Saturday, December 31, 2005

What have we done? Another year over

Have a look at the 28 singles to have hit number one throughout 2005. Notice a pattern? Well, no, and also yes. While it's a collection of records you couldn't trace a linear path through if you tried, there's something odd about those that lasted the longest. The biggest selling single of the year? A re-release of a top 20 single for a northern club crooner 34 years ago written by Neil Sedaka, with joint credit given to a comedian who doesn't sing on it. The most controversial? A reworking of a mid-80s synth hit to fit around a novelty ringtone adapted from a viral email that it has no evident connection with otherwise. RCA started the year by re-releasing all 18 of Elvis Presley's number ones, adding three to the total including the thousandth ever chart topper. Elton John was superimposed onto a 2Pac offcut, Eminem used Martika's Toy Soldiers as an emotionally charged sample and the Christmas number two behind a reality show victor was an acoustic indie-jazz duo's song (another re-release) about how one of them was treated to days out on their dad's JCB when five years old. Say what you like about James Blunt, and many did, but in this company the revival of the acoustic sensitive male singer-songwriter seemed like the most obvious record company manoevure of the year.

Looking at that chart, two buzzwords of the year become evident. The first is technology, and the inevitable progress thereof, most publicly evident when download figures were included from the chart published on 16th April onwards. Although the effects have been nowhere near as outstanding as many predicted, whether it be the odd suggestion that alternative acts would benefit (quite a few have instead missed out on top 40 debuts in favour of a long running single still receiving downloads, as any listener to commercial radio charts would have predicted) or the Times' confident statement that "teenage girls will lose their grip on the pop scene next week when the Top 40 transforms into a male-dominated download chart", the overall sales figures for the year are expected to show a rise in single track sales as steep as the fall in physical sales. Certainly our local chain stores are cutting back on the shelf space given over to that week's new releases, despite the fact major labels don't seem to be in any hurry to abandon the format. This, then, is how the old, old art of the pop single ends - not with a bang, but with Digital Rights Management. The other key phrase of the year seems to be the comeback - Take That's reformation achieved more publicity at a stroke than every other UK tour announced this year, Cream put aside thirty years or more of warring to take up Eric Clapton's annual Albert Hall residency, Sinatra joined Elvis on the big screen plus live backing band theatre circut, dead rappers continue to release records, the very much alive Dylan and McCartney produced two of the cultural events of the year and a Rolling Stones album actually received positive reviews for once, while everyone from Dinosaur Jr to Daphne & Celeste (they did, they played G.A.Y.) decided it was time to get what they saw as rightfully theirs. Even though the Spice Girls haven't yet got back together it wasn't for the want of tabloids trying for weeks in early summer. Most of these have been met with a generally positive, if guarded, reaction, with the proviso that they shouldn't then just go mad and record any new material, but you do wonder where the loose ends that such a reformation are supposed to tie up have been left. How Take That would have gone if Robbie hadn't jumped ship is a fascinating "what if?" game, but surely little more, unless Gary Barlow really thinks they could still have been going today. Here's something too - when was the last time you heard a Spice Girls song on the radio? Their legacy seems to exist as entirely surface with little actual depth of music produced these days - it's not getting Geri and the other four back together for reasons connected to their hits, it's the iconography of the five together that would be sold if, as seems likely with a greatest hits on the way to coincide with the tenth anniversary of Wannabe, there was some sort of rapproachment. We hear there's now a concerted campaign to get All Saints back together, whatever good that serves. By the end of 2006 there will probably be a trend for reforming bands that never split and Siobhan Donaghy will be getting phone calls from Keisha's go-between.

Of course, not every reunion is so protracted, or indeed so palatable to those taking part. When Pink Floyd linked arms at the end of their Live 8 set you knew this was the full stop, four people who can barely bring themselves to speak to each other having been dragged through the courts for intellectual property rights, back together not for the money or the headlines but to provide a weighty, meaningful role in one of the biggest live events of our lifetimes. Let's not split hairs, Live 8 was supposed to be the second biggest musical extravaganza of the pop culture age, and then only second because nobody had ever seen anything quite like the first one. This one, Bob assured us, stirred all manner of political flavours into the pot that would help the starving Africans right up to the point of actually pledging them anything - give us yer fuckin' awareness, as we put it at the time. Which is nice, but frankly if that was the case Harvey Goldsmith could have called it off the night before and the job would have been done. Make Poverty History had assailed most of us for most of the previous few months without ever making quite clear how wearing a wristband and being aware that children were still starving was going to help without more direct action beyond an idea that politicians could somehow be scared into greater co-operation. Sign a petition? In aid of what? One of the slogans of the event was 'We Don't Want Your Money - We Want You', in relation to the other idea that this whole massive event was just an advert for Geldof's big march up to the G8 summit in Edinburgh four days later, as Paul McCartney reminded us when closing with The Long And Winding Road. Thus Live 8 (which Talent In A Previous Life did a stellar minute-by-minute job on) was left in the record books to fend for itself, a task made more difficult not only by its shifting rules - Geldof suggested nobody would be invited on who hadn't sold 4m records, then booked Snow Patrol for Hyde Park and the Kaiser Chiefs for Philadelphia to open with tracks from their Billboard peak number 83 album - by its predecessor. Everyone talked excitedly about the possibility of a 'Queen Moment', which just by itself was a tacit declaration that Live 8 was going to be no Live Aid. A few days before the first announcement Geldof declared "why would I possibly repeat something I did 20 years ago?" - presumably Band Aid 20 was as quickly overlooked with him as it was with everybody else - and everything from the booking policy up to the overriding atmosphere of the event seemed to prove his fears justified. In the end it all got overshadowed by what happened in London the day after everyone else had decamped to Edinburgh, Bob and Bono declaring as a success a settlement people who have more of a hands-on approach to the area's problems slated as a letdown. Who was right will more than likely take years to determine, but we suspect history will chalk down July 2nd as a day that meant well but stopped itself from completely delivering its message.

Even in terms of having an effect that started with the personal crusade, spread quickly into the political arena and provided aftershocks that lasted some time afterwards across the interested parts of the world it might not even qualify as 2005's most effective statement. That came at 5.41pm EST on September 2nd, when during NBC's Concert For The Gulf Coast, only a warmup for the national telethon a week later, Kanye West was called upon to deliver a message to camera about the black community in New Orleans struggling after Hurricane Katrina. On a purely musical front, this year has seen West deliver on his reputation in spades, arguably becoming the first hip-hop producer-performer to break through into the international conscious to such an extent since the Fugees (who also reformed this year, to little attention before their UK gigs and much slow shaking of head afterwards) through his inventive production, image much removed from Fiddy and co's tiresome bragging and alternately sweet and sour rhyming, putting on critically lauded shows at Live 8 and for the BBC at Abbey Road as well as launching John Legend and giving Common his long-awaited commercial breakthrough. He's going to ruin it by launching a clothing range in 2006, of course, but let that pass. In the week of Late Registration's release all that counted for little, notwithstanding its Billboard number one entry, as he veered off script to make a point about the media portryal as he saw it of black people made homeless and then drop the Doesn't Care bomb. For all our initial misgivings, and surely we aren't the only people who this occurred to at the time, about these pop stars hijacking important and urgent benefit tin shaking for their own politicised ends, and surely we could validly extend the logic of that time and state George Bush doesn't care about people, but the US race relations issue hornet's nest wasn't going to be settled any time soon after that. Faster than NBC could apply the safety scissors proper debate raged, as much as it can in a country where a chasm has been busy developing between political wings, which shifted the focus onto the failures of the relief operation and what it told us about American infrastructure and race relations, eventually coming complete with an understanding as standard that this was something that needed to be said. Surely this is what a modern pop political stance should be more about - anyone can write a song about how that Dubya is a bad man, or indeed tell an audience in Hyde Park to get online and sign a petition, but cutting to the bitter quick does it much easier and effectively. It's sorting the present out before we start to concentrate on the future.

Somewhat brilliantly in its own way, 50 Cent slammed Kanye days later for being, unlike him, "non-confrontational". Fiddy's problem, of course, is that he's all too confrontational and would probably pin you to the wall until you agreed with him to boot. In many ways you could argue Kanye's success is due to what he didn't do (issue self-aggrandising statements that outside the rap community look silly, advertise trainers, have his entourage linked with shooting a member of someone else's entourage) as to what he did. In fact, from a British perspective, Kanye is one of the few acts in the supposedly upwardly mobile urban market to make a lasting impression on the market. Fiddy impressed nobody beyond impressionable kids by claiming hardness to a backdrop of "I take you to the candy shop, I'll let you lick the lollipop/Go ahead girl, don't you stop, keep going til you hit the spot", Eminem has given up the ghost, Akon and Ciara broadly came and went, nobody's quite sure what Nelly's point is any more, Ja Rule's best of debuted outside the top 75, The Game was supposed to be one of the big stars of the year yet seems to have become so by connective osmosis only, the Ying Yang Twins remain more talked about than heard, Tony Yayo hasn't managed either, Chris Brown's single has already been delayed once while other emergent big shots such as Mike Jones, Slim Thug, David Banner, Young Buck, Stat Quo, Lil Scrappy and Paul Wall have yet to release a scrap of music in the UK between them. Meanwhile the totem for acceptance of black music, Michael Jackson, was found not guilty after a trial that might not have actually existed outside the press pack for all we really knew. It would perfectly complement his world where nobody wants to tell him what to do so suspicion will continue to linger about his movements, and indeed members of the jury have since said that when they said he was innocent they only meant in the context of the accuser's case. (Yet again, thank god for No Rock'n'Roll Fun) So now where? The talk of him bulking up for an Usher-esque R&B comeback was probably tabloid bollocks, the success of next year's series of single re-releases - way to ruin your own sales market, BMG - remains to be seen given they're going to be sold to a fanbase that has long campaigned against them and his much talked about Katrina benefit single seems to have been eaten by the dog. Out in Bahrain, wondering how he'll continue supporting himself given all the extra detail we now know about him, you do have to wonder. Meanwhile in Britain we had another year of UK hip-hop being talked up as about to break and then never doing so, Lady Sovereign lost to her own Save The Hoodie publicity stunt, Roots Manuva politely ignored once again and M.I.A. earning acres of press attention completely at odds with a highest charting single position of 77. Pure Reason Revolution do better than that.

So what of the purer pop that finally seems to be challenging the reality TV queue jumpers that brought its image low to prove themselves? This may well go down as the year in which, on the back of Xenomania and Richard X finding a path out of the clean lined cul-de-sac it had been festering in, producers went "sod it, let's just do what we want". Not everywhere, of course - Westlife still had a number one, McFly's declarations of going grown-up amounted to little more than slightly slower tempos and Son Of Dork is just Busted with the fun taken out - but enough. We've mentioned before our belief that Since U Been Gone might be the worst single of the year where many other bloggers have the opposite view - come on, you're just pretending you could stand that caterwauling Kelly Clarkson calls emotional rock singing, and if Interpol, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs or everyone else it's been compared to with straight faces actually did sound like that you'd be down on them like a ton of bricks - but it still bears the tag 'produced by Max Martin', which is big given said cul-de-sac largely consisted of the Britney/Backstreet sound he developed. Girls Aloud's Xenomania-chartered sail around the edges of ProTools finally reached an apogee with the borderline ridiculous Biology (and very well done to Polydor for hoping we forgot about it as soon as possible so they could get on with promoting the goodwill-ruining See The Day, which promptly charted five places lower), the Sugababes turned right again and found a different dance niche to exploit (and then ruined the momentum by losing a member, which just reminded everyone that for quite a while the only thing they were famous for was how they were always about to split up), while Rachel Stevens' last single failing to go top ten was perhaps the most baffling pop flop of the year. Is it because of her perceived lack of character? The confusing amorphic nature of her records? The Dick And Dom In Da Bungalow walkout-aided suspicion that she can't take all this smiley pop stuff to heart? Whatever, it's notable even the most cynical amongst us failed to point and laugh even when the teen mags suggested we do so. Not that her or any of the others have yet acknowledged that their fanbase is older and more blog-savvy than they might have expected, but it's not their job to pretend they have fans who don't buy Smash Hits, FHM if older. Even Robbie Williams - oh, wasn't he just like Freddie at Live 8, eh? - was forced down to an extent, Trippin' being just too reminiscent of the Police for anyone to really remain comfortable and the rest of the album seemingly passing most by, no matter how confused his sycophantic interviews get. Too much personality, see - with Rachel or ver Aloud there's a thought that having little determinable musical personality or signature enables them to be taken all over the place, or at least close to Goldfrapp territory, proof that eventually fashion would catch up with Will and Alison, whereas someone like Charlotte Church, who is almost the antonym of Stevens in that she's had a lot of goodwill up until the point of liking her records, the dominant personality and declarations of what she can do in her new musical arena may have been perceived as holding her possibilities back. This might, just incidentally, also explain how come the expected post-Dido deluge never really happened, as Jem seems forgotten already, KT Tunstall was always going to be too slippery for mass market acceptance in the same way and the rest seemingly confuse their own marketing division (ahoy there, Alexis Strum). With Britney a laughing stock, Christina fading from view, Madonna too old and wrapped up in red string and her special bottled water and even the potential in ex-members of Blue halting as they get stuck in a light R&B groove that satisfies few, the parameters for actual successful personality pop, Alison excepted as she's come from the other direction and the great hope this time last year Annie seemingly having been met by ranks of the wider public sticking their fingers in their ears and la-la-laing loudly, seem to be closing up, and the Pussycat Dolls certainly aren't going to achieve it. In a way they seem like the ultimate contrivance, being a group who became famous as dancers who might be a bit burlesque without having to take their clothes off - Carmen Electra was once a supposed member - who without seemingly informing anyone first became a fresh pop phenomenon despite clearly only having one specialist singer, and she parachuted in having been a former member of the US Popstars band Eden's Crush, and with a direct copy of a song that had hit the Billboard top 50 months before, and nobody, certainly in the UK, bothers asking any questions about them, unless they're assuming we somehow all knew. They don't even have much of a syncopated dance routine.

If this were a dissertation, which if it's much longer it could be easily passed off as, you could get a couple of thousand words contrasting the Dolls with the band that, for all their NME hype, still surprised everyone, probably not least themselves, by also having their debut single proper enter at number one. The Arctic Monkeys' debt to the Internet has been much debated - that technology link again, we know - and the footage of them performing a live track which hasn't been properly released yet to a chorus of voices knowing every word is one of this year's standout images, but their emergence also served to make mincemeat of John Harris' declaration on the tenth anniversary of the Blur v Oasis battle that its only legacy was Thelikesofcoldplaykeaneandsnowpatrol, and not just because you could easily find connections to both in their style. One of the things we recall from around that time was how surprising it was that Girls And Boys should be entering at number 5 or how Oasis' inexorable rise seemed to take root before the music press had really noticed, and the Monkeys' low level chatter developed from a base as much around finding a band to invest local pride into as much as that now defunct site full of mp3s that everyone apparently found as one (indeed, if you believe the timeline in the Christmas NME, there are blog postings extolling their virtues from before they'd started gigging properly). At a stroke they became arguably the biggest UK shots in this nefarious category we continue to label 'indie' for want of anything better as Franz Ferdinand ascended to the big league of pan-continental stadiums on the back of an album where the riffs became as big as the moves you're apparently supposed to make on the huge arena stages. They join on that plateau the band so big they got their own profit warning, Coldplay, surely now at their own Joshua Tree phase yet somehow avoiding the jagged line that seperates artistry from showbiz. Falling right through the cracks went Pete Doherty, the Sienna Miller of the UK music scene. The Libertines almost seem a cipher now, something that's used as an excuse to explain to confused readers how come the male half of the tabloid love story of the year would get to meet the female half. So he was once a successful, popular band's co-leader and young people's poet elect? Yeah, Abi Titmuss was a student nurse, and look where that got her. The first tabloid reports that Pete and Kate were an item were printed on 18th January and it's felt like a particularly overreaching post-watershed Channel 4 drama ever since, completely obscuring the Babyshambles album from view and ensuring Jon Culshaw is probably working on the impression right now. Has he become more of a folk hero because he's been portrayed as part of a glamorous couple and by extension become famous for being Junkie Rocker Pete Doherty? If he does succumb, is there any way icon status can be prevented? Where would that leave Dominic Masters, who began the year receiving overwhelming hosannahs from the NME for The Others' album and ended it pretty much forgotten had one of the paper's photographers not thoughtfully bought up the nearest domain name to their official site to tell the world his view of him? For making a success of lying low and playing occasional small club gigs Carl Barat deserves some sort of award. It's been a strong year all round in the leftfield sector, the post-punk revival delivering a few more corkers before gradually blowing itself out, Gorillaz again making a mockery of the disparity between the sound and the sales (Danger Mouse's two major production works this year, Demon Days and Dangerdoom's The Mouse And The Mask, were very close to our own top 20 list) and even jazz made a critical breakthrough thanks to Seb Rochford's two bands, Acoustic Ladyland and Mercury-nominated Polar Bear, and the realisation that to get publicity for your jazz festival you didn't have to have it headlined by Jamie Cullum. On a wider scale, while the countries that border the Atlantic still provide the vast majority of the coverage afforded to music in the wider world, people have more of an awareness about, say, baile funk, J-Pop, Manu Chao and his proteges etc. Never mind the argument about whether African musicians should have played at Live 8, we don't recall it even being an issue at Live Aid.

So how should we sum up this year passed? There is a theory that it's in the middle of a decade when its outstanding contribution to music's history finally emerges - mid-50s Elvis and the rock and roll revolution, mid-60s Beatles, Stones, Beach Boys, drugs, Swinging London, mid-70s punk, glam and Kraftwerk, mid-80s the birth of superstardom (Madonna, Jacko), indie, techno, Live Aid, mid-90s proper boy bands and pre-packaged pop (Robson & Jerome, anyone?), Britpop, drum'n'bass. And the mid-00s, on the evidence presented so far? Caught in two minds, we'd say - harking back at a speed as yet unthought of, no doubt aided by the proliferation of reissues and nostalgic magazines, yet with an eye on the possibilities and, thinking of Sony's rootkit, fallabilities of technology. Whether this means Tom Watkins' cyberbabe pop star that he went on about a lot at the end of the last century will finally come to fruition remains to be seen, but 2006 is going to have to be a particularly special year if something more valid is going to emerge and take over. Mind you, at the end of 2004 you'd have got long odds on a six foot mezzo-soprano torch singer based in New York winning the Mercury Music Prize. As long as music keeps surprising us, we'll keep liking it. And personally? Well, we're very glad you're reading, and we'd like to pay sincere thanks to everyone who did drop by over these few months Sweeping The Nation has been running. It's a shame more of you don't run very successful music blogs of your own that could link to us or work in the paper media industry where you could put a good word in for us in print, but hey, can't have everything now.

Albums Of The Year: Number 1

Some albums you can sense coming. Going backwards in this list alone, surely most people who followed the Decemberists' career path could see them developing away from the piratical bent towards a fuller sound to complement Meloy's stories; early talk of the Elbow album had led us to expect something homely yet worldly at the same time; Sufjan has always sweated the small stuff; even though Maximo Park were virtually unknown at the end of 2004 the north east had a growing reputation. What we think was part of the greatness of Funeral, an album that we've had in one form or another for more than a year and are still deriving fresh enjoyment out of, is although Canada had a similarly burgeoning scene over the previous couple of years there was no real collective drive or line that could be drawn between, say, GY!BE, the Dears and Broken Social Scene. While the Arcade Fire were known locally as a purveyor of mini-epics, it doesn't seem as if there was a weight of expectation up to last autumn. Then this came out, and suddenly it all made all kinds of sense.

Like most people, we have a theory that truly special songs have to have a moment or a passage which just lifts the song out of mere qualified praise and into something just special, and listening back to Funeral it dawns on us that every single track here has one: the wordless ghostly mini-coda on Tunnels - you won't mind if we abbreviate the Neighborhood sequence, will you? - immediately after Win Butler's voice finally cracks under the strain, the way everything but the drums and violins drop out after the second chorus on Laika, the way Une Anne Sans Lumiere subtly alters from a second cousin to Another Brick In The Wall to a dank campfire lament and then launches the distorted guitars and echo to disrupt the temporal flow, Power Out blistering out of the blocks and becoming more overwhelming to the culminating point of Win's desperate cry "you ain't fooling no-one!", 7 Kettles' dramatic strings, Crown Of Love's jarringly playful waltz time against melodramatic strings that suddenly find themselves leading on the gatecrashing disco drums, Wake Up's unresting, fist pumping big drums up until the moment it goes all You Can't Hurry Love, Regine Chassagne melding her voice, her voice at a higher octave and a droning organ at a similar pitch at one moment during the not un-Sugarcubes-esque Haiti, Rebellion (Lies) building and building constantly upon its basic themes as if driven on by the "lies! lies!" backing vocals, and In The Backseat fooling the listener into lulling on the bed of gorgeous strings and Chassange's voice until briefly exploding with overdriven guitars and violins and ending with a fadeout freak-out. In this age of the single track, this is an album that works as an album, establishing a thematic and musical arc from beginning to end, heading through the emotions from peace to bombast and never sounding jarring no matter where the instrumentation or jagged melodies go - a word for the self-production placing it squarely in its own locale and time. Butler's voice is an unusually, at least by the standards of the current North American alt scene, passionate one, tremulous in a way that seems to have been at the centre of the early Flaming Lips comparisons but stronger and more powerful and adaptable than Wayne Coyne's, while Chassange takes the Bjork comparisons on board but without the offputting 'kooky' aspects, her use in small doses perhaps their cleverest move. Funeral is driven by feelings as much as the song layers within without ever slipping into cloyingness, surely due in no small part to the writing and recording process being enveloped in much talked about personal loss, evoking a range of emotions from mourning and sadness through understanding to an acceptance that events might have been taken away from the narrator. It also seems the narrative grows up as the album progresses, from the almost naive invocation of "parent's bedrooms" and "the names we used to know" on Tunnels to the heartbreaking couplet at the end "Alice died in the night/I've been learning to drive my whole life". The fact that of the early comparisons - the aforementioned Flaming Lips, Talking Heads, Bowie, Pixies, Neutral Milk Hotel - you can hear elements but none really ring true in the overall scheme of things proves that this transcends any attempt to place it in a legible context of North America's post-emo dramatic scene-ette. You know, just like proper great albums.

Here's something. For all the hype, it's still largely being discovered fresh by word of mouth, overhearing a track or two on the radio or that BBC autumn drama trailer, or just fans writing fevered write-ups not dissimilar to this one rather than by being pushed down the throats of potential consumers. 74 reviews on have given it a surely unprecedented for that weight of opinion 4.8 out of 5 rating - it's an album its fans really want to tell people about once they get it. There was a new Mercury Rev album out at the start of 2005. You might be forgiven for having missed or forgotten it, such was the air of "uh... right" about it in this era of ultra-fast movement. It's not so long since people talked about Deserter's Songs in much the same way, so complete and emotionally charged a package was it, but that never achieved the positivity right across the board, where even U2 can take them on and not make them guilty by association. It'd be a shame if in five years time an Arcade Fire album was just allowed to slip by in the same way as The Secret Migration largely has with the music press. They say the end of a life is merely a detour in the cycle of life. Here is marked out an exciting talent with an album that will by rights be remembered and talked about for years.

LISTEN IN: Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
EXTRA FEATURE: The development from local interest to international acclaim: Stylus review the EP in 2003, Tiny Mix Tapes chat to Win at the start of 2004 and he talks about new song Rebellion, Said The Gramophone and Jeremy Brendan - My Life As A Reptile attest for their live reputation at about the same time, Said The Gramophone catch up with them again a few months later, then advance copies of the album arrive with Exclaim, Teaching The Indie Kids To Dance Again and Stereogum.

A reminder of the full countdown

Top 50 singles of 2005

50 Young Knives - The Decision
49 Rilo Kiley - Portions For Foxes
48 Kate Bush - King Of The Mountain
47 Ambulance Ltd - Primitive (The Way I Treat You)
46 Bloc Party - The Pioneers
45 M83 - Don't Save Us From The Flames
44 Elbow - Forget Myself
43 LCD Soundsystem - Daft Punk Is Playing At My House
42 Mew - Special
41 Antony & The Johnsons - Hope There's Someone
40 Guillemots - Made Up Love Song #43 (I Saw Such Things In My Sleep EP)
39 Dears - 22: The Death Of All The Romance
38 New Pornographers - Sing Me Spanish Techno
37 Bloc Party - So Here We Are
36 Mew - Apocalypso
35 Patrick Wolf - The Libertine
34 Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Is This Love?
33 Kubichek! - Nightjoy
32 Bloc Party - Two More Years
31 British Sea Power - It Ended On An Oily Stage
30 Bloc Party - Banquet
29 Kaiser Chiefs - I Predict A Riot
28 Lady Sovereign - Random
27 Maximo Park - Graffiti
26 Dead 60s - Riot Radio
25 Rakes - Retreat
24 Interpol - Evil
23 The Boy Least Likely To - Hugging My Grudge
22 Amerie - 1 Thing
21 Brakes - All Night Disco Party
20 M.I.A. - Bucky Done Gun
19 Go! Team - Bottle Rocket
18 William Campbell & Kevin MacNeil - Local Man Ruins Everything
17 Annie - Heartbeat
16 Maximo Park - Apply Some Pressure
15 Editors - Bullets
14 Arcade Fire - Wake Up
13 Brakes - Ring A Ding Ding
12 Gorillaz - Feel Good Inc
11 Futureheads - Decent Days And Nights
10 M.I.A. - Galang '05
9 Editors - Munich
9 Futureheads - Area
7 Arcade Fire - Neighbourhood #2 (Laika)
6 Girls Aloud - Biology
5 Arcade Fire - Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)
4 Decemberists - 16 Military Wives
3 Futureheads - Hounds Of Love
2 Doves - Black And White Town
1 Arcade Fire - Rebellion (Lies)

That's right, don't look surprised. We already had it there anyway, but it was listening to Funeral again while writing the Albums Of The Year soliquoly that finally convinced us of Rebellion (Lies)' greatness, the way it just doesn't let up on the long march to redemption, or Hades, whichever is the quicker. Seeing them perform it with gusto on Top Of The Pops was a late hurrah for that most maligned of music institutions (and with CD:UK supposedly finishing in March, whither the opportunities for chart willing acts on prime time?), seeing Win fail to engage one of Sam & Mark in small talk on the following Saturday's Reloaded was at the same time bizarre and cheering, marking their territory out in all senses. We ummed and aahed about the next four, but the pounding (good word, that, Doves should use it as a song title sometime) Northern Soul-goes-inner city after dark stomp won out. Hounds Of Love was a cover the Futureheads made their own with the aid of a wall of guitars that built throughout the three and a half minutes, and hopefully one day our luck and timing will come together and we'll get to hear the magic words in person - "this side, sing along with Ross, this side, sing along with Jaff..." The Decemberists got as close as they'll probably ever come to a pop moment without letting up on the shameless short storification that marked Picaresque out as something special. Yes, that's Girls Aloud at six, proving that yes, this is a UK blog. That surprised ourselves, having been wary of the claims made for their production before, but Biology is just an extraordinary record, fitting three different songs, four hooks and absolutely no concession to what cliche has it pop bands should sound like into the first two minutes. A ticking off to V2 and 679, whose remixes of Galang and Decent Days And Nights altered the very beginnings and ruined the flow of the records (especially the latter) so much we were forced to downgrade them. Editors' album let us down by having two good tracks and they were the preceding singles, which to be fair were superb, Munich's shimmering, Will Sergeant in a tin box guitar being one of the year's most exciting moments. The entry of ex-Astrid guitarist William Campbell and Stornoway performance poet Kevin MacNeil's collaborative 7" is a pleasant surprise even if we do say so ourselves as the compilers, a wistful, plaintive spoken word and chiming acoustic work that essentially requires a kidney to be sold to get hold of a proper copy by now.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Albums Of The Year countdown: 20-2

20 LCD Soundsystem - LCD Soundsystem
19 Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy
18 Antony & The Johnsons - I Am A Bird Now
17 Franz Ferdinand - You Could Have It So Much Better
16 The Boy Least Likely To - The Best Party Ever
15 Field Music - Field Music
14 New Pornographers - Twin Cinema
13 British Sea Power - Open Season
12 Patrick Wolf - Wind In The Wires
11 M.I.A. - Arular
10 Brakes - Give Blood
9 Sons And Daughters - The Repulsion Box
8 Mew - And The Glass Handed Kites
7 Bloc Party - Silent Alarm
6 St Etienne - Tales From Turnpike House
5 Maximo Park - A Certain Trigger
4 Sufjan Stevens - Illinois
3 Elbow - Leaders Of The Free World
2 The Decemberists - Picaresque
1 Arcade Fire - Funeral

(Our full list aided Indie For Dummies' worldwide blog top 100)

Albums Of The Year: Number 2

On The Engine Driver Colin Meloy declares himself "a writer, writer of fictions". Oh well, we can all say we're like that should we be lyricists, but there's little doubt that the man who called a track on their previous album I Was Meant for the Stage has an air of old-school showbiz blood in him, that of, if applied to an English setting, provincial repetory theatre and off-kilter short stories from McSweeney's monthly anthologies, or in this case leads to Meloy's belief in the story-song, previously basing songs loosely on Under Milk Wood and 18th century London. And not in the John Cooper Clarke sense either. Songs on Picaresque are set among spies, soldiers, rent boys and inside the belly of a whale. Perhaps the most outlandish thing about it, though, is that it works.

That's because Meloy clearly believes, albeit with a decent layer of English major storytelling, in doomed love. Opener The Infanta may well include the words 'palanquin', 'concubines', 'pachyderm', 'canopied', 'largesse', 'barrenness', 'phalanx', 'betrothed', 'parapets', 'rhapsodical', 'folderol', 'chaparral' (a rhyme!), 'coronal' and, oh yeah, 'infanta' (the daughter of a Spanish or Portuguese king, if you must know) but it's built on dramatic guitars and strings intertwined, widescreen ambition and dark musings. It almost seems perfectly natural to see those words on a lyric sheet. Among the scene setting and spinning out we find a deep core of true love torn apart (For My Own True Love (Lost At Sea), We Both Go Down Together), never to be fulfilled (The Bagman's Gambit's crossing the Cold War divide) or really wanted (the clients of the gay teenage prostitutes of On The Bus Mall) and on other tacks This Sporting Life's Lust For Life reference against a refraction of the brain over brawn mindset via a failed, fallen athlete of some stripe and Sixteen Military Wives' oblique skewering of governmental hawks and unthinking bandwagoners alike. Meloy clearly finds an affection for his personnel, helped by his harbouring one of those voices that you wouldn't recommend to Louis Walsh but convey the raw emotional core and thus heighten the senses conveyed. Course, while it's all very well talking about the lyricism, songs do also usually involve music, and here the Decemberists hit a personal best, often building from careful, spacious, intimate acoustic guitar to big dramatic sweeps - Petra Hayden's addition to the line-up helps - while never becoming overblown, complementing the words and settings perfectly. The Decemberists are an ambitious band in many ways. Picaresque is where they see their high standards attained.

LISTEN IN: We Both Go Down Together
EXTRA FEATURE: Live they're quite something, we're told and The Live Music Archive attempts to prove. Meloy had words with Amazon, Inlander and the Guardian.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The ten best and worst album titles of 2005


Confessions On A Dance Floor (Madonna)
Destroy Rock 'n' Roll (Mylo)
For Screening Purposes Only (Test Icicles)
I Am A Bird Now (Antony And The Johnsons)
In Case We Die (Architecture In Helsinki)
Lullabies To Paralyze (Queens Of The Stone Age)
Pocket Revolution (dEUS)
Set Yourself On Fire (Stars)
Stars Of CCTV (Hard-Fi)
With Love And Squalour (We Are Scientists)


And The Glass Handed Kites (Mew)
Brassbound (Ordinary Boys)
Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through The Eyes Of Madness (Coheed And Cambria)
Justamustache (Thunderbirds Are Now!)
OK Cowboy (Vitalic)
Taller In More Ways (Sugababes)
The Campfire Headphase (Boards Of Canada)
The Lick On The Tip Of An Envelope Yet To Be Sent (Circulus)
The Invisible Invasion (The Coral)
Tissues And Issues (Charlotte Church)

Albums Of The Year: Number 3

You have to feel for Guy Garvey. He spends months pulling together an album of rare sympathetic craftsmanship, a grandiose scope that pulls them far clear of the uber-lazy Coldplay comparisons - mid-tempo, occasionally anthemic, English, that'll do - and gutwrenchingly personal songwriting, to misquote one of Elbow's old songs pulling his heartstrings apart and letting the sun out, that he'd have every right to shout from the rooftops about. Then he goes out to do the promotional rounds, whereupon every interviewer spends most of the allotted time going "so, it's about Edith Bowman, isn't it?" He must wonder why he bothered. What it also means is we'll have to do the shouting for him, then.

Elbow have always been a band against the world, from songs which build and build until erupting with a euphoric chorus of "we still believe in love, so fuck you" to the very fact that they emerged at the turn of the century with Mellotrons, seven minute singles and a frontman who sounded like Peter Gabriel encased in gravel yet didn't go the Spiritualized route or be dismissed as prog. On Leaders Of The Free World Garvey's mind turns to disproving Thom Yorke's theory that directly personal songs are uninvolving for everyone else. The first track, Station Approach, is about returning home after touring, an elephant's graveyard of a song subject, yet it's an immensely touching portrayal of needing to be around the people and places you trust, a love letter to Bury in many ways, and sets the scene for an album full of passion expressed both as what encases a state of sorrow and a kind of hopeful longing, a state that says its owner is happy, thanks, it's just everyone else who sees him as down (cf My Very Best). It's the kind of light touch with a heavy soul that makes Forget Myself an anthem for the pub lads that speaks to their soul and the title track a Bush/Blair political statement that hardly breaks ideological ground but shakes its head all the more forcefully at the barminess of it all. At its peaks it encapsulates loss and loneliness, romance both as fear and memory. Where Cast Of Thousands could overall only bring itself to flirt with these big themes and orchestration and was ultimately disappointing itself as much as the listener, this one picks up the baton and goes for it, bringing with it Garvey's now hardly matched knack for picking out the best cliche-free imagery and a band, for this is still a tight, inventive band, at ease with itself but willing to play with their own preset boundaries. Oh, and if we must see it as a signpost to the album, please note that Bowman made the album her record of the week on Radio 1. Perhaps she recognised the universality of the personal approach.

LISTEN IN: Mexican Standoff
EXTRA FEATURE: BBC Manchester house an audio interview and acoustic versions

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Albums Of The Year: Number 4

The true glory of Sufjan Stevens' much remarked upon shot at documenting all fifty states through song is not that he seems serious about it - if he wasn't, he's dug himself into something of a hole - but that this first attempt to document lives and histories outside his own home state shows how he's going to achieve the frankly unlikely feat, namely by thinking as big as his idea is. Big titles in the tracklisting, for one, and we can only dream of the day when Sharon Osbourne announces that "I think he's really showing what he's capable of, and I think he'll own that stage when he realises The Black Hawk War, Or, How To Demolish An Entire Civilization And Still Feel Good About Yourself In The Morning, Or, We Apologize For The Inconvenience But You're Gonna Have To Leave Now, Or, 'I Have Fought The Big Knives And Will Continue To Fight Them Till They Are Off Our Lands!' is made for his voice". (Alright, that one's a gallant instrumental, but you get the point.)

It's not as if Sufjan's previous two albums had demonstrated a flair for minimalism, but on Illinois the near-orchestral sweeps and sheer joi de vivre as expressed through the medium of the showtune seem to be able to fill every available space when required and pare back into the background. Lyrically, all human life is here, the themes expanding on often small-scale accounts, whether tracing the backstory of John Wayne Gacy Jnr before claiming "in my best behavior I am really just like him" or on Casimir Pulaski Day's heartbreaking story of the narrator's love dying of bone cancer on a state holiday. Perhaps as a born and bred Michigan man maybe the overall approach, mixing the personal with the more obvious local landscapes and signifiers, could easily have slipped into the banal and almost patronising, but the album's great strength is that the listener doesn't notice the possibility as so much potential guidebook aided frippery is turned effortlessly into deeply personal songs and an awareness of the space in which we live, which you'd be tempted to strip back and label spirituals, which in turn might be why Stevens has emphasised the arrangements and often unusual instrumentation, most of which he plays himself - this is a party he's throwing to celebrate a state in which he doesn't even live, it's just he wants to say a few words from the heart in the middle of it. That he went on to tour these songs with a band called the Illinoisemakers who performed cheerleader chants to introduce every song and ended gigs like this...

...said much.

LISTEN IN: Decatur
EXTRA FEATURE: There is actually such a thing as Casimir Pulaski Day. More directly, you'd have to be well read to come up with such stories and Stevens pretty much qualifies through his writing for the New School Literary Journal in 2000.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Albums Of The Year: Number 5

About, ooh, once a year an album starts steadily and then several months later jumps out at you, when everything you'd superficially heard before suddenly emerges at the front of your brain and demands that you go back to the source again and again. On first listen, Maximo Park's A Certain Trigger resembled an accomplished set of post-punkeries, not as willingly ennobled to studio trickery as Bloc Party, not as street smart as Franz, lacking the barely controlled sprint finishes of the Futureheads, and certainly without the modern giveaway ground level chatter of all three prior to their first release. Then, without warning, around the time of its Mercury nomination, it suddenly dawned on us that this is an album that sets its own stall out in the middle of a busy market having revised all the tricks first.

Without getting into the debate about what Warp saw in them - perhaps Steve Beckett just liked their approach, and after all he ran Gift Records primarily to release Maximo's kindred spirits Pulp - there's definitely a lot of musical forward thinking that's gone into their sound. Hooks are plentiful but carefully disguised, song structure is maintained but played well and the whole thing moves at once with an elegance and also a kind of freneticism born of that kind of carefully streamlined musical manaicism that marks out a band unwilling to toe the record label in the midst of a scene party line - witness the spiralling bridge of Graffiti or the charge of the chorus of Once A Glimpse, roughed up where others would apply coats of gloss, and that's before we've got onto the Arab Strap-gone-krautrock drone of Acrobat. The Pulp link comes in Paul Smith's lyrics, utilising Jarvis' way with sexual frustration, stripping it of all implied lust and replacing it with a quiet seethe about why the world around him has let him down again, laced with the kind of self-deprecating humour that's seemed de rigeur for the whole Tyne & Wear scene since Bryan Ferry started crooning, a scene, by the way, that they've come up from well behind to run away with commercially. If it's not all down to the star jumps, it must be the connection with heart and mind alike that's done it.

LISTEN IN: Limassol
EXTRA FEATURE: Is this our excuse to dig out that picture of Smith when he looked slightly different again? He's come a long way since, stopping by Amazon to reveal the music we should be interested in

Monday, December 26, 2005

Probably not worth doing a Top 364 rundown, all told

* We'd missed the twentieth anniversary of Minutemen singer D Boon's death on the 23rd, but luckily the Huffington Post, of all places, didn't. Seriously, it's difficult to track down these days but their Double Nickels On The Dime is all you need to know about post-New Wave pre-Pixies US alt-rock.

* You Ain't No Picasso end their 12 Days Of Mixmas with We Are Scientists' Keith Murray.

* RIP the Mull Historical Society, who are reverting to using Colin MacIntyre's own name. Good off-kilter site, that, featuring a book club, at least one blog and assorted goodness.

Albums Of The Year: Number 6

More people think they have a handle on what it is that Saint Etienne do than actually could spell it out. Once they were almost dismissed as kitsch well before the ironists picked up on the term and held it aloft as their banner, by which time they'd serenely moved through house, glam futurism, widescreen pop, every major musical movement to have come out of Detroit before this century and even faceless Italian rave (as Cola Boy). Oh, and then they went all orchestral tropicalia and easy listening Krautrock. A cheery concept album about inner city life was always the inevitable step forwards. The trick messrs Stanley, Wiggs and Cracknell have pulled off is to avoid the twin traps of patronisation and overglamorisation. This is Saint Etienne. Neither would ever be on the agenda.

The glory of Tales From Turnpike House is that despite being indebted in parts to French chanson, casual Eurohouse that ought to make the entire output of AATW Records redundant at a stroke, harmonies from around Brian Wilson's sandpit and the new Scandinavian electro scenesters, it remains resolutely British. Londonist, in fact, packed out with metropolitain melodrama, situated not in the Notting Hill penthouse fame brings or down among the deadbeat men spilling out of the pub but in the decaying pre-fab flats and expanses of East London wasteland their two recent films have glorified. You know, where actual people with real lives live. From Sun In My Morning to Goodnight, titles which kind of spoil the story arc timeline, this is a less electronically inclined work, although Brian 'Xenomania' Higgins pops by with his bag full of spotwelded computerised hooks, using acoustic guitars and glacial atmospheres to create rounded characters and situations, using Pete and Bob's journalistic experience to document fictional lives being led in a real sense. They've gone and wrongfooted us all again after all, and we're glad.

LISTEN IN: Milk Bottle Symphony
EXTRA FEATURE: As mentioned, Bob and Pete have been making films of late

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Albums Of The Year: Number 7

It's funny, but for the majority of 2005 it's been evident that certain people can't wait to trigger a Bloc Party backlash. The Bravery eventually came along and diverted their attention, but for a while there parts of the media were looking for a post-punk revival sacrificial lamb and their name came up quite a bit. Which is odd, as nothing blazed a trail right through the middle of the self appointed scene quite like Silent Alarm, an album crackling with tension, unafraid to make itself look big, yet knowing the value of a good hook as much as how to take a sudden left turn into dissonance. It sounds like a group of men each with their own ideas on jagged dynamism thrown together and told not to come out until they've come up with something that sounds in any way together. Out of that has come a record confident in its own component parts while rearing up with its own private idea of adventure.

They can use an effects box well too, as opener Like Eating Glass proves before developing into a driving statement of intent. In fact, the whole album is decorated with moments which define the song they house by how they take it to the next level of emotional pull. For example, many saw Helicopter as a political statement (Kele denies this) wrapped in self consciously arty clothes, but for our money the bit that is occasionally referred to as the bridge where one guitar apparently gets stuck during a glissando, the other adds flourishes on the theme of the riff, then suddenly band MVP Matt Tong slips up a couple more gears and everyone frantically races each other to the end might be the single most exciting moment produced in at least British music during the year. Even the slower songs glisten with mini-electrical storms and sophistication remaining tantalisingly unresolved, making it at once an album that floats above the clouds and plummets through them at high speed. And yes, at the end of the year everyone seems to have realised it's any good after all.

LISTEN IN: Positive Tension
EXTRA FEATURE: The secret world of bassist Gordon Moakes - he can talk all he likes now, but we've discovered his Shellac-reviewing past (we suspect he doesn't have that email address any more) Meanwhile Tong lists his own favourite albums of 2005 for Filter, until he runs out and starts making up bandnames.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas to all our readers

Let Mocking Music provide your soundtrack

Albums Of The Year: Number 8

Let's not beat about the bush, Mew made the best album of 2003. The Danish invaders created a playground for classic Scandinavian slow-burning pop suss on one side and Kevin Shields' distortion pedals on the other and let them fight to the death. Michael Stipe invited them on tour, Helena Christiansen took their photos, Brian McFadden introduced She Came Home For Christmas on CD:UK Hotshots and almost seemed interested in what he was saying, and it briefly looked like they were about to make an entry into the wider pop consciousness, albeit through a narrow side door. So what do they do next? Why, a near hour-long exploration into angular indie-prog boasting lyrics with only a passing acquaintance with the English language as we speak it, sporting no breaks between tracks, called And The Glass Handed Kites, and saddled with the cover you see above. The band bookers for the Smash Hits Poll Winners Party looked elsewhere.

So the linking devices between songs don't work all that well - it's alright, second track Chinaberry Tree could have had a minute and a half cut off its 3:30 duration and nobody would mind - but over time it begins to make an odd sort of sense. Producer Michael Beinhorn has worked with everyone from Korn to Herbie Hancock and brings to the affair the feel of a band piling everything on top of everything else until the moment it starts to shake, ultra-taut bass underpinning Thurston Moore's guitars (guest J Mascis would understand) and atmospheric synths topped with Jonas Bjerre's skyscraping vocals and sometimes seemingly in two time signatures at once. Then comes a truckload of melody, the move from Apocalypso's intra-band staredown to Special's pop melody to The Zookeeper's Boy's stately heaviness summing up the album as much as how the album suddenly turns into Sigur Ros right at the end. It's art-pop, but not as the charts would understand it.

LISTEN IN: The Zookeeper's Boy
EXTRA FEATURE: Wessex Scene get that EXCLUSIVE interview

Advent Calendar Of Music: Day 24

Go-Betweens - Here Comes A City

In Word's (oh, alright, The Word) Word Of Mouth section the other month Luke Haines said he'd fallen for the Go-Betweens' ninth and latest album of literate indie Oceans Apart solely on the basis of this opening track. There are few people we trust more than Haines, which is ironic because he'd probably hate nothing more, but we'd have hoisted it high anyway as as good an end to this Advent Calendar series as any. It's called Oceans Apart, by the way

Friday, December 23, 2005

Sons Of Harry Cross "smiling through gritted teeth" - reports

The OneMusic strand on Radio 1 was set up to keep the Peel flame alive, although as Andy Kershaw, a man never noted for kowtowing to his paymasters, has noted it says a lot about both sides that John has been replaced by three men. They've done a Festive 50 for this year, which we hope Rob Da Bank and/or Huw Stephens carried through in full by keeping a longhand tally of votes, featuring Kate Bush's first ever appearance, a surprisingly low Half Man Half Biscuit turnout, a top three entry reminiscent of the Peel-angering storming of the list by Smells Like Teen Spirit in 1992 and a surprise number one for a track given away free on their site, which comes in handy here, from a Liverpool indie scene veteran also making a 50 debut:

50 Richie Hawtin - The Tunnel
49 Fleeing New York - Hollywood Bowl
48 Architecture in Helsinki - Do The Whirlwind
47 Benjamin Zephaniah - Rong Radio Station
46 Stabmaster Vinyl - Masho Fe Lan Star
45 Deerhoof - Green Cosmos
44 Wax Audio - Imagine
43 Mugstar - My Baby Skull Has Not Yet Flowered
42 Kate Bush - King Of The Mountain
41 Suicidal Birds - Me Animal
40 Son Of Dave - Goddamn
39 Go! Team - Bottle Rocket
38 Art Brut - Emily Kane
37 Delgados - Girls Of Valour
36 Acid Casuals - Bowl Me Over
35 Aluminum Babe - Everything 2 Me
34 Decoration - I Tried It, I Liked It, I Loved It
33 Cuban Boys - The Nation Needs You
32 The Fall - I Can Hear The Grass Grow
31 The Wedding Present - I’m From Further North Than You
30 Mother & The Addicts - Take The Lovers Home Tonight
29 The Fall - What About Us
28 DJ Scotch Egg - Tetris Wonderland
27 Radio Luxembourg - Pwer Y Fflwe
26 Kid Carpet - Your Love
25 Jegsy Dodd - All I Ever Wanted Was You
24 65 Days of Static - Drove Through Ghosts To Get Here
23 Malcolm Middleton - Break My Heart
22 Anthony & The Johnsons - Hope There's Someone
21 Pipettes - Dirty Mind
20 Rory McVicar - Little One
19 Half Man Half Biscuit - Joy Division Oven Gloves
18 Hunting Lodge - Don't Touch My Neck
17 Autochtone - The Last Thing She Ever Said
16 Misty's Big Adventure - The Story Of Love
15 DJ Riko - Whistler's Delight
14 The Fall - Blindness
13 Listen With Sarah - Another Nice Mix
12 Evils - Pig F***er
11 Paranormal - Movin' Twistin' Groovin'
10 Laura Cantrell - Bees
9 Steveless - Bored
8 12Apostles - Lord Lucan Is Still Missing (Ollo's Betty & Freddy Queenspiracy Mix)
7 Camera Obscura - I Love My Jean
6 Early Years - All The Ones And Zeros
5 Arcade Fire - Rebellion (Lies)
4 King Creosote - Klutz
3 Arctic Monkeys - I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor
2 The Crimea - Lottery Winners On Acid
1 Jegsy Dodd & The Original Sinners - Grumpy Old Men

Albums Of The Year: Number 9

The only time we've seen Sons And Daughters was outside at a festival. An overcast, sporadically wet festival, but that's not good enough. The place where The Repulsion Box yields its best results would seem to be somewhere dank, forbidding and possibly haunted. You might recall Sons And Daughters as the Franz-approved band attempting to merge punk-funk with alt-country on their Love The Cup mini-album. This album found an alternate way of realising the dilemma, taking in the intense junkyard blues of PJ Harvey circa Dry or the Birthday Party, garage rock's unrelenting rhythms and the taut tension of a Come On Pilgrim-era Pixies. Some things remain unchanged - Adele Bethel and Scott Paterson often sounded like they'd be at each other's throats if they weren't performing, it's just now they want to be at ours too.

So yes, opener Medicine sounds like Yummy Yummy Yummy I've Got Love In My Tummy, but as played in an articulated lorry speeding over traffic calming devices. On Choked Paterson makes a slide guitar sound like prime Sonic Youth, while Rama Lama extends over five minutes, incorporates Morricone whistling against an often minimal backing and still retains the air of slow decay somewhere underground. Now imagine all this fronted by two people with Glaswegian accents and audible sneers. You perhaps see what we mean about their incompatibility with outdoor performances now. Going hell for leather at everything, barely keeping itself under control for three minutes at a time, if it went on for any more than its 31 minutes it'd become far too overwhelming, as it is settling for mere claustrophobia, the band pinning themselves back to the wall by the sheer force of their playing. That great crossover potential will just have to wait its turn while the rest of us get lost in the tidal wave of mutant country punk rockabilly.

LISTEN IN: Red Receiver
EXTRA FEATURE: Channel 4's Ideas Factory gets, well, ideas from Paterson

Advent Calendar Of Music: Day 23

Ben Watt featuring Estelle - Pop A Cap In Yo' Ass

No, come back. This is former Everything But The Girl musical stander at the back Watt's excursion into beats with poetry, here a story of a single mum and unruly kid read by the one time big hope of female British rap over something approximating vintage Chicago house. From the Outspoken EP, all part of Watt's Buzzin' Fly project

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The only chart that counts (6/6)

We hear Nizlopi sold almost 50k in the first two days of this week, so let's not think Walsh and his minions can ensure a Christmas chart carve-up this year, this will be a real What? Oh. Ah well. In 2000, the last of our Christmas chart recaps, television also beat individualism to the festive summit, albeit in a very different sense:

1 Bob The Builder - Can We Fix It?
Everyone's seemingly forgotten how big Bob was at this time, when celebrities were allegedly queueing up to voice characters and people even learned to like Neil Morrissey. A bit. Voiced by someone else in the US on Nick Jr, apparently.

2 Eminem featuring Dido - Stan
So what happened was every review of The Marshall Mathers LP mentioned this as the song that turned the man's public perception on its head in style, which was fine. Then Jo Whiley picked up on it and eventually the label were badgered into putting it out as a single, leading to a) alleged Eminem quotes in the Mirror dissing the above and b) White Flag by Dido. We've not forgiven her for the acting in the video yet.

3 S Club 7 - Never Had A Dream Come True
See, Rachel did sell records once. This had been their second number one, aided by big white coats in the video. What did happen to Paul's nu-metal band he left to pursue the dreams for?

4 Robbie Williams - Supreme
The one with the video about his rivalry with Jackie Stewart. Why Jackie Stewart? He promoted it with an appearance on Jools, during which he was due to deliver a heartfelt seated acoustic lament until preceding band At The Drive-In stole and broke his seat.

5 Baha Men - Who Let The Dogs Out
Usually they dealt in a type of Bahamian folk called, excellently, 'junkanoo'. Somehow it's difficult to imagine the Incredible String Band going all calypso disco with a song based on an advertising jingle.

6 Leann Rimes - Can't Fight The Moonlight
Her sole number one, from the appalling film Coyote Ugly, and the sort of thing it's worth citing whenever you hear praise for the 80s production values revival manque.

7 Destiny's Child - Independent Women Part 1
So then, Beyonce or Guy?

8 Public Domain - Operation Blade
"Bass in the place, London!" Yeah, that. Later made a record with Chuck D, which is we believe the universal rule of oneupmanship can work in reverse might explain why Flavor Flav did The Farm.

9 Tweenies - Number 1
Number 6, actually, haw haw haw haw haw. The first of five top 40 singles for Iain Lauchlin's oversized preschool behemoths, once interviewed on Danny Baker's BBC London breakfast show, wherein Milo launched into Smoke On The Water.

10 Brave Kylie Minogue - Please Stay
This caused very minor controversy when released instead of Your Disco Needs You, a track that seemingly attempts to prove on its own that the only music gay men like is disco.

11 Britney Spears - Stronger
When people still liked her and she wasn't going hilariously insane with such diva-esque lunatic actions like driving a car, buying groceries and calling her new born boy Sean.

12 Wyclef featuring Mary J Blige - 911
You have to wonder why the Fugees are touring again - no, none of them seem bothered about hitmaking any more, but given everyone knows they hate each other and Fugees live gigs were never the most solid proposition the first time round it can't augur well.

13 Madonna - Don't Tell Me
The video that singlehandedly failed to launch a cowboy gear fashion fad.

14 Craig - At This Time Of Year
Shortly after winning the first Big Brother Craig Phillips signed a five album deal with WEA. Craig Phillips was signed by a major label to a five album deal, who then declared "I do not sign people to five-album deals just because they were in a popular TV series. I have signed Craig because he is very talented singer and fans will buy his records because of that." That's why nobody trusts major labels with their money. At least it's 59 places up on Nichola, whose disco placenta The Game couldn't even make an impact when released straight after the event. Holt was recently discovered to be selling her body to men of a night.

15 Craig David - Walking Away
Still thought of as two-step at this stage. What fools we all look in retrospect.

16 Da Muttz - Wassup
Nothing says 2000 more than people going "wasssuuuuup?" in offices. You wouldn't think you'd be able to fit much of a tune around it, but... well, evidently not.

17 Westlife - My Love
"With this single, Westlife equalled The Beatles' record of most number ones for consecutive releases (seven). They become the first act to debut at no.1 with all of their first seven singles. ITV 'Song Of The Year' 2000." (EveryHit). Louis Walsh bought a car with a bigger boot.

18 Sonique - I Put A Spell On You
Famously began by singing over the breaks she was spinning as a big shot DJ, which you wouldn't accept from anyone if not monged on happy pills. Eventually became dancefloor diva. Now mostly forgotten. There's not even any superclubs for her to go back and play at.

19 Wu-Tang Clan - Gravel Pit
A track so big it came with its own traction, it survived interpolating a Cameo song that isn't the famous one. Of course ODB's releasing posthumous new albums.

20 Sisqo - Incomplete
Thong Song lothario who apparently has been stepping out with Samantha Mumba of late, presumably happy talking about the old days.

21 Storm - Storm Animal

22 Toploader - Dancing In The Moonlight
Have they gone yet?

23 Ronan Keating - The Way You Make Me Feel
24 Warp Brothers Vs Aquagen - Phatt Bass

25 Billie Piper - Walk Of Life
Here's how a life in the spotlight works. This was the first single for which Billie introduced her surname fully into proceedings. As this was a new entry, she was dropped afterwards. During the promotion she met Chris Evans. Had she not had her singing career curtailed but her fame quotient subsequently increased, she probably wouldn't have had the opportunity to start acting. Had she not started acting, the country would be openly laughing at Jennifer Ellison for thinking she could be a Dr Who actress.

26 Ricky Martin - She Bangs
They're not big on double entrende in Puerto Rica.

27 Green Day - Warning
Punk Levellers, they said of this sound. Billie Joe seems to have taken it literally.

28 Daft Punk - One More Time
This was about the point at which we realised that yes, we were alone in hating this. Don't worry, we're used to it.

29 Jay-Z - I Just Wanna Love You
30 Artful Dodger featuring Lifford - Please Don't Turn Me On
31 Bon Jovi - Thank You For Loving Me
32 Bomfunk MC's - Up Rocking Beats
33 Darude - Feel The Beats
34 Lionel Richie - Don't Stop The Music
35 Kandi - Don't Think I'm Not

36 Keith'n'Shane - Girl You Know It's True
Duffy and Lynch, the boozy sidemen of Boyzone, essentially taking the piss but forgetting to tell anyone they were doing so. Is Shane still racing sportscars quite well?

37 Robbie Williams & Kylie Minogue - Kids
They never went out, of course. Like they used to say Kylie and Jason never dated.

38 A1 - Same Old Brand New You
One of those boy bands that seemed ten a penny in the late 90s except they managed two number ones from somewhere, this being the second. Then they started playing their instruments, shortly before - go on, guess - getting dropped. Ben Adams was supposed to be the next Robbie earlier this year, promptly heading exactly the same way as every other next Robbie.

39 True Party - Whazzup
Isn't it always so annoying to be beaten to the punch?

40 Melanie C - If That Were Me
"I couldn't live without my phone/But you don't even have a home". And she wonders why nobody takes her solo career seriously any more. We'll also mention Outkast's ridiculous, much hyped Bombs Over Baghdad peaking at 61 and think that, you know, we must do all this again some time.

A public service announcement

If you haven't already had an email from us about a little thing we're doing for the end of the year and are sufficiently intrigued, email us ASAP. If you're not bothered but think we're great, why not email us anyway. That's sweepingthenation(at)

Albums Of The Year: Number 10

Brakes ahead of the parent group British Sea Power? Believe us, we gave it quite a bit of thought before deciding that Eamon Hamilton needed promoting from be-beaniehatted keyboard tickler and big drum whacker to superior leader of what nobody really refers to as an indie supergroup given the Electric Soft Parade haven't sold any records for three years or so and the Tenderfoot never did. (Yeah, but we're willing to utilise the phrase for Zumpano/Destroyer/Neko Case And Her Boyfriends collaboration at 14. Never mind.) Why? Because, frankly, it's a lot of fun and, for an album that glories in its being tossed off in a week, there's a lot more thought going into it than there has been in a lot of the year's more diligently planned releases.

Essentially Give Blood is two mini-albums cut and shut together. One is an excursion into country stylings that comes across like a good white wine laced with strychnine. Over here guitars slide and twang, the Duke Spirit's Liela Moss drops by for a spirited run through Johnny and June Carter Cash's Jackson, the Pipettes turn the Jesus And Mary Chain's Sometimes Always into funpop and the effect is Ryan Adams being dragged towards a buzzsaw. The other album? That channels the spirits of the Minutemen, Jonathan Richman, McLusky and Sam Kinison, and then compresses it all into a tiny cube of musical scrap metal, as in metallic guitar sounds looking for a scrap. Didn't like the ten second Cheney? Try the five second Comma Comma Comma Full Stop. That's before we've got onto the liquidised DFA of All Night Disco Party or the way the end of Heard About Your Band singlehandedly vindicates the phrase "whatever, dude!" As a rule, the tracks either make no sense or lacerate everyone else they can think of. Eamon's mission accomplished.

LISTEN IN: Heard About Your Band
EXTRA FEATURE: Eamon explains himself to SoundsXP

Advent Calendar Of Music: Day 22

M83 - Don't Save Us From The Flames

Two years ago M83 sounded like Mogwai with all their other instruments replaced with analogue synths. Now they sound like Kevin Shields being forcefed 1967 Pink Floyd by Slint. We hope you understand. Before The Dawn Heals Us is the sort of record that does that to our critical faculties

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Albums Of The Year: Number 11

In the parts of the music discussion Internet world seemingly designed to ward off the casual browser there's been something of a sustained backlash against M.I.A. "Class tourist political figurehead say-nothing art fraud!" they chorus. When Galang '05 was discussed on 6 Music's Roundtable review show, the concensus was that it was too wrapped up in its own political stance, whatever form that stance was taking in the song as at least one panellist admitted they couldn't make out its message. Yeah, cheers. Incidentally, that's her biggest single to date, which was also accompanied by a Mercury nomination, Radio 1 playlisting and a Jo Whiley session, acres of newsprint, daytime music TV exposure and style magazine wall to wall features. It peaked at number 77. It's not difficult music to get a handle on, certainly in a market that has embraced less voluble versions of its second cousin grime. Mind you, even ultrapop behemoths Girls Aloud stopped selling records the moment web reviews started reading "actually, this is great!"

So what is Arular? It's grooved out hip hop, reggaeton, glitchpop, favela funk, Neneh Cherry moves, and at the centre a dynamo running off the pure energy of what surrounds her. Bringing lyrical imagery of the land of Sri Lanka at a particularly volatile point of its recent history and melding it with cod-Jamaican slang and pure London girl sass, making for a genuinely thrilling ride, allied to which is the sort of production backup that emphasises its rollercoaster nature, whether the Fat Truckers' Ross Orton playing his usual electro games or Diplo turning the Rocky theme horns into pure baile funk. Fire Fire namedrops both Timbaland and the Pixies, and it's not hard to see Arular making its own connections between Missy Elliott broken beats and controlled ferocity as played on Roland 505s rather than Joey Santiago's Les Paul. And really, isn't the whole political angle overplayed by people willing to take the background laid out on her press releases and run towards the nearest point marked 'cheap controversy pointscoring'? But again, we're getting confused between the artist's supposed artifice and the songs, and you don't hear artist information sheets being read out at clubs.

LISTEN IN: Fire Fire
EXTRA FEATURE: Elastica's video for difficult second album single Mad Dog (dir: Arulpragasam, M)

Advent Calendar Of Music: Day 21

Rilo Kiley - Portions For Foxes

The singer was in assorted pre-teen films and (briefly) Pleasantville, the guitarist appeared in My Two Dads and Boy Meets World. You wouldn't get away with it were you the British equivalent (Press Gang and The Upper Hand, let's say). Did More Adventurous come out in 2004 in America? Ah, who cares.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Albums Of The Year: Number 12

We were vaguely aware of Patrick Wolf's reputation as the urchin child - proper urchin, not Pete Doherty wearing ragged jackets - of the electrofolk scene but were struggling to fully get it until we saw him live. Shorn of anything eminating from a laptop, we were won completely over by the oddly approached but meaningful songwriting and sheer, well, musicianship, if that doesn't put too many off. Wolf studied composition at the Trinity College Music Conservatoire and it was here that it showed - whereas so many who play in the shifting genre of electrowhatever value the glitchpop over the melody, these songs have light and shade, completely in control of their own dynamics, blood running through their theoretical veins. The songs are never crowded, which allows his own elliptical worldview to take centre stage. When he sang The Shadowsea live acapella, the rest of the room, in no mean feat, turned deathly quiet.

Wind In The Wires was recorded in Cornwall and it sounds like it, or at least a short story version of it, beyond naming tracks Teignmouth and Land's End - windswept, overcast and inhabited by characters beset with wistfulness edged out by some form of seasonal afflictive disorder. Whatever bad place Wolf found himself in while writing has fed into a set of songs founded against whatever life has thrown at the narrator, feeling down but often sensing the silver lining is on its way. "My name is Tristan, and I am alive!" declares the titular character almost against the elements. Alongside elements of Kurt Weill and Nick Cave, it's at these points that the comparisons to Kate Bush, whose Running Up That Hill he makes his own live, make perfect sense, both singular songwriters and compositionists who have the ability to weave intricacies out of situations and imagery sometimes well outside the usual spectrum.

LISTEN IN: The Libertine
EXTRA FEATURE: A typically cheery chat with Playlouder

Advent Calendar Of Music: Day 20

Freeland - Heel And Toe (Evil Nine remix)

Weren't expecting this, were you? To be honest we have no idea what Adam Freeland's original sounds like, but we like what the Brighton duo have slapped on top of it. Find it on Evil Nine's Y4K mix album

Monday, December 19, 2005

The only chart that counts (5/6)

There's a theme to these last two festive charts we've picked out, the most recent of all closing the run off on Thursday, but first:

1 Mr Blobby - Mr Blobby
What happened was three weeks earlier this had become the highest new entry ever by an act who'd never charted before at number three, then it climbed to number one, then got knocked off, then returned to everyone's surprise on the crest of a wave of parents buying an extra stocking filler. Jeremy Clarkson was in the video well before making an impact outside Top Gear, incidentally. "UK, male pink, yellow spotted blob vocalist" is his Guinness Book label.

2 Take That - Babe
The only That single that Sick Mark Owen sang lead on, one of only two in their recorded catalogue it says here. The previous week this had become the third of their eight number ones, and this put them off Christmas singles for life - even the remixed single off their Greatest Hits is out in February.

3 Chaka Demus and Pliers featuring Jack Radics and Taxi Gang - Twist And Shout
Apparently there was a craze in Jamaica for naming yourself after tools at the time. Their current status as a comedy name for nostalgia purposes notwithstanding, their success hastened a mini-summer of reggae in 1994 that was never likely to get Lee Perry shaking.

4 Bee Gees - For Whom The Bell Tolls
Don't remember this at all, but having released one record in the 80s the Gibbs made a habit throughout the 90s of having big hits every couple of years.

5 East 17 - It's Alright
Music to vomit jacket potatoes to, this was a typical slab of synth battering and wonky London rapping a year ahead of Stay Another Day. What did happen to Tony Mortimer's follow-up band Sub Zero?

6 Meatloaf - I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)
Or is it Meat Loaf? Did anyone ever work out for definite which it is? This had just spent seven weeks, or was it decades, at number one and was the year's biggest seller, coming from the inevitable Bat Out Of Hell II. All hail Meat's "sex and drums and rock'n'roll".

7 Dina Carroll - The Perfect Year
Nobody seems to remember Dina now but as we'll see again later she was huge for about six months at this time as she got caught between her dance music roots and big piano balladeering. This was never going to be released in June, was it?

8 Meat( )Loaf - Bat Out Of Hell
Because that's just what you'd do, isn't it, re-release the title track from the album you've just brought out as its follow-up.

9 Elton John and Kiki Dee - True Love
No Don't Go Breaking My Heart, although it is one of the most charted songs ever, having been made most famous by Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly. Win a pub quiz one day by mentioning Kiki's real name is Pauline Matthews. Whyever did she change it?

10 Frankie Goes To Hollywood - The Power Of Love
There's no obvious reason why this should have been re-released, but there you go. What did happen to their comeback with a specially auditioned new singer?

11 Bryan Adams - Please Forgive Me
Slow and laborious, as per, having stayed at number two for ages. Was it from the soundtrack to Zorro? The mind's eye says Bryan in a mask in the video, which is must the best way.

12 Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle - A Whole New World
Peabo, sir! He's had three UK top 40 singles but all with other people, this the theme from the Aladdin film. Seemed to be more ubiquitous than its position, this its peak, suggests.

13 K7 - Come Baby Come
"Swing batta batta batta batta batta swing!" File next to Luniz in the one hit and never likely to be any more rap hitmakers file.

14 M People - Don't Look Any Further
To think that Mike Pickering was a Hacienda house DJ, too. This is from their infamous Mercury winner Elegant Slumming, the album that enabled Shovell to start a seperate career of televisual boisterousness for years.

15 Janet Jackson - Again
One of a host of interchangeable mid-90s singles where she got stuck in a baladeering morass between Rhythm Nation feistiness and Scream renaissance. Moving on...

16 Dina Carroll - Don't Be A Stranger
The previous week this had been top ten as well as The Perfect Year, and there can't have been many occasions since where two consecutive charts have featured two different artists having two top ten singles at once. Her unofficial website's news page stops in November 2004, having had one entry in the previous six months.

17 Diana Ross - Your Love
And the next slushy ballad, please! Her previous single was a reissued Chain Reaction, whatever that might have been in aid of.

18 Mariah Carey - Hero
Third week in a row in this position, followed by two weeks of climbing. Were she to release something like this now it'd be hailed as a return to form. Or, if she's deemed to be on form at the moment, a new peak. Then it was just dull showing off.

19 Cliff Richard - Healing Love
Keeping quiet this year. Not even a Greatest Hits repackage.

20 Pet Shop Boys - I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind Of Thing
They'd just turned into the poet laureates of hi-energy and started wearing the big hats and radiation-esque suits, this the follow up to Go West. Neil Tennant came out at this time. Few were surprised. They're working with Trevor Horn on their next album. What took them so long to come round to that?

21 Ice-T - That's How I'm Livin'
Post-Cop Killer and Original Gangster, but this was his first top 40 single. We imagine he's concentrating on acting now, having nearly become the family friendly side of gangsta rap. We imagine Badass TV is buried deep within his CV.

22 Haddaway - I Miss You
23 EYC - Feelin' Alright
Ah, the early to mid 90s.

24 U2 - Stay (Faraway, So Close)/I've Got You Under My Skin
The latter was his duet with Frank Sinatra, the former the first single from Zooropa, five months after its release after changing their minds several times.

25 Shabba Ranks - Family Affair
26 Bad Boys Inc - Walking On Air

27 Doobie Brothers - Long Train Runnin'
What a pisspoor time this is if this sort of record was being randomly reissued. There may be people who don't know Jeff 'Skunk' Baxter is now one of the world's leading counterterrorism experts, but there's no harm in repetition.

28 Cypress Hill - I Ain't Goin' Out Like That

29 Hulk Hogan with Green Jelly - I'm The Leader Of The Gang
Yes. WWF was having one of its biennual spans of proper popularity, rubbish New York comedy metallers Green Jelly had had a summer hit with a cover of Three Little Pigs (James Hetfield and him out of Tool on backing vocals, allegedly) and less of one with a Flintstones-inspired cover Anarchy In The UK in the meantime. Hulk claimed that one of the B-sides was a tribute to James Bulger.

30 Lesley Garrett and Amanda Thompson - Ave Maria
You'll be resorting to this one day, Katherine Jenkins.

31 Blind Melon - No Rain
The immediate post-grunge years threw up some oddities - are we allowed to mention the Spin Doctors in polite company? - and here's two of them now, heroin-encrusted Beatles-esque types who ensured the Bee Girl is part of any future US VH-1 I Love The 90s - yes, they do have the rights...

32 Soul Asylum - Runaway Train
...and country-tinged Minneapolis earnest types chiefly remembered for Dave Pirner being Winona Ryder's ex and the video to this featuring the details of missing children, keeping it in the top 40 for about six months. Tommy Stinson from the Replacements is in them these days, it says here.

33 Michael Jackson - Gone Too Soon
What's going on here? It got no higher than this, but then it was a) right on the back of the Jordy Chandler allegations and b) the ninth single from Dangerous.

34 Bjork - Big Time Sensuality

35 Snoop Doggy Dogg - What's My Name
"Rap will never sell in the massive quantities it does in America, making the reign of Snoop Doggy Dogg as short and sweet as all the rest" says the contemporary chart review we're working off. Well, they weren't to know. The jokes, of course, wrote themselves.

36 Nirvana - All Apologies/Rape Me
Their last single and second from In Utero, which to be fair was never exactly going to be their great pop crossover.

37 Saint Etienne - I Was Born On Christmas Day
Here's a song you never hear even at this time of year, Sarah duetting with Tim Burgess in a song inspired by Bob Stanley being, well, born on Christmas Day. The corresponding tour featured Oasis as support. Imagine that clash.

38 Village People - YMCA (remix)
Bloody hell.

39 UB40 - Bring Me Your Cup

40 Whitney Houston - I Will Always Love You
This had been 1992's festive leader in the middle of a nine week run at the top, and with The Bodyguard out on video it was shoved out again. Go on, do you remember anything about The Bodyguard?

Albums Of The Year: Number 13

The temptation has always been to dismiss British Sea Power as a band too clever for their own good. Witness here the liner quote from Czech surrealist novelist Bohumil Hrabal, the recent joint 7" with the Wurzels, the sets that traditionally close with a part-improvised song called Rock In A which incorporates crash gymnastics, fighting an eight foot tall bear and essentially mayhem, and the way Open Season contains a song called Oh Larsen B, named after a melted polar ice shelf, and just so you don't get confused opens "you're fractured and cold, but your heart is unbroken/my favourite foremost coastal Antarctic shelf". Yet here's the punchline: it's a gorgeous in its own way song that could be about love or desperation (or a melted polar ice shelf, of course) and still fits "desalinate" into the chorus perfectly. Such is the reality of British Sea Power.

The biggest change since The Decline Of British Sea Power is while that album often sounded like Echo and the Bunnymen engaging in ultimate cage fights with the Pixies, Open Season took face value inspiration from nature and matches it with songs that bring out the melodic heart lurking at the core of those earlier songs behind the effects pedals and general air of dissonance. There's an epic quality coming to the fore now too, boosting songs at almost the precise moment they start to bland out and generally rewarding further plays as the hidden depths start to break through the surface calmness that led some to dismiss it as an airbrushing of their natural dissonance. The old Bunnymen/Furs/Bowie standard issue comparisons still have a ring of truth, but this time there's a veneer of late Smiths and the Northern windswept ballpark guarded by Doves and Elbow. Oh, and if you're at all worried, they still drape the amps in foliage, Eamon still makes off into the audience during Lately and they still depart a stage like nobody else.

LISTEN IN: Oh Larsen B
EXTRA FEATURE: They still give good interview, like this one with Gothamist

Advent Calendar Of Music: Day 19

Guillemots - Made Up Love Song #43

It makes four seperate attempts at starting properly, finds a niche in bright if lovelorn indiepop as we used to know it while trying not to accidentally set off more effects, then gets distracted by its own beat just as it enters modern Beach Boys territory. They're going to be that kind of band. From the I Saw Such Things In My Sleep EP

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Albums Of The Year: Number 14

Not that anyone could surely be surprised by its attitude these days, but the NME couldn't have dropped the ball any more conclusively this year then when they spent half of the already small live review of the New Pornographers' first ever London show riffing on how they'd only gone because they expected naked ladies to be there. (Well, there are partly unclothed photos of Neko Case floating about, but let that pass.) A month earlier Carl Newman reckoned "it's really cool that the NME has become less powerful". Fair enough, but it does mean this gloriously power-poppy album has disappeared under the national radar again.

Twin Cinema is the point at which the - hang on, New Pornographers review contractual obligation ahead - Canadian indie supergroup took a hard look at their Big Star/Rubinoos/Beach Boys leanings and decided it was time to take them as far as they could. The results would surely find a welcoming home in most houses that value their hook-laden proper pop as it used to be, but now there's stirrings of a darkness previously hinted at in Carl Newman and Case's solo works, if without the overbearing AOR aspects of both. The Jessica Numbers makes like the Who before making a last ditch attempt for a place on Funeral's tracklisting, while Neko's big chance this time comes on These Are the Fables, a melancholic strummer interrupted by Crosby, Stills and Nash rehearsing next door. Clearly these are also people who know their way around a studio, liberally sprinkling these songs with Nuggets sonic trickery and odd little musical touches. You know how sometimes we all talk about bands who we say could be huge if anyone noticed them? The New Pornographers might be exhibit A.

LISTEN IN: Sing Me Spanish Techno
EXTRA FEATURE: A briefish history