Here they come! Happy Christmas and thanks to everyone who has left comments and nice mesages all year. Here’s to 2007! (I’ve aleady found a track to put in next year’s countdown: Kleerup feat. Robyn’s With Every Heartbeat!)
05. The Zookeeper’s Boy – Mew
“Are you my lady? Are you? My lady? Arrrrrrrrrrrrre you? Are you?”
It’s a bit Sigur Rós. It’s more than a little big prog. It’s also, crucially, a little bit pop. Mew are a Danish band whom I came across for the first time via this track being offered on Pitchfork or Stylus or one of those American tastemaking sites. Here was this huge thing, full of bombast and power chords and falsetto and lyrics about ostriches – and it was truly fantastic!
As I get older, I notice how acts such as M. Ward, Bic Runga, Lambchop and other tasteful purveyors of adult angst are finding themselves on my iPod. These acts seem to effortlessly craft melodic and well-produced music without bothering Top 40 radio all that much (except in New Zealand where Lady Bic of Runga is somewhat of a chart-botherer). So, with all this accomplished stuff, does it mean that I’m getting older and wiser and identifying M.O.R.e with A.O.R? I don’t read NME anymore, but I never miss Word. I have abandoned Q but can’t quite take on Mojo.
Then I google Mew and begin to realise that the people who really love them are teens in Arkansas and Georgia. Kinda gothy, literary misfit kids who read and don’t play sport. Who frequently have astonishingly well written blogs and gravitate towards like minds via Web 2.0.
And I can see whey Mew appeal. Hugely ambitious and convoluted. Aspirational and passionate. Complex and literary. But with proper choruses and about seven different heartbreaking choruses in every song (a bit like if Girls Aloud were boys with a sensitive bent. And any good). And humour – you can accuse Mew of being prog (gasp!) and they’ll point to a track called, yes, ‘Saviors Of Jazz Ballet (Fear Me, December)’ and that makes me want to punch the air with joy!
As does this particularly widescreen opus. Buy their album And The Glass Handed Kites; it’s extraordinary.
(Alas, it’s got extraordinarily, ahem, brave album art; at first I thought they were butch women!)
04. Say After Me – Bic Runga
It’s New Zealand’s favourite music-making daughter and this time she’s a bit fed up. I first heard Bic Runga’s track ‘Get Some Sleep’ as I drove the two hour journey home to visit the parents. It was a beautiful summery Saturday morning and the track perfectly captured that sort of carefree abandon one feels on an open road, surrounded by greenery and with no great hurry. So I got her album and it was filled with similarly summery tracks. Even the sad ones were sprightly.
Then this, her third album, was released and it seemed that things had changed for Ms Runga. The darkness had crept in. Sample titles: ‘If I Had You’, ‘Blue Blue Heart’, ‘It’s Over’. There’s a song called ‘No Crying No More’ which, I think, is trying to pass itself off as a radio-friendly singalong. No one is, however, fooled.
‘Say After Me’ is a big dramatic widescreen exercise in misery. I kinda half hope that she doesn’t cheer up.
03. The Boom Boom Bap – Scritti Politti
Live at Shepherd’s Bush, London 11/06.
I’ve written a disproportionate amount about Scritti this year. THey’ve been good to me. Not only did Green surprise me by putting out another truly excellent album, but he also played Dublin, shook my hand, gave me his autograph AND posed for a picture. It’s all too much.
Except in terms of production, Green made the whole album at home, and when I first heard it, I thought it lacked a bit of polish (unlike the previous three albums which were ridiculously glossy).
But it grew and grew, and this track, the single, provided the most Scritti-like flavour: slightly obtuse lyrics, questioning chords, references to Green’s love of hip hop, unpredictable structure and Deanna Durbin vocals.
And (and I never thought I would saw this) Scritti totally rocked live.
02. Chinese Translation – M. Ward
As a kid, I would listen to my Dad singing snippets of Johnny Cash songs as he drove the car or before dinner. He would tune the radio to whatever station was baging out the sounds of dusty highways by not-quite-handsome but very masculine singers. That kind of country music was a fusion of rollicking guitars and experienced men singing about drinking, women and shooting. Life, it seemed.
And thirty years later, M Ward, manages to do the same thing; deliberately evoking the past. But where C&W educated us about the grittiness of life and how we must accept the hand we’re dealt, Ward gets all Zen on our asses and seeks answers: ‘What do you do with the pieces of a broken heart?” he asks. “And how can a man like me remain in the light?”. “And if life is really as short as they say, then why is the night so long?”
Does he get answers? Of course not. But as Johnny Cash might say, he keeps his eyes wide open all the time/he finds it very very easy to be true.
01. Crazy – Gnarls Barkley
Gnarls Barkley performing live on Top Of The Pops (RIP).
It leaped off the radio and pop kids loved it. It turned up in the tastemaking blogs and the cool kids approved. It touched emotions and the soul boys and girls endorsed it. It’s quirky, soulful, intellectual, hip, accomplished, melodic and brief. It will be heard from now until the end of the world.
To quote Garry Mulholland describing Dead or Alive’s ‘You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)’, there is nothing wrong with this record.