Friday, January 06, 2006


So here's a few records I liked this year. I think this is one of the first times I've sat down and thought about this and it's been fun and made me go back and listen again to some records that I thought were really strong. So here it is with thoughts, comments, stories and observations:

1. The New Pornographers: Twin Cinema

It soundtracked our holidays, which, let's face it, is always a good thing to happen, and just ruled. The first times I've heard both 'Electric Version' and 'Twin Cinema' (I haven't even got the first one yet!) it felt like being hit over the head with a neverending wave of tasty relentless pop hooks but the more you listen all the different tones and subtle shifts in mood come out too. They finally came to play in London for the first time and I managed to see them twice in a week, the second time mainly because our friend Martin came all the way from Switzerland to see them. The 93 Ft East show had the edge because it's a better, airier venue than the Borderline, but both shows were really euphoric, short, intense trips into some alternative pop nirvana, almost as good as GBV shows IMO... Oh yeah, and I do like that 'Letter from an Occupant' song, they ended their set with it both nights, I do need to get 'Mass Romantic', oh yes!

2. Deerhoof - The Runners Four

We're really big fans of the 'hoof, Simon even more so than me, and the last couple of albums, 'Apple O' and 'Milk Man' were both immediate hits in our house. This one took a while to sink in and digest, it's quite a bit longer than past efforts, sounds a bit different, features some low key singing from some of the Deerhoof blokes, and is even more varied in mood, textures, though there's still some fantastic bubblegum noise on there too. When we saw them supporting the Melvins earlier this year and at the Garage a little later the set had changed almost completely to showcase newer material so it didn't quite reach the dizzy heights of the year before, but still, they're unique, and i'm glad they're moving on in their own inimitable way. Satomi did some amazing hand movements to the new songs, and seems quite authorative these days.

3. Guided by Voices - Suitcase 2: American Superdream Wow

Everytime I listen to one of the eight discs from either one of the mammoth Suitcase boxsets, which collect previously unreleased Pollard material from way back til the present, I feel like drifting though a zone where familiar riffs, songs and phrases ride past my mental horizon like weird, hard-to-place memories or random images out of a dream. Time zones are mixed up and weird, almost unlistenable-at-first snippets slowly find their way into your head, after five or so listens everything gets weirdly familiar. This might also be due to the fact that quite a bit of this has been circulated already, notably on that great '30 songs' secret compilation. So I'm bad with song titles here, and identifying and listing songs, but keep having this sensation of 'I love this one' at the same time. And what really works as well this time is the cover art, all imaginary record covers and promotional pictures, lovingly and knowingly put together by rock librarian, Dayton resident and international pop wizard Robert Pollard.

It's been said that 2005 has been a good year for Bob and (the legacy of) Guided By Voices, even though he finished the band at the end of the previous year. For me, the Electrifying Conclusion really was an end and a conclusion, and for the first time in ages I haven't bought all the goodies that came out this year. I'm happy for Bob though and I hope his new album 'From a Compound Eye' gets the reception it deserves, as it's spectacular, even by his standards, but I can't help feeling a bit sad to hear he isn't likely to come back to this side of the pond this year yet again. Hey Bob, please don't forget us over here! What's that noise I hear?

4. The Mountain Goats: The Sunset Tree

It took me a while to even find out about the existence of this record. I was watching 120 minutes, and the video for 'This Year' came on, John Darnielle dressed in teenage clothes playing with a band at a teenage house party with fake blood running down his head and a mad stare in his face singing 'I'm gonna make it through this year, if it kills me'. This record is about his abusive stepfather and presumably a lot of awkward, painful memories. The impeccable, understated arrangements serve to enhance the powerful, lucid imagery, the driving sentences. It's unlike anything I've ever heard, very powerful, and there's definitely some hope and redemption there too.

5. Coil: And the ambulance died in his arms

It's their performance at the Autechre-curated ATP in 2003, posthumously released. We were at that show and it's remarkable how much of the weird atmosphere of that show is captured here. Presumably it was chosen because the last track features a lengthy chant that goes 'somnambulist in an ambulance' over and over. It gave me the chills at the actual show but to hear it now, in the contect of Jhonn Balance's death, it's just... well... very strange. RIP

6. Devendra Banhart: Cripple Crow

This beautiful man makes me smile. When we saw him and his merry minstrels at the Dour festival we were surrounded by a mass of cute stoned half naked Belgian hippies, it was a beautiful sunny afternoon and Devendra really connected with all this with a wink and a gentle smile. "There are so many / little boys I want to marry", WTF?

7. Rogue Wave: Descended Like Vultures

"You can never publish my can never publish my love...."

8. Of Arrowe Hill: Hexadelica and The Speed of Darkness

The Circus Devils didn't release an album on Halloween, so it was done by OAH. This is an album about the year 1969, and only 69 copies of both vinyl and CD were released and have now souled out. It blends in well with their marvellous first album 'The Springhell Penny Dreadful', intricate 60s inspired music with a dark twist. I first saw them when they supported GBV at their legendary, heavily bootlegged show at the Garage in 2001, and saw them quite a few times around that time, mostly in a supporting role, do their short, twenty minute sets that left people wanting more. It wasn't until I heard 'Penny Dreadful' that I really understood what they were trying to do. It's really spooky music, and songs like 'Grandmother's Steps' showed a more gentle side, influenced by both early Pink Floyd and GBV, but with a distinctive sound and lyrical imagery. Adam is the only one left now, but it's still as good as ever if not better. Her Majesty's 23. Psychedelic Battalion is marching on...

OAH on myspace:

9. Boards of Canada: The Campfire Headspace

I looked at Headspace's cover with all the washed out images of faces and landscapes and suddenly some of them seemed to come alive, to step out from that weird imagined collective past they seem to represent, and the ageing process that has corroded the images seems to have been overturned by something pretty spooky. And so with the music. I'm sure in a year's time everything will become clearer. But really, this year has seen me getting more into this mysterious band. Maybe it was the collective anticipation in the air, but 'Geogaddi' was a constant friend, more than the others, I don't even find it as scary or apocalyptic as some, though I kinda like the fact people have all these theories. And this album didn't disappoint...

Also, is this about adolescence rather than childhood now, so there's a linear progression from album to album? I don't really want to know...

10. Why? : Elephant Eyelash

I guess one could think that this comes along as some experimental hiphop, but really this sits right next to early Pavement circa 'Crooked Rain' with its playful, leftfield pop, wayward lyrics and its goofy cover collages. It's a really wonderful record, and it has its tender moments too.

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