Saturday, December 13, 2008

I'm up on the eleventh floor / And I'm watching the cruisers below

tijuana-front-500x500.jpg (the above has nothing to with anything....I just wanted to use it somewhere)

I guess you know when it’s the end of another year. I’ve had a few now and they roll around rather more quickly than they used to. It may sneak up on you (and it always does for me…the silly red hats always come as a WTF moment) but the major pointer for me is the lists. We all love lists and of course I love lists (this blog has had a few over the years) and the end of any year provides a flood of these. Some are utterly vacuous (probably the best sort), some take themselves far too seriously, some provoke a ‘says who?’ response, some are just ego rants (maybe that’s me), and some, most notably the who-died variety, provide me with a ‘shit I didn’t know that’ moment or two. Time Mag has a best inventions list which includes such useful inventions as the Hadron Collider, which some consider may bring the end of the world as we know it, as we are all sucked into a man-made black hole…handy…happily it broke.

Then there is The Times (why do Americans insist on calling the one of the world’s oldest newspapers ‘The London Times’?) with their Worst Movies of 2008..all 100 of them. I have to admit I’ve seen two of these… but one, Get Smart, I saw in a shocking Denpasar fleapit (@80c each mind) and I’m happy I did, if only for the experience of trying to watch a movie with a giant, bigger and brighter than the screen, neon No Smoking sign (completely ignored of course) directly in one's line of sight (you needed to look up a bit for the actual screen, which left me with a very strange headache).

I could scour the web for odd lists and no doubt will when I have a moment spare from the intense worrying over Indonesia’s imploding economy, moral confusion and bizarre driving habits, but in the interim, I’ll note that The Times also has a Best Albums of 2008 list up already, also 100 (I guess the paper wants to make sure it covers all bases…satisfied readers return and there is nothing more satisfying that knowing your taste is bang on cos’ you read it in The Times). So, yes it’s quite extensive and I own one or two albums on it, which I may get to in a moment.

The funny thing about these sorts of album lists is firstly, they are so bloody definitive, or at least they think they are. But really, who in their reasonable mind could name one album #1, or another #2, even taking into account journalistic polling. It is so obviously very, very silly. A bunch of albums or records tagged as very good is ok (and If I don’t ramble too much, I may add mine later in this post), but listing in order is just bogus. The second thing about these lists is that some are so predicable…the really dull ones like Q, or Mojo, or the American rawk mags, and this year is no different (is The Kings of bloody Leon really a record for the ages?). But the other thing worth noting, and you can blame the internet for this in a number ways, is that there are now so many completely diverse lists. When I was a lad you got the same 20 records in every bloody list, be it NME or The Auckland Star or Rolling Stone (ok, the Americans usually missed the interesting 20% the rest of the world picked up on, but that aside there was uniformity). It was all so narrow, which made it all very dull.


Now of course, there are literally hundreds, maybe thousands of records which make the lists and you get a list like Fact Magazine (a pretty good list which I’m thinking I’m mostly concurring with) which has virtually no crossover with the Hotpress list, or the various lists at Pop Matters.

Fact head their list with Gang Gang Dance and I’m not really one to argue with that. It’s a wonderful indie pop / electronic mash and for me, the post punk (how many decades can we keep on using that phrase?) bits and pieces have proved to be amongst the things I’ve played most. Aside from the aforesaid GGD, I liked Glass Candy, with their engagingly cute take on Kraftwerk’s Computer Love and toytown electronica which is less Blondie and more Lori & The Chameleons; the, just the right side of twee, pure and concise pop-lite of Cut Copy; The LEDs, whose second album was a slightly edgier version of their first but just as addictive (although sadly they suffered from the hip last week syndrome that plagues popular music) and, had only three tracks over three minutes….bang, bang, bang perfection; and , but very much not least, the wigged out Notwave collection from Rong / DFA which included, amongst it’s moments, Non Stops’ blistering guitar acid-funk. Hydration Explosion.

I found many of the much-lauded albums of the year a little dull. I tried with the much rated Bon Iver but found myself drifting off with thoughts of feral backswoodsmen scribbling down a wannabe Neil Young song between huntin’ n cussing. It wasn’t me. And at first, neither was Fleet Foxes…again, too feral, although it grew and I went through a brief phase when I was able to ignore the yee-ha-ness of much of it and enjoy the, often, gorgeous songs, but that too passed and now I’m fairly neutral. A huge critics fave however….there is something odd about these British urban scribes latching onto all this faux cowboy folk.

And I don't trust young musicians with beards. Save it for your moody later years please.

benga.jpgNightclubs are far healthier than pseudo ranches turned into recording studios (and all this Americana is really mostly recorded in smelly urban drug and booze infested studios as rock always has been). I’m as much of an electronic kid as I am an Indie noise fan and there were literally dozens of singles, mostly English or European that I banged about on the iPod to, far too many to list here and changing daily (as I type the new Pinch is the track of the moment, but that will change within a few hours I guess…yesterday it was Henrik Schwarz’ mix of Ane Brun). But if I had to pick one this year, Ricardo Villalobos’ Minimoonstar, in all its forms, would get the nod.

There were only three albums you could really tag as ‘house’ that got much play around the pool but each got a lot. Really early in the year Prosumer & Murat Tepeli's Serenity struck a warm Chicago styled chord and has continued to do so all year, even if some of the tracks are three or more years old. Toby Tobias’ jaw droppingly lovely album on Rekids got a fair amount of mid year play..I’m a sucker for dubby disco infused house, but only if it’s inventive rather than looping sad old ideas into some sort of big room kiddie anthem.This was.

The other one that got stuck for so long in the car that Brigid pleaded with me to take it out, was the Luciano Fabric mix, which I’m told was full of overplayed tracks, but being as they’re not overplayed in downtown Bali, it was fine with me.

What else? Well I loved, and still do, the Carl Craig & Moritz Von Oswald fiddle-with-Ravel-&-Mussorsky on Deutsch Grammophon. I’m very wary of these sorts of things. Most of the Verve reworkings of Jazz standards / classics are, with the odd exception, a waste of space.

But this worked, partially, says Carl, because these originals are fundamentally coming from the same place as techno…looping rhythms and layering melodies over the top. Utilizing primarily analogue equipment, Recomposed is a thing of great beauty and quite mesmerizing, but I suspect is a boy record.


Also in January came the compilation of my year, the thing known variously as Sessions and Clear and Present, but in any form, was a pretty good oversight of the work of Carl Craig (and we could argue about the gaps forever....Angola?), and, since we’re talking forms, in the digital, for a bargain price you got not only the mixed tracks as found on the CD, but the full 12” length, often quite hard to find, originals. And an extensive digital book. Make it desirable and people will buy it, and they did in this case in huge numbers I believe. I think I have just about every 12” here but, hell, $15 bucks is worth paying for a nice clear digital copy of the 15 minute mix of Throw alone.

On Carl Craig’s label, Kenny Larkin’s Keys, Strings, Tambourines was thoroughly classic warm densely melodic Detroit techno from one of the genre’s legendary figures. I liked a lot.

Jose James’ The Dreamer, a moment of classic Johnny Hartmann inspired vocal jazz, made me shiver, and there were killer mixes of the key tracks on single just to add to the allure.

I liked lots of what they call dubstep and grime, and it's fusion with minimal techno, mostly just singles or tracks but the Benga album was a killer in a wide ranging genre that provides a fairly strong argument against the oft said notion that music is dying. Please….fuck off or listen.

What else? Well the old boys, Paul Weller and, most especially, Elvis Costello, both released their best albums for yonks and it’s encouraging, and nostalgically heartwarming, to see one’s (very late) teen heroes still holding their heads up 30 years on. larkin.jpg

Out of left field, the Serge Gainsbourg (I guess it was a bootleg) collection, Les Annees Psychedelics was utterly fantastic and I’ll keep on playing it forever; and even more from the left, an album from somebody called Plush, who I’d never heard before, released originally in Japan in 2002, crept through and became one of my most listened to records of the year. I’m old enough to realize that I’m gonna be a sucker for any album that sounds like it’s chocker full of soundalikes of those gorgeous post-Lennon-ist tunes that Todd Rungdren used to sprinkle through his early albums. With a little bit Hunky Dory era Bowie tossed in for effect…

Oh, and one more…The Clash Live at Shea I’ve ranted on about it of recent so I don’t think I need to go there again.

Looks like I've done a list again.....


porc-épic said...

And I don't trust young musicians with beards. Save it for your moody alter years please.

Heh! So, who? Davendra Banhart? A little too wacky. Liam Finn? Probably. As someone once said of the newly-shaven John Lennon, "Gone are the whiskers of premature sagehood."

Re. Colonel Sanders: From an ancient Rolling Stone story on Country Joe and the Fish. Smartass drummer Gary "Chicken" Hirsh spots the Colonel seated on the same airplane and takes the opportunity to ask him what he thinks of hippies. "Well," says the Colonel, "Dey eats chicken, don't dey?"

Simon said...

See, there you go, a perfect example...Liam Finn. That beard truly is a shocker and does neither him nor his work any favours. I quite like his music but the look is always at the back of my mind.

But worse are these bands, mostly American, who've taken facial hair, and dishelved dirtiness to an new, seemingly acceptable level.

John Lydon might've been, uhh, unclean, but at least he had style. Lennon's beard period was mercifully brief.