Monday, November 30, 2009

Seething observatory

This actually came in for Noughties By Nature but didn't strictly count - can't remember why not now - but as we've got a bit of time to spare, as they used to say when recorded shows unaccountably underran on ITV, and it's worth writing about we hand over to Jamie Woods:

On the 24th of June, 2009, one of the finest music writers ever died. The tributes paid to Steven Wells by his fellow writers, performers, friends and fans were heartbreakingly beautiful. And then yesterday, November 24th, I heard this song, written by Akira The Don, a.k.a. Adam Alphabet, a friend and colleague and huge fan of Swells. It’s the lead track from a Swells inspired mixtape that Akira The Don has made, and it’s not out of place amongst the Atari Teenage Riot, The Clash, NWA, Elastica, Shampoo, and Steven ‘Seething’ Wells himself.

And it’s the perfect tribute. It’s PUNK and NOSTALGIC and POLITICAL and ANTI-BNP: equal parts sentimental, funny and inspirational. The internal rhymes and alliteration and relentless delivery nod to Swells’ punk poetry, while the plea to ‘lob a brick at [Nick] Griffin… Gordon [Brown] and for Cameron’ in his name is a call to arms of the highest order. Swells’ unique writing style is celebrated in the glorious ‘CAPS LOCK down and all guns blazing/ Wield typewriter like Berrata’ – it was of course his ‘weapon of choice’.

In this post-post-modern age of sampling and mash-ups and X Factor cover versions and re-writing of music history: a – we must never forget what came before, the music magazines we grew up with, and the bands and writers that filled them; and b – this is therefore a spot-on and deserved celebration and heartfelt love song to the greatest music writer of his, our, generation.

Stream and/or download at Akira's site

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Noughties By Nature - the wake

"Don’t rely on other people: In my experience group blog projects suffer way more delays and hiatuses than solo ones. If anyone could potentially write the next entry, anyone could also potentially not write it. If you’ve got a way of making group blog projects work well I would love to hear it – this is very much a nut I’ve not cracked."
(Tom Ewing, Freaky Trigger, less than a month before Noughties By Nature started)

Ah well, we gave it a shot. That doesn't mean we're not hugely thankful for everyone who did take part, so thanks to Oliver Billenness, Thomas Blatchford, Mark Bowen, Jay Breitling, Penny Broadhurst, Dave Bryant, James Edwards, Adam Elmahdi, Iain Forrester, Matt Gaynor, Ben Hall, Paul Hawkins, Simon HB, John Helps, Mark Jones, Rhian Jones, Simon Lawson, Fraser McAlpine, Trev McCabe, Jamie Milton, Tim Murray, Chris Nichol, Ryan O'Grady, Nick Olsen, Dom Passantino, Seb Patrick, Ian Pointer, Jack Pop, David Pott-Negrine, Mark Price, Andy Robertson, Doug Robertson, Robin Seamer, Joe Skrebels, Joe Sparrow, Matt Sullivan, Dunc Vernon, Alex Wisgard, Jamie Woods, TJ Worthington and Peter Wyeth, as well as everyone else who expressed an interest.

As is the nature of this style of crowdsourced list, it's been interesting to see what didn't make the cut. Among the 111 were three unreleased songs, a B-side and one unreleasable (in its original form) track, such being the nature of the beast. And yet no Radiohead, Strokes, Arctics, Kanye, White Stripes, Winehouse, Franz, Elbow, Coldplay, Outkast... What did make it, so that we have all the links in one safe place, were the following:

Spotify playlist

Aaliyah, Adam Green, Airport Girl, Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate, Amanda Palmer, And So I Watch You From Afar, Arcade Fire, Ash, Art Brut, At The Drive-In, The Avalanches, Ballboy, Battles, Bearsuit, Billie The Vision And The Dancers, Blakfish, The Bobby McGees, Brakes, Bright Eyes, British Sea Power, Broadcast, BrokeNCYDE, Burial, Chris T-T, Clock Opera, Colour, Comet Gain, The Concretes, The Coral, Dan Deacon, Darren Hayman, David Cronenberg's Wife, The Delgados, Deerhunter, Dizzee Rascal, Eastern Lane, Eels, The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster, Euros Childs, Felix da Housecat, Girls Aloud, Girls On Top, Half Man Half Biscuit, Hefner, Helen Love, The Hold Steady, The Horrors, Hot Hot Heat, The Indelicates, Jarvis Cocker, Johnny Boy, Johnny Flynn, Johnny Foreigner, Justice vs Simian, Kat Flint, Kate Nash, Klaxons, The Knife, Kylie Minogue, Lambchop, The Libertines, The Long Blondes, Los Campesinos!, The Lucksmiths, Lupen Crook, The Manhattan Love Suicides, Maps, Mclusky, Minnaars, Mint Royale, Missy Elliott, Misty's Big Adventure, Mo-Ho-Bish-O-Pi, Moldy Peaches, Monkey Swallows The Universe, The National, Neon Neon, New Order, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Patrick Wolf, Pelle Carlberg, The Pipettes, Primal Scream, Pulp, Rachel Stevens, The Research, Robbie Williams & Kylie Minogue, Ryan Adams, Saturday Looks Good To Me, Saul Williams, Saves The Day, Sebastian Tellier, Sergeant Buzfuz, Snow White, Spiller feat. Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Stars, The Streets, Sufjan Stevens, Sugababes, Sunset Rubdown, Super Furry Animals, Tim Ten Yen, The Ting Tings, Town Bike, The Unicorns, Von Sudenfed, The Wave Pictures, Why?, Wyclef Jean, XX Teens and You Slut!.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Noughties By Nature #112-120 have been postponed due to lack of wider interest.

Noughties By Nature #111: Tim Ten Yen – Sea Anenome

It often feels that the last decade has scene a growing chasm between the “mainstream” and “underground” music scenes in Britain and it also often feels that Tim Ten Yen – who writes pop songs but moves in underground indie circles - is a man caught between these two camps, lacking the major label clout to dominate the airwaves whilst being misperceived by sections of the independent media as an exercise in post-modern irony.

Which is a massive shame as he writes joyous, catchy and indescribably wonderful songs that are simultaneously utterly universal and entirely unique. Over the past couple of years I’ve introduced Tim Ten Yen’s music to a variety of people – both hardcore music lovers (from a variety of backgrounds) and casual fans – and the overwhelming majority have fallen in love with it too – it seems his songs can’t help put a smile on people’s faces. Once you combine this with the fact he’s as charming, engaging and charismatic a live performer as I’ve ever seen it’s a winning combination.

Sea Anemone is the absolute pick of the bunch – on first listen simply a fantastic piece of throwaway pop but further listens reveal it to be a complex and moving contemplation of mortality. It’s utterly life affirming stuff and up there with the finest songs of the decade. At one point Tim Ten Yen sings “I don’t want what I don’t deserve”. On that basis he’d be utterly justified in wanting international stardom.
Paul Hawkins

[YouTube (live)]
[Album: Everything Beautiful Reminds Me Of You]

Noughties By Nature #110: Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate - Hawa Dolo

One big feature of this decade has been African music. No, not Vampire Weekend and young white boys with highly-strung guitars. Actual music from Africa, by African people. Maybe I was too trapped in a hermetically-sealed indie world to notice before, but it seems that the last ten years have seen much more coverage of music that wouldn't have normally featured in the rock press. Quite right too. I've only dipped a toe in the vast ocean of awesome African music out there, but the little exposure I've had has expanded my tiny mind.

Probably my favourite African album of the decade is Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate's In The Heart of the Moon, a gorgeous album featuring mostly nothing but Toure's guitar and Diabate's kora, recorded without rehersal in a hotel in Mali. It's effortlessly beautiful, and culminates in Hawa Dolo, a track that's amazing enough on its own, but hearing it as the climax to all that comes before, it's breathtaking. There are few songs I've heard this decade that are quite so simple and devastating.
Tim Murray

[Album: In The Heart Of The Moon]

Noughties By Nature #109: Sebastian Tellier – Divine

Eurovision entries seldom seem to crop-up in year-end lists, never mind decade-end ones, and that’s usually for a good reason. Whilst the contest isn’t quite the car-crash viewing everyone supposes it is – the X Factor has cornered the car-crash market much more successfully, I think you’ll find, whilst Eurovision yearns for credibility – it has to be said that truly ‘classic’ moments are very few and far between.

Spin back to May 2008, then, and watch as respected French artist Sebastian Tellier coolly ploughs his way on to the Eurovision stage on a golf cart, his hair flickering slightly as he goes. The performance he went on to give was below-par due to a ridiculously dated Eurovision ruling which insisted he had to create all the sampled vocal noises on the track ‘live’. The single itself, however, was the most sublime release of the year.

Divine could teach most half-arsed eighties revivalists a thing or two about classic, adventurous pop structures. Beginning with a droning keyboard and the Art of Noisey samples the Euro-chiefs seemed to find objectionable, it reveals itself to be a pocket symphony of small, perfectly formed ideas – taking Brian Wilson song structures and making them sound sleek, digital and luxurious.

Tellier’s Sexuality album from the same year was actually rather patchy, but long after the memories of the tracks from that have faded away, Divine stands strong, sounding like pop music at its most thrilling and adventurous. Oh yeah, and naturally, this was never voted into the top half of the Eurovision scoreboard – what world do you think we’re living in, exactly?
Dave Bryant

[Album: Sexuality]

Friday, November 27, 2009

Noughties By Nature #108: The National - Slow Show

I was relatively late in discovering The National, having only found out about them after their most recent full length effort, 2007’s Boxer. Before this I would admit to being pretty naïve musically, my favourite band having been Kings Of Leon (in my defence they hadn’t at this point composed a ditty about incendiary intercourse), who had, a couple of months previous, released their third album Because Of The Times, which had left me immensely disappointed and in somewhat of a musical crisis; fearing that if I didn’t like the new direction my favourite band was taking then there was little hope for me to enjoy any other music.

Then, after one night of internet searching, I chanced upon The National’s music for the first time via a Youtube video that sets Boxer’s centrepiece, Slow Show, against clips from Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculin, Féminin, the multimedia marriage of which works tremendously well both in terms of style and narrative.

On first listen I was brought close to tears and so overwhelmed by the song that, despite it being roughly 1am and raining faintly outside, I decided upon taking a 5 mile walk to meditate on what I had just heard (musical epiphanies make you act a little irrationally, apparently): the initial wash of feedback that is reminiscent of water moving through old rusty pipes; the bright, urgent strums of the acoustic guitar; Matt Berninger’s plaintive vocal; the way the song expands into an elevated chorus as the kick-snare pattern changes from spirited punctuation to a skip in the step of the protagonist. And just as the song breaks dramatically into its piano and tom-tom coda, with the narrator reciting, with mantra-like security, “you know I dreamed about you for 29 years, before I saw you. You know I dreamed about you; I missed you for… for 29 years,” so too did my musical preferences change irrevocably thereafter. I found the music I had been dreaming about and missing for 20 years.
Chris Nichol

[YouTube (live)]
[Album: Boxer]

Noughties By Nature #107: Minnaars - Are Lovers

Picking a song from your local music scene in a list such as this is a risky business, but I genuinely believe this deserves to be here on it's own merit. At six minutes long, the fact that it made the daytime playlist on Radio 1 should be pretty astonishing, but from start to finish this is a painfully current, expertly crafted pop opus that touches all the right basses and builds to one of the most perfect indie-math-pop-dance crossover crescendos you could hope for.
John Helps, Maybeshewill

[YouTube (live)]

Noughties By Nature #106: Town Bike - Ride Of Ya Life

I guess now, everyone has their myspace story. Arctic Monkeys, Lily Allen, Kate Nash BLAH BLAH BLAH. Yes, I first heard Nash on myspace and I fell in love a bit, but when I first heard Town Bike and their only song, Ride Of Ya Life, on Myspace, I fell in love a lot.

You know how every band’s first album is so much better than their second? They reckon it’s cos you’ve got a lifetime to write that first album, and a six-week bubble inbetween touring and cocaine and models and fame and fortune and big coats and Top Of The Pops to write the second LP. The Clash, Elastica, Definitely Maybe, The Stone Roses... anyway, the point is, is that this is one of those first album songs, about being in a band, and learning to play and everything is so fresh and exciting.

There are some wonderful self-deprecating lines about the band’s supposed inability to sing / play / write lyrics, and yet they can do all three ever so naively well, after all, this is gonna be the ‘Ride of your life, Town bike’. It’s a fun fresh burst of punk pop youth and vigour, synth lines and handclaps. As Lammo said when he played them on his show recently, ‘it’s the kind of record that I think John Peel would have played’: I can’t say it any better than that.
Jamie Woods, Super Kawaii POP!

Noughties By Nature #105: Von Sudenfed – Flooded

Despite starting them with The Unutterable and Are You Missing Winner – albums with undeniably flashes of brilliance, yet hardly considered solid efforts even by the hardiest MES aficionados – the 2000s have seen the strongest rebirth(s) of the Fall and their most inspired music since forever. Still, even with a decade that saw him recording career-best Peel sessions (I’d argue), singing with The Monks, appearing on a BBC Three sitcom as Jesus, reading the football scores, scaring Newsnight viewers and knocking out a rambling autobiography, teaming up with Mouse On Mars and producing an album as Von Sudenfed was the best decision Mark E Smith has made in the last ten years. Mouse On Mars have hardly had a bad century so far either, coming up trumps with their own albums of pneumatic, quirky IDM, as well as continuing their label Sonig. But Tromatic Reflexxions would take the disco biscuit.

Both parties were hardly strangers to collaboration on meeting. Jan St Werner had worked with Wolfgang Flur on his album Time Pie (Flur’s autobiography, I Was A Robot, is essentially a long novelised advert for it) and moonlighted as Microstoria with Markus Popp from Oval. Meanwhile, even if you don’t count The Fall as one long string of shifting pooled resources with Smith as conductor and arranger, he had previously popped up on record with everyone from Inspiral Carpets and Elastica to Coldcut and DNA (not that one). It may have been these years of experience that mean Von Sudenfed brings the best out of both of them, plunging them out of their comfort zones yet garnering harmonious results, and nowhere is this seen more pertinently than on Flooded. St Werner and Toma weave pounding layers of dancefloor-orientated, burbling, distorted techno fodder and, when it’s needed, manipulate the voice of MES to buggery as he recounts a tale that came to him in a dream of a DJ urinating so heavily behind the decks that it floods the club he’s performing in (obviously). Mark has hinted that a second foray with “The Sud” is possible – if anything of the calibre of Flooded appears in the future then the 2010s have at least one treat in store.
Thomas Blatchford

[Album: Tromatic Reflexxions]

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Noughties By Nature #104: Sergeant Buzfuz – Here Come The Popes (Parts 2 and 3)

UK anti-folkers Sergeant Buzfuz wormed their way into the 6 Music schedules with a series of satirical ditties about corruption in the Catholic church. Whilst their lyrical content seemed to hail from a completely different century, protesting about Papal orgies, the suppression of information and the suicidal ex-wives of Priests, the treatment sounds quite like nothing else – traditional folk fiddles battle with honking horns, Joe Murphy’s Steve Harley-esque vocals, mob cheers and some abnormally funky bass guitar lines.

Part two of the song is a laidback, acoustic treatment which wanly documents various incidents of corruption, Murphy’s vocals seeming detached and despairing. Part 3 then pans out into a louder, more anarchic scene, blasts in with a fanfare, and continues the theme with a distinct sense of vengeance. ...Popes manages to be political, amusing, adventurous, intelligent and incredibly memorable, features which are rare in isolation, and seldom ever found in the same song at the same time. It’s quirky without being whacky, imaginative without being self-indulgent, and funny without being throwaway. It may even at times make you feel angry.
In the underbelly of the indie music scene, this is exactly what the best material sounded like in the noughties – far away from the bright lights of the Reading main stage and the predictability of the XFM daytime schedules, there’s a sense that the seeds of something more thrilling are being sown.
Dave Bryant

[Spotify (Part 2)]
[Spotify (Part 3)]
[YouTube (Part 3)]
[Album: High Slang]

Noughties By Nature #103: Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds - Breathless

To be honest I feel a bit of a fraud writing this induction. I'm sure that every hip groovy person reading this will own a least one Nick Cave album, I don't. I do own this song, but only from iTunes. I can't even pretend to know all of his back catalogue and yet here I am writing the entry that will seal Mr Cave's place in Noughties by Nature. I bet you really wished that you wrote that e-mail now eh?

But for me Nick Cave's Breathless really is a song of the noughties as it's impact on my life has spanned six years. I remember first hearing it on Mark Radcliffe's late night Radio 2 slot some time in 2004 when he would always remark about if he was playing the version with the crazy flute playing at the beginning or not. Either way the song was beautiful. Light and peaceful to the ear but with a real bite to the lyrics, which had Nick saying that without the love of his life he's breathless.

At some point during this being on Radio 2 near-constantly I found myself a girlfriend (or rather she found me). I played her the song, she liked it and liked the video with the bunnies even more.

So when I proposed and she foolishly accepted there was only one choice for the music of our first dance*. And it fitted perfectly. After telling my family and friends in June 2008 how much I loved my wife, having a song to reinforce that declaration made the day even more perfect.

So thanks to Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds for playing at our wedding. I'm sure you'll be played at every anniversary as well.

* Rilo Kiley's I Never came close but there wasn't much of a beat to awkwardly dance to.
Ben Hall

[Album: Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus]

Noughties By Nature #102: Kat Flint - Fearsome Crowd

Kat Flint’s 2006 debut was a quiet masterpiece of songs about the everyday world we find ourselves in, made in a living room with borrowed favours and a car boot orchestra of children’s toy instruments. Its opener, Fearsome Crowd, is a four minute poem to London life – its mundanity, the strained quietness of millions of people sharing the same space, the same time but sharing little else but the emptiness and anonymity that comes with living in the capital.

In a city where the drunks are dressed in suits worth twice my rent, they fall asleep
On the shoulders of the strangers on the trains that map out every working week
And the streets run red with buses and blood from the fights that break out between friends
In a sea of eyes that look but never smile we're heading home
So we can all be alone

The song flows like a tube ride with each station stop a lull as another instrument, another recollection is introduced. Secret thoughts and hopes bounce along, propelled by her distinctive voice, acoustic guitars and cardboard box drums. Somewhere in the middle a synth appears. There are lots of "bop ba da"s to sing along to. I love songs about London but I don’t think I’d ever heard anyone manage to describe the aching loneliness that you can feel living there until I heard this.
Peter Wyeth

[YouTube (live)]
[Album: Dirty Birds]

Noughties By Nature #101: The Coral - Dreaming of You

The Coral debuted in 2002 with a melting-pot of an album, bowled along on waves of retro-rummaging and sea-shanty-imbued psychedelia. Second single ‘Dreaming of You’ is perfectly structured pop that shines like a diamond dug out of a Merseybeat time-capsule, but remains sufficiently scratched with the band’s spirit of unpolished experimentation to rise above mere emulation of their influences. It’s a deceptively jaunty two-and-a-bit minutes, smoothing over the raw melancholic isolation displayed in its lyrics with a torrent of ramshackle harmonies and a restless and infectious melodic vitality. While subsequent albums would see The Coral’s envelope-pushing lead them down increasingly complex musical paths, ‘Dreaming of You’ is a slice of straight up-and-down genius whose star never fades.
Rhian Jones

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Noughties By Nature #100: Johnny Foreigner - All Moseley Gardens

Were it not for the band being wonderfully prolific, drawing a line between "old Johnny Foreigner" and "new Johnny Foreigner" would be sort of a ridiculous endeavor. After all, we're talking about a relatively young band that played its first gigs only four years ago. But facts are facts and there is a hell of a lot of Johnny Foreigner music to pore over, and in this writer's opinion much of it stands out as being among the best of this waning decade. The early Johnny Foreigner stuff falls squarely into a "we made it at ours" bucket, versus the newer "we made it at theirs" material whose production was paid for and the product of which is manifested in the torrent of singles and the EP and two albums that have been on offer for the last three years. But early on, in the pre-Best Before years (more accurately "the Laundrette years" or the "we recorded it in our lock-up" years), hunting out the music was almost as exciting as the music itself. Even from the beginning there were scads of tracks, and ardent searches of web sites that launched and shuttered in rapid succession yielded massive rewards. We currently have 149 tracks from the Birmingham-based noise-pop outfit in our iTunes.

Perhaps our favorite among these (and, actually, statistically our favorite song based on iTunes playcount) is the early acoustic ballad All Moseley Gardens. Fans either first encountered the track among the stuff collected in the various demos collections (there were at least two versions of I Like You Mostly Late At Never, and another called Every Day Is A Constant Battle, if memory serves) or as The Hidden Track At The End Of The EP, 2007's Arcs Across The City. We went to see Johnny Foreigner's American live debut in New York two years ago, drank a lot, and have a vague recollection of drummer Junior Laidley telling us that the trio included All Moseley Gardens on Arcs because we kept blogging about it. Given our proclivity for generating and believing false memories, this probably didn't happen. But who knows?

While we wouldn't discover it until about a year later, the production of All Moseley Gardens is dead similar to that of the music on the "lost album" We Left You Sleeping And Gone Now. Which is a shorter way of saying adventurous lo-fi production that includes voices - and sheep? - in the periphery, borderline inscrutable but memorably poignant lyrics, weird keyboards, xylophone - you know, "old Johnny Foreigner," yeh? But the real hook of All Moseley Gardens is the stinging emotional weight conveyed in Alexei Berrow's murky lyrics. Berrow's words ("on the train back I think I said get out as fast as you can... and you're never gonna change your mind, no you're never gonna change your mind...") gather into a kind of bruise the broken-hearted can carry with them like a lucky charm to try to ward off the shittier days. That makes for a pretty great song.
Jay Breitling

[Spotify (after 4:11)]
[YouTube (live)]
[Mini-album: Arcs Across The City]

Noughties By Nature #99: Neon Neon – I Told Her On Alderaan

It feels ridiculous to say it now, but early reports concerning the debut (and presumably sole) album by Neon Neon could easily have suggested a project ready to deliver horrific results. Gruff Rhys has produced two wonderful solo LPs over the past decade, proof that he is at his best when in control instead of a co-pilot; Super Furry Animals are a band for which democracy does not work, seeing as the degree to which the rest of the band have had songwriting credits and a chance to do vocals has been inversely proportional to the quality of their longplaying output. That it would be with Boom Bip who, despite making incredible and cerebral leftfield hip-hop with Doseone, had already turned out a disappointing collaboration with Rhys – the downbeat aural dishwater of Do’s And Don’ts, a track sounding so un-arsed it was almost comatose – made this a more unnerving prospect. Add to that rumours of an appearance by Har Mar Superstar and a general ‘vibe’ in thrall to Eighties saccharine like Debbie Gibson and Janet Jackson, and concern was heightened further.

It turns out that there was no need to worry though, as they definitely pulled it out of the gold lamé bag, making a concept album that told through Gruff’s trademark lateral lyrical imagery and Bip’s newfound super-sleek production the rise and fall of automobile godhead John DeLorean. Stainless Style not only portrayed glamour, sleaze, debauchery and downfall vividly but held, in instances like I Told Her On Alderaan, the same perfect pop sorcery to rival their own biggest influences (McCartney II, Songs From The Big Chair, the Back To The Future soundtrack, the PWL back catalogue). While not as evocative a narrative as, say, the closing track, where DeLorean is fancifully buried in one of his own cars, the song instead tells with panache a love story based on Princess Leia’s home planet Alderaan, presumably about DeLorean’s second wife and radio KPBI’s advertising mascot Kelly Harmon (“If you ever got a bad reception / She’d flash a smile and change the perception”).

Since then, thanks in the most part to La Roux and the return of both Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet, the Eighties have been dragged formulaically back into the populist imagination with a style-over-substance zeal not seen since Romo. Just a year earlier, for Neon Neon to have not only seen the potential in an oft-maligned era of pop and a disgraced car manufacturer but done the both of them justice, seemed nothing short of extraordinary.
Thomas Blatchford

[Album: Stainless Style]

Noughties By Nature #98: Burial - Archangel

If I say woodblocks and Auto-Tune, you'll probably cry for all the wrong reasons. See also: it sounds like being on a night bus at three in the morning, standing alone in a Tube station, sitting at a computer after you get in and your eyes drying with insomnia and screendeath or driving back up the M1 in the cold and pissing rain when all that's left on the bridge of Leicester Forest services are tureens full of stew where the gravy has boiled down to evil-looking mud and bones stick out threateningly. It makes my sentences run on, and your blood run cold.

It's how it is, though. "Good at being alone...tell me I belong...if I trust you" could be the story of my life, and it isn't even a song as such. Although the vocals are unusually for Burial pretty much audible and distinguishable and the beat is upfront rather than crackling in the background, it still bears his hallmarks of ghosts, deep water, twitches and breaths. The echoes of the night. Streaking sodium lights. It doesn't sound like T-Pain, it doesn't sound like brostep, get those thoughts out of your head, it sounds like Blue Jam and your aching heart and rattling through tunnels. Bend, skip, bend, sigh, drop. Soul.

I'm never sure whether I prefer the first, self-titled, Burial LP or whether my favourite is Untrue, the album from which this track is taken, but if I only had to have one piece of music from this decade it would be this. There's a gaping cavern in my chest with a lump of granite on it pushing me down and this is the only thing that can move.
Penny Broadhurst

[Album: Untrue]

Noughties By Nature #97: The Long Blondes - Once And Never Again

Any band that emerges from Sheffield will always have to face up to the Pulp comparisons, regardless of what their sound is, and The Long Blondes where no exception. Initially grouped in with bands like The Cribs and The Kaiser Chiefs in the media concocted "New Yorkshire" scene, The Long Blondes ploughed their own furrow to create one of the most accomplished debut albums of the decade, Someone To Drive You Home.

To pick only one track from the album was always going to be a difficult choice, however Once & Never Again just edges out the feral sounds of Separated By Motorways or the kitchen sink melodrama of Weekend Without Makeup. Opening with an impassioned Kate Jackson proclaiming "19, you're only 19 for gods sake, you don't need a boyfriend" like an exasperated agony aunt, perhaps even looking for advice she should herself have heeded at that age, across a jangling guitar riff by Dorian Cox that you cant help but dance to.

The song then moves on to Jackson almost propositioning the subject matter of the song, "Come out with me and find out what you really want" before facing up to the facing up to the fact that she is no longer that young, and a confessional " I spend an hour getting ready every day, and still end up looking more or less the same" but we all know experience > youth in certain circumstances. The song ends in a clash of chiming guitars, and the innuendo laden line "How I'd love to feel a girl your age" and like all the best songs, clocks in at just under 3 minutes.

Sadly with the illness effecting Dorian the band split, but we were left with one perfect album (and one slight mis-step with "Couples"), containing many perfect songs, with Once & Never Again being the jewel in the crown, and a reminder, that boys may be the most prominent face of rock and roll, it's only once the girls are involved that the magic happens.
Andy Robertson

[Album: Someone To Drive You Home]

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Noughties By Nature #96: The Horrors - Who Can Say?

The Horrors’ pantomime-Cramps shtick and ropey 2007 debut had seen them sniffily dismissed and quietly filed away under overhyped, overstyled and over. So in a decade that’s been low on musical surprises, the slew of positive reviews garnered by their second album took place against a borderline-hysterical backdrop of various hats being eaten. As gratifying as backtracking by their detractors must have been, on the slab of intrepid post-punk Who Can Say? the band sound self-aware and self-assured enough to do without external validation. The song wears its influences unabashedly, draped in a swathe of My Bloody Valentine guitars and relentlessly dour vocals. There’s also a po-faced spoken-word break that keeps the song’s head above the backwash of 80s revivalism, scraping off the panstick to reveal as much substance as style.
Rhian Jones

[Album: Primary Colours]

Noughties By Nature #95: Girls On Top – We Don’t Give A Damn About Our Friends

Whilst thinking about tracks to nominate for this list, I did try to consider any major leaps or bounds which occurred in musical styles throughout the decade. The more I thought about this, the more I came to the conclusion that the main noughties trend which appeared to be without precedent (bar a couple of jokey examples towards the end of the nineties which set the ball rolling) was the mash-up.

Taking the melody of one record and splicing the vocals (or other aspects) of another across the top of it has become an online phenomenon, although the limits of such an idea meant that the whole affair appeared to have totally lost the interest of most record buyers by early 2005 (and I remain convinced that I first heard somebody say mash-ups were 'over' in 2001). From starting life as a bold way of crossing genres and making people realise that everything is, as Andy Partridge once said, pop, then becoming a worn and tired gimmick, it's perfectly possible that people will actually be nostalgic about mash-ups next year if things move fast enough.

This really was the deserved pinnacle of the phenomenon, a Richard X track which merrily spliced Gary Numan’s Are Friends Electric with Adina Howard’s Freak Like Me, and managed to turn Numan’s alienated, distraught paean to the collapse of a relationship into a sassy, savage little declaration of intent, flipping the concept almost entirely. Unlike many mash-ups which seemed to have brief moments where the tracks obviously clashed and jarred slightly, the pair seemed absurdly made for each other, and this became something of an underground favourite.

Of course, the natural upshot of the track’s fashionable cultish following was that the Sugababes ended up covering the mash-up in an example of post-modernism gone utterly, utterly mad, and their first number one was assured. In fact, there’s not an enormous degree of difference between the two versions, and this entry could just as easily belong to them – but the original has a bit more rawness and punch to it thanks to Adina’s vocals, and still sounds astonishing even now whilst the trend seems passé.

As for the inevitable question of what the trend of recycling old material and splicing it with other old material really said about the state of pop as the 21st Century began, I actually quite like the fact that, right at the starting block, we had a phenomenon that claimed that all music was just pop, and could be listened to as such - that artists who seemed to exist at polar opposites to each other actually weren't as far apart as one might suppose, and could co-exist happily. It's perhaps not the terrible start to the century some would say it is, and reflects the rather more open approach to music which has been instigated as the Internet has allowed people to sample a much broader range of styles for free. Now though, perhaps it’s time to move on to the future, whatever that may be.
Dave Bryant

[Part stream from Richard X's Black Melody site]

Noughties By Nature #94: Half Man Half Biscuit - For What Is Chatteris...

Those people who've actually listened to more than a couple of tracks of Half Man Half Biscuit's output will already know that they're deserving of far more than the "novelty band" tag they're often given by people who know them as nothing more than the purveyors of Trumpton Riots or All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit. But even those who actually have a lot of time for Nigel Blackwell's unique blend of biting satire, pop culture references, canny wordplay, Thomas Hardy quoting and guides to hillwalking can find ourselves surprised, on occasion, by the hidden depths he's able to demonstrate. Case in point - For What Is Chatteris..., just two minutes long and unassumingly sitting as the third track on what may still be the high point of their later career so far, 2005's Achtung Bono.

A charming little love song, Chatteris has a sweet yet sad - and, crucially, sharp - premise at its core. Describing the idyllic, timeless and markedly English countryside beauty and perfection of the titular village ("The swings in the park for the kids have won awards / The clean streets, acknowledged in the Lords"), Blackwell goes on to lament that all of it is ultimately meaningless if it can't be shared with an unnamed (presumed departed) love: "My bag's packed and I'm leaving in a minute / For what is Chatteris without you in it?" he declares, before concluding that he "may as well be in Ely or St. Ives".

Aside from being somewhat heartbreaking, it is of course - as ever - the craft and wit of Blackwell's poetry that makes this; and he still manages to make a lament brilliantly funny with couplets like "You never hear of folk getting knocked on the bonce / Although there was a drive-by shouting once". And how many other songs can you name with the word "quintessence" in?
Seb Patrick

[YouTube (live)]
[Album: Achtung Bono]

Noughties By Nature #93: Euros Childs - First Time I Saw You

It starts with a curious, squelchy, electronic noise (my spell check has recognised 'squelchy' as a word, so that must be what it is): I am utterly unable to suggest what sort of instrument may have made it, but it sounds like some electronic toy from the past gone wrong or part of a tune from an 8-bit computer game played through a broken television. In comes young Euros (well, not so young these days, sightly older than me if Wikipedia's to be believed, but I have difficulty imagining him being any older than he was when Gorky's first started doing sessions on Mark Radcliffe's Graveyard Shift; it's probably because his hair doesn't appear to have changed since then) telling us about the effect of the first time he saw some girl he's really keen on. And that's about it. For eight minutes.

Well, all right, it builds up a bit, there's some gentle banjo and pleasing keyboard noises and it builds to a fairly polite climax, but that certainly doesn't explain why this would be worth eight minutes of anyone's time. Maybe it's because the simple details of his beloved that the narrator picks out combined with the curious yet lovely backing evokes something of the giddiness of the early throes of love ("How could anybody be above you?" asks Euros at one point, which always invokes a wistful thought or two around here). Or possibly it's the endlessly repeating eight-note squelchy noise.

It's the squelchy noise. I'm sitting here trying to make a similar noise with my mouth and failing miserably. I realise that this is an incredibly flimsy reason to really like a song. I'm sorry.
Matt Sullivan

[Album: Chops]

Monday, November 23, 2009

Noughties By Nature #92: And So I Watch You From Afar - S Is For Salamander

This isn't even out yet, but I guarantee that the day you hear it, it will change your life. Being crushingly heavy and spectacularly epic in equal proportions has become ASIWYFA's trademark and it's taken them into mainstream radio playlists where other instrumental acts have failed. S is For Salamander is the perfect example of said trademark. The opening riff alone is enough to sell this song as the utter brilliance that it is, but combine that with the briefest of brief mosh-pit fodder riffery in the middle, and top it off with the epic outro spliced together with handclaps and you've got the future definition of instrumental rock.
John Helps, Maybeshewill

[YouTube (live)]

Noughties By Nature #91: Sufjan Stevens - Seven Swans

When it happened, it came as a bit of a shock. Even although it's probably my favourite song on my favourite album of this decade. Even although I always find the lyrical mix of Sufjan's family bonfire and the religious apocalypse heady and intoxicating. The sparse banjo plucking and Sufjan's breathy vocals get the tingles going right from the start, and when the song fades away then builds towards the climax of "He will take you if you run / he will chase you / For he is the Lord" it slays me every time. But one morning a few months ago, standing on the Northern Line platform at Bank Station, with the song playing in my earphones I was experiencing the usual emotions I associate with Seven Swans, when it happened. Tears started welling up in my eyes, then rolling down my cheek. I wiped them, and looked round, a little embarassed. But everyone was looking at the incoming Tube train. I boarded along with everyone else and sat down. I felt drained. I never quite expected this would happen, but I'm glad it did.
Tim Murray

[YouTube (live)]
[Album: Seven Swans]

Noughties By Nature #90: Hefner – The Day That Thatcher Dies

Of course (at least at time of writing anyway), it didn’t happen. She may presumably still be planning her own state funeral, but thanks to Darren Hayman a swathe of the indie underground will know exactly what they’ll be doing whenever the time arrives, “even though we know it’s not right.” Hayman, you’ll recall, also made a number of impressive solo albums studying post-war suburbia, created an incredibly underrated LP of electro-wanderings as The French, given the bloggers an Anglicised version of bluegrass, had a hand in re-popularising the ukulele and still had time to write his fans a postcard from his caravan holidays. But it’s Hefner (self-described as “the biggest small band in the country”) that’ll stay most celebrated. Near the end of the cracking We Love The City, another forthright yet gentle foray into – let’s face it – his own tempestuous love life, the brass-laden The Day That Thatcher Dies mixes even more astute recollections about fancying a girl with blood-thirsty lefty polemic, confirming in his own mind that schadenfreude and sex share the same sort of delicious guilt. Plus, for good measure, a group of kids chanting “Ding dong the witch is dead” with cheerful malice, channelling a sentiment of the national masses that despite being decades old still felt raw. More of a street party than a poll-tax riot, admittedly, but as anti-nostalgia goes it was scathing enough.
Thomas Blatchford

[YouTube (live)]
[Album: We Love The City]

Noughties By Nature #89: Chris T-T - Dreaming of Injured Pop Stars

So what, when you get right down to it, were the noughties? Every other decade has a sound, a style, some set of definite reference points that, while barely scratching the surface of what was actually around at the time, does at least offer an easy way for lazy film directors to establish what particular time period their movie is set in and costume ideas for particularly unimaginative house parties. The seventies had glam, the nineties had Britpop, and the eighties had, well, the eighties, but the noughties had... umm, what, exactly? They’re a hodge podge of both everything and nothing. From the thought out to the flimsy, this was the decade that wanted to have its cake and eat it, the decade that wanted to consume every entertainment possibility presented to it and the decade that decided that genre barriers were nothing more than needless segregation and should be torn down at the earliest opportunity.

And it’s not just the boundaries between genres that became blurred and indistinct. The camps of so-called high and low culture began to bleed into each other, with classical sensibilities happily being referenced in pop songs and Big Brother being discussed on Newsnight Review. Before it would be unthinkable for certain parts of society to have an opinion on something like Pop Idol, now it’s unthinkable for them not to, and even the hardiest indie snob will admit to a grudging respect for the Xenomania production team. This cross-pollination of scenes and ideas has bled into all aspects of life and it’s with that in mind that we - eventually - turn to our Noughties by Nature selection by someone who demonstrates a keen awareness of indie becoming pop and vice versa: Chris T-T and Dreaming of Injured Pop Stars.

Chris has commented on the confused and bewildered state of the decade throughout the noughties, but here we go back to the year 2000 itself and his attack on the uninspired and uninvolving nature of the music scene at the start of the decade. Overflowing with wit and refusing to fall into the generic “being popular is the same as being bad” trap, this song is a revenge fantasy, naming and shaming some of the worst examples of “shit pop” of the day and coming up with excruciating - but suitable - deaths for all those responsible, be they Lisa from Steps, Cher or, in a line which still raises a smile, Kelly Jones. In the wrong hands this could have ended up as an embarrassing bellow of impotent rage, coming across as a nothing more than a bitter sideswipe by someone jealous of other’s success, but Chris’ lyrics, combined with a tune that proves he’s more than happy to embrace the world of hooks, even though said hooks are laced with cyanide, turn this into a joyous celebration of everything that should be right with music.

He’s gone from strength to strength over the decade. You could pluck any song at random from any of his albums and find something worthy of being included in this list, but I’ve chosen this as, while its unlikely that it was being handed round record company boardrooms in a fearful fashion, it did seem to signify a change in the music scene. The shit pop did, for the most part, get wiped out, and acts came along who raised their game and realised that success didn’t have to mean pandering to the lowest common denominator and that the audience could be challenged, making the noughties, whatever they might eventually come to be remembered for, what they are today. Christ T-T may not have been responsible for this actual change, but he had, and continues to have, his eye on the zeitgeist. No-one knows what the next decade has in store for us, but I can’t wait to find out he has to say about it.
Doug Robertson

[Album: Panic Attack At Sainsbury's]

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Noughties By Nature #88: The Lucksmiths - T-Shirt Weather

Everyone has a band they love and just cant really work out why they are not far more famous. They are just so obviously great. For me that band is The Lucksmiths from Melbourne, Australia - though actually that maybe the reason.

T-Shirt weather is the perfect Lucksmiths song. An upbeat pop song about making the most of the summer, Tali White’s stand-up drumming dominates as ever, but there’s room for a little jangly guitar break from Marty and there are even ba ba ba’s. In the words of one of their other songs, it’s like Sunlight In A Jar. Pop perfection.
Matt Gaynor

[YouTube (live)]

Noughties By Nature #87: Missy Elliot - Get Ur Freak On

The best of several crossover cuts with which a bona fide goddess in hoop earrings and an inflatable binliner punctuated the first half of the decade, Get Ur Freak On leads with a whiplash bhangra-bashing beat that doesn’t bother catching the ear but goes straight for the hips. Missy jerks the song’s strings like a demon puppetmaster, firing off smokily spare vocal rounds. Instantly infectious and a sufficiently sparkling gem as an original, its jittery genius was also picked up and polished in a glittering array of remixes that made the post-Nineties dancefloor a brighter place to be.
Rhian Jones

[Album: Miss E...So Addictive]

Noughties By Nature #86: Pulp – Bad Cover Version

It’s tempting for most people to regard Pulp as being a quintessentially nineties act – this despite their long career in the wilderness throughout the eighties where they produced some perfectly good material (and some trash too, admittedly) and the We Love Life album which hit the top ten album charts in 2001, then belly-flopped straight out again.

The Bad Cover Version single from that album proved to be their swansong, and suitably feels like one of their finest moments. Feeling for all the world like a lost Walker Brothers tune falling into the laps of Cocker and company, it boldly chimes and crashes towards its lovelorn conclusion like a drunken man thrashing out his post-relationship woes whilst wobbling away from his seat at the bar. It’s a black and white, smoke-fogged, orchestral wonder of a single, stopping just short of being histrionic.

Despite its kitchen sink production leanings, Jarvis’ lyrical observations give the whole scene a popular culture-quoting, flock wallpaper backed feel: “Like Planet of the Apes on TV/Like an own brand box of cornflakes/he’s going to let you down my friend”. Fortunately, Pulp never really let us down, and this was a mighty way to exit the music industry. It also sounds like a lost Christmas number one from another, fairer parallel universe.
Dave Bryant

[Album: We Love Life]

Noughties By Nature #85: Saves The Day – As Your Ghost Takes Flight

It may be over-emphatic to say that the day I stumbled, hungover, into Cash Generator minutes before starting a grueling 9 hour JD Wetherspoon’s shift and picked up Vagrant Records: Another Year On the Streets Volume 2 for 99p changed my life forever. But then again, as far as CD compilations go, one that reaffirms your love for burgeoning artists, causes you to fall hopelessly in love with a whole heap of new ones, and sparks within you the dream to one day be involved with a record label roster quite as phenomenal as Vagrant possessed in the early noughties... Well, it can’t be bad!

And although this particular track wasn’t on this compilation, it was hearing the quite frankly beautiful Ups And Downs (shouldered in with epics from the likes of The Get up Kids, Hey Mercedes, Alkaline Trio, Rocket From The Crypt and Hot Rod Circuit) that ignited my passion for Saves the Day, led me to Stay What you Are, back to Through Being Cool and beyond most particularly this song – which summed up for me, everything they had to offer.

Breathless, young and laden with the kind of the emotion that I was laden with as a wide-eyed teen, this song for me embodied the breakneck pace of life, daily doses of jealousy, pain, love and unbridled lust… All lovingly yelped alongside the perfect 4 minute alt-pop song, just the right side of emo, oozing with potential to express oneself, and what’s more - the lyrics were beautifully black: “The last time that I saw you, August of '99,
I should've had my hammer and a few rusty spikes
to nail you on a wall and use bottles to catch your blood
, display you for the neighbors so they know your time had come", but delivered in such a way that they juxtaposed the melodious tune perfectly…

The song may not have been their absolute best (I’d suggest looking at Through Being Cool on the identically titled album for their masterstroke – incidentally released late 90s) but it came about at the beginnings of something absolutely special for me. Captivating me like no other label had previously (although Fierce Panda had come close around the turn of the century) Saves the Day display everything that’s perfect about powerful alt pop/rock (however you’d describe it) – and remain one of the most important acts, from one of the most important alternative labels of the 90s, ever “floating somewhere in between the waking world and a landscape of dreams”.

Is that lyric appropriate – hell, I don’t know, but I love, love, love!
Jack, Alcopop Records

[YouTube (live)]
[Album: Stay What You Are]

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Noughties By Nature #84: The Pipettes - Magician Man

For some reason, I always think it sounds like the last day of summer at a run-down seaside town. And walking along some sort of metaphorical promenade - yes, I know this is rubbish, but bear with me - we encounter Rosay Pipette (as was), who's here to tell us a tale of a girl she's taken against, dancing and boys. Fortunately, she has friends on hand to provide splendidly over the top backing vocals and mighty "oooohs", and someone will provide rat-a-tat drums that could tempt even the clumsiest individual into careless air drumming.

Rosay spins her yarn delightfully, particular highlights being: the resigned admission that the girl who's incurred her ire wouldn't remember her name; the triumph when Rosay deems that her and her new beau's dancing is "better than her... much better"; the insistence that she still remembers ("Still remember! Still remember!": The backing vocals are awesomely ridiculous throughout) that first meeting. The chorus repeats, the song fades out in a chaos of drums, strange noises, increasingly crazed backing vocals ("Not a magician! Not a magician!"), the sun at this metaphorical seaside town sinks below the pier, and having proved how properly great they were at their peak that they could throw away stuff like this on the B-side of a 7" (Pull Shapes), The Pipettes implode in a sea of line-up changes and solo careers. Pop music should always work this way, really.
Matt Sullivan


Noughties By Nature #83: Helen Love - Debbie Loves Joey

Musically, this is exactly the same as Helen Love’s previous Radio Hits, Shifty Disco Girl, Does Your Heart Go Boom and the Peel favourite Girl About Town. And, like most other Helen Love songs, it mentions The Ramones, discos, beaches, and a story about a boy and girl in love.

But Debbie Loves Joey is a culmination of everything that is really quite good about Helen Love’s other songs, and cutting and pasting them all together creates an almighty pop explosion of bubblegum-punk-pop brilliance. It’s the eternal boy-meets-girl love song, but with wit and candour and a lived-in realism : "Special Vat in the Park"; "D’ya like the Sex Pistols, have you got a light?"

If this song hadn’t been a free download, and then released on an import 6-track EP, then it really would’ve actually charted. But after a long hiatus from the UK Music Scene, Helen Love came back with a bang, a much-needed breath of fresh Swansea Bay air.
Mark Price

[Album: It's My Club And I'll Play What I Want To]

Noughties By Nature #82: Johnny Flynn – The Wrote And The Writ

There’s an awful lot that’s been said about music and poetry, and their relation to each other. So many have said Bob Dylan’s more poet than singer, and even my mum says Eminem’s an ‘urban poet’, but the line seems so thin between the two it’s difficult to see which is which. Where does musical poetry end and pure music begin? I’d say the real distinction lies in how you think about a song after it’s finished – if you’re humming the tune, it’s music, if you’re ruminating on what’s been said to you, that’s true poetry.

In that regard, The Wrote And The Writ more than qualifies as poetry. An ambiguous tale about religion, priesthood and possibly love, it leaves you reeling at the sheer beauty of the words and what it could all mean. The rest of the band take a step back on this track, using just violin and muffled drums as background noise, whilst even Johnny’s strident dobro guitar takes on a more leisurely role, letting the words do their bit. That’s not to say the music isn’t important though, the sparse, slowly intertwining instruments carry Johnny’s deep velvety vocals along perfectly and, more importantly, beautifully.

That’s what this song is ultimately, truly beautiful. Every aspect cries out as if there’s some hidden message behind it that you’re not quite seeing, and that seems exactly the point. This seems the purest distillation, and most wonderful endorsement of musical poetry, and Johnny Flynn knows this - as the music winds down he lets his final line ring out, "Don’t say in a letter what you can’t in my ear".
Joe Skrebels

[YouTube (live)]
[Album: A Larum]

Noughties By Nature #81: The Knife - We Share Our Mother's Health

Karin Dreijer Andersson could imbue a Morrison's shopping list with icy grandeur, which is a blessing given The Knife, for all their melodic brilliance, aren't really blessed in the “incisive lyrics” department. “Red wine and food for free- a possibility?” Seriously folks, my six year old cousin could do better than that. But if can bring yourself to ignore their woeful way with words, The Knife's gloriously atmospheric electro-pop will forcibly insert itself into your brain and refuse to leave. Imagine Daft Punk if their happy-clappy anime world was invaded by the Borg, and you've got the picture- whilst the bouncy percussion and crystalline synths inspires you to dance, the sinister main vocal and brooding sense of impending doom simultaneously inspires you to recoil with fear. I'd also strongly recommend checking out Ratatat's remix if you get the chance - more minimalist, just as sublime.
Adam Elmahdi

[Album: Silent Shout]

Friday, November 20, 2009

Noughties By Nature #80: Misty’s Big Adventure – Serious Thing

Misty’s Big Adventure were the decade’s great might-have-beens who never really seemed to fulfill their commercial potential (a thing I suspect they scoffed at the idea of just as much as they secretly dreamed about it). They may have done themselves no favours in this respect with their most well-known single Fashion Parade, which chose to quite hilariously mock the landfill indie scenesters who cluttered up the Top 10 in the middle of the decade. By continually yelling out about how odd, outsiderish and eccentric they were compared to their peers, they may have caused people to close their ears to how well they knew their way around a classic song as well.

Serious Thing is a prime example of this. Beginning as a gently strummed, mumbling little ballad about a relationship’s demise, it builds into a momentous, epic thing of wonder, filled to the brim with old-school easy listening harmonies, a wonderfully pounding instrumental break, and one of the most plain and simple but strangely effective lyrical phrases the band have ever produced: “Everyone says it’s a serious thing... and you’d be surprised at the pain it can bring”.

Serious Thing ends as it begins, with a whimper rather than a bang, and feels like something The Magnetic Fields would have written if they were actually a quarter as good as some of you chaps seem to believe they are. There’s nothing half-arsed, lo-fi, cultish or indie about this noise – it’s big, bold and thoughtful, and deserved to be heard by many more people.
Dave Bryant

[Album: Funny Times]

Noughties By Nature #79: The Manhattan Love Suicides - Clusterfuck

The past decade has seen the music industry change beyond recognition. From Napster to Itunes - the means for people to get their ears on new music has altered immeasurably. And just as the method of consumption has been tilted on its head, so have the traditional methods for measuring a band's success. Chart positions? NME covers? They all seem terribly archaic notions and somewhat irrelevant in 2009. The advent of blogs, My Space and Spotify has meant you can take your musical pleasure instantly. This opening up of the music business to bands that are internet-savvy means a fair few can actually slip under the traditional radar. Which brings me to the band in question here. The Manhattan Love Suicides. A few articles on Pitchfork and Plan B magazine is not much return for one of the best bands of the past 10 years, is it?

The Manhattan Love Suicides. Go on say it out loud. As band names go it resonates. The band would have to be something special to match the name. And they were - first bursting into our world in late 2006, live they were a squall of feedback, attitude and defiance. In defiance of what? I'm not sure I ever fully worked that out. But their 20 minute sets still felt like a statement. Even if it was over 20 years since The Jesus and Mary Chain had first tried this nifty trick, there was still something powerful going on in giving an audience a brief teaser before pulling the plug and walking off stage in a maelstrom of guitar feedback.

In their three and half years together the band blasted through over 50 songs which is impressive a feat on it's own. It becomes even more so when you listen back to all 50 odd songs and find it's 99% killer and very little filler. For me they burnt no brighter than on their Clusterfuck EP. And it is the title song of that EP that I hold as my favourite tune of the past ten years. As a song it encapsulates everything I love about music - pop hooks and buzzsaw guitars. The Manhattan Love Suicides knew how to deliver a fuzzy adrenalin rush in 3 minutes and from the off this song is built around one of those irresistible pop hooks, you know, the kind that you are humming for days after hearing the song for the first time. Adding a wall of sound production to this pop song serves to intensify the rush of excitement as the song hurtles towards its destructive outcome. The guitars are delivered with barbed wire fuzz and the drums crash like the staccato of rapid machine gun fire - amidst the noise we have the ice cool vocals of Caroline McChrystal that somehow shimmer like a beacon of calm.

As the business side of making music lurches blindly towards its extinction, bands like The Manhattan Love Suicides might come and go and not prick public consciousness but for those that took the time to dig beneath the surface of pop culuture, it's these bands that we will remember the noughties for.
Trev McCabe

[Album: Burnt Out Landscapes]

Noughties By Nature #78: Patrick Wolf - The Libertine

Pretentions to militant outsiderdom were ten a penny in the past decade, but few walked the walk like Patrick Wolf. The Libertine takes the millenium's tendency towards no-more-heroes melodrama, fuses it with a sense of self-belief you could bend steel around, and forges an unstoppable flight of righteous prickly petulance. Bleak and Yeatsian in outlook and atmosphere, the song opens with delicately poised piano and slowly-unravelling strings that bow under the weight of a thumping backbeat. Its galloping rhythms swoop and loop through outcrops of dark electro, spurred on by lyrics that scatter at swordpoint a slew of romantic and chivalric tropes before Wolf, alone in "a drought of truth and invention", pulls us along through a full-throttle tilt at the darkness of a dried-up dystopia and over the edge into a better world.
Rhian Jones

[Album: Wind In The Wires]

Noughties By Nature #77: Maps - You Don't Know Her Name

In this day and age of identikit asymmetrically-haircutted guitar bands who are barely distinguishable from each other (far more so than any X Factor contestant), it's not that easy to find yourself getting very excited about a genuinely 'new' artist. Which is why it's all the more exciting when a record by one such genuinely 'new' artist sneaks up and surprises you in the midst of washing-up-soundtracking Radcliffe & Maconie that you only really had on for This Just In anyway.

You Don't Know Her Name has a solid grasp of what made indie great in the past - it has the moody and malevolent ambience of the sort of record that they stopped making in about 1993 (or, to be more accurate, that Ride, Catherine Wheel and My Bloody Valentine stopped making in about 1993), so much so that you can almost hear Mark Goodier jabbering an endearingly ill-fitting endorsement over the conclusion, and the wobbly intro is uncannily reminiscent of a shaky mispressed 7" bought in Woolworths' bargain bin the week it had fallen twenty places in the chart - but an equally solid grasp of what's relevant now; namely huge anthemic choruses and analogue synths repurposed to sound 'modern'. You get the best of both worlds with this song and it really ought to have followed Franz Ferdinand and Kaiser Chiefs into the charts and being slapped all over 'tonight... on BBC1!' rundowns.
TJ Worthington

[Album: We Can Create]

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Noughties By Nature #76: Clock Opera - Once And For All

A greatest song of the decade that hasn’t even been released yet? Well, I’m a blogger, and that means constantly searching for the new and exciting, so as the decade closes the music I’m most interested in is not what has happened in the past, but what is going on now and in the future. John Peel once said that his desert island discs would be ten records he hadn’t heard yet, and this is an ideal I share. End of decade lists are fun (and this list sure is fun) but the future is more important. Who is to say that Once And For All by Clock Opera is not one of the greatest songs of the noughties? Just because it’s only on a new bands Myspace page with over 1000 listens doesn’t make it any the lesser as a piece of music.

To create Once And For All lead singer Guy Connelly chopped and sampled sounds then spliced them together again to create a life affirming brain invading pop symphony. It’s a song that combines electronic textures and harsh beauty in a magical way that led to our blog proclaiming “We love Clock Opera more than our own children.” It’s about as perfect as you can get in 2009. Decade closed. Over and out.
Robin Seamer


Noughties By Nature #75: Adam Green - Jessica

Mainly because I’m a bitter and unlovable cynic, I’ve always found the phenomena of the ‘hate song’ much more interesting than the traditional love song. The more vitriolic spittle collected by the vocalist’s microphone during the recording session the better, if you ask me. When it comes to hate songs, they can be even more enjoyable when camouflaged by a veneer of jollity, and as such the true meaning often goes undetected for many listeners. Notable example: Twisting by They Might Be Giants, a song about a girl wishing her ex-boyfriend was dangling from a noose, subsequently used as the backing to a Pizza Hut campaign.

Ex-Moldy Peach Adam Green, in the standout track from 2003’s Friends Of Mine, takes things in a slightly different direction. Without paying attention to the lyrics, Jessica comes over as a meltingly heartfelt ode to singer, actress and MTV reality show star Jessica Simpson. Green croons like he has seldom crooned since, the gentle strum of his guitar mingles politely amongst his words as the strings begin to swell in the background, yet all this is at odds with the true meaning of the song. From the very first line (“Jessica Simpson, where has your love gone, it’s not in your music, no”), it’s quite clear that Green is sneering at the lack of artistry displayed by the target of his song.

As the song goes on, the mellifluous contempt continues, pointing out the subject’s “fraudulent smile” and pondering on how she’ll have little more to look forward to than waitressing jobs and a vain struggle against the ravages of time once her fifteen minutes of Viacom-sanctioned fame are up. Alongside all this, the backing strings glide around elegantly, and it’s kind of hard not to feel a little moved by the overall juxtaposition.

Adam Green has pointed out in interviews since the song became (fleetingly) popular that the target of the song is more the generic interchangeable US pop starlet circa the early noughties, and that Jessica Simpson was chosen as the specific subject simply because she was as good an example as any. Now, this doesn’t detract from the majesty of the song at all, but I can’t help but feel the whole thing would have an extra little dash of magic had it turned out it was all part of some calculated vengeance after Jessica Simpson had driven over Adam Green’s cat.

Yeah, as I’d said, I’m a bitter and unlovable cynic.
Mark Jones

[Album: Friends Of Mine]

Noughties By Nature #74: Aaliyah - More Than A Woman

Try and forget the fact that R Kelly produced 14 year-old Aaliyah’s debut album, the not-at-all controversially titled Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number, and may have had a relationship / dodgy marriage with her when she was 15. Try and respect the fact that she died tragically in an air-crash at the age of 22.

Before she died, she recorded the sexiest, most sensual, most sensuous song of the noughties: More Than A Woman. The melody is soft and curvy, the verse joins with the chorus which joins with the verse again. There’s this beautiful pause in the chorus, "More than a woman/More than a lover/[pause] More than another" which for some higher and heavenly reason is the most breathlessly anticipatory thing I have ever heard. The lyrics, especially for an R’n’B song, are beautifully poignant, honest and sweet, "We share pillows", "there’s no separating". This song makes me fuzzy inside. And sad. Beautifully sad.

According to Wikipedia, this was the first ever posthumous UK number 1 by a female artist. According to me, it’s the best UK number 1 by any artist.
Jamie Woods, Super Kawaii POP!

[Album: Aaliyah]

Noughties By Nature #73: Eastern Lane - Saffron

In late 2003/early 2004 the NME busied itself for several weeks discussing in great depth its own Brit Pack. A, rather large actually, collection of rock groups from disparate parts of the kingdom with seemingly no tangible link other than broad location. Of these bands, a few actually made it someplace. Kasabian, Keane and The Ordinary Boys have all gone on to achieve notoriety...

Eastern Lane were one Brit Pack band who it never really happened for. I think I remember their initial blurb said something about them sounding like The Strokes mixed with the Pixies. That sounded brill to me and I duly checked them out. It was a pretty alluring and as it turns out, pretty accurate description to a 16 year old with few reference points.

Eastern Lane played rock music that made it feel like you were standing and leaning forward as far as is possible without falling over, just. They were fronted by this unholy voice, screaming and screeching, soulfully swearing and bringing so much to these, at times, irreverent lyrics.

Why Saffron wasn't a bigger hit I'll never know. It was released on Rough Trade post Strokes/Libertines so surely they knew how and who to market it to. The fantastically catchy guitar intro is there. The singalong lyrical hook is there "it's over now before its even begun/my heart yearns". There's a guitar solo and he wooos over it. What were the kids thinking?

I lied earlier about the Pixies drawing me in to Eastern Lane, it was after I heard Eastern Lane, rereading the NME description that I checked out the Pixies and yeah, good decision.
Simon Lawson

[Album: The Article Cycle]

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Noughties By Nature #72: The Moldy Peaches – Who’s Got The Crack?

In hindsight, it seems a little peculiar that a music press with its eyes and ears drawn to New York by The Strokes – an enticing sum of fairly conservative New Wave parts, let’s admit it – should lump them into a ‘scene’ with a scuzzily twee no-fi duo that looked like characters from a Jeffrey Lewis comic strip dressed for a street pantomime (and claimed to drink each other’s urine). But before Hollywood focussed on the band as the epitome of love-drunk cutesy indie-cred sometime after the event, Moldy Peaches were known just as well for their combination of brash punk chanting with well-aimed playground obscenity (I doubt Ellen Page and Michael Cera would seem as doe-eyed and charismatic if they ended Juno screaming Downloading Porn With Davo). They reached their filthy, forthright best with Who’s Got The Crack, a sing-along that sounds like it was recorded in an alleyway let alone a bedroom, swaying as it does from syrupy nursery-rhyme (“I am a goat, in a moat, with a boat”) to a riotous terrace-worthy chorus. The climax, where the group seem to shed their last inhibition and augment to a whirlwind of ruffled harmonies before collapsing entirely, demonstrates ably their enduring appeal; like potty-mouthed alchemists they seemed to create something bracing without even trying. Considering their stage show is said to have regularly seen most of the audience onstage with them, the effect of this song alone could have been not only joyous but also devastating. If anti-folk continues to endure then this forever be its Cumberland Gap.
Thomas Blatchford

[YouTube (live)]
[Album: The Moldy Peaches]

Noughties By Nature #71: Battles - Atlas

If you check the internet, there's lots of interesting information to be found about this band. Who they are, how they do what they do, what they're all about. Beyond a certain level of polite interest, I don't really care about that stuff. It's not what makes this such an astonishing musical thing, and it might just spoil things. Loads of people make loops and layer them up. Loads of people play live drums alongside these loops, and then jam along. Plenty of bands channel the spirit of the Dr Who theme: Why, Muse were doing it only a month or so ago. And there is clearly no chance that we're ever going to run out of seven-minute long faux-instrumentals with an art-rock bent, not while there's a world-wide-web.

What makes Atlas so different that it is FUN. Everything about it is fun. I'm amazed it hasn't been used to soundtrack a cartoon. Bits of it sound like Pink Elephants On Parade, and believe you me, praise doesn't come much higher than that. It's got that brilliant eerie lurch to it, a kind of drunken half-articulated leg-scrape of a gait that'll drag you out of your seat and run skeleton fingers up and down your ribs to get you to dance.

And the melody! That ridiculous spiralling munchkin parade! Slightly eerie, yes, but only in the way that truly brilliant children's films are often eerie, the way that Heath Robinson drawings are sometimes a bit eerie. Y'know...FUN-eerie.

The band's album featured a mirrorbox full of instruments, left hanging in blackspace. The implication being that the music is generated by some kind of mechanical possession, that sprites and gremlins are generating magic from inside the machines, while the band sleep. All they have to do is turn up, tune up, and rock out.

And that's why I'd rather not know more. The prosaic truth - talented musicians come up with catchy tune - lets the song down, and that would never do.
Fraser McAlpine

[Album: Mirrored]

Noughties By Nature #70: Darren Hayman – Something I Could Never Be

Hefner’s masterpiece is We Love The City, dealt with elsewhere in this series, but after the band split and the under-rated French album was released, Hayman found himself embroiled in legal action with his former record label and unable to release more songs. This meant that songs were stockpiled and when the first solo record Table For One came out there wasn’t room for this little gem, which had to wait a couple of more years for the Dessert menu release before it saw the light of day.

Seemingly more personal than Darren’s other solo songs that tend to be 3rd person storytelling nowadays, Something That I Could Never Be is an insistent song that careers along at a fair lick as the words and thoughts tumble out and may well be about insecurity “I wanted to be something i was scared to be” or just a nostalgic look back into the past "There was a pub down the road, i drank their in my teens.... now the pubs at MacciDs". But is probably about neither.

What it has is a great chorus and some great chiming guitar parts and a sudden finish like so many great songs.
Matt Gaynor

[Album: Table For One - The Dessert Menu]

Get well soon, Darren!

Noughties By Nature #69: David Cronenberg’s Wife – Runaway Pram

David Cronenberg’s Wife sneaked into the music scene at the tail end of the decade like naughty gatecrashers at a posh student party, urinating in the punchbowl and gobbing in the communal bowl of cold rice, then trying to engage the self-consciously fashionable boys and girls at the soiree with their observations on paedophilia, perverse morgue workers and abusive relationships. In a decade which saw a lot of cute, prissy and inoffensive kids with guitars say close to bugger-all about anything, they reintroduced startling lyrical dexterity, and disturbing themes which sat just on the right side of gothic melodrama.

It’s somewhat strange, then, that their best single also happens to be the one which was the most lyrically basic, consisting of scattergun observations, nonsense phrases and the demanding repetition of the title for the chorus. Whether the idea of a runaway pram was a reference to the pram in the film Battleship Pontemkin, or some metaphor for life itself, or even a description of a clapped-out old Citreon 2CV is anyone’s guess. Nonetheless, Runaway Pram worked like a charm, also opening the fantastic Bluebeard’s Rooms album like a statement of intent. Twanging guitars clash with Clinic-esque screeching keyboards, siren effects, and Mancunian vocals sung through gritted teeth to make this seem like the opening theme to a crazed B-movie project. The song splurges up like a volcanic geyser, peaks and then splutters out at the end with a cheeky, solitary guitar twang – a final, threatening little afterthought.

DCW may have spent the last couple of years largely being ignored by the mainstream media, and in many respects seem too contrary and eccentric to ever truly cross over – but next decade may see one of two things; either a surprise hit, or a surprise splash story about their “sick” lyrical content in one of the tabloids. Place your bets now.
Dave Bryant
[Album: Bluebeard’s Rooms]

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Noughties By Nature #68: The Wave Pictures - Now You Are Pregnant

This is one of those songs. It just grabs you at first listen and then throttles you into submission, until you find yourself stuck with it on repeat whilst you lie on the bed for a whole weekend, surrounded by t-shirts and posters from their gigs.

It's all simple enough - just guitar and that wonderful, angelic voice. A very tender song about unrequited love, shoe shops, and Johnny Cash not quite being as important as Elvis. It's wonderful. And there's very little more to say than that.
Oliver Billenness

[YouTube (live)]