bass. Slow, unchanging bass, a relaxed, unchanging picking motion, the same loop all the way through. Things are gonna be OK. The guy on bass knows. Hell, the other instruments do too, they only show up every know and then, just in case there’s any doubt—a little tingle of the glockenspiel, a swift widdle with the keytar, and at the end this huge slow fade, over a minute of ascending electronic ambience. This is music for when you need to feel a million miles away; this song’s so laid-back, it’ll take you anywhere and you’ll feel marvellous for it.
Find it on: Connected (BBE)
Kate Bush – King Of The Mountain
Or perhaps, the fortnight when Radio 2 became really interesting. I’ve only heard Aerial all the way through once, back in Croydon (technical complications are preventing me from playing CD’s up here), so this is really all I’m intimately familiar with… that said, I am pretty familiar with it. This was Radio 2’s record of the week for two weeks on the trot (I dread to think what it was replaced by, and note with trepidation that James Blunt had a single out very soon afterwards), and during that fortnight I didn’t really hear very much else. Cooking dinner, I’d start singing along with the intro, swaying in the wind, just being taken up by the sheer damn scale of the thing. The boldness, then the trepidation with which she declares “The wind is whistling, the wind is whistling through the house,” the huge release when she bellows “King of the mow-un-taiiiin-AH!” It didn’t so much sound like another time as another world—the production was all very familiar, but the sentiments were so out of keeping with every other record on the radio. It was incredible, the feeling that something so overcome and so adventurous could be received with such open arms—yes, Kate’s had a reputation to help her, but she’s used it to keep on pushing forward, as opposed to, say, announcing that she’s really interested in doing an album of duets featuring Jamie Cullum and Wyclef.
They had a special edition of the Mark Radcliffe show on the day the album came out, with him interviewing her and playing a few tracks off the album. There really is nothing like sitting in the living room with your housemate, just listening to the radio, and then both pausing simultaneously because there’s a woman on the radio, singing about her washing machine. All that’s for the year to come, though. And that’s another article entirely.
Find it on: Aerial (EMI)
Jenny Wilson & Robyn – List Of Demands
Strictly speaking, I don’t know if I heard this in 2005, but I was watching it before I fell asleep last night and it just won’t go away. So far as I know this only exists in video form (link below), captured off Swedish telly sometime towards the end of last year. The two women cover Saul Williams’ “List Of Demands” with the aid of a piano, drum machine and copious amounts of handclapping. The energy of it all is incredible, the chemistry and tension between the two performers electrifying, but most of all it’s the sense of purpose about the whole enterprise. The intensity and speed with which they deliver the lines turns the entire song into one kinetic surge that holds you absolutely gripped, the intensity of their stares into the camera, into each other speaks of some incredible hunger, a need to create and to express that just will not be sated. Plus, in the introduction, we learn that the Swedish for “hip-hop poet” is “hip-hop poet”, which is nice to know.
Find it on: the video is here, and it really is rather incredible.
Clor – Love + Pain
The video for this isn’t too shabby, either—well, actually, it kind of is, but that’s the point. “Love + Pain” is a triumph for geekiness, a massive explosion of… you know how people describe things as “angular?” “Love + Pain” is angular because when you dance to it your body turns into a collection of incredibly straight lines all hanging off one another, whirling round their centrifuges in mid-air. And you know how when you dance to stuff and attempt to perfectly co-ordinate your arm movements with the drums, and you’re convinced that this is in some way an endearing characteristic but everyone around you thinks you have Tourette’s? “Love & Pain” is like that for nigh-on four minutes. Hyper hyper and then some.
Find it on: Clor (Regal)
The Rogers Sisters – Three Fingers; Emotion Control
The Rogers Sisters, you sense, are a bit geeky too. Not that you notice so much when they play live, because Jen Rogers is like Jessica Rabbit if Jessica Rabbit played guitar and wore a sweater and Miyuki Furtado steals scenes like the bastard son of Steve Buscemi, and because they eat grooves for any meal you care to name. They can maintain the tension in their songs like no-one’s business—you start dancing, and you don’t stop till they do. Jen is also possessed of the kind of voice that suggests a 30-pack-a-day gum habit, spitting and sneering; “Fantasies are nice, I guess, if you like fantasies…” The B-52’s meet the Dirtbombs, maybe? Ach, they deserve better than that—I still remember all the attitude ‘n’ bullshit schlep that came in with the early ‘00s garage rock craze (because everything’s a fucking craze nowadays), and that’s the kind of nothing-y description that would get ladled out left, right and centre on bands that by and large merited nothing more. There’s something special about these, though, and it needs a bit of celebrating.
Find it on: Three Fingers; Emotion Control EP (both Too Pure)
Vincent Vincent & The Villains – On My Own
I remember, back when I was a young lad, being in the school choir. I never figured out why I was picked for this, given that my singing abilities have always seemed vaguely parallel to Jimmy Somerville’s—I’ve got one high note that I can usually sort of hit, but ask me to do anything else and you get subjected to a fate worse than the Communards’ version of “Lover Man.” Anyway, one term it was decided we would do a programme of Gershwin songs, and when I listen to “On My Own” I am immediately reminded of how vaguely ridiculous this whole thing was. A bunch of squeaky voiced London boys singing “I Got Rhythm.” No we don’t. It wasn’t even funny or anything, just very… odd.
And that’s how the whole blues, ragtime, jazz kind of thing seemed back when I was a teenager—some kind of academic exercise, the words of one generation forced into the mouths of another without any possibility of them being able to draw empathetic parallels, possibly even being led away from doing anything like that. Music was concerned with Getting Things Right, and Doing Things Correctly. “The blues”, Pachelbel’s Canon, “Peter & The Wolf”—all eventually melted into one hammer to bash us into the holes.
“On My Own,” though, is how we were meant to feel—bluesy rock ‘n’ roll of the most basic, elemental and thus easily identifiable kind. There’s a bass, a guitar, a drummer and a singer who sounds like the feller from Gallon Drunk on uppers. It’s a riot all the way through, the bassline completely inseparable from the accompanying finger-clicks, the guitar swinging and be-bop-a-lula-ing, and Mr Vincent himself having the time of his life, hamming up every word that he can get his hands on: “Oh yeah, from now on I’m only gonna look out for number one—that’s me, yeah!” It’s quite the riot.
Find it on: their website, entirely for free in the ‘tracks’ section (click on the guitar on the wall).
Richard Hawley – The Ocean
Oh, thank God for Richard Hawley. This is the part where, for however brief a period of time, I actually have to break my bloody habits, and stop just throwing out names of similar artists in the hope that you bastards may in some way “get it,” because that’s what everyone does with Hawley and I just can’t take it any more. Yes, Scott Walker. Yes, Johnny Cash. Yes, old-time crooners. Yes, the 1950’s and thus yes, “timeless quality” (only ever bestowed on records that seem to make a deliberate effort to sound old, you notice). Yes, “emerging from the shadows of his more illustrious peers.”
It’s just that this is not a fucking aesthetic exercise. It is not the set of notes, it is not the chord sequence, IT IS NOT THE FUCKING REVERB NOISES ON THE XYLOPHONES. These things alone do not make me tremble at the mere thought of them.
“The Ocean” is dramatic, grandiose, huge. It’s the rain hammering on your face, turning you blue inside and out. It’s the anticipation of something certain, the dead time before it comes to pass.
What the fuck is the point? I’m not just saying that, it’s because this record overwhelms me beyond all function, to the extent where I just have to stand and watch Hawley bellow out “Here comes the wave” and try not bursting into tears again—there’s no memories of anything getting rekindled, no sentimentality getting set off, just this sense of being engulfed by something bigger than I could ever hope to handle. This is neurosis, this is oblivion, this is staring at the end and realising that there is absolutely nothing that you can do about it at all. I’ll never need to hear it again. The memory of it is shattering enough.
Find it on: Coles Corner (Mute)
Misty’s Big Adventure – Hey Man!
Makes this seem like pretty small potatoes anyway. Still, one and a half minutes of Bearsuit-esque anti-capitalist indie hammerings—a brass section going mental in a phonebox, a Brummie Stephen Wright yelling through a megaphone, and a man dancing in a red smock covered with blue latex gloves. Rather good.
Find it on: Hey Man! EP (SL)
The Fall – I Can Hear The Grass Grow
Going to see The Fall was a peculiar experience. I don’t own any of their records, and what knowledge I had of their output had mainly been garnered by listening to John Peel. I never really “got” them, though—it always sounded like those sitcom episodes where the pretentious circle of critics make a huge fuss over a three-year-old’s finger painting, somehow; some wizened old man ranting discordantly over some jerky guitars and electronic things. It felt far too much like making an effort for me to be bothering with.
And then suddenly, at this gig, it all clicked. Mark E Smith was stood centre stage in a leather jacket, gazing off into the middle distance, singing the lyrics to this in a somewhat off-tempo manner, and down the front people were going mad, yelling along to every word. Just like that, this acquired anthemic status in my head—The Fall and Mark E Smith were icons of dissatisfaction, of every irritating thing about the world causing this music to resonate so boldly. It’s a theme song for bloody-mindedness, for continuing to persist in the furrow that pisses the bastards off. And yet, I still feel like that’s nowhere near it at all. Which makes me love it all the more. Oh dear.
Find it on: Fall Heads Roll (Narnack)
Ben Folds – Landed
Over the course of the year, I found myself getting that tiny bit more susceptible to pianos, and this song was a very large contributing factor. It’s a tale of a man leaving the one he settled for for the one he loved, and as such it’s all infused with hope and redemption and so on. Thing is, though, that I only just figured that out, after Christ knows how many months of having the little bastard banging round in my head. The reason I loved it was those pianos—so big and bumptious, swooping and clattering towards their own little promised land.
Find it on: Songs For Silverman (Sony)
Field Music – You Can Decide
Here, the pianos are ambling along as part of a general programme of insubordination. Of everything that ever wound up in the UK Singles Jukebox, this was the record that was least likely to cause any impact on the outside world (though Helen Love probably ran it quite close), simply because it didn’t appear to actually do anything. There may be some verses, and there may be a chorus too, but I’d not bet on it. Bits of bass and guitars slump in and out of shot, and the members of the unit do a nice bit of vocal harmonising. They then decide to swap their drumming for just clapping their hands for a bit. And in the midst of all that, the piano’s perhaps the best bit—it jaunts and rambles all over the place, like it’s being played by a man whose fingers are held together by elastic bands. It’s a peculiarly liberating experiences, the various rhythms all blending in and interlinking with one another, gently prodding your mind this way and that, till a final guitar crash brings the curtain down on the whole thing. It’s the kind of record that isn’t really designed to have a life beyond its running time, but in that space of time it’s an extremely attractive proposition.
Find it on: Field Music (Memphis Industries)
Sébastien Tellier – La Ritournelle
And then there’s this. For some reason, this found its way onto Radio 1’s playlist earlier this year, and I think at one point even ended up being Jo Whiley’s record of the week. Maybe someone thought it was chillout music or something—Frenchman, pianos, string stabs, vague mumbling about “this is how I change my life for you”; it pretty much adds up, I suppose.
But this could never be chillout music, because this is not the kind of thing that just blends into the background—it becomes the background itself. The piano line loops all the way through, an undulating waveform, but it sounds so clear that you can practically see the keys moving with it, being carried along in its wake, and I don’t know why that matters to me but it does. It could be some kind of hypnosis, I don’t know, but the shape it takes on fills my mind. It sounds like a train journey through the southern English countryside, a huge mass of fields on either side, and you look out of the window and watch everything become one, field after field, hill after hill, to the point where you forget that there’s a destination because all you’re aware of is the sensation of movement, that you are travelling. It’s the strings that mark the passing of time, though, and they provide what feels like a narrative—their urgency feels like those moments when the mind goes beyond language, and it’s all just sound. The brief set of lyrics in the middle of the song (about four minutes in) feels like some kind of a clarification of what the author takes them to remind him of: “We make love in the grass under the moon; love is to share, mine is for you.” The strings provide the shifts, the moments of drama and tension that keep you engaged in thought—not necessarily about the piece, but just the process of thought itself. You don’t get that kind of thing charting at #63 every week.
Find it on: Politics (Lucky Number)
Sleater-Kinney – Entertain
This, however, was war. The lyrics, yes, they are moany. But for sheer, raw release, when I needed something to scream along to, “WHERE’S THE BLACK AND BLUE?” was the one, no question. Every drumbeat fires the blood, every “WAH! OH! OH!”… oh, I’ve no idea what that did specifically, but this was raw, intense, fucking fire. It felt like the real rain coming.
Find it on: The Woods (Sub-Pop)
Charlotte Church – Crazy Chick
Handclaps! Not mentioned them for at least, ooh, four or five entries. “Crazy Chick” had quite a lot stacked against it being any good. The lyrics were rote “being mental as metaphor for being in love” humdrummery, and, when it came time for the chorus, Charlotte simply added her name to the list of singers who have tried and failed to invest the word “chick” with any meaning other than “the radio won’t let me say “bitch”.”
And yet, it won through. Partly this is due to the surprisingly tricksy production—the organ’s a particular highlight—but mainly it’s down to Church absolutely refusing to let the song go down on her, so she throws everything she’s got into it. It all comes together just at the end, when she hits this incredible high note out of absolutely nowhere, just as everything else hits its peak. It’s the kind of moment that could redeem even Turin Brakes, so to get it on the end of what was already an extremely tidy little number was quite the bonus.
Find it on: Tissues and Issues (Sony)
My Chemical Romance – Helena
And for this, I must congratulate Mr Unterberger, cos without his adulation I’d never have thought of even listening to this. I don’t know that I can really say anything here that hasn’t been said already, other than that I’ve never been able to hear that first *dookadooka!* drum fill without flapping my arms in the air and breaking into a manic sprint, something which cause multiple delays to the writing of this list due to the fact that I kept listening to “Helena” instead of, you know, other stuff. This may say more about me than it does about MCR, admittedly, but still—immaculate.
Find it on: Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge (Reprise)
Girls Aloud – Swinging London Town
I’ll just give you a moment to recover from the shock, shall I?
The thing about Girls Aloud is never knowing quite which way they’re going to fall—do they go for the jugular, or do they go for the sales figures? This was the problem with “Long Hot Summer”—it sounded like Girls Aloud doing what was expected of them in terms of sound, checking off the list of things that people had liked about their earlier records and coming up with something that sounded a bit like “Androgynous Girls” but without the swearing—not bad, but too telegraphed. So when the tracklisting for Chemistry surfaced, “Swinging London Town” appeared to have “dud” written all over it—crap Austin Powers pastiche ahoy!
What surfaced was Girls Aloud staring their mortality in the face and inviting it to take a fucking swing. The London here is the one where everything and everyone is taken for granted—“Soho soaks drink Campari, free-flowing bubbly, a drop of gin; Hooray Henrys out cruising the King’s Road, in daddy’s Bentley stuffed full of gear.” This is the cycle that they have become locked into, and which will chew them up and spit them out, because that’s what happens:
Do you know the me that wakes in placesAnd this is Girls Aloud’s attempt at self-preservation. Vicious electronic judder sees them tear through the landscape of “retail therapy… down the slide to rehab, and all of it for free!” At about two minutes, it stops, and we’re left with the noise of the city at about 3am. “Do you know me? Really, really know me?”
Faces I’ve never seen
The mother of all hangovers to remind me where I’ve been
And if I stop
It really gets me down
So I step back into the city lights
The queen of London town
Girls Aloud might just be the most universally critically acclaimed musical act in Britain today. The adverts for Chemistry proudly sport recommendations from NME, The Observer, The Times… and they’re still the pieces of meat that, when the time is right, will be thrown in the bin. No-one, when writing about Girls Aloud, can avoid the meta dimension. Every review must mention Xenomania, because we all know how pop works know. You come in. You have a maximum shelf life of x amount of years—say five at the outside, yuh? Then you split with the greatest hits album and farewell tour, one of you has some kind of semi-successful solo career, the rest will resurface on various reality shows, then it’s a matter of waiting till the Hear & Now tour comes knocking. Girls Aloud, it is presumed, have seen their future, because, quite frankly, so has everyone else. Any attempt at a denial of this is because they’re celebrities. They’re deluded. That’s their job.
“Swinging London Town” is them trying to escape.
Looks like I’m neck deep in itYou could never tell their voices apart anyway.
And starting to drown
Along with all the wannabes
In Swinging London Town
Find it on: Chemistry (Polydor)
Thomas Truax – The Fish (I’m Coming Home)
Thomas Truax is a singer-songwriter from New York who comes off like the indie version of Doc Brown from Back to the Future. His gig at Leeds’ annual Gojonnygogogogo alldayer was my favourite of 2005. He plays drum machines made of wheels and pulleys, that look like a MouseTrap board made of Meccano. He also has a contraption called a Hornicator, which is a gramophone horn inside which he’s fitted a microphone, amplifier and sampler, and he’s attached some strings to the crook of it to form a sort of improvised harp thing. He also plays the guitar. His songs are long, rambling stories about an imaginary place called Wowtown, which he sings while roaming across the stage and through the crowd, occasionally leaving the venue entirely only to re-emerge from an entirely different entrance. Anyway, it’s a bit tricky to explain here—just a note to say that going to see him is very much worth your while.
Find it on: his website.
Sing-Sing – Come, Sing Me A Song
Sing-Sing’s second album was finally released, and this song ruled the summer. A huge, sun-kissed dream of cascading horns and pirouetting violins, as Lisa and Emma sway in the breeze. The handclaps were slow, wide and arcing. The sunset lasted for ever. “Cos love’s got a hold on me, and there’s nothing I can be, without your love…” The sound of making what you think a pop record should be, without consulting anyone else. Downy, dulcet, delicious.
Find it on: Sing-Sing & I (Aerial—purchasing details here.)
Brooke Valentine – Chain Letter
And this is what happens when you launch a new R&B act without paying any attention to prevailing trends. For starters, her debut single is a song about beating up women who cross her, and features Big Boi sounding ever so slightly tipsy. Then, she nicks the beat from Rachel Stevens’ “Sweet Dreams My LA Ex” and uses it to sexually frustrate the ODB. Then she records a song called “American Girl,” which she opens by humming the opening bars of the Star Spangled Banner and declaring that “We all have the same dream/We all wake up on a reality series.” Then there’s “Ghetto Superstar” and its closing monologue: “I’m very smart! I went to school! I didn’t finish… but I went to elementary school, and I nearly finished… and, omigod, I’m gonna be in Playboy!” And then, just to seal the deal, there’s “I Want You Dead.” Cue the Saul Williams piano:
I ran your car into a ditchThe non-stardom of Brooke Valentine shames us all.
Poked holes in your prophylactics
Find it on: Chain Letter (Virgin)
The Passions – I’m In Love With A German Film Star
The most out-of-date record on the list, then, except that it was included on the first 12”/80s compilation, which sort of only makes it a year or two out of date for our purposes. Sort of.
It’s a slow, dream-pop number, with a backing that never accelerates but is always going slightly faster than one would imagine it needs to, slow enough to keep the hazy aura covering the song, but fast enough to keep the singer on her toes, leaving her just reaching for her breath on every line. It’s about idols. Your complete lyrics are:
I’m in love with a German film starAnd that’s it, over and over again. It’s a story about lusting for the unfamiliar, simply because it’s the unfamiliar. It could be any old film star, but it’s the fact that they’re German that’s the key—the distance, the exotic, the highbrow, all manifested in this person who winds up sat in a bar trying to have a drink in order to escape from this precise adulation.
I once saw in a movie
Playing the part of a real trouble maker but I didn’t care
It really moved me
It really moved me
I’m in love with a German film star
I once saw in a bar
Sitting in the corner in imperfect clothes
Trying not to pose
For the cameras and the girls
It’s a glamorous world
I love it because that’s how I get too damn often, and it worries me—this fetishising of things solely because they’re different, because no-one else will go for them. That, and the noise it makes is gorgeous.
Find it on: 12”/80’s (Family)
The Long Blondes
Described by Patrick McNally in the latest Rubber Room as “the only new British guitar band worth caring about.” I’m inclined to agree. Bedsit tales of love and lust from Sheffield are hardly unfamiliar things—Pulp, The All-Seeing I, even ABC to an extent. Sometimes, it seems as though the Blondes might just be toiling in their shadows, armed only with long words and a knack for finding quality vintage clothing at reasonable prices. Most of the time, though, they’re brilliant. “Literate pop” acts often have a tendency to grab the wrong end of the stick and start tugging really hard, desperate to demonstrate that they have read books and know what the words in them mean. The good ones are the ones that write their own stories, and the Long Blondes are definitely up to that. “Christmas Is Cancelled” tells of “sliding through the slush on Boxing Day” only to find that the singer’s boyfriend is seeing another woman—he then comes back to her a year later, and she can’t find a way to get rid of him. “Giddy Stratospheres” is about a boy who’s stuck with a girl out of necessity (“she’ll always be here, waiting for you, back here on Earth”), despite the fact that “she will never take (him) higher than her attic room.”
“Darts,” on the other hand, is about wanting to play darts because it’s back on television. The Long Blondes are also extremely fun. I’ve been struggling through this part of the list because I’ve not been able to shake the pepped-up 60’s shuffle of “My Heart Is Out Of Bounds” from my head, along the closing refrain of “STOP! THIS! MAN! Someone STOP! THIS! MAN!” from “Appropriation (By Any Other Name)”, “Giddy Stratospheres”’s jerking guitar line, and, well, the whole of “Darts” (“DARTS!” “The oche’s free.” “DARTS!” “For you and me.” “DARTS!”) Pop bands that are both entertaining and as clever as they think they are are an increasingly rare breed. Take The Long Blondes to your bosom, and keep them there.
Find it on: their website.
RECORD OF THE YEAR
Arab Strap – The Last Romance
And so we’re here. Took our fucking time, didn’t we?
I know this list wasn’t meant to be ordered, and for every record apart from this one, that was the case. But it was always going to end with this, because this record is the most true thing I’ve heard all year. Nothing else has resonated with me like it. I heard the last track off it off an MP3 blog of some description, and immediately stood up and went to the shop to buy a copy. I spent the whole day listening to it, over and over again, telling people—ordering them—to go and buy a copy. I’ve not had that since I went mental over Hate a few years ago.
I’m not going to write about it here, though. This article’s already gone on far, far too long. Remember when I said this was me trying to be useful again? Well, that was because I’ve written nothing this year. This was meant to be the purging—everything I needed off my chest, everything I needed to tell people about but didn’t. Just consuming music and not writing about it, not telling anyone, just feeling satisfied because I had heard it—that fucking sucks.
I’ve no idea if I’ve made anything even approaching a good job of it. However many hours it took, however many words I wrote—not a fucking clue. What I do know is this. I’ve run out of time, and I’ve run out of space, to treat this record with anything like the respect it deserves. So I’m going to lock myself away with it for one last time this weekend, and next week I’ll put a review up, and hopefully then I can do it justice.
Thank you for reading.