Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My year in lists

Aside from all the quirks, quarks and statements of numerology, it's pretty much a given that it's in the middle years of a decade where popular music is forever shaken up by sea changes, where the sound, style and legacy of an era is set in stone, if only in metaphor because it ends up far too fast moving to set down in anything other than inky print. Consider the first fifty years of the rock and roll. The mid-fifties: rock'n'roll itself is born, cinema seats are slashed, Elvis is filmed from the waist up, the big bands are streamlined overnight to create miniature hits for sock hops, rockabilly, rhythm & blues goes from underground club to mainstream, Sinatra and the bobbysoxers, the so-called birth of the teenager. The mid-sixties: Beatlemania, the British Invasion, Dylan rewrites all the rule books for singer-songwriters, the hippies emerge, the Beach Boys, soul hits the big stage, Motown, Stax. The mid-seventies: disco, glam, prog, punk, funk, reggae, Krautrock and early electronics, Abba rewrite the pop books, DIY ethics. The mid-eighties: CDs, MTV, the age of the megastar, Live Aid and Band Aid invent the big event and the big charity record, stadium gigs get bigger, hip hop and rap find their niche and sneaks into the mainstream, Chicago house, Detroit techno, world music, indie, metal. The mid-nineties: music itself travels from niche interest to mainstream, alt-rock goes from underground to mainstream but is eventually comprehensively lapped by rap with its East Coast-West Coast wars and "urban"'s parallel development into contemporary R&B, back catalogues start being reissued in bulk, boy bands, girl bands, pop as a genre to itself.

2008 was the year music realised it had gone through the mid-00s with nothing seismic to speak of and decided to really not bother.

Alright, maybe not entirely not bother, but it did seem for long periods of this year about to end that there was really nothing going on, or at least nothing that was about to upset the apple cart. Partly of course this may have been because the labels were too busy shreiking that the sky was falling in on them, headed by EMI's continued lurch into whatever area of impracticality they're lurching into under Guy Hands and Terra Firma. Right at the start of the year CEO Tony Wadsworth left, a company man for 26 years and whose departure according to at least one well placed observer was the moment the company ceased to be the company of its history. Wadsworth talked about his primary interest in investing in long term innovation first and foremost, in contrast to a man who in interviews never seemed to realise that he was investing in people's dreams and ambitions, and the hope and expectation of millions of people he'll never meet, rather than pushing some bonds about the market. Some of the architects of its takeover left at the start of this month as a result of the private equity crisis, having added huge losses and unrecoupable loans to the human cost of pissing off plenty of industry figures.

The problem with this year is right there, of course - a lot of what's shaping the way we look at the industry circa the late period of the first decade of the 21st century has nothing to do with recorded output as opposed to how we receive it, how we consume it and about the people who bring it to us and how they decide to hand it over. Behind this all is the truism that the industry has observed all these subtle but sweeping changes but has no idea how to go about battling them. This was the year downloading came into its own, but all that's done is destabilise the top end and add to the industry nightmare of a long tail. The UK's top selling album of the year, Rockferry, was estimated at 1.685m sales; American equivalent Tha Carter III (we'll come back to the specifics of Lil Wayne) had by late November shifted just under 2.7m. Eighteen albums had topped the million stateside by that date. Meanwhile, especially as it's Christmas, go and look at the number of album tracks and older songs given renewed life through always-available downloading in the singles chart. What does it all mean? Well, clearly it means that labels are looking for ways to reassert themselves. Nobody quite understands what 360 degree deals are but we know it's something of a land grab that goes some way towards that band-as-brand thing we hear so much about now as some sort of target, if you're really unfortunate. The band hand over some of their earnings outside sales; the label promise development, and the rest of you can get stuffed.

But then there's the brooding storm that broke in the second half of the year and pissed down on everyone's heads. Downturn, recession, credit crunch, call it what you will, but rest assured it's the last thing an ailing industry that's just talked itself into the basement wanted. Woolworths went into receivership, which meant their distribution arm fell over, which meant Zavvi ended up in a right mess, owing the creditors money it doesn't have because of everything else, which could easily mean one of the two remaining music related chain brand names will shortly follow its relaunch by disappearing and high street music stores are consequently, if not flatlining, then not looking exactly stable. More importantly, Pinnacle distribution's collapse is likely to affect the stock that'd be in there - distributors for more than 400 record labels, a 4.3% share of the market as of last year, means less than timely holes in the finances of independent labels and the stock of shops big and small, both already weakened by big hitters online from iTunes to Myspace. Specialist stock may very soon be a lot harder to find, or to disseminate. That's why you're finding it more difficult to find singles and the new releases rack as the games software and units take up more room. Games displays, just to rub it in, finding prominent space for Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises, because your kids and/or evenings in aren't complete without recreating some ersatz light metal wailing.

The industry's response, at least before the recent upheavals, has been the old fashioned trick of squeezing the punter dry. Big gig ticket prices now reside at stupid inflation rate-ignoring levels, especially if you're in the habit of booking online, while the year's growth market seems to be making you buy what you already have but this time in a deluxe edition. And it works - Back To Black (Deluxe Edition) lies at number eight in the end of year list having sold more than half a million, this for an album which has just gone six times platinum (1.8m). Want the Christmas album Glasvegas have been banging on about for most of the year? Go and buy their album again, this time in its souped up version. Physical album sales still account for more than ninety percent of the market, but it's not a market anyone's overestimating. Almost unnoticed there at number 21 in the year end list, ahead of the Ting Tings and only just overtaken by Snow Patrol, lies This Is The Life by gravel voiced Tunstall-if-wet Amy MacDonald, released July 2007. Did you notice her have an outstanding year? Did you notice her at all?

So much for business, kind of. There's this idea taken root that somehow a recession is good for music, despite the charts of the last recessionary period of 1992-93 perhaps being the most depressing in commercial history, full of covers, dance chancers and records staying forever at number one before the boy band era really kicked in and well before guitar music stopped cowering. But then maybe that's already happening. Of 2008's twenty number ones there's very little that screams 2008as an artist driven year, as opposed to the commerce drive that sees Alexandra Burke and the X Factor finalists as the year's two biggest selling singles, at you - maybe Duffy as a passing avatar of our post-Winehouse times or Katy Perry for proof that what the artist likes to imagine are shock values still work no matter how much we assume we're too clued up now for that sort of thing to fool us. (Perry, by the way, yet to comment on Proposition 8. Funny, that.) Even Kid Rock, who we all assumed had been left behind some years ago, got a week up top, and let's not even approach Nickelback, whose return to the charts (and, by the way, number 11 on that albums list) feels like a bad joke, so by rote is their unreconstructed power balladry. It can only be another result of Guilty Pleasures culture. In fact, call it indicative of the facile, light speed moving carousel, a highlighting of the drop in commercialised standards, the natural result of the airwaves' starving of a proper pop music show or whatever, but some of the year's big breakthroughs on paper hardly registered on a public conscious scale. We doubt Basshunter is in for a long and successfully solid chart career, but in its five weeks at number one and eventual eighth position in the full year sales list Now You're Gone didn't seem to make so much as a dent - reflective, perhaps, of the disparity in clubbing scenes, the dance press refusing to acknowledge the cheap drinks-fuelled All Around The World-friendly club scene outside the capital, that meant Scooter went in one week from dance in-joke to proper number one album band without seemingly trying. The Script followed a number two single with a number one album, yet what do you actually know about them? How the hell did Michael Bublé get one of the twenty biggest selling albums of the year and someone/something called The Priests end up just outside that cutoff point?

One area where we've been told for most of the last decade that commercial success was just around the corner was in the UK black music scene, but years have come and gone and young starlets and people we were told were making enormous American A&R impacts have done likewise without the British record buying public giving the first apparent shit. Inevitably, then, when the breakthrough of commercial sorts came in 2008 it was on the agendas of other people and styles. Estelle may have had a big number one, but by piggybacking on Kanye West and John Legend and as a result she may as well have been a new American star for all the traces left of the British appeal that briefly got her known in the first place. Dizzee Rascal, well before causing Jeremy Paxman to reassert his middle classness, finally got a number one but without a scintilla of braggadocio, hooked up to Calvin Harris. Back in 2003 when grime was supposed to become Britain's own wing of hip hop, compared in visceral impact to punk by broadsheet journalists who should have known better by then - two-step buckled under commercial expectations, never mind social ones - Dizzee made his name by telling us "I'm a problem for Anthony Blair". On this evidence he barely posed a threat to Anthony Costa, but there were further developments in the 808ification of grime. Former fellow traveller Wiley decided to go electro and hit big with Wearing My Rolex before getting involved with its own follow on record, Skepta's Rolex Sweep, which just in case such flaunting of consumer durables wasn't subtle enough for the public to latch onto came with its own dance, which Timmy Mallett - Timmy Mallett! - was brought in to demonstrate via YouTube. No sooner had watch-based electro-grime made the break then The Rolex Sweep peaked at number 86 and the last ditch crossover crossbreed was over. Strong underground commercialised and compromised, ground level fanbase cut adrift, integrity holed below the water line, and that was the result. It was better than grindie, but then so is diphtheria.

Or maybe Britain decided this year that is has a problem with rap (not R&B, as anyone who saw the X Factor will assert that seems to want to live forever in its melismatic, cod-soulful airstream). Lil Wayne, for example - the biggest selling artist in America this year, critical acclaim to the heavens, what seems like hundreds of mixtapes, a personality that could fill newspapers for days. His first London show lasted less than 25 minutes and included an impromptu drink-based beaning, and Tha Carter III peaked at number 28, impressive for someone whose press and airplay has never really got beyond specialist outlets but not exactly leaving Universal quaking. He's not the first huge US star to fail to make much of a commercial impact in Britain and doubtless he won't be the last, and this side of the pond has never fallen for this whole cough syrup thing, but it's striking that nobody's been able to start making a case for him here. Kanye West meanwhile just gave up entirely on 808s And Heartbreak, a metallic record of self-examination that only serves to prove nothing is going to age faster than singing through autotune, a device which only serves to make the vocal sound completely artifically hollow and emotion-free (even Bon Iver didn't work that conundrum out). Still, everyone will be at it next year, so don't get too worked up about someone with West's feeling for the alterna-populist using it when every two-bit arse will be causing people to go "no, a vocoder is something different" over the course of the next year.

Then of course there was Jay-Z. Not content with being one of the few men alive who still thinks calling himself a Coldplay fan makes him sound edgy, he got booked for Glastonbury and caused Noel Gallagher's tiny British caucasian mind to aneurysm. Was it a success? More so, we suspect, if you really hoped it'd be, which of course in those circumstances would make you a fine upstanding citizen, but did the Wonderwall intro lose its ironic power given the audience gleefully bellowed along with it? Did anyone really concentrate on the rest of the set once the coup had been put into motion? Did it change anyone's mind? These are straws in the wind, but it exemplified the place we've found ourselves in after a decade and a half of guitar triumphalism (yeah, rich coming from us, we know, but there's guitar and there's guitar) Oasis slung out another set of Who-ish rockers and plangent ballads, like the last few albums, and saw it hailed as a return to form, just like every album since Be Here Now has been declared only to be conveniently filed under letdown come the next record. The other two headliners told us more about the state of things, not least when they then went and headlined T In The Park just two weeks later. The Verve put out a record that may as well have been a Richard Ashcroft solo record for the vitality and connection with The Verve first time round it had, while Kings Of Leon became stealth superstars by making a stadium ready sound, which seems simple enough. Coldplay made out they were going to become something more opaque, and didn't. There were at least signs that the welters of landfill indie, as coined by The Word and stolen by the Independent, seems to be abating, but slower than its detractors might hope, what with the Pigeon Detectives racking up a number one album during the year, but when scene Pharisee Alex Turner is moving on to Scott IV and Josh Homme Desert Sessions you sense few are going to follow that closely. 2009 will be the year where we work out where this 'indie' is going, with people like the Wombats and Jack Penate readying second albums for a full and frank going-over.

But what replaced the mid-90s revival? Ah, the mid-80s revival. It's been on the cards for a while but 2008 was the year when artists started really rooting through the decade's pop offcuts not so much to create something new as to pay fairly straight homage. The whole 'wonky pop' thing was first out of the traps, breaking through from Guardian/poptimist circles to chart action and borrowing tricks from the way there was no strictly controlled pop in those days, just people with odd ideas about melody and, oh yeah, characters. It hasn't found the crossover major star yet (the Ting Tings aren't really part of this; rumours abound that Alphabeat have already been dropped) to take it into the New New Pop territory many a newspaper reviewer is hoping for, but if pop is going to regenerate itself there's no better opportunity or space for it to have a go. Then there's MGMT's tie dye, aural hallucinations and yacht rock nods shining through the gauze of their electro-psych-pop that made them, despite variable reports, one of the hits of a festival season more overcrowded and variably credibly organised than ever (ah, Zoo Thousand) Or you could go the Keane route and go straight ahead synth-pop with no forethought to putting your own stamp on it so it might as well be mid-80s Bowie (a period not even he likes), Tears For Fears or Nik Kershaw. Or worse. Fiver says the vast majority of people who praised Ladyhawke in terms of her sounding like Stevie Nicks would never buy a Stevie Nicks record. As for modishness, rock and roll was busy becoming the new comedy again. Newman and Baddiel at Wembley came round again with the Mighty Boosh at Hop Farm; nobody had the NME cover more often than Noel and somewhere at the back Julian in 2008, while Russell Brand went a very different way around stereotypical "bad boy behaviour", a straw donkey at an exact point in a year in headlines when Amy Winehouse kept on keeping on, Pete Doherty went to prison when nobody expected it and thenceforth faded into the background and Britney Spears, having got much worse in the first three months of the year, was getting better again. Metal had a resurgence, but it was a very cleaned up, almost by the letter type of metal. Metallica again, AC/DC again, most famously even Guns'n'Roses again with an album which as one reviewer put it could only justify itself by being either a triumph to Axl's stratospheric ideas or a spectacular turkey folly, and as it was middling thus completely failed.

And so pop prevailed again. But it was a different kind of pop, one that bypassed the tastemakers' choice Girls Aloud, whose Xenomaniacism is getting worn out quicker than the blanket review press support veneer, and the outfits still referred to as boy bands even though they now aim directly for the James Blunt supermarket market (witness the tabloid terror when it became clear Woolworths' demise meant Take That's Circus might have been slow to reach Tesco shelves) and went straight for the pre-teens with its Disney foil-packed stars, Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers, High School Musical etc. There's nothing there for personality to intrude upon, no side to these people for adults to get a grip on, because American pre-teen culture doesn't do that unless it's subverting itself and doing it deliberately for everyone outside America. Here at the end of the UK pop year, though, we have the sort of twist in the tale that there were clues to, if only if you knew who Jason Castro was, but with an ultimate outcome nobody could ever have predicted if you'd given them ten months. Leonard Cohen, the grand old sage of poetic electro-cabaret sexo-religious doom, was forced back onto the road after a series of legal battles left him up to $9m in the hole. Many a critically hosannahed gig, including Glastonbury, followed, but here on New Year's Eve 2008 the number one single, best selling single of the year and fastest selling download ever is a Leonard Cohen song sung by the X Factor winner. In the style of Mariah Carey, of course, that being default setting for female singers on The X Factor - we missed that meeting when it was determined she was not the most influential singer ever - and everyone blathered about it being an insult to the memory of Jeff Buckley regardless, but Cohen nonetheless, and one of his most spiritually allusive songs at that.

So, as capitalism collapses or something, what of that statement that creativity thrives in financial hardship? Well, that's a moot point, but you can bet that anyone taking chances will have a much harder task. Have a look at the BBC Sound Of 2008 poll top ten - eight brought out albums that were big successes on their own terms, Santogold had far more ink than sales but at least there was some attention, and Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong... well, they assure us they're still going to release an album in 2009, let's just leave that there. But on a wider scale, whatever you think about them qualitatively, it's not as if Glasvegas, the Ting Tings, Foals, MGMT or Vampire Weekend were merely slotting comfortably into stylistic roles the industry had found commercially successful in the very recent past. Now look at the fifteen acts on the Sound Of 2009 longlist, the vast majority of whom seem to have been heavily touted for 2009 before 2008 began. Dan Black, Frankmusik, Little Boots, La Roux and VV Brown all closely follow the wonky pop model, something that before them had existed in hope rather than expectation, and a couple also fitting the 80s Revival tag. (VV Brown additionally seems to be a second go at Remi Nicole.) Florence and the Machine isn't ultimately too far removed from what the ultra-mainstream sees Kate Nash as, if a less saleable to prime time proposition. Kid Cudi is a Kanye West protege and Lady GaGa has the "written for huge pop acts" banner so neither can afford to fail. Empire Of The Sun and Passion Pit are new MGMTs. Like everyone else, The Temper Trap have U2 stadium dynamics to spare. Master Shortie? Ah, welcome in, New Hot Hope For British Urban Music. White Lies are an ersatz Editors. Mumford & Sons are the token entry from the folk brigade, who had a fine year critically if not all that much directly commercially, word of mouth stretching from Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes (120,000 sold, the year's somewhat telling big sleeper hit) to Seasick Steve (in the wider folk-as-grassroots sense) to Laura Marling and eventually through to Noah and the Whale's tilt at the big time. The Big Pink are more uncommercial but have industry connections, one of them running the influential Merok label (see also White Lies/Chess Club), but at least they're the one you can't easily slot them into a pigeonhole that has been recently successful. 2009, then - you have no money and music is set fair for fewer ideas. Sleep tight.

A big thank you to everyone who got this far, and a bigger thank you for everyone who's been reading throughout this year and those few - few - who've helped us out. Rest assured we'll have plenty to be getting on with throughout 2009, so come and join us. UK blogger album of the year poll tomorrow, The Class Of '09 Covermount on Saturday, the new year stretches out before us after that.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2008: Number 1

If we're counting personal charts you'll never see, that's three albums, three number ones of the year. What a band. What. A. Band.

But TV On The Radio never feel like the greatest band in the world when they're in absentia. It's as if, once the boundaries and barriers of North American alt-rock-whatever have been redefined they're willing to sit back and watch in case anyone else fancies a go, often without needing to hold their breath. Hell, Dave Sitek often gives them a head start himself and they still trip over their own feet at base camp. From which, eventually they saunter back into the scene and hold everyone else back with their little finger, making it look like this house can be cleared any time they want. Why? Well, although the race card is something they've never really played off the first track on their first album, The Wrong Way, dismissed black Americans' search for strict self definition through stereotype and the music over both Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes and Return To Cookie Mountain followed suit - avant-garde hip-hop-ish beats, No New York guitar squalls, propulsive rhythms natural and otherwise, and myriad obscure reference points conjoined and blasted until the aural texture alternately resembled both sides of a strip of sandpaper. Nobody sounded like them; nobody sounds like them. Now including, in a sense, TV On The Radio. Oh, Dear Science retained a lot of the above, but there's something more about it this time - more tunes, more hooks, bigger production, all without giving in and getting shot of the visceral soundscapes, Antibalas horn squawks and odd whirring noises. It's TV On The Radio's most approachable work to date, but that needn't necessarily mean selling out to The Man commercially or blanding out once the ideas are pared down. And that's just the music. Lyrically it's very much an album that could have been made and released when it was, that is to say at the end of an eight year term by a hardline right-wing president bearing a scorched earth policy towards everyone else. Music for head, heart and feet in perfect synthesis.

Going back to that The Wrong Way reference, it seems the prime introduction this time around has been a slew of black music milestones to file next to Miles Davis-like constructions - Afrobeat syncopation, the social critiques of What's Going On, the taking up of arms of Sly and the Family Stone's Stand!, the 22nd century funk mania of Prince and Parliament albeit without the longeurs, even a snatch of mutant disco. Things you won't hear so much of here: the demonic barbershop harmonies, Kyp Malone's highest falsetto, appropriation of Thurston Moore and Steve Shelley's pedals. Which is not to say they're not required on voyage, as Halfway Home initially beds down on arrythmic handclaps and panning drums, tone generator bass and layered Tunde Adebimpe ba-ba-bas that sound anything but sunny. When it steps up a gear and brings in the synths over the top it's like My Bloody Valentine are playing next door to Sitek's back roads studio, Adebimpe stepping up into cracked falsetto. It sets a tone for the songs ahead, a space-art-rock where the guitars have turned off the afterburners but left the jet propulsion effects, while Adebimpe is stalked by a darkness. By the end you can't quite tell if this is Kraftwerk or Eno/Fripp or some mutant Euro-electro thing or what, then you realise it's basically all the same in TVOTR's mind. That darkness is almost definitely one informed by the decision to hold a party at the end of the world - Crying is a stuttering Lovesexy-era Prince take that swings like a soul funk-out until you realise it's essentially a call for the world to self-destruct and start again. Golden Age mixes and matches soul of all shapes - David Bowie plastic, Off The Wall futuristic, Funkadelic histrionic - within machine tooled grooves as it prothyletises on some sort of new day rising, and while Red Dress starts with the no uncertain terms "hey jackboot, fuck your war!" it then forgets the contemporary point scoring, instead picking on the apathetic that leads to the donner of said dress becoming "the Whore of Babylon", their own take-no-prisoners policy laid out. Adebimpe is virtually on the warpath for every man for himself by Dancing Choose, firing off rap speed streams of conscious on materialism and the Me generation, an "angry young mannequin, American apparently" and whatever a "foam injected Axl Rose" is supposed to be. Axl Rose, perhaps. But it doesn't come across as having contempt for the listener, more cajoling them into helping the active out of this mess.

What they've also learnt for this time around is to slow things down. Strings on a TV On The Radio record ought to be unthinkably gauche, but Stork & Owl's elegy for internal peace plays them in over distortion to great effect, on Love Dog they almost help make sense of the love theme behind its uncertain, uncomfortable churn against glitchy beats, while Family Tree is a power ballad of a peculiar stripe, ushered in by Eno-esque reverbed piano and just subtly building and building, Adebimpe sounding disturbingly like Kele Okereke as he sings about forbidden love and the willingness to escape the family unit set against reality. Closer Lover's Day isn't a ballad but a big marching band production number, Antibalas fanfaring somewhere out the back as Adebimpe and regular guest Katrina Ford get into great detail in the name of sex. "I'm gonna take you, I'm gonna shake you, I'm gonna make you cum" might be worth a shot next time you're out pulling, but don't blame us or Malone for any unintended immediate consequences. Still, at least they've found something to take their mind off things having just spent DLZ shouting down the world's powers. See, TV On The Radio don't claim to have all the answers, but they're going to make the questions more intangible instead. The album is influenced by Prince, but while his Sign O' The Times took a snapshot of place and time this is more a negative, undermining the noise and confusion, running on fear and worry. And that, essentially, is why TV On The Radio, armageddon's party jam planners, are so unique for this moment, heavy but approachable, taking melodies and twisting them into Mobius strips. They do this because they can, and because they think they might be the only ones who do.

Dancing Choose

The full list

Monday, December 29, 2008

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2008: Number 2

It wasn't so much that Los Campesinos! arrived at the right time that made us fall for them on first listen as that they slotted into the gap kept open for too long now for a refined version of those numerous other bands kicking against the commercial pricks. Refinement in a way that might not be immediately apparent, of course, what with all the shouting and the glockenspiel and the packing everything into the sonic space allocated, but there's that intangible something in the way they arrange their myriad parts and labours into serrated melodies while firing off modern aphorisms at many a juncture that can't help but drag the listener behind them on their journey. Their multitasking led to many a Broken Social Scene comparison (their Dave Newfeld produces) in the early days of their rise, but Hold On Now, Youngster... proved it's not as easy as that. Los Campesinos! deal in making the little things bigger, the finer points of social nitpicking seem like universal truths. They feel like a gang against the world, whether that be music or actual - the surname nonimature, the writing credits to 'Team Campesinos!', the gang shouts and desire to push everything over the top while not actually into the red overload. They're children - OK, young adults - of the modern musical age too, cherrypicking influences from all over the place to mould into a whole that's not so much cohesive, as that would suggest it never threatens to fall apart under pressure, as resembling a Heath Robinson contraption of avant-indie-pop. Kamikaze leaps into the musical abyss never sounded so frantically fresh and vital.

Listen to the start of Broken Heartbeats Sound Like Breakbeats, a shouted roundel of "one! Two! Three! Four!" before everything takes off at once as the guitar riff threatens to speed even further into the horizon. Gareth Campesinos! meanwhile is unhappy, wanting to "be the beacon of hope that you'd always expected", which eventually leads him to fall on the side of "the slow steady choppers" and "the hieroglyphics that the fan club sent us" before, stuck for any further way to express his frustration, he decides to impersonate Crazy Frog instead, the band before long slowing to end of night dance speed. What does it all mean? It's probable the band don't know, but it sounds like the most necessarily urgent message. But if that's all they had the album would come across as far more one-paced than it is; fortunately the Trojans inside the wooden horse have a finely tuned sense of irony, a careering emotional compass and a basic need to, as they were to nail it next time, shout at the world because the world doesn't love them. And not just about love - Don't Tell Me To Do the Math(s) has issues with authority in learning, obliquely referencing Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, while And We Exhale And Roll Our Eyes In Unison is pop's first song to openly bait Conor McNicholas (he didn't notice) before making wider points about the treatment of women in pop culture. Then again, My Year In Lists expresses life lived through long distance communication and contains the unbeatable line "nothing says I miss you quite like poetry carved in your door with a Stanley knife". By Knee Deep At ATP they're on the verge of parodying themselves, adapting a Camera Obscura song title and starting at the same clip as everything else before revealing they don't have to, going slow as Gareth considers his own system of values, helpfully concluding "I need new hobbies, that's one thing for certain". This Is How You Spell "HAHAHA, We Destroyed The Hopes And Dreams Of A Generation Of Faux-Romantics" is a magnificent title and is also magnificently literal, another dumping/dumpee song but this time at shallow self-appointed lost souls and "every quotation that'd dribble from your mouth like a final, fatal LiveJournal entry", as Gareth puts it during a spoken word section that comes on like Comet Gain's David Feck overcome by a bout of humility. Feck would certainly admire the way We Are All Accelerated Readers shrugs love off entirely, the moment of clarity coming when Gareth realises "if this sentimental movie marathon has taught us one thing, it's the opposite of true love is as follows..." Everyone: "Reality!" Then it promptly undermines its own argument with indiepop's Stairway To Heaven, the 6:45 of post-rock opening, riff-thrusting, alternately lyrically sarky, self-deprecating and triumphant monolith of indie dancefloor pulsation that is You! Me! Dancing! Cities have been built on less. By the "one blink for yes, two blinks for no" outro to revenge as dish now served warm song Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks it's blindingly apparent that Rousseau was more right than he'll ever know with that stuff about man in the state of nature - we're undeveloped, we're ignorant, we're stupid, but we're happy.

You! Me! Dancing!

The full list

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2008: Number 3

You didn't think this level of frantic kineticism was possible from a British band. We've had wave after wave, scene after scene of smart, full throttle acidic racket from America over the course of this decade, but to get something so life-affirmingly full-on from over here, without concessions to Whileycore... well, it proves that now the underground is mainstream the underground underground has had to buck its ideas up. A lot of reviewers made quick and easy comparisons to Los Campesinos! when detailing Waited Up 'Til It Was Light - the namechecks for a certain breed of 90s guitar band, the tunnel vision towards the finish using the most circuituitous route possible, the male-female shrieking vocal interchanges. But there's far more to Johnny Foreigner than that. Their overload is one of a barely controlled hysteria, sucrose rush replacing the sugar, technical witchcraft you're not supposed to be recognising. Pop hooks run headlong into guitar pyrotechnics, synths and electronic drum beats appear where least expected and Alexei Berrow somehow makes it from line to line without asphyxiating due to the number of words he attempts to cram into each compressed passage. It's almost as if writing about it defeats the purpose, that being to let it slam you into the middle of next week, leaving cryptic notes explaining what just happened for when you come back round.

And it takes six seconds or so to get there, Lea Room fake starting with a keyboard refrain and then blam, Berrow hits the switch and blasts a wall of jolting guitar at us with what seems to be three riffs at once, jolting and diving amid ambiguous statements ("they'll write your name with sparklers if they write your name at all") towards the culminative "get off before the ship goes down". It's named after their tech. Well, of course it is. From then on... well, not so much a constant feast of discordance, but certainly one that knows what it's doing with it. Eyes Wide Terrified works not so much because of its quiet-loud barrages but because of the "your life is a song, but not this one" breakdown, not to mention the actually quite affecting line "he falls asleep on her shoulder every shift they spend together, which is most nights". Yes! You Talk Too Fast is as if emo, the Dismemberment Plan mid-90s version, had evolved properly. Cranes And Cranes And Cranes And Cranes is, frankly, a song about how rubbish Birmingham's nightlife is ("why'd you want to live here if there's nothing but housing?"), yet it explodes like Cap'n Jazz gone nuclear, opens with the statement "we make our own mythologies" - books have been written on lesser principles - and threatens to messily explode in its own soaring peaks, and actually does at the end. And it's got handclaps on. The slow acoustic one even works - DJs Get Doubts is also about Birmingham nightlife and starts "some say Shaun Walsh saved our city to a certain extent", perhaps even too specific for purpose, but drifts along on keening violin and backing coos. And what about us? The End And Everything After's lightning drum rolls and Morse code verse structure only partially mask a treatise on band obsession ("you don't stop believing in the band/Just cos the band stopped believing in the band") and what we, the consumer, think of they, the performer. "I know that I'm good and I know that I'm close/But god knows what you think of us". Yeah, that's about it. Henning's Favourite considers the hipster: "I thought that wars were fought for this... At least you know where you stand/So you raise your middle finger to the garage rock... How your girlfriend is convinced but you are not/Until the garage rock assimilates", until disappearing in a welter of delayed tapping. But really it's all about the little moments as much as the big show offy bits. Salt Peppa And Spinderella, for example, which continues on its own drum machine-aided way until Alexei embarks on a confusingly quick monologue, at the end of which he suggests "bring out the real fun, turn on the real drums". Junior Laidley does. The whole thing summarily goes thermonuclear. Or Sometimes In The Bullring, either the lyric "I will wait for you outside car parks, outside busy shopping centres/I will wait for you at work when all your early shifts run late" or the bit at 1:10 when all three divebomb at top speed. And that's the size of it - inventive even in its limited scope field, lyrically hitting home and almost unbearably exciting.

Salt, Peppa & Spinderella

THE HIDDEN LINK AT THE END OF THE REVIEW: remix four JoFo live videos, somehow, on Popmorphic. Or just keep the levels as they are and hear two new songs. Or do Dananananaykroyd instead.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2008: Number 4

Apart from it being due and just reward for some fundamentally decent people, the great thing about Elbow's Mercury Prize victory was that they didn't go all out for it. Oh, of course The Seldom Seen Kid had its TV montage colonising One Day Like This, but buried within its mini-bombast, essentially a carefully ironed out remake of Grace Under Pressure, is a very unbombastic culminating statement, that "one day like this a year will see me right". No world peace, no unrequited love, no more but no less. As for the rest of it, it was basically the rest of Elbow's career output but more so, possibly railroaded by having to shift down in label size. Round about Leaders Of The Free World there were many glib assertions that Elbow were just a post-Coldplay band, one who didn't open up the distortion pedals and rock out and were, gasp, often medium-paced. Bollocks. Even if the victory lap tour for this album takes them to Wembley next March, these are far more fragile, personal and touching paens to hope and happiness then the vague all-encompassing sweep of a Coldplay lyric could ever encapsulate. They will, essentially, never be U2, nor do they want to be. Sonically detailed, lyrically astute and with Guy Garvey rediscovering his passionate, richly and romantically poetic mojo, it was here that Elbow finally moved from writers' and musicians' band of choice to a contender.

Elbow know better than almost all their contemporaries the benefit of the little things. Rather than hurl itself directly at the listener, it wormed its way into your life before spreading out from within. The very start, Starlings, finds Garvey conflictedly in love, "asking you to back a horse that's good for glue and nothing else" but finding he can't compete, desperately suggesting she "find a man that needs you more than I". "Darling, is this love?" he eventually gives in and asks. The whole backing to this is hypnotic electronic burbling punctuated by a huge explosion of a sustained brass note. There's no chorus. It never takes off in the traditional anthemic song sense. That's the point, you fancy. What remains striking is that, more than fifty years into rock and roll, Garvey is still coming up with brand new ways to say he loves someone. "You are the only thing in any room you're ever in" offers Starlings. "I plant a kiss that wouldn't wake a baby" starts Mirrorball, before Garvey and beau "kissed like we invented it" amid shimmeringly delicate piano and acoustic guitar patterns and a widescreen ballroom scope. An Audience With The Pope reveals "I'm saving the world at 8/But if she says she needs me... Everybody's gonna have to wait." Not that that's all he writes about. There's Grounds For Divorce's blues stomp loosely about alcoholism, while The Fix drags in Richard Hawley for a Morricone referencing Northern gravel-off wherein two raffish hucksters discuss the killing they're about to make on a fixed horse race. There's also an element creeping in of how, on their fourth album, they have come to terms with now being elder statesmen in an indie world where the very definition of indie has shifted away from them, not in a woe-is-us sense but in trying to make sense of where this music thing has taken their lives. "Are we having the time of our lives?" Garvey asks in faltering falsetto at the outset of Weather To Fly before wondering whether they are, documenting not only whether the band have taken the right road thus far but also how it affects us and what we think of them and their music, wrapped up in the most featherlight of affecting melodies and a midpoint colliery brass section. Possibly connected, The Loneliness Of A Tower Crane Driver is a brooding metaphor for ambition losing touch with ground level, and when his towering voice breaks on the first "send up a prayer in my name" the emotions follow it. As it often does throughout. You don't need to know that the album is, like the award, inspired by and dedicated to Bryan Glancy, a singer-songwriter and much admired local scene figure who died two years ago, but it helps explain the certain sensitivity displayed throughout - Grounds For Divorce's opening and closing "some day we'll be drinking with the seldom seen kid" and most obviously Friend Of Ours. In just twelve words, "never very good at goodbyes/So gentle shoulder charge/Love you mate" sums up the confusion of declaring emotions between big men out of shape and is absolutely heartwrenching. He's gone and done it again.

Grounds For Divorce (on Jonathan Ross, as all the proper videos seem to be embedding disabled)

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2008: Number 5

What an extraordinary album, especially for a debut. Although we'd had warnings through three singles of varying clomping funk and theatrical falsetto, little prepared us, or probably anybody outside the band, for what a quantifiable leap Wild Beasts would take when it came to the full length discipline. Full of Kurt Weill-in-Grand Guignol-via-Berlin cabaret and Noel Coward theatre and straining flamboyance, Limbo, Panto is a record that, and how about this for something you don't hear too often of a British guitar four piece in 2008, has no obvious contemporaries. Sure, their shared Kendal upbringing with most of British Sea Power informs opinions in a certain way, but their respective ideas of big musical gestures divulge quite a bit. And yes, like so many others of the last five years the output of Postcard Records figures highly, but where others took Orange Juice's dancefloor rhythms Wild Beasts take the intricate interplay, funk undertow, pointed guitars and extraordinary pop sweep. And yeah, Hayden Thorpe, the very definition of a Marmite vocalist, sounds like Billy Mackenzie, albeit while the late Associates singer's voice was breaking, maybe some Tiny Tim too. While it seems to be the voice that has inspired the writing to such theatrical, out of time heights, everything is spot on and as it should be for a band creating their own referential playpen from the off. There are songs about sex and football, it's just they're called She Purred While I Grrred and Woebegone Wanderers.

Even Thorpe's lyrics are coyly, lascivious and camply curious as Morrissey once was, especially so with that swooping and pirouetting voice, desperately straining for meaning among the arcane, catherine wheel lit streams of consciousness. The Club Of Fathomless Love starts like a carousel as Thorpe, probably ironically, states "I've rallied, rucked over and rabble roused, have I not?" before backing his machismo by asserting "I'm not a soft touch and I won't been seen as such... I spit and have spats to be tough, show I'm not soppy and stuff". Again like the younger Morrissey, The odd grace of The Old Dog, which "I regret" there's life in, starts "casual sex with a hard up thug". "I only winded that lad before he bolted, and I only fumbled that lass, besides, I was revolted" he, erm, explains on the ghostly waltz with bass backing vocals Please Sir before breaking new recorded lyrical ground by affixing doe eyes on the listener and appealing "take this chips with cheese as an offering of peace". Understandably underrated given what's out front, this is one tight unit. The Devil's Crayon especially runs like clockwork, allowing Tom Flemming to bring his elegant Edwyn Collins baritone to proceedings, although Thorpe butts in several times, on the last of which he avers "we are so much moulded dough". Woebegone Wanderers is about lower league football. It starts "unstable stands afflush with fans pilfered piles and pints in wobbly hands", declares "I'd swear by my own cock and balls and the family home's four walls" and eventually declares in quiet desperation "The players are slack, the boss has been sacked, just win the big match/It's all I can ask..." It's only on checking the booklet that you realise Flemming's coda backing vocal Greek chorus is in fact "who are yer? Who are yer?" Just as extraordinary is the way the tune passes from Orange Juice railway track post-punk-funk into waltz time seamlessly. Twice. And both times Thorpe goes along with it without breaking stride. Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants eventually makes a break for the near enough straightforward indie dancefloor with its woodblock and its haltering punk-funk suggesting chicken-like neck movements aplenty but, well, it's called Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants and features the lyric "race me race me race me race me!" As the polyrhythmic show closer in all senses Cheerio Chaps, Cheerio Goodbye waves the listener off the full scale of what's just marked out its ragged territory here is revealed. It's bewildering, it's expressive and extraordinary, its vision is kaleidoscopic, it's graceful and harsh at the same time, and it's magnificent.

Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2008: Number 6

Nick Cave, going on recent footage, has adapted a fantastic new way of playing the keyboards - side on, knees slightly bend, back arched slightly backwards, right hand feeling out the riff, left arm outstretched the other way, the odd hip swivel and half kick. Once seen, air keyboards never envisaged in any other way. Like Korg stance, like music. Cave didn't really have to change, but then a lot of solo elder statesmen have a shot at rejuvenation when their twilight and the onset of comfortability calls, from Dylan's Time Out Of Mind/Love And Theft return to mattering to Bowie's drum and bass dabble to Van Morrison's annual attempts to reconnect with his soul youth. Since settling down and relocating ten years ago Cave has produced some sketchy work - No More Shall We Part's diversion into the piano turned many away, Nocturama was too patchy by common consent, and while there's nothing particularly bad about Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus it does go on a little bit, as double albums are wont to do. Last year's Grinderman may have come out of Cave wanting to unlearn everything he's gained about controlled classicism and return to the Birthday Party's convulsions, albeit with more humour, more self-awareness and less shooting up, but something in him seems to have stirred. Fourteen Bad Seeds albums in, on Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! Warren Ellis was guided away from violin and towards many strange boxes and plugged in things, and the spirit meshing the record together was not that of the religiously quoting humanitarian balladeer but the full on sophisticated garage rock violence/r'n'r preacher mode - Tupelo, I Had A Dream Joe, Do You Love Me? And they sound like they're having fun. You wonder what Blixa Bargeld, who according to one source left the Bad Seeds in 2003 because he reckoned they were coming too close to rock music, makes of it all.

If this is a new restart, the title track lays it out beautifully roughly, Velvets very few chord garage circling inwards as a wild-eyed Cave ("I can hear chants and incantations and some guy is mentioning me in his prayers") charts Lazarus attempting to make his way in boho New York City, picturing a nihilistic society favourite who "stockpiled weapons and took pot shots in the air/He feasted on their lovely bodies like a lunatic" before the inevitable fall to prison and grave. "He never asked to be raised up from the tomb!" Cave concludes. Today's Lesson introduces Stooges raw power to sexual desire (and also reintroduces characters from Cave songs past, as does the Odyssey-themed More News From Nowhere, which features a Deanna and - gulp - a Miss Polly), while Albert Goes West crashes through a road movie rockout as Cave observes other people head for New Hampshire, "the vast indifferent deserts of Arizona" and, erm, the weeping forests of le vulva". It's not like they can't do anything else now - see the Swordfishtrombones-esque skeletal clanking loop behind Night Of The Lotus Eaters or the slippery carousel of something or other behind Midnight Man, both suggesting Cave's been taking notes from Christina The Astonishing off Henry's Dream - it's just they feel destined to imbue it all with strange, shock and awe distorted psych-rock. And then there's the monolithic We Call Upon The Author, which in an intense, feedback-punctuated 5:11 questions Cave's own roles as alt-shaman and bookish meaning seeker, invents words ("guruing", "mediocres"), wonders why we still have suffering of all types, promotes John Berryman, runs a dual meaning as to whether 'the author' is himself or God, and features the joyful repeated shout "Prolix! Prolix! Nothing a pair of scissors can't fix!" It passes muster among the very best of his back catalogue. As does the whole glorious mess.

Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2008: Number 7

Okkervil River's The Stage Names, our number one album of 2007, highlighted Will Sheff's ability to isolate, pick over the putrid flesh and bones of and ultimately humanise the mixed feelings, mixed messages and downright poetry in "the differences and contradictions between private lives and public faces and facades, people in the margins or in denial as to their actual current worth". The Stand-Ins is the follow-on to The Stage Names in concept, execution and even literalness - Starry Stairs is about the same person, Shannon Wilsey, as Savannah Smiles but from her own defensive but regretful perspective, while humanising closer about a doomed creative John Allyn Smith Sails is superceded by humanising closer about a doomed creative Bruce Wayne Campbell Interviewed On The Roof Of The Chelsea Hotel, 1979 (Campbell being the real name of Jobriath, failed hype glam rocker who lived in the titular hotel's roof apartment). Even the cover art forms a complete picture if lined up beneath that of the parent record's sleeve. The impression is not of a load of impressionistic toss-offs, though, but of a full and focused piece of work, even the three sub-minute instrumental connecting pieces, musically largely a slight regression to the country-rock of Down The River Of Golden Dreams, and further excavations of Sheff's themes to conclusion. And it's got a song about Blue Tulip Rose Read on.

This time, though, it's at least partly self-examination in which the patient is found wanting. Lost Coastlines borrows A Hand To Take Hold Of The Scene's Motownish beat but finds that hand didn't exist outside Sheff's mind. Jonathan Meiburg, keyboard player also of Shearwater (qv), lends his rich pipes as a counterpoint to Sheff's less cultured wail as he bemoans the fact that against his will he's on... what? Case study would suggest the pop life, possibly their own, losing one's way but keeping going, as the last proper words put it "every night finds us rocking and rolling on waves wild and wide/Well we have lost our way, nobody's gonna say it outright". Meiburg's contributions seem to act as the voice inside Sheff's head telling him to keep going; the fact Meiburg has since left to concentrate on his other project puts all sorts of new angles on that. But at the same time Sheff proves capable of aiming barbs at those who overreach towards the skies. Singer Songwriter takes a shot at a pampered, preening cultural mayfly, while on Pop Lie Sheff suggests we're implicit for projecting wiseness onto "the liar who lied in his pop song". Again, can we seperate art from artist? Similarly, On Tour With Zykos catches up with a character from The Stage Names, this time the groupie-shagging desperate frontman who starts by being thrown out in the morning and ends with the girl, who Sheff is singing from the perspective of, admitting "god knows I just want to make this white lie big enough to climb inside With you" and consequently wondering "who you got your hooks in tonight, was she happy to be hooked and on your arm?", knowing that that's life. Bruce Wayne Campbell etc. leaves us initially bleakly, resigned to being left behind by times and trends, before being taken away by the "morning starship" of one of his songs "til he forgets the ground". It's tempting to state Sheff and his characters (but of course they're all characters, aren't they?) are resigned to their fates - ageing, loveless, deception - but that would suggest he sees no hope for them.

Lost Coastlines

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2008: Number 8

Tokenism? Pale boy anti-tokenism, actually. One of the big viral web hits of the year was a Canadian site entitled Stuff White People Like. Not in the Def Jam Comedy cliche "it's funny cos it's true!" sense, obviously, but in the middle-class, educated, metropolitan, liberally artistic, liberally political, conscious, hipster sense. Yeah, basically its readership is people who think it's about someone else because they're the ones in on the joke. As Charlie Brooker once said about Nathan Barley, its core audience ended up being either people like Nathan Barley or, more crucially, people like Dan Ashcroft. The music made by Yoni Wolf - University of Cincinnati graduate, liberally artistic, likely to be politically liberal, very much conscious, loved by hipsters - as Why? couldn't be more like stuff white people like, despite the Anticon breeding putting it squarely in the hip hop sections. Hip hop white middle class hipsters can deal with while the traditional market continue sucking on their syrup, which is why it sells a million or two copies fewer. Actually, although Wolf's flow has altered but not changed direction Alopecia is hardly hip hop at all, not even if you still counted cLOUDDEAD as such. What it is... well, we'll come back to you on that.

The Why? collective is by now far more experimental indie-folk-hop than it is the genres either side of its place in the rack, which lends it an odd analogue acoustic-plus-beats sound with a litany of influences in reserve - witness how The Vowels Pt 2 closes with an elongated shoegazing whirr or A Sky For Shoeing Horses Under's debt to Philip Glass. But it works because of what Wolf's uncertain drawl highlights, odd, faintly surrealist lyrics clash with open hearted self-examination and generally painting vivid pictures with words about locations as much as self, the flow of his words not belonging to standard rhyming or poetry recital but something rhythmically obtuse. And, as with Elephant Eyelash, it's mostly about a girl, and one that no longer likes him to put the seal on it. Good Friday paints Wolf as pathetically missing a girl, sounding like a 3am stream of consciousness as he recounts "blowing kisses to disinterested bitches... sending sexy SMSes to my ex's new man 'cause i can". Fair to say he's not got totally over it by These New Presidents ("frowning in my pocket/Can persuade no god to let me let you talk") That said, if anyone came up with a more striking line in 2008 than "even though I haven’t seen you in years, yours is a funeral I’d fly to from anywhere" we might well have missed it. Don't think Wolf wants us to feel sorry for, say, the guilt of Song Of The Sad Assassin ("I feel like a loop of the last eight frames of film before a slow motion Lee Harvey Oswald gets shot in the gut and killed"), the slo-mo murderous stalking narrative of Simeon's Dilemma or the inability to remain faithful of the tongue twisting chaing gang of The Fall Of Mr Fifths, surely the only song that will ever get away with referencing the "city funded Steiner School bilingual or Montessori". Pale boy indie kids like us get easily impressed by that sort of thing, see. But then there's far more than enough in Alopecia to get very impressed by.

Song Of The Sad Assassin

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2008: Number 9

There's been quite a bit of conceputality around this year, but Ottawa's The Acorn managed to better the field. Glory Hope Mountain is a suite of songs inspired by leader Rolf Klausener's mother Gloria Esperanza Montoya (a loose translation of which forms the title), who he interviewed for a total of eight hours about her troubled upbringing in Honduras, the native music of which he researched as part of the songwriting process, and subsequent escape to Canada. That the album doesn't come off as worthy at all, and that you don't necessarily need to know this for its enjoyment, is testament to Klausener and his band's skill at avoiding straight narrative arcs in favour of an arrangement that is fairly impressionistic without ever losing the thread, allegory through experience rather than biography. Why should we care, you may ask? Because it's a touching story related excellently.

Hold Your Breath demonstrates all this. It refers to Montoya's mother's death during childbirth ("no-one thought you'd make it past the morning") but not in a maudlin fashion largely because of Klausener's poetic touches, references to "climbing constellations move in a melody of gravitation" one of a number of beautifully weighted allusions to landscape and the great outdoors. The music similarly peaks, from unaccompanied intro to delicate guitar and piano to dual offbeat martial percussion, a panoramic adventure in itself. Then Flood Part 1 starts with township rhythmic handclapping and single hit drumming before launching into a flurry of clashing percussion followed by guitar picking that sounds like Sam Beam gone hi-life over gang backing vocals and West African rhythms, far more matter of fact influence than hipster appropriation. It's this kind of disparity between hope and reality that drives the album's storyline as such. Crooked Legs, in which Montoya runs away from home and abusive father, runs on a constantly urgent percussive rhythm decorated with brass and led by Klausener's appealling vocal looking forward to freedom, but it's echoed by Oh Napoleon, the most Sufjan-esque thing here with its banjo and yearning violin which is named after and written from the perspective of Montoya's younger brother hoping for his own escape and fearing for what happens next ("bite my tongue and taste your blood, never thought that I could bite hard enough") Low Gravity takes off in a similar way to Crooked Legs, with carnival atmosphere and drunken cello lurking throughout behind the mass percussion, but there's something rueful about it too, perhaps backed up as Montoya's own voice briefly turns up at the start and end of Sister Margaret, a mournful instrumental mostly featuring piano and lap steel. Antenna then takes up like Wilco circa Summerteeth with its radio static intro, alt-country overtones and crackly solo. The Acorn really put the tin lid on it with the last two tracks, though, Flood Part 2 sounding a little like Bella Union labelmates Fleet Foxes, weary but unbowed in the face of hardship before the deceptively simple closer Lullaby (Mountain), a gorgeous female vocalled invocation of the life cycle's regrets. As ambitious story arcs go, Glory Hope Mountain is about as complete and adventurous without ever nearly succumbing to doggrel as you'll ever hear.

Crooked Legs

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

The major fall, the minor lift

It was inevitable that once Cowell had brought Hallelujah into the nation's hearts - and to steal a line from Cokemachineglow, Biblical spirituality being hijacked for crass consumerism couldn't be closer to the modern Christmas - that upset would ensue. There's that Buckley campaign, for a start, because Laughing Leonard just isn't dead enough, in which people demonstrate Cowell cannot buy out their musical taste by, erm, buying a song Cowell has explicitly promoted. If they'd bought Hallelujah to go up against Alexandra Burke's winner's cover of I Will Always Love You that might have made more anti-Syco sense.

And then there's the parodies. The Now Show's was awkward, Moyles' 'Lamb Bhuna' inevitable but no less terrible for that, but all sorts of cake is taken by Rowland White in the Sunday Times, who poses a crucial critical theory issue - what if, instead of this spiritual paen to blessed holy grace, Cohen had, shortly after being overtaken by the spirit of William McGonagall, written it about the credit crunch?

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2008: Number 10

Nobody, or at least none of his British indie-like-mamma-used-to-make contemporaries, writes like David Tattersall. (Or as fast, given the Wave Pictures have at least two albums planned for 2009.) One of those overnight sensations that have taken years to get there, having been self-reared from early in the decade and Instant Coffee Baby being the first a proper label has taken a dip on. We're surprised it took so long, but then again The Wave Pictures fit into a certain sphere at the moment, where former collaborators Jeffrey Lewis, John Darnielle's The Mountain Goats and Herman Dune are garnering more widespread attention and Hefner are being slowly reassessed in the positive. (Although of course there's nothing stopping you claiming they sound like a "second-rate The Enemy", or at least nothing legal.) Like Darren Hayman - yep, they've played with him too and he turns up on backing vocals on one track - Tattersall wears easily the mantle of shambling bedsit poet on lo-fi equipment, anti-romantic and sticking up for the little smart man. Sings a bit like him too. The recording sounds relaxed and informal, built on fairly base rhythmic materials and with vocalists' ad-libs and the odd giggle left in. The writing? Well, that's another plane entirely. In a year when so many male singers traded in inspecifics, Tattersall finds extended tales in the little things. So much abstract imagery, so many novelic scenes, so much detail and poetic effort shed on the mundane passing thought so as to make it seem like an apotheosis, self-aware and joyous, passing the latter onto you, the listener. Or, as it may seem, fellow experiencer.

It's a struggle not to just make up the word count with quotes, but we'll try. Not too hard not to, though, especially as Leave That Scene Behind contains words from a dumpee - "David, you'll always be a baby brother and you’ll always be a mother's son/And you’ll always be somebody's favourite pupil but you’ll never be the man that I want". I Love You Like A Madman promises that starts "if I made it through Christmas without smoking until your parents went to bed", for which his filip will be "I'll buy you bras instead of pickled eggs, chocolate instead of chutney". It's that mix of spot on insight elevating everyday events and the occasional moment of inspired ridiculousness that pepper these kitchen sink mini-dramas that could be no more peculiarly British, all with the minimum of musical garnish - a violin drifts through Strange Fruit For David (which features the celebrated statue/marmalade gambit), I Love You Like A Madman features a brass section and, as anyone who's seen them live knows, Tattersall in particular likes a good solo. It's not just the local imagery in Friday Night In Loughborough that marks out its genuine small town ennui - hats off to rock'n'roll's first namecheck for Walton On The Wolds - but the asides of fighting squaddies, vomiting drinkers and secretly unwilling 24 hour party people. The title track is set in the same locale, an epic in context to everything else here and featuring a plot point based on "your Italian ex-boyfriend's coffee machine" which is clearly heading towards some sort of crucial denouement... which turns out to be "you got cystitis, didn't you?" And mighty whammy bar solo away. "Everyone who knows me knows I make up all these stories" Tattersall admits on the Jonathan Richman echoing We Come Alive. Fair enough, but what invention.

Strange Fruit For David

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The only chart that counted: 1992

40 HWA Featuring Sonic The Hedgehog - Supersonic
1992 was a really, really great year for music, wasn't it? Remember this chart for the next time someone smugly tells you that the best music comes out of recessionary periods.

39 Mike Oldfield - Tattoo
From Tubular Bells II, which probably even Oldfield's forgotten. If this all looks a bit lame you should see some of the near misses. Philip Schofield, who took over from Jason Donovan in Joseph (and that's why Andrew Lloyd Webber went to prime time BBC1 this time), had his version of Close Every Door at 54, while at 61 was Achy Breaky Heart by Alvin And The Chipmunks With Billy Ray Cyrus. Perhaps he did it for Miley.

38 REM - Man On The Moon
If you've ever wondered, "Mr Fred Blassie in a breakfast mess" is a reference to My Breakfast With Blassie, a little known short film Andy Kaufman made with the titular wrestling manager. And the first line is apparently "Mott The Hoope and the Game Of Life".

37 Kylie Minogue - Celebration
It's on her greatest hits and in the setlist for most of her tours, but nobody seems to remember the Kool & the Gang cover was a single too. Don't worry, Confide In Me was next.

36 Wreckx-N-Effect - Rump Shaker
New Jack Swing represent!

35 Morrissey - Certain People I Know
Some men will always retain a fondness for rockabilly.

34 Kris Kross - It's A Shame
Mac Daddy and Daddy Mac, then. The "how do they go to the toilet?" duo are, it says here, back together and have tapped Jermaine Dupri for their reunion album. Don't hold your breath.

33 U2 - Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses

32 Boyz II Men - Motownphilly
Only decent thing they ever did, says we.

31 Guns N' Roses - Yesterdays
Last of *seven* singles from the two Use Your Illusions, and thus the beginning of the end. Still, heh heh, maybe one day they'll even release Chinese Democ...sorry, what?

30 KWS Featuring The Trammps - Hold Back The Night
Please Don't Go hit coverers in appalling year for number ones team up with Philly disco also-rans. This can't be good.

29 SL2 - Way In My Brain/Drumbeats
They did On A Ragga Tip.

28 Nirvana - In Bloom
Here's your year grunge changed everything, then - it didn't get higher than this, but then it was the fourth single. The variety host at the start of the video, for the record, is The People's Court host Doug Llewelyn.

27 Slipstreem - We Are Raving
Well, you might be.

26 East Side Beat - Alive And Kicking
Yes, it is that one. Remember it this way.

25 The Wedding Present - No Christmas
The track with which they broke Elvis' record of having a hit single in every month of the year, which Elvis re-broke with that facile reissue campaign, the dead bastard.

24 Undercover - Never Let Her Slip Away
The one thing people like about Andrew Gold's original is the sea shanty beat of the thing. Replace that with generic pre-programmed beats and you're onto a loser.

23 Boyz II Men - End Of The Road
Not a decent thing they did. Fair to say it's outlasted Boomerang, the Eddie Murphy film it was recorded for.

22 Arrested Development - People Everyday
Multi-handed post-Daisy Age consciousness hip hop briefly bigger in Britain than the gangsta it set itself up as the antidote to.

21 Dina Carroll - So Close
The first of many future international superstars of Brit-soul.

20 The Lemonheads - Mrs Robinson
Evan hated it and doesn't do it at the end of It's A Shame About Ray revival gigs, but it's still the song that ensured he was a music weekly cause celebre for a bit (cf that whole deal with a photo of him and Courtney Love on a bed)

19 Lisa Stansfield - Someday (I'm Coming Back)
From the soundtrack of The Bodyguard, and what musical damage that film caused given nobody remembers its contents. Been quiet for a while, 'our' Lisa - apparently she's in that Keira Knightley vehicle The Edge Of Love, but oddly doesn't contribute to the soundtrack.

18 Simply Red - The Montreux EP
Montreux! Every year the BBC would ship up at their Jazz Festival for innumerable compilations of tasteful live music, and here's a live EP recorded at just such an event. We were meant to be grateful.

17 808 State And UB40 - One In Ten
The joker in any 'bands/songs with numbers in them' parlour game.

16 Gloria Estefan - Miami Hit Mix
Known as the Megamix in America. What kind of cross-cultural exchange have we set up as a musical brotherhood?

15 Stereo MC's - Step It Up
Possibly neurally altered baggy hip-hop party band who, in the days of Ebeneezer Goode, was just what was palatable to the buying public. Then took nine years to release a second album to little fanfare and seven before the third to negligible amounts.

14 Diana Ross - If We Hold On Together
All the facts and figures say she's released records since Chain Reaction but, X Factor favourite in waiting When You Tell Me That You Love Me aside, you'd be doing well to name any.

13 Heaven 17 - Temptation (Brothers In Rhythm Remix)
Again, great big thumping beat under everything and who cares about the nuances that made people like the original.

12 Cliff Richard - I Still Believe In You
We've just looked at a list of Cliff's 1990s singles, of which there are plenty, and apart from the two Christmas number ones we wouldn't be able to tell you what any of them sounded like. Although in fairness we can make a pretty solid guess.

11 The Prodigy - Out Of Space
Difficult to think at this Criminal Justice Bill/scary man in tunnel/Appleton sister distance that they were still seen as a novelty band then, Shut Up And Dance with a wider record collection.

10 Boney M - Boney M Megamix
Frank Farian, post-Milli Vanilli outing, reaches for a quick buck.

9 Rod Stewart - Tom Traubert's Blues (Waltzing Matilda)
A Tom Waits song, three years after Rod had had a big hit with Waits' Downtown Train. We await Sixteen Shells In A Thirty-O-Six in the American Songbook style.

8 Freddie Mercury - In My Defence
Two years after his death they were still sifting through the studio offcuts for releaseable material, both solo and for Queen. Presumably this one was junked after Freddie realised it was basically the opening slow bit of Don't Stop Me Now with added self-referentialism.

7 The Shamen - Phorever People
It doesn't even work on syllables.

6 Madonna - Deeper And Deeper
1992 was the year of the Sex book, a bloody strange promotional move even in these Paris Hilton sex tape days. Worth quite a bit these days, by all accounts. This was accompanied by a video in which Madge played Edie Sedgwick. There's a reference the tabloids of 1992 would immediately latch onto.

5 Take That - Could It Be Magic
When someone's next praising Barlow's pop mastery around you, quietly remind them that for a very long time they'd also do this sort of somersault friendly thing.

4 WWF Superstars - Slam Jam
Wrestling was having one of its periodical three month moments in the UK spotlight, only this time someone was, ahem, free thinking enough to get an album out of it, from which this forthright tribute from Bret The Hitman Hart, Macho Man Randy Savage, the British Bulldog and The Undertaker comes. Make ribald comment about Big Daddy, wonder why embedding's been disabled.

3 Charles And Eddie - Would I Lie To You?
Famously met when one carried a Marvin Gaye album onto a subway train, presumably during that short period when that sort of taste was considered outre.

2 Michael Jackson - Heal The World
For you and for me and for the entire human race. Not quite as easy as that, you'll find.

1 Whitney Houston - I Will Always Love You
For now and forever. Ten weeks, it clocked up, and about ten thousand imitators of that big melismatic note at the end.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2008: Number 11

Look at that cover. Are Simon and Julia painting a line between us, the consumer, and they, the artistes? Are they seperating themselves from the rest of music? Are they suggesting American Demo paints them into a corner? All three would fit the tone of an album that sees no reason to make secret its intellectualism yet never ends up hectoring. That Simon's voice is a pretty much exact cross between those of Luke Haines and Carter USM's Jim Bob is entirely fitting, being as his and her lyrics work on the same qualities as those - angry, pop culture decrying, thought provoking, fairly conceptual, leavened with scabrous wit. Every detail you read about their history, all poetry slams and polka dots, seems to fit perfectly into the mock-didacticism they exhibit. The Indelicates have a very strictly cult following and as such this album was either largely ignored or given full marks by reviewers who are driven to write in a style you won't see anywhere else in their output. That's what they do to people, because they sound important.

They're not shy, we'll give them that. The first proper track is called The Last Significant Statement To Be Made In Rock 'n' Roll, in which Simon declares that Elvis "wrote the birth of the teenager, now we come to write its death", presumably using rock'n'roll tropes against themselves as such. The actual point is the dumbing down of music as "rebellion (which) keeps the nation healthy". Other non-standard topics crop up: youth fetishisation (Sixteen), automatic repudiation of US policy whatever the opposition (America), deliberate ignorance (Better To Know), the dearth of worthwhile protest (Julia We Don't Live In The 60s), the post-Zoo repudiaton of feminism (Our Daughters Will Never Be Free), posthumous star reclamation (If Jeff Buckley Had Lived). All the small stuff, yeah. And then there's the love songs. Well, obviously nothing that easy to define - New Art For The People is love as mutual destruction through art and selfish obsession, opening with the arresting "but for the come (sic) in your hair, the cocaine on your teeth" which 1998 Jarvis would have blanched at and ending up as a sort of Fairytale Of New Cross. Stars starts "I'm in love with the boy next door, he treats me like a filthy whore" and heads deeper before Julia briefly becomes a British Amanda Palmer. Unity Mitford is a gorgeous sounding love letter from the subject to her idol, Adolf Hitler. You get the picture. Musically there's hints at the Modern Lovers and New Pornographers, cabaret and tweepop, until America comes across like S*M*A*S*H produced by Jim Steinman, guitar sound and all. We Hate The Kids ends (not counting the hidden track) with a statement as pointed at the one the album began with, a passionate Transmission-quoting race to the finish of the industry's tricks and by extension, literally given it ends "no more music, thank you and goodnight", pop culture. It didn't succeed. Don't expect them to recalibrate their aims.


The full list

These we also loved

The best tracks of 2008, not counting top 50 album cuts

Twenty best of the rest of the albums
Because obviously fifty isn't enough

Absentee - Boy, Did She Teach You Nothing [Myspace]
From Victory Shorts

Adam Donen and The Drought - Five Minute Zeitgeist [Myspace]
From As Our Parents Slowly Turn To Clay (We're not sure what sort of release this got - there may still be copies of the combined CD and poetry book available from Myspace)

Broken Social Scene Presents Brendan Canning - Hit The Wall [YouTube]
From Something For All Of Us

David Holmes – I Heard Wonders [YouTube]
From The Holy Pictures

Duels - The Furies [Myspace]
From The Barbarians Move In

Fujiya & Miyagi – Knickerbocker [YouTube]
From Lightbulbs

The Hot Puppies - Clarinet Town
From Blue Hands

The Last Shadow Puppets - The Age Of The Understatement [YouTube]
From The Age Of The Understatement

Lightspeed Champion - Everyone I Know Is Listening To Crunk [live YouTube]
From Falling Off The Lavender Bridge

The Lucksmiths - A Sobering Thought (Just When One Was Needed) [Myspace]
From First Frost

Matt Eaton - Eveybody's Got To Fallen Into Line [Myspace]
From Finish Your Chips

Popular Workshop - Reptilians [Myspace]
From We're Alive And We're Not Alone

Port O’Brien - I Woke Up Today [Myspace]
From All We Could Do Was Sing

School Of Language – Rockist [YouTube]
From Sea From Shore

Silvery - Action Force [Myspace]
From Thunder And Excelsior

Slow Down Tallahassee - The Beautiful Light [Myspace]
From The Beautiful Light

Sons Of Noel & Adrian - Indigo [Myspace]
From Sons of Noel & Adrian

Stereolab - Three Women [Myspace]
From Chemical Chords

Thomas White - The Runaround [Myspace]
From I Dream Of Black (Tom's currently stated releases for 2009: two solo albums, Brakes, more Restlesslist)

The Wedding Present - Palisades [live YouTube]
From El Rey (The back of our head's in that video!)

Debut singles and 2008 breakthroughs
Some, all or none of these twenty selections (clue: not 'all') will be in The Class Of '09 Covermount, posted 3rd January (which is also a significant birthday of ours, but that's not for now)

Cats In Paris - Foxes [Myspace]
Cottonmouth Rocks - Witch Doctor [Myspace]
The Deirdres - Milk Is Politics [YouTube]
Dinosaur Pile-Up - My Rock'n'Roll [Myspace]
Gindrinker - Work It Out [Myspace] (On Spencer McGarry's label - he sent us a copy of his Season's album just before the month started, and we'll be posting about it in January)
Gossamer Albatross - The Ground Will Take Us Down [Myspace]
The Lionheart Brothers - 50 Souls In A Disco Bowl [YouTube]
Lykke Li - Little Bit [YouTube]
Maths Class – Nerves [YouTube]
Minnaars - Essay Essay Essay [Myspace]
MGMT – Time To Pretend [YouTube]
Mumford and Sons - Roll Away Your Stone [Myspace]
Nat Johnson - Dirty Rotten Soul [YouTube]
Post War Years - The Black Morning [YouTube]
Rose Elinor Dougall - Another Version Of Pop Song [Myspace]
Stars And Sons - In The Ocean [YouTube]
Still Flyin' - Good Thing It's A Ghost Town Round Here [YouTube]
Superman Revenge Squad - Idiot Food [Myspace] (Our own idiot rules prevented it, but go to that Myspace and order self-pressed album This Is My Own Personal Way Of Dealing With It All. No, do it now)
This City - Kids With Fireworks [YouTube]
The Voluntary Butler Scheme - Trading Things In [YouTube]

As seen in Weekender
Every weekend we've dug out another quality new band for Myspace Invaders, and here's what we wrote about our twenty favourites not covered elsewhere in this section:

a.genuine.freakshow - Holding Hearts [Myspace]
"Comparisons to more buzzed about fellow travellers Grammatics are inevitable, given the overwhelmed ambitions, achingly vaulting vocals, changing dynamics and prominent cellist, but there's a lot of Mew in the way they aim for the stars this side of post-rock... 'transcendental majesty', while still a horrible phrase when seen written down, is something they're gradually attaining."

The Beep Seals - I Used To Work At The Zoo [Myspace]
"Beach Boys psychedelia that weighs heaviest on the band's sound, although certainly there's a lot of listening to the Flaming Lips' Clouds Taste Metallic behind all this and some Stephen Malkmus, Elephant 6 collective and even Todd Rundgren's hi-fi oddness behind these acid fuzzbombs."

Cats And Cats And Cats - Happiness For Lola [Myspace]
"They're rooted in the post-hardcore influenced danceable mathrock thing that's coming into fashion at the moment where guitars and rhythms collide wildly with each other and tempos change every minute or so but it all coalesces into something overpowering. There's elements which should appeal to those who follow Mew, Youthmovies or Explosions In The Sky, but really they're already forging their own path while barely out of their teens."

Copy Haho - You Are My Coal Mine [Myspace]
"The echoes here are largely of Pavement and Sebadoh with a melodic and very Scot-pop cocksureness... They're already full of twisted pop shapes and they're very much on the right track to big stuff."

Everything Everything - DNA Dump [Myspace]
"You'll hear Wild Beasts' machine tooled indie-funk, first album Futureheads call and response harmonies, the wild eyed taut punk-funk of first album Liars and most of all the Cardiacs' sumptuous multi-angled madness.. please welcome another of that increasingly rare creature, an urgent new voice in the boys with angular guitar stakes."

Falling And Laughing - Compilations For Sweden [Myspace]
"So here come the Field Mice, Postcard and Sarah Records namechecks and the wry bedroom diarist lyrics, but there's a strength to the writing that marks them aside from many suddenly on the same stylistic journey."

Hajen - Sharks [Myspace]
"Chan Marshall's last three albums would be a very good comparison to her spare, piano-based despair and soaring, heartfelt vocals, as would Stina Nordenstam and Regina Spektor."

i concur - Build Around Me [Myspace]
"The National's sense of anxiousness/nervous tension, Interpol's brooding am-dram, Broken Social Scene's expansiveness and touches of Explosions In The Sky's glacial post-rock and Johnny Marr circling guitar lines. Never mind potential, they sound like they're almost there already."

Kaputt - Family Tree [Myspace]
"It's the streamlined moments of (Sonic Youth's) early major label days that it's most reminiscent of, given a Peter Hook bassline, the records Interpol had by the studio CD player when they were making Turn On The Bright Lights and working knowledge of Electrelane-style femme-cool motorik. They'll get well under your skin."

The Late Greats - Gareth [Myspace]
"They've found a middle ground between Lamacq-attracting hooks and awkward angularities, having quoted Neutral Milk Hotel and Pavement as influences. They've been around for a few years but still sound like they have room to grow into themselves, and when that happens they'll be unstoppable."

Matthew Saunders - Crown [Myspace]
"His way with matching a folk strum to a direct, sentimental lyric with a kick in the post-Syd Barrett mould overcomes all associated doubts."

Mockingbird, Wish Me Luck - Pictures [Myspace]
"Their being Swedish means you pretty much know what air they're working in already, and it's very much the sound of Jens Lekman embarking on a peaceful - well, obviously peaceful - coup to unseat Stuart Murdoch."

Picture Books In Winter - Horizontally I Am Champion [Myspace]
"Mates with Los Campesinos! and borrowing their tight angle hopeful worldviews and penchant for a prominent violinist, they have that ability to sound quite different from track to track without ever sounding like a compromise of eclecticism.... Other touchstones include Pavement's inscrutability, Cursive's heavy set indie-rock melodrama, the less post-hippiness parts of the indie folk brigade and a hundred other things that we can't quite place."

Project Notion - Castles In The Air [Myspace]
"(They) have a sound that you just cannot reduce to a few words of passing reference without much headscratching. Here goes: it's Youthmovies reduced to three fifths speed and given a half acoustic guitar arrangement, then met by Tori Maries' trip-hop vocals and turning into a far less silky Steely Dan jazz-rock as The Sea And Cake might envision it."

Red Shoe Diaries - Fireflies At Dawn [Myspace]
"You'd fear for this sound in a strong wind, but should you like Swedish indiepop and Felt without actually being Stuart Murdoch they're right up your street."

Stars Of Sunday League - Sailing Ships On The Forth [Myspace]
"There's something about the Scottish accent in singer-songwriter business that makes it sound more honest and touching, we reckon... File next to the Fence collectivists and well inside the interconnected modern folk school of excellence."

Sunset Cinema Club - Hardcore [Myspace]
"File these under melodic post-hardcore, sharing the stop-start tautness of Fugazi, the fat-free funk fuckups of the Minutemen and the funk-punk of Jetplane Landing's Backlash Cop album of last year"

Three Trapped Tigers - 1 [Myspace]
"Free jazz electronica to some, a British Battles to others... they take the drawn out precision of math-rock and compress it into tense, elaborate slabs of build and release-driven intensity, shuttling between full throttle electronica-influenced passages and ambient segments that allow time for the next wave to hit, intricate cross-threading of movements and time signatures forefront."

The Vanguard - The Antidote's Retreat [Myspace]
"Duke Spirit fans should certainly be looking this way, but there's a seam of that peculiarly north-western trait of enormous effects pedal atmospheric guitar sounds and cocksure vocals"

Wet Paint - Save The Whale [Myspace]
"They say it sounds like "PIXIES-DINOSAUR JR-PAVEMENT or other bands that sound a bit like them"; we say more the latter of those three with a streamlined hint of the second, and certainly fitting well next to whichever player from the mid-90s American 'scene' you might wish to play alongside."

Did we ever go a bundle on these at the time? We're not sure we did

The Accidental - Wolves [Myspace]
Ace Bushy Striptease - Panda Love Unit [Myspace]
Black Francis - The Seus [free mp3 via]
Blakfish - Jeremy Kyle Is A Marked Man [Myspace]
Broadcaster - England [Myspace]
Eagleowl - Blanket [Myspace]
Final Fantasy - Blue Imelda [YouTube]
His Clancyness - Next Year Is Ours [Myspace] (Jonathan Clancy from A Classic Education solo)
The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - Everything With You [YouTube]
The Scaremongers - Less Is More [Myspace] (And to think Simon Armitage might be poet laureate this time next year)
The Sleeping Years - Islands [Myspace]
Zombie-Zombie - Driving This Road Until Death Sets You Free [Myspace]

Everything else we really liked in 2008 but couldn't fit in any of the previous categories

4 Or 5 Magicians – Change The Record [Myspace]
A Classic Education - We Can Always Run To Hawaii [mp3]
Broken Records - Lies [YouTube] (Three cracking singles, but we think this just gets the nod)
Cold War Kids - Something Is Not Right With Me [YouTube]
Crystal Castles - Crimewave [Myspace]
Dananananaykroyd - Pink Sabbath [Myspace]
dEUS - Slow [YouTube]
The Dirty Backbeats - To The Dogs [Myspace] (Class Of '08 candidates, whose last gig was last Saturday)
Does It Offend You, Yeah? - We Are Rockstars [YouTube]
Emmy The Great - We Almost Had A Baby [YouTube]
Fighting With Wire - Everyone Needs A Nemesis [YouTube]
Florence & The Machine – Dog Days [YouTube]
Future Of The Left - The Hope That House Built [Myspace]
Grammatics - The Vague Archive [Myspace]
Guillemots - Kriss Kross [YouTube] (Piss poor album, mind)
Hello Saferide - Anna [YouTube]
Let's Wrestle - Let's Wrestle
Madness – NW5 [Myspace] (So whither The Liberty Of Norton Folgate?)
Make Model – The LSB [YouTube] (And they split too)
The Rosie Taylor Project - A Good Café on George Street [YouTube]
The School - Let It Slip [YouTube]
The Sexual Objects - Here Come The Rubber Cops [label Myspace]
The Shortwave Set – No Social [YouTube]
Sigur Ros - Gobbledigook [DailyMotion]
Sky Larkin - Fossil, I [YouTube]
Slow Club - Let's Fall Back In Love [Myspace]
White Williams - New Violence [Myspace]