Sunday, December 31, 2006

What's another year?

In Rip It Up And Start Again, Simon Reynolds makes reference in the section about Bow Wow Wow to Malcolm McLaren's then latest brainwaves about the sale, packaging and indeed place of music as product, a result of his belief that music was a mere sideling to other activities. With the mini-album Your Cassette Pet he envisaged a means of making actual music disposable, just something to pick up wherever and whenever as software for your portable boombox, cutting traditional record shops out of the picture. It didn't come off - the record stiffed, EMI only went with the idea because it was at the time harder to copy cassettes than vinyl, Bow Wow Wow faded as McLaren believed his own svengali genius status where nobody else was.

In fact, it turned out in 2006 that while McLaren was off still trying to convince anyone else that bands of teenage Chinese girls playing chipped Gameboys is the future of popular music, the music industry and technological multinationals were doing his job for him. iPod became a verb and was joined by the Nano and Shuffle, Microsoft's Zune created as much buzz as DRM-fronted controversy, the Creative Zen took off as a third way, Vodafone became willing to tell all and sundry about how much their phones now hold...yes, all very nice, but is it art? Well, of course it's not, and that's the problem the industry has landed itself full square in during this year. In spending so much time emphasising just how many songs you could get onto their digital player and what you could then do with them, the value of those little commodities on the players seemed to be sidetracked, and none of your fancy options will make the music sound better. It seemed to become about using music as an adjunct to buy your phone/player/broadband package with no thought as to how to sell an idea of why you'd need all that on your player to begin with. It's not just iTunes, of course, as Myspace becomes the place where everyone congregates, as opposed to somewhere where you can chase up new band recommendations - see, apparently we as consumers of the music industry shouldn't be following the money, we should be bowing to the great god Tom for his selflessness. Web 2.0, a phrase that started being used about a week after the original World Wide Web was invented (hands up who else remembers frenzied talk of Internet II in 1997?), isn't social networking sites, in this case it's a way of getting quicker from A to B. It seems at times that the last thing anyone wants to do is talk about the music rather than the format on which you heard it.

Of all things, this was driven home by ITV2's end of year music stories rundown show, where, alighting on Gnarls Barkley's Crazy, that noted cutting edge musical authority Sara Cawood offered up the thought that it was good that we had this inaugural download number one because it pointed up the future of music. Right. We understand a couple of people bought the paid download because they liked the song. Yes, Crazy did go to number one a week before the CD was released, but its physical sales in that first week were triple the number 'sold' the previous week. The one saving grace in all this is that, in utilising the Web as sales pitch, those doing the marketing forgot that there's already a great number of people using the Web who can see right through the techniques being sold as PR. We dealt with this in brief last year when the Arctic Monkeys' rise was attributed to anything but someone sticking the demos from a CDR sold at their gigs online and then telling various popular message boards about them, but this year the desire to understand what exactly happens on here featured a tri-pronged attack of Gnarls Barkley's 99p downloads, Lily Allen's blog and Sandi Thom's webcam shows, hence modern technology as USP. Within minutes the positions had been undermined - Crazy went to number one because it was heavily playlisted as a crossover hit and used on a Radio 1 trail weeks before release (and had been leaked last November, the other side of the downloading coin that a lot of this end of the media like to pretend doesn't happen any more), Allen was already signed to Regal/Parlophone records (although she has said that she'd set up her account before anyone at the label suggested there was something there she might want to take advantage of) and had had early support from Observer Music Monthly, Jo Whiley and the NME, while it was found that Thom couldn't physically have had 70,000 hits in one session with the technology she was using and the hype around those shows was boosted by her hiring a PR company who got a press release onto the BBC News site ahead of the re-release of a single that, with good old fashioned radio support from Radio 2's Johnnie Walker, had already charted at 55 in 2005. Yet how often have you seen pieces this year about bands "doing an Arctic Monkeys" or "following Lily's example"? With a new set of bands making waves who have sold or made available for free their demos, you'll be getting used to all this.

So. Music.

And is it fair to say that it's been a bloody odd year? Crazy was probably the story of the year even leaving aside its "record breaking" quality - number one for nine weeks before being deleted, the first time anyone had topped seven since 1994, it was perhaps more remarkable for what it was, an organic R&B retro psychedelic soul record shorn of the easy sheen of many of its stylistic contemporaries, a proper breakout track that reached right across genre lines. If you can tell a breakout sensation by the range and number who attempt to catch its particular lightning in a bottle, then the covers essayed by the Kooks, Nelly Furtado, the Raconteurs, the Zutons, Cat Power, Ray LaMontagne, Billy Idol, Texas and Of Montreal among others point it up as an instant classic. The oddest chart pattern of the year, however, went to Shakira, who managed one week up top, hovered at 2 and 3 for three weeks and then retook top spot for four further weeks with a track that Radio 1 hadn't so much as playlisted, and it wasn't even the first single from the album. The album ended up not getting past 12, and Shakira retreated to her natural position of the slightly odd one from South America who has a huge hit now and again but often just grazes the popular conscious.

In fact, there was something a little askew about most of this year's movers and shakers. At least it gave the lie to the idea held throughout this decade that if you pointed anyone at a studio who already had a familiar face - for 'extension of brand awareness', you understand - you're not going to get the easiest ride. Jordan's autobiography may well be challenging the Bible in sales soon, but her duets album with hubby didn't pass number 20 while the single stalled at 12. The (fake) 'original mix' mp3 that did the rounds just before release is more ingrained on the national conscious. Exactly the same with Paris Hilton, who found that hiring the best songwriters and producers means diddly squat when nobody's that interested in your vivacious personality except pranksters. Still, good to see Banksy going for the difficult target. No, your solo breakthrough acts all came from well outside traditional parameters. Lily Allen, for example, who we still feel is merely a Donna Lewis/Billie Myers-style summer one hit wonder extending her time through media adulation, but clearly isn't in the mould of most - she's got an odd squashed up face, a pleasant but mid-ranking voice and bases her songs on a good knowledge of light reggae and a varying ability with lyrics. It's connected with people, though, perhaps on the playing up of her down to earth credentials, or as much as she can have when your dad's the famous Keith Allen of the Groucho Club. Her inability to see where a misquote might occur might be the death of her, but her impassioned rant about the NME Cool List had even the haters admitting she had something there. Even further outside the box labelled 'carefully constructed PR campaign ahead of album', Amy Winehouse had the oddest build-up to a big, consistently selling album we can recall - nobody having thought about her for a good eighteen months, the mid-market papers suddenly decided to run an almost daily feature on how much weight she'd lost. Then everyone clambered to review her low-key not even so much comeback gigs and Rehab hit radio in a way she never had before. The clip of her approximating singing with Charlotte Church was car crash telly, in that you wouldn't admit to officers trying to breathalyse you that you'd seen or done anything so untoward either. In comparison, the attempts to push new soul sensations (Corinne Bailey Rae) or New Blunts (Nutini, Morrison) were doomed to, if not failure as all had popular singles and all three appear in the thirty best selling albums of the year, then a certain amount of fade over the year, given we can pigeonhole their appeal instantaneously. Special hats off to whoever though Seth Lakeman would be an ideal poster boy for the Bluntists. In a year when R&B drifted back into stasis, finding that now everybody sounds like the Neptunes you can have too much of a once good thing, while yet again a new dawn for British urban music failed to make any impact - but note Lady Sovereign's US success for future reference - the American invaders also seemed to be coming at us from odd angles, whether Rihanna riding on the back of Tainted Love (note Jamelia's big single failing as it was perceived as ripping off SOS' idea) or Nelly Furtado bafflingly turning tail completely. It was all her doing, you understand.

At least Justin Timberlake kept his end of the deal up by making records that sounded like Timbaland being suffocated, because for the established superstars it was a curious year as well. Madonna took up most column inches as she went to Malawi on a charity factfinding mission between world tour dates and came back with a baby in curious circumstances the background of which seemed to change daily. Michael Jackson, who may or may not be in Bahrain and may or may not be ready to sing in public again, finds his Katrina single still remaining on hold, which seems a bit of a waste given how quickly U2 and Green Day got theirs out. Bono, having won back his hat and done some more schmoozing with Republicans, threw his weight behind the Red campaign, which may well have only failed to take off as people can't tell what differentiates this one from all the other AIDS and Africa campaigns. Robbie Williams made a mad album that saw his career crash (ie sell a couple of thousand less than the last one in its first week) while George Michael chose an odd method of promoting another pointless Greatest Hits (plenty of them to go round this year) by spending the year either touring again or falling asleep in his car on blind corners. Apparently, a man who has spent the last few years talking about his spliff intake and debating the legal status thereof had - get this - been smoking cannabis. Why, he's just like Pete Doherty, who we'll come back to. Britney Spears, meanwhile, must have had a lot to get out of her own system this year, perhaps in advance of actually releasing some music in 2007 (her last single was in March 2005), watching bemused as Kevin Federline failed to launch his own career (see Paris Hilton thoughts passim) before divorcing him, driving with Sean on her lap, having a statue of her giving birth produced by anti-abortionists (not strictly her fault, but it fills a sentence) and finding a new friend in, whaddaya know, Paris Hilton. Now, nobody surely goes out in a short skirt to a place where they know the passenger side of their car will be flanked by paparazzi and neglects to put knickers on accidentally. Still, at least she can say she's presented a side of herself her fans have never seen before. The whole Paul'n'Heather debacle can best be glossed over, other than John Aizlewood's astute note in Word magazine that it had taken Yoko Ono three decades to be deposed as the least liked spouse in pop, and when it's finally achieved the husband's identity couldn't be more ironic.

Many questions arose this year that can't be answered quite so glibly. For instance: is pop dead? Not the overhanging umbrella of popular music, but proper POP as a statement or onomatopoeic noun. Very much a young person's game, the coming to grief of more than one big name and the emergence of others not totally committed to playing the straight up and down game suggests that the form might be retreating back into its shell a little. McFly continue having successful singles but where they fit into anything any more is questionable. We know who buys Westlife singles, at least - the same people that buy James Blunt's, not those of former members of Blue. The main hammer blow to the pop brigade was the ending this year of their three greatest outlets, Smash Hits, CD:UK and finally, inevitably but no less unfortunately, Top Of The Pops, dragged to its death by a litany of poor production decisions and the feeling that they didn't care any more about the simplicity of what they had. (The media blamed the Internet, obviously.) Last year's X Factor graduates seem to exist in a state of limbo, selling well - Shayne Ward and Journey South are both in the year's top ten selling debut albums - but you couldn't pin down anyone who'd actually call themselves a fan if they didn't present themselves to you. Even Dannii Minogue still has a vibrant and vocal fanbase. And if you're not on prime-time, heaven help you these days. Take Frank - two series on T4, both given full re-runs, and a shedload poured into development of a band whose selling point was they were all girls, thus something for other girls to aspire to, who could all play instruments and sing. It couldn't fail. It did - the first single entered at 40, the album at 110, the band were dropped a month later. Or Upper Street, the high profile union of four ex-successful boy band members again followed by T4 and MTV cameras every step of the way until the single stiffed at 35 with nobody given a reason to care. Hilariously, a lack of publicity has been cited as a reason for the flops in both cases. The standard issue boy band is virtually defunct now - ask 365, who were the subject of a lengthy Guardian piece about how there would always be a market for dancing dreamboats like themselves before the market proved them very wrong. What health for the girl bands, then? We had the first Girls Aloud To Split headlines this year as they put out their Greatest Hits, which made the end of year top 20 not undeservedly as even their publicity machine noticed that their appeal was extending far beyond pure pop's confines. The Christmas cover version was rubbish, but that's part of the Mephistophilean deal. The Sugababes put out their own Stalinised retrospective, and beyond them it's much of a muchness. The Pussycat Dolls still only really exist to look sexified having succeeded in dragging their debut album campaign out over 15 months, while former owner of that mould Christina Aguilera's Back To Basics seemed to fade as soon as it arrived in a confused fanfare and Kylie was necessarily out of action, but very much watch that space. Leona seems to be uniquely popular out in the country, but we've been down this route of X Factor winners turning out to have little to no actual X factor before.

Next question: what the hell do we do with Pete Doherty? He now seems to exist in a place both beyond his roots and anti-hero status entirely, the Babyshambles EP that came out at the start of December almost treated as a Parisesque passing show. Amid the roundel of seven court appearances, six drug arrests (even those started to look a bit tired as the year moved on), innumerable Kate rumours, a couple of photographer fights, a couple of loose implications in nasty scenes, a couple of photographic implications in nasty scenes and a thousand and one Net-based rumours of which at best two might have a small sliver of truth, it occurs to us that this whirlwind will have to spin itself out eventually, but the exit point looks more and more clouded. Death? If not by now, let's not be morbid by proxy. Cleaning up? Also looking a distinct speck in the distance. What points lie between these will continue to drag themselves out over 2007 in the style of a snapped rubber band. Where we'll be then is... well, probably exactly where we are now. It's a Greek tragedy without the tight plotting. His reputation meanwhile outlives his worth to the scene he seems to be leaving behind, whether through the still remarkable and we can now see trailblazing success of the Arctic Monkeys, the Kooks-led reclamation of Britpop and fomer sparring partners Razorlight's ascendence to the biggest stage, where now everybody knows about Johnny Borrell's controlling habits. Still nobody thought of a respectful name for it all, which meant the NME could spend the year playing with new genres and revivals. New Rave doesn't sound like old rave, New Goth bears little resemblance to original goth, but ver kidz won't know the difference. The glam revival, spearheaded by Kasabian, must have been lost in the margins. The one that did take hold was the final ascendance, after a lot of cosmetic surgery to its original meaning, of emo, rubber stamped as a menace by the celebrated Mail article, given its own standing by the NME's ludicrous idea that a Reading festival bottling constituted a War On Emo. My Chemical Romance's grandiose number one single can't have left the unitiated much more the wiser and supposed follow-up stars Panic! At The Disco (who are essentially a very quick hark back to the Taking Back Sunday school of post-nu metal anyway) and Brand New never made the full breakthrough, but it was a reminder in these days when everyone's supposed to be 'into' music that you can still breed outsider habits with panstick, haircuts and dark clothing. Muse have been doing that sort of grandstanding for years, going madly pop-stratospheric with Black Holes And Revelations. Preston, meanwhile, helped blow the door the other way, his placement in Celebrity Big Brother ensuring the parameters are now wide open for potential participants and not just the Willis/Klass/Donovan school of failed popettes, resuscitating a band who to all intents and purposes were dead in the water. If the Rakes' Alan Donohoe turns up on the version that starts next week don't say we didn't warn you. Meanwhile, with the usual lack of fussiness, the biggest selling album of 2006 turned out to be Snow Patrol's Eyes Open, which severed all links with the underappreciated spiky leftfield trio of Jeepster Recordings days and saw them finally take Coldplay's position as the band marker post by which music critics shall measure blandness, especially after the only other serious contenders Keane first produced a darker work in Under The Iron Sea and then Tom Chaplin went to the Priory. Much of the antipathy towards Snow Patrol is excessive, but that they got so far this year without seemingly breaking the surface tension is baffling all the same. The album they held off, the Scissor Sisters' Ta-Dah, went to the other extreme, finding the answer to second album syndrome lay in making the glam slam first album sound like the Pastels. Their charity gig in Trafalgar Square showed that that kind of unabashed glitter pop not caring about what others might think is great party music for all occasions, but you'll regret it when every label has one. In fact, you could argue that with Orson and The Feeling making a success of it and everyone's tip for the new year being Toploader manque Mika, there's already a 70s MOR revival in full swing.

And it was comebacks that, for good or more likely ill, shaped a lot of this year, most notably Take That's. Who knew that James Blunt would turn out to be the most influential singer of the decade? A treacly ballad for a mature audience was all they needed for four weeks at the top and the hosannahs of the nedia. Bands seemed to be reforming on a daily basis, with All Saints popping their heads back round the door briefly before the album failed (and hats off to Girls Aloud, who are still continuing their resolutely one-sided feud with them - this presumably is what makes them out as edgy characters) and East 17 doing some gigs before falling out again. Weren't Five reforming? The aesthetes got Scritti Politti back among many others, a promise of new Smashing Pumpkins and Dinoaur Jr material and a Bob Dylan Billboard number one. The more things change, the more things stay the same. Or maybe not, because of this thing called the Internet music community. As music blogs and Pitchforkian magazines multiply week by week their importance as somewhere to break new acts may well be read as an attempt to form a new set of litanies and hegemonies, but it makes the chase so much more exciting, the downside being that we're barely allowed time any more to step back and see what's happening in the wider picture of artist development and getting the love of this music out to the people. Will people care about the second Beirut album? Are Cold War Kids yesterday's men already? Will the public ever get to take to The Knife? On reflection, Joanna Newsom's five track, 55 minute expansive orchestrated opus Ys making number 41 in the UK album charts may be the actual greatest technologically based achievement of this majorly confusing year.

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2006: Number 1

Quick reminder: the whole list, with links to every explanation, can be read here

Leaving the nest? Of what? It's their second album!

The music, nay, ethos of TV On The Radio - intricate, playful, atmospheric and multitextured, packed with ideas and explorations - now exists somewhere beyond the template of the vast majority of alternative rock in the US, and indeed anywhere. It's been abundantly clear since the Young Liars EP that here is that rare band whose influences are hard to pin down because they are so intrinsically woven into the fabric of their own ideas and ideals, which themselves reach well beyond the self-imposed limits of what most of this side of the music stratosphere that we deal in feel comfortable within. In America this was released on Interscope, the label Dr Dre has planned beat-driven world domination and reshaping from these last fourteen years; in Britain they belong to 4AD, past employers of the likes of the Cocteau Twins, Pixies, This Mortal Coil and Ultra Vivid Scene. In both cases it fits, on the one hand extending the vocabulary of the area they've emerged from, on the other ploughing their own highly distinctive and shape-shifting furrow. Enough of the extensive vocabulary: Return To Cookie Mountain is our choice as album of the year through sheer force of ideas coming off and adaptations from other spheres being interwoven into the sound to create this year's most exhilirating full album experience.

In fact, we join the record with some very R&B styled beats, if more Timbaland stutter than Dre swagger, before being joined by a twanging sitar-like guitar and a warped semi-orchestral sample before Tunde Adebimpe's fried preacher man voice hoves into view for the first time. It's hard to credit given that voice, but it's David Sitek's latest of many queasy, packed but airy soundscapes that stars, a very odd version of Technicolour sounds incorporating static, motorik beats, treated guitar sounds out of the Kevin Shields scrapbook and stuttering electronic beats, fuzzing in and out of focus and occasionally seeming to fill every available gap at the front of the mix. The washes of near enough white noise are used to complement Adebimpe's declamatory style - there's fewer of the spooky vocal harmonies of Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes in evidence, although Kyp Malone's counter-harmonies are still in evidence - but here his vocal tone is oddly downbeat amid this whirlwind, Adebimpe declaring "I was a lover, before this war" in Prince falsetto in what passes for a chorus. It doesn't signal that this will be a particularly easy listen, as if you couldn't guess already, but it sets the stall out for the parameters of what this record can do. Despite such loops and points the full time addition of bassist Gerard Smith and drummer Jaleel Bunton doesn't so much anchor the sound back down as contribute to the sense that, while there are standard musical roots here, they merely act around them. Attempting to tether the rhythm down of Hours, amid the flutes, plinking piano and Kazu Makino of Blonde Redhead somewhere in the swooping vocal patterns, would be tricky. Province takes an almost stately wander through desolation "holding tenderly to what remains" with David Bowie taking the bottom end of the vocals with the odd pulse, extra handclap rhythm and deep tinkling piano in the right channel. Having examined itself and the world around, the album then gets on with trying to decipher a bloody, and bloody-minded, mess in Playhouses, a near relative of glorious post-Desperate Youth standalone single New Health Rock with its buzzing guitars, disturbed bed of noise, curiously funky undertow and percussive indebted nature, albeit with a midsection featuring what sounds like an attempt to play cello with a road digger. Wolf Like Me, the single and originally mooted as opening track, has the strongest connection to their previous work, providing the mainline to spiritual future punk - and we mean spiritual in the vocal style rather than any religious connotations - while A Method, which is topped and tailed by a spot of Dixon Of Dock Green whistling, resuscitates the other part of their early promise, that of a vocal-led avant-garde Inkspots, before mechanical clicks and disembodied percussive noises provide as much lead bottom line as Malone's wordless echoing behind Adebimpe at his most icily emotional. Dirty Whirl appropriately swirls within an approximation of how a modern studio would approach doo-wop music while Adebimpe's often cryptic lyrical imagery turns in on itself. By the end Wash The Day sounds like people who have given everything firing themselves up for one last eight minute shapeshifting push at the white noise monolith, containing tiny musical references to earlier tracks, an oddly lilting flute track across the metallic rhythm's harshest moments and lyrics at their most inscrutable ("I bought you flowers from the dying woods of Brazil this little bird...making out so high in the backseat of a car bomb under carcinogenic sun") before a combination of bells, ringing guitar and eventually overpowering static bring the whole experience to a close. Even when hitting Desperate Youth paydirt, TV On The Radio used to be easier to admire than love. With Return To Cookie Mountain they haven't exactly become much more accessible, but the sheer effort and attention to detail put into poking at the boundaries, while never straying into the realms of self-indulgence by knowing where to turn it down and when to stop each song, transmutes into a record that exists in nothing but its own world of possibility, and for the vast majority of its part takes the listener with it.

LISTEN ON: Province
WATCH ON: Wolf Like Me on Letterman; Dirty Whirl live in Seattle; some sort of weird viral thing
READ ON: Remix Mag talk David Sitek through the technicals

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Is this not one of the signs of a forthcoming apocalypse?

June Sarpong MBE

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2006: Number 2

Fairly rustic

The curveball inherent to all those who heard Through The Windowpane for the first time having been previously aware of Guillemots' experiments in sunblessed skewiff pop is how...well...finished a record it is. The MGM strings drifting in and out throughout the extended introduction to Little Bear act as a sign that something's up that's at odds with much of what British music sees as grandiosity these days, before Fyfe Dangerfield, who also co-produced and orchestrated this monolith, enters bearing a song of simple beauty amid such a widescreen vista, a lullaby with an inherent sadness and disturbing undertow ("I wouldn't wanna cause you anything that might break your lovely face off/In a thousand shattered china pieces"). It pitches the album perfectly in a place of individual atmospheric charge. In other, less precise hands it'd be unbearable overblown guff, but as it goes on to prove this is music that goes to these lengths because it feels confident enough to believe it can.

It's this template that's referred to on many of the album's most affecting moments, most notably the tenderly hopeful lament of Redwings (featuring soaring violin and echoed chorus vocals from Joan 'As Police Woman' Wasser) and Blue Would Still Be Blue, which goes to the other sonic spectrum extreme with just Dangerfield's underrated, raw, yearning voice and plinks from an old Casio. At other times what this approach means is redefining and stretching the boundaries to breaking point of the hook-laden pop song. Made Up Love Song #43, for instance starts tenderly amid whirring keyboards and Dangerfield seeing "majesty in a burnt out caravan", breaks into inverted near-IRS REM with a breakbeat, brings choral harmony backing along, hits a wordless plateau and spends its last minute breaking down to squeaks, squeals and, obviously, the effect of powerdrill on guitar. Trains To Brazil sounds like the big pop hit it deserved to be, driven by euphoric brass and Dangerfield's insistence that we seize the day cross-referenced to the Jean Charles de Menezes killing referred to in the title and the Tube bombing circumstances leading to it, the defiant tone suggesting that the song is partly being addressed to a girl killed in the bombings ("lives like yours were in the hands of these erroneous fools") The title track meanwhile sees Dangerfield declaring "I saw life chanting out the mantra/if you want it, let it go", then turning the vocal backwards in the middle before Dangerfield takes off at the same time MC Lord Magrao's treated guitar does for a Technicolor explosion of synthaesia colour and sound. At the last Sao Paolo chucks everything into one enormous melting pot, starting like Mark Hollis of Talk Talk's desolate experiments, seamlessly melding into a bruised AM piano ballad before the strings return, developing into a more grandiose version of early Tom Waits before the cinematic nature overpowers both voice and piano and builds to...nothing, apart from a quiet moment of Fyfe consideration and the introduction of the repeated phrase "thrown across water like a stone" before being joined by a carnival beat, rousing horns and that drill again in the background, then everything previously mentioned at the same time building to an immense coda climaxing in tubular bells, keyboard explosions, kitchen sinks and everything the band could get their hands on, and after the probably ironic xylophone finish suddenly you find you're twelve minutes older and not quite able to completely comprehend what just happened. People have compared it to Coldplay. They might as well compare it to Napalm Death for all they have in common beyond an awareness of Jeff Buckley's Grace and the number for a string section. There's quite a few references here to things around us - sun, moon, sky - and it's this that the record aims for, something intimate and meaningful in a good way but that can still be seen and experienced from space. It's ambitious, but without ambition you not only get nowhere but would have no chance of making such a fully realised record right off the bat such as this.

LISTEN ON: Redwings
WATCH ON: Trains To Brazil live at the Mercury Awards; Annie Let's Not Wait busked in Paris on guitar, double bass, horns, saw, drumsticks and typewriter; had to include this too - live Blue Would Still Be Blue
NOT WANTING TO BLOW OUR OWN TRUMPET, BUT...: Fyfe told us before the album about how it all works out
READ ON: An equally individual take on the modern pop interview by Fyfe for SoundsXP

The Weekly Sweep presents The Top 100 Singles Of 2006: 33-1

And in case you're only now catching up, 100-67 and 66-34 are there and there.

33 Go! Team - Ladyflash [YouTube]
Almost like an old friend by now, such are we used to bits of the album soundtracking everything on lifestyle television. Little can dim its Avalanches-meets-B-girl frenzy
32 Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - In This Home On Ice [live YouTube]
Less Byrne, more Jonathan Richman with an ethereal glaze - organ hums, guitar drives, Alec Ounsworth declaims for all he's worth, the melody sounds a tiny bit like The Kids Are Alright
31 Franz Ferdinand - The Fallen [YouTube]
Who knows where they're going next, but You Could Have It So Much Better's campaign should have started with this cocksure glam but still esoteric post-punk place marker
30 Field Music - In Context [YouTube]
How do the Brewises (and Moore) keep doing this? Constructing overpowering tunes from basic implements and harmonies from next to nowhere with subtle touches at every opportunity
29 The Boy Least Likely To - Hugging My Grudge [YouTube]
Impossibly carefree lazy summer in a field-style country dance pop that knows who it's playing to and completely ignores prevailing trends that way. Dreamy but not without clouds
28 Victorian English Gentlemens Club - Amateur Man [YouTube]
Like taking the core elements of art-punk carefully apart and then carelessly cut-and-shutting them skittishly back together as bass undercuts rhythm and vocals cross each other
27 Tokyo Police Club - Nature Of The Experiment [YouTube]
To be young and impetuous in a band post-Strokes is a glorious thing. Here's two minutes of charging, melodically offset post-post-punk with clashing vocals and a guitar scree ending
26 Absentee - We Should Never Have Children [YouTube]
Just the fact a group of children were allowed near this song is disturbing enough without Dan Michaelson's granite-hewn vocal about how we really don't need more of their type
25 Victorian English Gentlemens Club - Impossible Sightings Over Shelton [YouTube]
We have to find synonyms for this sort of thing other than 'artrock' or 'post-punk' in 2007. Disjointed deconstructed whatever with bass and BVs from the Kim Deal School Of Careworn Excellence
24 The Gossip - Listen Up [YouTube]
Of course it's cherrypicked from the ESG back catalogue, all driven bass and cool as soul girl vocals, but when it takes off in one of the three hidden choruses you dare not start moving
23 Futureheads - Skip To The End [YouTube]
Both comfortably Futureheadian and a demonstration of where the album was going - newly acquired space to breathe and think, but still the tight harmonies, groove and stop-start fuzz guitar
22 Young Knives - The Decision [YouTube]
Inscrutable, in a word. Prince of Wales, horses in New Forest and all that long dealt with, so let's instead mention the pulsing bassline, the cross-harmony vocal breakdown and the Pere Ubu echoes
21 Lucky Soul - Lips Are Unhappy [YouTube]
It's always worth remembering that Lucky Soul singles are by and large self-financed and self-released, such are the Motown strings lending weight to the soul stomp and Ali Howard's soaring vocal
20 Jeremy Warmsley - I Promise [YouTube]
Ah, finally. The most stripped-back of Warmsley's work but no less able to jam in the button marked 'affecting'. Long distance pining and loneliness over martial drums and wordless choirs was never so good
19 Final Fantasy - Many Lives -> 49MP [YouTube]
Has anyone called Owen Pallett the North American Patrick Wolf yet? Perhaps it's too obvious a link, what with the electronic burbling, primary looped violin and, er, shouts of "son you should/invest!" from afar
18 Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out Of This Country [YouTube]
As well as introducing "the bee's knees" to the pop lexicon, it's a sweep of Jimmy Webb strings and post-twee internal lachrymosity and perfectly visualised dreams of escape that befits the band's status
17 Clearlake - It's Getting Light Outside [YouTube]
One of our more frustrating bands, occasionally Clearlake will drop an absolute cracker when nobody's concentrating. This selection of rolling drums, creeped out strings, pop melody and lyrical yearning is one such occasion
16 TV On The Radio - Wolf Like Me [Letterman performance - YouTube]
Only downgraded because it sounds so odd in solitude, it's bout as conventional as they get, from declamatory Tunde and thumping beats to soul from Mars to overloaded synths and exploding guitar white noise
15 Guillemots - Made Up Love Song #43 [YouTube]
"I love you through sparks and shining dragons, I do" Now where can you possibly go wrong after that? Fyfe's joy when the song triples speed after a minute, and then steps up a gear again, is infectious
14 Peter Bjorn & John - Young Folks [YouTube]
Everyone's sound of the summer, not least whoever chooses backing music for television, but there's plenty else going on other than whistling, from Victoria Bergsman's honeyed guest role to the double speed tom-toms
13 Goodbooks - Walk With Me [YouTube]
A dictionary definition of slow burner: starting off melancholic and almost introverted, then developing an offbeam keyboard-aided tension before lurching into prime indie disco artrock territory. If that doesn't put you off
12 Tilly And The Wall - Reckless [YouTube]
Joyousness writ large, the air-punching exuberance of it being driven by actually not that much - acoustic guitar, buzzing synth, tap shoes, gang vocals. The vocal plateau reached near the end is really something
11 Jeremy Warmsley - Dirty Blue Jeans [YouTube]
Could you fit any more in there? Packing the mix works more than just well for once, though, as lysergic, swooping strings fit next to offbeat drums, skittish electronics, strident vocals and plenty else of good note
10 Guillemots - Trains To Brazil [YouTube]
It took time to grow and make sense, but eventually it became unstoppable. The sheer joy of life encapsulated in stomping energy, rousing rhythmic plateaus and brass fanfares polarised against love and loss. It turned out to be the nearest they've got to normality
9 CSS - Let's Make Love And Listen To Death From Above [YouTube]
Hipster cachet off the scale, just somebody's in-joke potential similar, but what a calling card. Nearly every line would go well on a T-shirt, the punk-funk-electro-disco bassline is unstoppable and, yes, it actually sounds like a combination of The DFA and Death From Above 1979
8 Field Music - You're Not Supposed To [YouTube]
A full 38 seconds of Gregorian humming. Good start. Then, rapturous left of centre pop dynamics, guitars that jerk around in cotton wool rather than steel bars. Runs out of songs a minute after properly starting, which is where the piano flourishes and jaunty handclaps start
7 Klaxons - Atlantis To Interzone [live YouTube]
We'll say it again - it's as much like rave as Kubb are. The absolute rush, though, is undeniable, tailor made for stock footage sped up of autobahns after dark, schizophrenically switching between 606s, enormous basslines, hyper drums and a good old group shouted chorus
6 Broken Social Scene - 7/4 (Shoreline) [YouTube]
Why couldn't they have made the album as near-chaotically fluid as this? Taut, slow building multifaceted kineticity given a kick into greatness by Leslie Feist's presence, and you'll be hard pressed (outside #10) to find a better closing brass flourish all year
5 The Lucksmiths - A Hiccup In Your Happiness [actually, let us provide you with this one]
Melbourne outfit who put this out a year after the album and instantly won us over. You could say Belle & Sebastian/Magnetic Fields, but that would be to underplay the empathetic swoon and pitch of this understated gem about the positives of heartbreak. No wonder Daniel Kitson penned the liner notes
4 Cat Power - The Greatest [Later With Jools performance - YouTube]
Chan going to Memphis has clearly done her the world of good. The title track saw her share her end of the night barroom deepest melancholic thoughts while the band play the deftest southern soul behind her glorious voice and strings haunt her soul. Even Radio 2 took interest
3 Scritti Politti - The Boom Boom Bap [Myspace]
It's a paen to Green's discovery of hip hop. Or it's a love song to his wife. Or both. Whatever, it's defiantly home-made but sounding as lush as when he used to use expensive studios, velvet soft atmospherics matching slow beats and that honeyed voice before the electronics kick in
2 Jeremy Warmsley - I Believe In The Way You Move [YouTube]
It really does sometimes hit you out of nowhere. We already knew what he was capable of, but when this hit with its offsetting of electronic peaks and burbles with piano, muted brass, mood shifts and caustic, semi-cynical lyrics the effect was mesmerising. Why have you all ignored this?
1 Camera Obscura - Lloyd I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken [YouTube]
Quite plausibly outdoing every single elder sibling band Belle & Sebastian have ever put out at a stroke (discuss), nothing else encapsulated the sheer joy, and joi de vivre (apart from in Traceyanne's worldview, natch), of what a pop single should do this year. You can't help but skip for joy, if nobody's looking, by the final "hey Lloyd..."

Friday, December 29, 2006

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2006: Number 3

We're sure there's heavy symbolism at work really

The inherent beauty of liking music is that sometimes it really surprises you. We'd vaguely heard the name Jeremy Warmsley before we found some demos on his website back in March, which led to our extracting more details from him, but then came a run of pin sharp singles culminating in this, a self-written, produced, mixed and arranged debut album of extraordinary breadth, depth and intricacy, an ambitious but relatively compact effort that more than anything finds an answer to the great impregnable of Noughties alternative, how to mix traditional British-facing songcraft with electronics. The answer all along, apparently, was to approach it from all angles at once, making it completely impossible to pin down to a genre or stylistic pigeonhole, songs pulled apart by the sheer force of habit that is ideas being piled on top of one another. A lot of the time it'd just sound a mess, but it's all underpinned by a sense of forward direction, where all the chord changes and seemingly random effects thrown into the mix are carefully positioned to enhance the arrangements and melodies as much as the moods and complexities. It's an album to immerse yourself in and pick out the details over time.

And what details. Dirty Blue Jeans pitches straight in with strident, stabbing strings mixing in with and occasionally echoed by the synths over a stuttering beat just off the pace, often breaking down into component parts or seemingly a different time signature. Eventually it sidesteps into a brief period of distorted guitar and drum crescendos as Warmsley declares "I'm still in control" before turning back and piling on backing vocals, swirling strings and a partly muted horn section appearing from somewhere on the right channel, and then everything breaks down again into humming keyboards and some jazz piano buried in the mix as Warmsley, whose compelling vocals are best compared to a restrained amalgam of Conor Oberst, Rufus Wainwright and Brian Eno, declares "if it doesn't work out I'll come home and be alone". Dirty Blue Jeans, by the way, is eight seconds over three minutes long. I Promise is at least simpler, built on martial drums and a simple message of dislocated love, but no less effective, as is intimate piano ballad I Knew That Her Face Was A Lie, a prime example of the intriguing lyrics that are just about as intricate as the musical accompaniment. The uplifting 5 Verses is an even better example, a pounding electronic beat backing a tale of a girl finding a boy falling for her and going along with it "to string him along" only to get mightily confused. From here the album edges into more electronic climes, bar Modern Children, an almost straightforward, breezy uplift with a dark undertow and widescreen ambition that keeps threatening to turn into Interpol. The Young Man Sees The City As A Chessboard driven by tingling keyboards and the odd appearance of a beat that edges towards drum'n'bass, creating a dark atmosphere that matches the lyrical references to death and war and sounds like nobody so much as a vocalised Aphex Twin, while A Matter Of Principle's cut and paste suggests Tunng meets Animal Collective in a laptop. I Believe In The Way You Move is extraordinary for different reasons, driven by Tom Rogerson's liquid piano (nearest immediate pop comparison: Steve Nieve's accompaniment to Elvis Costello's more grandiose moments), lo-fi electronics and Emmy The Great's harmony backing vocals under Warmsley's declarations of guilt and hope in love. And that's the key in a way. The Art Of Fiction, essentially, is a musical 3D jigsaw - it shouldn't fit together by the law of averages, but it does, and it does so spectacularly.

LISTEN ON: Modern Children
WATCH ON: Dirty Blue Jeans in Jeremy's kitchen; I Promise solo live in Manchester
NOT WANTING TO BLOW OUR OWN TRUMPET, BUT...: Not bad for a first effort on our part, is it?
READ ON: Platform Six catches up with Jeremy at Bestival

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2006: Number 4

That landing needs some serious interior design work

Easier, the opener on Yellow House, starts with a whirring under Disney strings, followed by a snatch of concert hall piano. Then there's a prime example of voice-as-instrument with dislocated string motifs underneath. Then it turns into Sufjan Stevens, complete with banjo, but with a misty vocal mix and a slightly off-harmony vocal, before settling into a fingerpicked folk guitar motif with warped strings, what may be a double bass and a prominent glockenspiel. This is going to be a headphones album. And what it isn't going to be is a straightforward listen - friend and fan Owen Pallett (Final Fantasy) has said "if people pick up on the fact that they sound a great deal like the Stone Roses, I think they'll be big in Britain", but he is quite clearly mad. This is pitched right into the expansive genre known as freak folk, definitely and almost defiantly at the experimental Animal Collective end rather than Devendra Banhart retro mysticism. It's a psychedelic experience but not in the purest sense of the term, making equal use of Elliott Smith songwriting, TV On The Radio forward pushed dynamics and widescreen sonic vistas with surprising twists that keep it interesting and an experience that needs a damn good hearing.

Yellow House is as concerned with creating a mildly disturbing, almost seasick atmosphere as with its mystical (but not in the Forbidden Planet sense) songcraft, textural patterns lapping each other and shifting whenever it sounds like the delicacy of the construction is about to hit an impasse. Lullabye is a queasy, claustrophobic Mobius strip sporting enormous drums, fuzz bass and wordless panning chorality, rarely all at the same time as the enormity of its ideas gradually unfolds. Not to say there aren't snatches of melody largely from somewhere akin to the White Album and Love, even if they are partly disguised by use of reverb, subtle electronics and something we'd guess is akin to Steve Albini's mantra of wanting to record the room atmosphere as much as the music being played in it. Central And Remote's acoustic meandering amid cymbals sounds like Kings Of Convenience in a forest at night, lysergic, close miked Marla breaks out the pizzicato strings for a tender piano waltz that's thrown out of the standard loop by sudden influxes of skittering drums, almost EVP backing vocals and plenty of creepy noises and found sounds on the edge of the spectrum, while Plans starts as almost campfire singalong before introducing snatches of electronic crackles, random noises, grumbles, fake skips and assorted oddness buried right through the mix along with drunken New Orleans funeral horns which gets cut off as if the laptop has finally blue screened. They're not afraid to pep things up with a Beach Boys harmonic structure either, best demonstrated on Knife's odd swoon, while On A Neck On A Spit starts with West Coast harmonies over that Sufjan banjo again before stepping up its pace to an oddly Simon & Garfunkel-esque arrangement before Mellotron strings and clattering, sometimes double speed drums join in. What Grizzly Bear have achieved with all this is a method of taking songwriting forms that, while not necessarily classicist, have echoes of alternative and folk forms and dragging them into the woods to fend for themselves, amid the sudden movements and unsettling atmospherics that turns the melodies suddenly agoraphobic.

LISTEN ON: On A Neck, On A Spit
WATCH ON: Knife acapella in Paris; Lullabye live in London
READ ON: Brooklynvegan talk to Droste

Yearender pt. 3: the detritus strikes back

Yes, we did forget to put these in the last one, how did you guess?

Actress Hands: from Brighton, and featuring Brake/ESPer Alex White, a meeting of lo-fi dynamics, Teenage Fanclub jangly chime and restrained J Mascisisms. Album in April

The Fog Band: from Bath come well dressed men touting powerhouse early Who-style proto-punk mod meets Strokes new wave, with bits of Factory Records and burning Detroit in the middle

The God Damn Doo Wop Band: three girls harmonising 60s style with an indieish backing. (This seems familiar, if coincidentally.) In Minneapolis it comes with a sax and is a tad harder

The Sailplanes: two guitar/no bass London trio who are probably heartily sick of Sonic Youth comparisons by now, so here's some other markers: Sleater-Kinney, Ikara Colt, the fuzzier end of C86

The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir: long serving Chicago octet, who apparently count Wayne Coyne as a fan, landing in Smiths/Belle & Sebastian/Camera Obscura bedsitter low-key majesty territory

Not including the Rakes on the BBC Six O'Clock News, as we couldn't locate it on YouTube. Tell us if we've missed any live contenders

5 The Pipettes on Newsnight discussing downloading - would have been higher were they actually in the studio
4 British Sea Power on BBC2's Betjeman And Me covering The Licorice Fields of Pontefract - well, they were always going to do something like that eventually. Griff Rhys Jones appears to have actually got them talking, mind. Noble scares us
3 The Gossip on Friday Night With Jonathan Ross - a booking that came out of nowhere and shook many up, not least Conor McNicholas
2 The Boy Least Likely To on GMTV - and winningly not a patch of embarrassment showing until the back-announcement at having the characters from their album cover dance around the pair of them, but maybe that's what comes of being James Blunt's support of choice
1 Shimura Curves on BBC Breakfast - now come on, at least the averagely inclined had already heard of the others, but what were the chances of this springing out of nowhere? Miss AMP's doing, inevitably, and note how she leaves it to the caption to actually name them.


  • Preston on Celebrity Big Brother really did blow the doors wide open - now we can't look smugly for long lost boy band members to appear on reality TV as it could be your favourite. Unlikely, admittedly, but more possible than a year ago, at the very least. Here's his introduction to the non-mod revival revival nation.
  • War On Emo! Panic! At The Disco's Brendon Urie gets floored by a bottle at Reading. Daphne & Celeste didn't have that.
  • Much to say about Technology Ennobling Everyone In Music in our season review, so for the time being let's go to square one with the original video for Lily Allen's LDN
  • Many retirements and splits this year, prime among which were Sleater-Kinney - the last song from their last show, One More Hour.
  • In another sense entirely, we lost Top Of The Pops to negligence. The last great studio performance? Made Up Love Song #43, possibly, or maybe even ths slowed down military drumbeat version of Crazy.
  • Wednesday, December 27, 2006

    Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2006: Number 5

    An embodiment of the music - cheer up, 60s girl, it might never happen

    If the world knew Camera Obscura for anything before this year, it's for their slavish devotion to the ways of Belle & Sebastian. Yet here we are at the end of 2006 glossing over the singularly disappointing The Life Pursuit and lionising this superb third album from their younger sibling band. What gives? Well, not much, apart from now Tracyanne Campbell has solely taken over as lead singer after John Henderson's departure there seems a feeling surrounding the record that it's time to cast off lo-fi, Glasgow Scene trappings and embrace the Wall Of Sound beyond. Concretes producer Jari Haapalainen brings with him the skewed pop melodies and uplifting qualities of that band's breakthrough work allied with Campbell's lyrical ideas of doomed romance and self-absorption. Is it twee? To an extent, yes. But it's also shooting for the stars.

    You'll find fewer better, fist-pumping in solidarity songs at all in this year's catalogue than Lloyd I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken, beginning with a wedding organ in solitude before launching into an indefatigably bittersweet pop song laced with soaring strings, hooks to die for and Traceyanne throwing herself headfirst into future possibilities. It may actually be physically impossible not to be singing along with the two line chorus before the end. It's this form of overlaying the upbeat with the desperate and downtrodden that the band have always aimed for and finally hit at this moment, the pull of the track matched by the rush of the emotionally cracked title track ("I drowned my sorrows and slept around/when not in body, at least in mind") and the Beach Boys-meets-Ronettes revenge fantasy swing of If Looks Could Kill. While there's always been an element of the Spector about their sound - also see here Come Back Margaret and I Need All The Friends I Can Get with layers of percussion, girl group strings, heady midsection swoon on the former, choral outro on the latter allied to that lyrical twist - the palette is expanding to reflect the subconscious desire to make something of the escape from indie parochialism. Tears For Affairs could be from the Jimmy Webb songbook while Glen Campbell country rock stalks Dory Previn as Campbell attempts to escape an old flame, declaring in a corking opening line that she's "fed up of girls in pretty dresses, with boys who want to teach them a lesson". Razzle Dazzle Rose extends itself for a closer with faint hints of rockabilly and country, twanging guitars and West Coast horns that turn mariachi over the shimmering haze of a cymbal heavy ending, closing a gloriously infectious album, an idea of immediacy laden but still largely slow burning pop that, much like we wrote about Scritti Politti yesterday but in a more directly tangible sense, is at once alongside and alien to the actual modern meaning of the term, an album that runs like clockwork on higher levels of melody and calming sustainability without ever letting itself get really comfy with the idea.

    LISTEN ON: Come Back Margaret
    WATCH ON: Newly minted If Looks Could Kill video; Lloyd I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken live in LA
    READ ON: Pitchfork discuss Glasgow, John Peel, honesty and Lloyd Cole with Traceyanne

    Tuesday, December 26, 2006

    Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2006: Number 6

    Brian Blessed is currently appearing at the King's Theatre, Nantwich

    It's a bloody odd album, we'll give Owen Pallett that much. From title down, indeed - the lyrics don't seem to have much connection with the titles or the declared theme, and given the declared theme is the eight schools of magic in Dungeons & Dragons you can see why it might not be everyone's first choice. And when you actually play the thing it coalesces into a dizzying mass of emotional wreck delivery, avant-garde classical chamber music arrangements with looped instrumentation and odd cut-ins and deliberately awkward poetics about atheism, death and town life. For someone whose previous album Has A Good Home was a slow-burning collection of elegantly constructed leftfield pop songs it comes as something of a mindfuck. Luckily, once expanded it emerges as a grand folly and an extraordinary one-off for this or any other year.

    It may well be that we miss a certain level of subtlety with our lack of D&D knowledge, but as we see it Arctic Circle sets us into the middle of what passes for an album narrative about how we relate to each other and to our own psyches or more accurately the downbeat side thereof, this seemingly about the constructs we erect around ourselves in order to maintain a relationship and the ensuing problems inherent when required to open up. Around it Pallett's violin coldly leads a chamber string quartet into a series of marches and motifs ending in a spiral upwards to a sudden stop. It's these complex arrangements that marks the album out as much as anything, the title track a grand arrangement of martial drums and glissandos around a tale of existential loneliness and This Lamb Sells Condos a ragtime piano-led waltz as Pallett's gentle voice narrates the decline and fall of a marriage ("now his massive genitals refuse to co-operate") that's mildly unnerving well before the children's choir arrive. The construction of the songs, the mix led by pizzicato strings and digital and pedal effects, notably on If I Were A Carp and the way the world-weary I'm Afraid Of Japan gradually disappears into the ether, suggests a kind of half-reality, more politely half-awake atmospherics, only really emerging into the light with Song Song Song's strings gradually emerging from behind tribal drumming. Nothing here is immediate, closest being Many Lives -> 49 MP (we see) and its slight return to offbeat melody led by violin loops, except this time with off-mike choral shouting, that still keeps emotional contact, a demonstration of the ambitious levels of engagement attempted throughout. Through everything - concept, ideas, levels of meaningful encryption, the way everything is built up and fitted together - the reason why your average listener wouldn't just give up and put some proper music on is that it's delivered on a level that maintains an attachment amid a quest for understanding of how and why people have ended up in such states, communicating to the soul in an arch way. That Pallett's giving the album and songs very penetrable titles covering a plausibly impenetrable atmosphere... well, it must just be his idea of a cosmic joke.

    LISTEN ON: Arctic Circle
    WATCH ON: He Poos Clouds video; This Lamb Sells Condos live with projections
    READ ON: You Ain't No Picasso get the details on Pallett's upbringing, atheism and history with fantasy RPGs

    Monday, December 25, 2006

    Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2006: Number 7

    How much do you think the designers billed Rough Trade for this one?

    If we didn't expect anything special from the latest incarnation of Green Gartside's new soul vision we weren't concentrating hard enough. The hip-hop flavoured Anomie And Bonhomie eight years ago, itself after an eleven year gap between albums, passed many by and in retrospect was probably more an elongated work in progress towards finding somewhere new to go from the 80s sheen under which he became a hitmaker. There's nothing resembling a chart hit on White Bread Black Beer, but what there is is a distillation of the silky smooth sound along with the movements and eccentricities that have coloured his work throughout. In fact, where this album lands is in the no man's land between the anarchic squat days of the dissonant post-punk sound with which Gartside and friends first emerged - the album was recorded DIY style in his bedroom - and the buffed to a shine pre-R&B lover's soul which even as the production values shone was busy didactically taking the very language of love and songwriting apart.

    Opener The Boom Boom Bap is one of the best things anyone did in 2007, which isn't a bad way to reintroduce yourself. The close-mic'd voice is so eulogised that it seems pointless to say it's as lustrous as ever, and now sounding oddly like a more mature, English Justin Timberlake, but the song resonates with, well, people like us, being a tribute to the hip-hop that he spent much of the gap getting engrossed in but in the language structure of the love song, reduced to the bare bones of keyboard swells, peaks and squelches, drum machine, multitracked vocals and fractured melody, exploding into a few moments of unfettered summeriness before descending back to the dreamy bedroom production while he reads out the tracklisting of the first Run DMC album. It makes sense in context, and goes back to an idea we've developed before about what pop music is now the term is used as a verb, or at least pop music developed with self-sufficient care and construction. Snow In Sun sounds like an out-take from the Beach Boys' Smile, almost a suite in three and a half minutes which breaks into a languid almost ragga groove towards the end while Throw reverberates with light psychedelics and a bed of gentle burbling offset by the repeated phrase "get me out of here" and Road To No Regret features a tiny liquid country-rock guitar solo and sounds like a wistful domestic Glen Campbell. Dr Abenathy starts as a thoughtful, vaguely lachrymose acoustic lament before two minutes in turning into big glam with an unashamedly intellectual varnish for three minutes, then returning for an introspective ending. You wouldn't call this AOR, but it's an album of interesting music for adults, or at least a certain type, those who are trying to make sense of the last thirty years or so of pop music and adapting it to their own, now settled but still jumpy and esoteric lives.

    LISTEN ON: Snow In Sun
    WATCH ON: Green overcoming his stage fright meant we have live versions of The Boom Boom Bap and a reworking of Wood Beez
    READ ON: Time Out get to the bottom of things: Martin Carthy's generosity, Robert Wyatt and the Clash, telling girls' mags about cultural relativism, the way old men piss

    Your Christmas present from us five magnificent album tracklistings.

    Frank Sinatra - Trilogy: Past Present Future
    Frank's real last hurrah, a 1980 triple concept album (oh yes) which debuted New York New York and featured, in order, standards, more recent favourites and "ambitious, experimental, and self-referential...more of a freeform suite than a set of songs" which were laid out thus:
    What Time Does the Next Miracle Leave?
    World War None!
    The Future
    The Future (Continued): I've Been There
    The Future (Conclusion): Song Without Words
    Before the Music Ends

    Liars - They Threw Us All In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top
    Grown Men Don't Fall In The River, Just Like That
    Mr Your On Fire Mr
    Loose Nuts On The Veladrome
    The Garden Was Crowded And Outside
    Tumbling Walls Buried Me In Debris With ESG
    Nothing Is Ever Lost Or Can Be Lost My Science Friend
    We Live NE Of Compton
    Why Midnight Walked But Didn't Ring Her Bell
    This Dust Makes That Mud

    Frank Zappa - 200 Motels
    The double album soundtrack to Zappa's 1971 film, starring the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Ringo Starr and Keith Moon. The soundtrack was recorded live throughout the filming.
    Semi Fraudulent/Direct From Hollywood Overture
    Mystery Roach
    Dance Of The Rock'n'Roll Interviewers
    This Town is a Sealed Tuna Sandwich (Prologue)
    Tuna Fish Promenade
    Dance Of The Just Plain Folks
    This Town Is A Sealed Tuna Sandwich (Reprise)
    The Sealed Tuna Bolero
    Lonesome Cowboy Burt
    Touring Can Make You Crazy
    Would You Like A Snack?
    Redneck Eats
    She Painted Up Her Face
    Janet's Big Dance Number
    Half A Dozen Provocative Squats
    Shove It Right In
    Lucy's Seduction Of A Bored Violinist And Postlude
    I'm Stealing The Towels
    Dental Hygiene Dilemma
    Does This Kind Of Life Look Interesting To You?
    Daddy Daddy Daddy
    Penis Dimension
    What Will This Evening Bring Me This Morning?
    A Nun Suit Painted On Some Old Boxes
    Magic Fingers
    Motorhead's Midnight Ranch
    Dew On The Newts We Got
    The Lad Searches The Night For His Newts
    The Girl Wants To Fix Him Some Broth
    The Girl's Dream
    Little Green Scratchy Sweaters And Corduroy Ponce
    Strictly Genteel (The Finale)

    Anthony Newley - For You
    The great London-born Broadway actor, songwriter (Feeling Good, Goldfinger) and singer (What Kind Of Fool Am I)'s 1971 tone poetry album
    You and Me - Inevitable
    I Flooded You With My Love
    What Sets You Apart?
    There is No Lyric for the Music Of You
    We Took Our Love Outside
    Feline, Wild And Domesticated
    I Am A Fool
    Ocean, Greet My Love!
    Darling, It's Time
    The Secret Places
    I Want You For My Wife
    So That Now Remains Forever
    Your Mouth-Shaping Demands Of One Syllable
    The Anatripsis Of Love
    We Climb Yesterday's Stairway
    That Errant Whore, Time
    The Eternal Instant Of Our Parting
    Couples - I Do Not Envy Them
    I Reside In Hell
    Will The Windows Continue To Mock Me?

    Guided By Voices - Under The Bushes Under The Stars
    Yes, this is pretty much the first GBV album we thought of as most of them would qualify for this
    Man Called Aerodynamics
    Rhine Jive Click
    Cut-Out Witch
    Burning Flag Birthday Suit
    Official Ironmen Rally Song
    To Remake The Young Flyer
    No Sky
    Bright Paper Werewolves
    Lord Of Overstock
    Your Name Is Wild
    Ghosts Of A Different Dream
    Acorns & Orioles
    Look At Them
    Perfect Life
    Underwater Explosions
    Atom Eyes
    Don't Stop Now
    Office of Hearts
    Big Boring Wedding
    It's Like Soul Man
    Drag Days
    Redmen And Their Wives
    Take To The Sky

    Sunday, December 24, 2006

    Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2006: Number 8

    Speed camera warnings became ever more overelaborate in Oxfordshire

    The problem with critiquing albums that come under the aegis of The Post-Punk Revival is that you end up repeating the same few stock comparisons. The Cure, XTC, Gang Of Four... We'd love to hear a band emerge in 2007 that really sound like James Chance, early Scritti Politti or the Associates, but for the time being the only way to make yourself noticed in the whirling gene pool of new wave referencing is to prove yourself that little bit smarter, more intrinsically playful or ambitiously scoped. That the band who best achieved this in 2006 are better known for dressing all funny proved a Trojan horse when that band see whimsy and statement making on modernity as equals. No matter that statement of intent Part Timer breaks down in mid-flow or Tailors confuses the issue by turning into mellow folky Syd Barrett pastoral psychedelia with scissors as percussion, it's a sharp, relentless album with next to nothing in the way of filler and plenty in the way of vigour, sly wit, self-assurance leftfield turns and above all melodies turned inside out and presented sharp edges first, the console presence of Andy Gill probably not a coincidence in this regard.

    Much of Voices Of Animals And Men is made by Henry Dartnall and House Of Lords' (look, if you don't know by now you might never) interplay, both in vocal swaps and face-offs and in the most full-on crossthreading guitar and basslines, standing out a mile from the morass, as do the tagline-worthy lyrical hooks - "back down, it's the best you can hope for", "they'll keep on lying to you", most famously "you were screaming at your mum and I was punching your dad". And just when it starts dragging its feet slightly, it breaks into possibly the best run of closing tracks of the year: Another Hollow Line's delicately cut and pasted harmonics and almost laidback, acid-edged summery pop (Albarn! You used to do this), Coastguard's bleak death rattle, Loughborough Suicide's evocation of quiet English desperation and closing declaration that "I will never go down fighting" and Tremblings Of Trails' similar go at escape therapy, this time as irked melancholia. It's this that really sets them apart from the herd, that their angst is less existential than reflective of their setting, which means that their much vaunted sense enjoyment is tempered by awkwardness.

    LISTEN ON: Loughborough Suicide
    WATCH ON: original The Decision video; Here Comes The Rumour Mill live at HMV
    READ ON: makenoiseanddance get some quality free association

    The Weekly Sweep presents The Top 100 Singles Of 2006: 66-34

    You've probably come to realise how horribly out of step we're beginning to look with this selection. Onwards, then...

    66 Vincent Vincent And The Villains - Johnny Two Bands [YouTube]
    Roots rockabilly rebels channel the Housemartins as much as Eddie Cochran. Who knew lyrical acidity (though apparently all parties have since made up) could be so cheeringly infectious?
    65 The Boy Least Likely To - Be Gentle With Me [YouTube]
    Like skipping through a field in your girl's dreams, or something. They did this 'live' on GMTV, and their country-disco-pop should have been huge. It wasn't.
    64 Midlake - Young Bride [YouTube]
    The album touched too many Eagles/Fleetwood Mac bases to really hit home, but the single's Grandaddy meets Neil Young melodic touches were a subtle career best
    63 ¡Forward, Russia! - Nine [YouTube]
    "CONJECTURE!" Clashing time sigs, about three choruses and a heap of intricate rapidfire guitar riffs and hi-hat. Breaks down and builds back up once every thirty seconds or so too
    62 Get Cape Wear Cape Fly - Chronicles Of A Bohemian Teenager Pt 1 [YouTube]
    Good lord, look at that title, but at least Sam Duckworth justified it with trumpet breaks, considered lyrics and that big fist-in-air singalong near the end
    61 Mystery Jets - You Can't Fool Me Dennis [YouTube]
    None more English dark pastoralism, sounding a bit like the Smiths with the speed turned down a notch or Village Green Preservation Society Kinks in inverse
    60 Rakes - All Too Human [YouTube]
    Once they sorted the pulse overload first mix out it revealed itself as one of the year's steadiest growers, complete with metronomic rhythm aimed squarely at two for a quid nights
    59 Futureheads - Worry About It Later [YouTube]
    Perhaps the best encapsulation of the change from first album to second - a more streamlined version of the jerky blueprint, but there's the harmonies, and the riffs and the insistence
    58 Tapes N Tapes - Cowbell [YouTube]
    Appears to be built around the rhythm of Pixies' Nimrod's Son, but then turns into a happier Violent Femmes or more concise Modest Mouse. Working to a theme, then
    57 Editors - Munich [YouTube]
    Even a year on Chris Urbanowicz's wall of screeching Bunnymen guitar still makes the hairs on the back of our neck stand to attention
    56 Clinic - Harvest [YouTube]
    Again, you know what it'll include - offbeat drums, vocal moans, piercing organ - but lifted by almost hip-hop rhythms and the return of the tribal element
    55 Maccabees - Latchmere [YouTube]
    Actually is about a swimming pool, which as well as being perhaps illegally parochial might be a stroke of minor genius. Builds up a head of steam and then clings on for dear life
    54 Animal Collective - Grass [YouTube]
    A full year after the album comes the standout track, one that tries to sound relatively linear for a bit then gives up and goes skitteringly haywire
    53 The Hidden Cameras - Awoo [YouTube]
    Joel Gibb and co still find album consistency elusive but they can pick a strangely uplifting single alright, whatever "the curd of my own written qualities" is exactly
    52 Brakes - Hold Me In The River [live YouTube]
    Biting Undertones guitars frame Eamon Hamilton going all political, after an oblique fashion, as they attempt to pummel the listener into submission again in under two minutes
    51 Young Knives - Weekends And Bleak Days (Hot Summer) [YouTube]
    Battering away at your subconscious with a chainsaw riff and, well, harmonic shouting. Why didn't it turn into the summer's great vocal hook? Curse you, Automatic!
    50 Mew - Why Are You Looking Grave? [YouTube]
    Not the same without J Mascis' world-weary croon clashing with Jonas Bjerre's skyscraping on the album, but dreampop with dynamics precisely between Mum and Arcade Fire works in all contexts
    49 Klaxons - Gravity's Rainbow [YouTube]
    Had they not emerged at the same time Angular Recordings were trying to launch New Rave, we'd be hailing this as the best anyone's offered in the lo-fi DFA-esque art-disco pantheon
    48 Rumble Strips - Oh Creole [YouTube]
    Perhaps the closest we'll get to a proper soul revue - not in the modern sense, obviously, but in the restrained build-up to Stax brass and Charlie Waller's huge vocal
    47 Tapes N Tapes - Insistor [YouTube]
    Does that drumming ever let up? Intense two-step hoedown lo-fi that once started is virtually impossible to halt. It's a tiny bit like the Pixies, you'll be surprised to hear
    46 iLiKETRAiNS - Terra Nova [YouTube]
    That it's about Captain Scott is almost secondary given its intensity in the Mogwai-with-vocals way nobody's pulled off quite so well
    45 Spinto Band - Oh Mandy [YouTube]
    The summer's leftfield anthem, at last their previous Pavementisms fade into blue sky floating joyful dreaminess. Best mandolin in ages too
    44 Mew - Zookeeper's Boy [YouTube]
    Nearly breaking in America, which seems odd for a band who continue to sound like a complex stratospheric mind meld of the Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine and the Icicle Works
    43 Guillemots - We're Here [YouTube]
    Fyfe's got a way with life-affirming enormo-scale not-quite-anthemry, hasn't he? This time the sense of seizing the day is enveloped in swirling Talk Talk strings that eschews Embrace
    42 Metric - Monster Hospital [YouTube]
    "I've been bad!" Emily Haines fitfully declares, and you can well believe her. There's certainly something evil about the scratchy guitars and dancerock dynamics
    41 Kid Harpoon - Riverside [YouTube]
    No, there's definitely something in the Medway water to produce all this talent at the same time. The switch from grizzled to falsetto vocals mirrors the unsettling lyricism
    40 ¡Forward, Russia! - Twelve [YouTube]
    The reservoirs of energy live ¡FR! run off finally make their way to the front of a recorded mix, amid M C Escher guitars and of-the-moment backing
    39 The Pipettes - Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me [YouTube]
    We knew they were good for what they do, but until Gwenno's second chorus vocals take off and take the mini-wall of sound with it we hadn't anticipated how good
    38 Emmy The Great - Secret Circus [Myspace]
    2007's going to be a big female singer-songwriterly year and thus a huge one for Emmy on the basis of her gorgeous, glorious first single's forceful development and intelligent heart
    37 Voxtrot - Mothers Sisters Daughters And Wives [live YouTube]
    Good to hear the weird electronic percussion effect from the Flying Lizards' Money again. Also good to hear someone doing something forceful with the artrock building blocks again
    36 Battle - Tendency [Myspace]
    From the Cure playbook of course, but red-eyed intensity, metronome drumming and the odd synth/chiming guitar crossfade easily overcome all post-punk cliche accusations
    35 Klaxons - Magick [YouTube]
    The Cardiacs revival starts here? Maybe not, but it's three from three for Klaxons singles that'd be great soundtracking late night empty motorway drives. Listen to those clattering drums
    34 The Pipettes - Judy [YouTube]
    Not lyrically masterful, but a neat distillation of teenage angst and longing amid swooning harmonies and strings. Doesn't sound overtly disposable and is all the better for it

    Saturday, December 23, 2006

    Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2006: Number 9

    The better of the two covers, whatever the hell Chan's doing in it

    There's only so far you can go with a stripped back, knowingly ragged lo-fi-does-hi-fi style, and while there were suggestions with the use of a couple of famous friends on previous album You Are Free that Chan Marshall was feeling slightly ghettoised by her loose cannon reputation, hiring assorted Memphis soul luminaries was a sign that it was time for her to properly extend herself and see how it worked out. In another sense it seems an attempt to reconnect the long dark nights of her particular soul with her backwoods folky foundation blocks, attempting to feed her style through a different prism. She's not the first American alternative icon to go all Hi Records at an impasse, but rare is the occasion where an increase in scale retains the intimacy of doomed romance tales, in many senses of the term. She almost sounds happy.

    Recasting the arrangements of songs as earthy and vulnerable at heart as ever for full band turns out to be less a necessary evil than a refraction of these little pieces of introspection, giving them room to gather around her. And Chan is in gorgeous voice from the title track off, swelling strings complementing her warm, seductive tones still with that ever present hint of The Fear, and while there's a place for her previous fragility she's being pushed into a wider palette of vocal cadences. There's still a darkness at the edge, her alcohol-related hospitalisation just after the album's release putting new shade on "there's nothing like living in a bottle/and nothing like ending it all for the world" from Lived In Bars, which starts as a cautious swoon and just over halfway through breaking into a soul swing even if her vocal doesn't. While Hate, the most You Are Free-like moment here, features the chorus line "do you believe she said that/I said I hate myself and I want to die" she still sees the chink of light, notable here in skipping, perspective shifting Willie. Love And Communication's starry-eyed reflections, staccato string stabs and buzzing organ proves instructive at the death that this isn't really the great commercial push but someone pushing their undoubted but unrefracted talent out of their self-regarding comfort zone not so much to show 'realness', because it's a bit late for Marshall to start doing that, but towards letting others shape where it's going and reaping the rewards texturally, if maybe not so much personally.

    LISTEN ON: Lived In Bars
    WATCH ON: The Greatest on Jools; covering War Pigs with the Flaming Lips
    READ ON: Spin gets out of her details of her next two albums, her Saturday Night Live ambitions and assorted Bad Things

    Friday, December 22, 2006

    Those free Christmas songs (not) in full

    Sweeping The Nation Covermount 3: A Very Sweeping Christmas: have we mentioned this at all?

    Deerhoof - Little Drummer Boy (via Skatterbrain) - bitesized, stripped down effort from San Franciscan cult scattershot noisepoppers

    Hark! The Filthy Angels Sing: a free three-'CD' album of festive tuneage from Filthy Little Angels records, who brought us the Grease covers album in the summer. Includes Hefner, Wojtek Godzisz (ex-Symposium, covering December Will Be Magic Again), Helen Love, Schla La Las, Theoretical Girl, Das Wanderlust, The International Karate Plus, The Vichy Government, The Sailplanes and plenty more

    Hot Uncles - The Joy Of Giving (Myspace): aforementioned one-off collaboration between Dan Michaelson of Absentee and Steven Adams of the Broken Family Band, as world weary as expected with a corking first line

    The Knife - Christmas Reindeer: cynical stab at the out-there electropop Christmas market! The Dreijers rework an old song for a festive feel

    Lucky Soul - Lonely This Christmas (Myspace): we briefly mentioned this yesterday, since when we've actually listened to it and it's a lovely thing - Mud (Mud!) given the swooning Memphis soul treatment

    A Parenthetical Girls Family Christmas: Washington-born freakpoppers give away five songs, including Last Christmas

    The Priscillas - One Christmas Wish (Myspace): dressed up, huge riffing glam-garageers apply usual Joan Jett/Ramones-esque subtlety to The Season

    Richard Hawley - Silent Night: in the form of an ecard, so we haven't worked out how to listen to it yet. Still, just imagining the combination is half the enjoyment

    Sufjan Stevens - That Was The Worst Christmas Ever!: oh come on, you know this particular drill by now. Ashtmatic Kitty give away a quality Sufjan original from the box set

    Swipe! - Last Christmas (Myspace) : just as we precis them for Yearender we find they've uploaded a brooding duet cover featuring Gwenno Pipette. Not the first to cover it, doubtless won't be the last

    Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2006: Number 10

    A particularly tricky form of backgammon

    There's no immediately evident reason why Portland's Matt Ward doesn't stand shoulder to shoulder with his peers in the realm of modern-yet-antiquarian songwriting that inherently creates and inhabits its own worlds that are a bit like ours but not quite there. Singing like a slightly younger Stateside version of John Martyn or Tom Waits before he became grizzled, Ward's fifth album, which with precious little build-up smacked us right between the eyes on discovery right at the end of the year, breaks away from the acoustically reconfigured landscape of his previous work and follows the lead, more than likely unintentionally but the parallels are to an extent there, of Sufjan Stevens of getting an eclectic full studio band together and hoping everyone enjoys the experience. That opener Poison Cup takes something from the latterday straightforward Bowie manual is a red herring - the sound, like the imagery, could only have come from the drawer marked Americana, where Greenwich Village acoustic guitar leans heavily on the edges of the blues tradition with traces of Neil Young, worldly considerations to go. Although Ward has called it an album about "healing" America's Iraq-riveted tensions, calling it an album about the war on terror goes some of the way to explaining the emotions put up at stake - witness the seething lament of Requiem - but certainly doesn't cover everything.

    A more solid comparison is with the mid-80s dusty wing of the Paisley Underground most famously exemplified by Green On Red and since then with the Giant Sand/Howe Gelb (who cameos here) wing of alt-country, people who think prime Dylan was quite a good idea but don't fancy the easy stoner's troubadour road to joining the musical set texts, pulling people and ideas around to form something like a trad goodtime feeling without quite making it backwards to boogie bar-room hell. Jim James and Neko Case also appear and there's something of a reflection of their bands, elements evident of My Morning Jacket without the expansive silo reverb and Case insomuch as her intimate country leanings rather than New Pornographers power pop. The title track drags along under the weight of its own invested problems but sees hope at the end, Magic Trick gets the Beach Boys tricks out in less than two minutes and the whole thing is held together by Ward's parchment voice and some at times outstanding finger picking guitar. Meaningful without a hint of pretension, few if any nailed human frailty and hope as solidly this year.

    LISTEN ON: Right In The Head
    WATCH ON: Chinese Translation video; the same song (sorry, but there's not great amounts on there) on Letterman
    READ ON: Prefixmag cover most bases, gradually

    Yearender Pt. 2


    Which, as the fighting and misquoting shouldn't be immediately foisted upon a new band, is in strict alphabetical order only.

  • 10Lec6: tense, nervous, schizophrenic French Slits in a centrifuge. Vocals pleasingly reminiscent of both Anabella Lwin of Bow Wow Wow and Sue Tompkins of Life Without Buildings.
  • Anathallo: looking so good for their bewilderingly detailed Sufjan-meets-SMiLE we got in with a Friendly Chat early, then Pitchfork savaged their album and back to square one they went. Bah.
  • Bricolage: everyone else looted the post-punk, now someone's rerouting the funk of the Postcard sound into modern areas. The ever wise Memphis Industries have now picked them up.
  • Dartz!: discordant, sharp, yet you can dance to it. Like Maximo Park melded with Les Savy Fav, or a reminder that the Futureheads were as inspired by Fugazi as Gang Of Four.
  • Dragonflies Draw Flame: Nottingham's natural successors to the early Idlewild/Seafood lineage of barely controlled almost post-hardcore freneticism, but not without its subtleties.
  • Goodbooks: the very first Myspace featured band on these pages and one we've grown to love as the year has worn on, even if those round us haven't judging by the turnout of the recent gig we were at.
  • The Hellset Orchestra: good lord. Sparks meets The Sensational Alex Harvey Band meets Misty's Big Adventure meets Jesus Christ Superstar, or thereabouts. Nothing else sounds like them, deliberately.
  • Johnny Flynn: 2007's going to be a good year for dark UK (anti-)folkiness, and Flynn's literate, intricate resonance is a good demonstration of why. Single in late February on highly regarded Young And Lost Records.
  • Kat Flint: still on the acoustic Britfolk tip, subtly intimate world-weariness from Edinburgh-raised singer-songwriter, beauteous of voice, wise of lyric. Go and finance her album - you know it makes sense.
  • Los Campesinos!: what more can we, or anyone, say? Enormous scale on mini-budget happy go lucky (but not really) indiepop to bring joy to the senses, really. Just signed to Wichita, 7" in late February.
  • Lucky Soul: home brew Wall Of Sound/Dusty In Greenwich are your taglines; retro-garnish wide angle heartache the lead paragraph; album in March and free cover of Lonely This Christmas the bit in italics at the end.
  • Misterlee: not about to go big, but if you like your horribly warped, psychedelically inclined lo-fi dark and Waitsian/Beefheartian/Sydist you're on the right lines. When we last heard he/they were planning a trip to see Steve Albini.
  • Pagan Wanderer Lu: homespun lo-fi, electronically inclined splintered pop with satirical lyrical smarts and approaching a thousand ideas within each four minutes.
  • Popular Workshop: scratchy, ADD-afflicted artdiscopostpunk, equally blessed with melodic intensity and cursed with an inability to take a dynamic pop song without randomly cutting it to ribbons.
  • Proton Proton: punchy, threatening Brooklyn trio with homemade 'gass' (guitar-bass, yes)-driven controlled ferocity pitched between McLusky, Fugazi and Les Savy Fav.
  • Redcarsgofaster: Restless, quietly exhilirating, guitar pedal friendly Leicestrians invoke Bloc Party mixed with a slowed down ¡Forward Russia! You might even be able to dance to it.
  • Shimura Curves: louche girl harmonies meet Powerbook loops meet dirty guitar. Cleverer than it's letting on, as ever. Rumoured to have split this very month, the fools.
  • Sky Larkin: hottest in the land, reckoned the Nothing But Green Lights-summoned panel. We say: exciting melodic angularity, upbeat and with eyes very much on the prize. Releasing One Of Two on Dance To The Radio on 22nd January.
  • Suburban Kids With Biblical Names: prime members of The Great Swedish Indie Invasion Of 2006. Infectious and immensely likeable above all, and not afraid to stretch the parameters of what homemade tweecore should do
  • Swipe!: at times like the Postal Service on Saddle Creek, at others the Cure unplugged and, er, on the other track on their page reminscent of the singer's side job as James Dean Bradfield's solo bassist. This has all got to mean something.


    Accidents Occur Whilst Sleeping (Lupen Crook)
    As unsettling a concept as the best of his album is, and note that gramatically aware use of 'whilst'
    Apologies To The Queen Mary (Wolf Parade)
    Colin Meloy must have kicked himself when he saw this one
    Breaking Kayfabe (Cadence Weapon)
    Pro wrestling term ripe for picking (kayfabe is the portrayal of fictional events within reality) finally taken by hotter than thou Canadian rapper
    Derdang Derdang (Archie Bronson Outfit)
    Onomatopoeia in music - couldn't be anything else other than power chord blues-punk
    I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass (Yo La Tengo)
    And the best bit is, do Ira, Georgia or James look the ass-beating type at all?
    Let Me Introduce My Friends (I'm From Barcelona)
    A bloke and 28 of his mates - how else will they make themselves known?
    Off My Rocker At The Art School Bop (Luke Haines)
    At last, the quintessential Haines pisstaking title
    Schmotime (Absentee)
    Should have put an exclamation mark on the end for best effect
    Shut Up I Am Dreaming (Sunset Rubdown)
    Spencer Krug can pick 'em - Wolf Parade side project sounds self-effacing while making out it's reaching for a higher plain
    White Bread Black Beer (Scritti Politti)
    Green Gartside still as un-white bread as ever, but there's a homespun charm here that matches the DIY of the album's origins


    Alright, Still (Lily Allen)
    Your honour, we believe Ms Allen to be a Londoner
    Amputechture (Mars Volta)
    The first time they had a title that was as awkward as their covers
    Be He Me (Annuals)
    The new Arcade Fire, they say. Not when heading up your debut with that sort of attempt at being cryptic
    He Poos Clouds (Final Fantasy)
    A play on 'sun shines out of his ass', says Owen Pallett. The fact he feels the need to explain it is reason enough
    Inside In/Inside Out (Kooks)
    Inside in what? Makes as much sense as Luke's singing accent
    Light Grenades (Incubus)
    Now that's an Industrial Light & Magic effect we'd like to see
    Nine Times That Same Song (Love Is All)
    Way to play your own diversity down
    Ringleader Of The Tormentors (Morrissey)
    And yet Tormentor Of The Ringleaders would have been really good
    Stadium Arcadium (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
    Latin for 'Duran Duran spinoff play huge arenas'
    Types of Wood (Whirlwind Heat)
    Ah, the mystique of skeletal US indie rock.