Thursday, January 21, 2010

Stains on a Decade: 00

When collecting material for my “best of” the aughts I realized yet again how little new releases I generally pick up throughout a given year. While these ten entries will not be everything I purchased coming out as a new release between 00 and 09, they do represent the albums/artists that meant the most to me then and/or now…which is what this entire blog is all about.

And so, in alphabetical order (though I will name a “best” of each year at the end of each entry)…

The And/Ors: Will Self-Destruct – This album is my own special secret, as I’ve never, ever run across anyone else who has heard (of) this band (and if you have, let’s start a club). The only thing In Sound ever gave me before I boycotted them for life when they blew off Paul Spivey and Seesaw Records, this purchase was definitely worth the short-lived relationship. I don’t really know anything about these guys (and a gal on bass) aside from the fact that Will Self-Destruct (the only thing by them I can find) is one of the catchiest, noisiest, most infectiously joyous pieces of indie pop to be held over from that genre’s heyday of the mid 90s. Pavement meets Sonic Youth? Sure, why not? Screeching guitars, driving rhythms, fantastic nonsense lyrics and washes of affected noise to bring it all together, ten years on I still can’t get enough of this album and how fresh it sounds, raw and pure, something completely of its time and influences, and yet like nothing else (including Pavement meets Sonic Youth).

Candy Takes the Cake, At the Saturn Bar

Richard Ashcroft: Alone with Everybody – I wasn’t a Verve fan at all when it mattered. Call it stubbornness. But when it finally clicked close to a decade after the fact, I began my process of picking up all things Verve and Verve-related. And while I’ll admit that Urban Hymns is without a doubt the greatest thing to ever emerge from the Verve camp (don’t tell JT I said that), I’ll argue that Richard Ashcroft’s solo debut really gives that album a run for its money. Truth be told the two can’t really be compared, because while UH is a near CD limit’s worth of noisy vitriol juxtaposed with delicate, heartfelt angst, Alone with Everybody is seriously one of the most “soberingly upbeat” albums I’ve ever heard. While it’s hardly happy times and feeling good, Ashcroft tackles the issues of love and life and turns them all on their ear by saying “Hey, we’re gonna make it now.” True, this style/genre and attitude are not usually my grain of sand, but when something is good it’s good, and there is no denying the immediate appeal found in so many of these tracks, melodies that have you singing, even dancing (within your own private corner) long after the disc has run out.

Brave New World, Crazy World

Belle & Sebastian: Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant – Usually I’m late for the current “big thing” in the music world. For B&S I came around right when the hype for The Boy With the Arab Strap was just beginning to wane…which means I missed the uber hype of If You’re Feeling Sinister by a good 18 months. But when I jumped the B&S train, I jumped on all the way, and was therefore ready (and waiting) for the band’s next release, Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant. Unfortunately the rest of the cool music world had moved on. I have to admit that this is a somewhat difficult album. A band in transition? A band in turmoil? Possibly. Bassist and founding member Stuart David left upon its completion, and doe-eyed vocalist/instrumentalist Isobel Campbell after only another single or two. And perhaps that reflects on the finished product, ‘cos the deal with this album is that it’s a near complete mess. Invisible (at the time) front man Stuart Murdoch was giving the other members more pull and freedom of direction (or so it seems), which made for rather interesting if not somewhat off putting sidesteps from what the world had come to know as a “proper” Belle & Sebastian album. And even though things start off “traditionally” with a whisper-quiet opener that builds and layers with each verse-chorus-verse, by track three it’s obvious that cohesiveness is a tertiary thought. So for me what’s made this album worthwhile over the years is not what I thought about it at age 26 when I was still somewhat “freshly” in love with B&S, but the subsequent listens I’ve given it after long periods of neglect when I realized the tune that was mysteriously stuck in my head was found on this disc. Like so many albums by other artists before and after, this is a collection of songs that mainly stand well by themselves, as individual statements, with their only fault being lumped amongst a batch of like-minded misfits whose similarities are that they have nothing in common.

Don’t Leave the Light On, Baby, There’s Too Much Love

Broadcast: The Noise Made by People – Ok, I was on board for these guys nearly from the start (thanks MSP). Easily one of the best shows I have ever seen, it was also one of the loudest, and yet in a sonic way that hit me not so much in the ears as dead in the chest…that is to say the heart. Retro a good 3-5 years before such a move was cool, these guys didn’t go back to the 80s, but two decades before and further underground to the murk of obscure, psychedelic 60s rock. If I had to describe this album in a word, it would be “ambience.” The Noise Made by People is spooky, ominous, “hollow” (I know what I mean) and immediately endearing because this album does not pretend to be anything other than what it is – a batch of songs both simple and good, the way the best and purest of all things should be. Perhaps they had a vision, a goal, but to me Broadcast just created a sound, er, um, noise, that they enjoyed, and despite the fact that parts sound plagiaristically (it is too a word!) similar to virtually unheard tunes 30 years before, it was with a wink and a nod that made it all forgivable (after we all found out just how much The United States of America influenced this album).

Come On Let’s Go (official video), Until Then (Fan vid)

Coldplay: Parachutes – I’ve already admitted I’m a Coldplay fan, so you’re just gonna have to forgive me and move on. As I stated some months before, these guys are hit or miss. Taking their queue from Travis who took their queue from Radiohead, they rocked onto the scene in a mellow, almost Jack Johnson sorta way that made them exciting and yet non-threatening. I used to say that this album was half great, half boring, but honestly, listening to it again to “prepare” for this write up, I found myself quite digging most all of it in a comfortable, familiar way that I could chalk up to nostalgia for my mid 20s, but have to admit is because these songs are really quite solid. Don’t Panic is simply one of the best album openers of all time (though certainly rivaled by Politik two years later), and pretty much sets the stage not only for Parachutes, but Coldplay’s entire mood/stance/career/etc up through the present day. So for better or worse, this is where it all started, and just in case you’ve forgotten (or simply wondered) why and what the big deal was and is all about, you’d have to be a Batey or a Martineau to not find some worth within these walls.

Don’t Panic, Yellow

Mojave 3: Excuses for Travellers – What Mojave 3’s third outing did for me initially was help me recognize the worth of their sophomore effort, Out of Tune. After the shimmering, beautiful, folk-country brilliance of their debut, the follow up was an almost harsh jolt in the wrong direction…until I heard those first two albums blended so perfectly into Excuses for Travellers. Essentially this is a collection of mellow strums, with Neil Halstead (the GREATEST songwriter of our generation) sleep-crooning his take on the pain of relationships and the balm of gentle waves. And while things certainly do pick up the beat from time to time, it’s with a whimsical dreaminess that is more a joy to be alive in spite of the ache than any angst brought on by it. This is truly an atmospheric endeavor, and one that demands repeat listens in order to discover the hidden melody gems buried beneath layers of guitars, organs and foaming surf. Over the years this album (like Ride’s Going Blank Again) has become a favorite travel companion, making the songs it represents that much more poignant.

Return to Sender, When You’re Drifting

Radiohead: Kid A – I was right when I hated Radiohead the first time. But when I read an article in either Q or Uncut about this then forthcoming album in a restaurant somewhere in NYC, I believed they might be the long looked for saviors of rock music. And in a sense they were by creating one of the most “non-rock albums that truly kicks arse” of all time. Rolling Stone panned it (which infuriated me) and came up with the ABCs of why it was so terrible…the one that sticks with me to this day being “Eno-core,” which I agreed with and embraced because I was (and am) such a big Brian Eno fan and thought that obvious influence was one of the key qualities of Kid A. The problem is that while Thom and the boys successfully deconstructed rock n roll, they seemed to have forgotten how to put it back together again, as subsequent releases like Amnesiac (essentially a Kid A outtakes album) and Hail to the Thief just pushed further and further away from what could be considered listenable music. That coupled with the fact I listened to this album repeatedly for weeks and weeks means that its merit and longevity as something of import were lost to me and I had pretty much decided never to listen to it again. Thankfully I did (again, in preparation for this write up) and found that at low volumes Kid A provides quite pleasant mood music. Perhaps that’s all it ever was.

How to Disappear Completely, Idioteque

And the best album of 00 is... The And/Ors – Will Self-Destruct
Here's a video for Flexi-Clocks. I had no idea this existed until three days ago!!!

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