It poured sweet and clear / it was a very good year
Time for a list.
I rather enjoy putting the things together, so if lists are your thing, please read on.
Okay, as usual, I can divide my new music this year into a fairly clear divide between the new and the reissued. But the divide is even stronger this time around as there is a very clear delineation between the physical and the digital. And the line is fairly much the same. My old music is mostly physical and the new music was almost exclusively digital. In other words, I bought old music on CD or vinyl and new music on mp3. If I own a CD of a new record, it’s mostly because I was given a copy by the label or for review purposes.
And here’s another clear divide: the new music is almost, with one or two exceptions, all on indie labels, big and small, and the old stuff is on majors. Which underlines the commonly held perception that the big record companies have long since lost touch with what their potential customers want to buy, assuming that I’m not completely divorced from the mainstream.
I’m not listing singles or one-off tracks from acts as they are both too numerous and I’ve lost track in what I consider a thoroughly vintage year for pop music in all it’s mainstream and, mostly, alternative forms.
Indeed, the way things are heading, the album as a format may be more and more marginalised as we generations who grew up on the 40 minute LP and 70-minute compact disc become increasingly irrelevant to the recording industry. My teenage daughter shows little interest the format.
However all that sits somewhere in the next decade and in the interim, I’ll toss together, if anyone cares, my favourite records this year, starting with the new stuff, or the compiling of the new stuff (and some may be from 2008 or before..yes a sin in these instant times, but I’m simply not that on to it… )
Diplo : Decent Work For Decent Pay
A sound track to the first few months of 2009. This was in the car stereo throughout big parts of February and March and seemed very Bali road-chaos appropriate with its block party humour and singalong hand slapping the steering wheel-ness. Purists hated it. Fuck ’em, I loved it and had a ball when I saw him banging it out in similar style at 808 in September. I hate purists …
Architeq : Green + Gold
All wonderfully dubby, noisy and swooning like. The spiritual child of Roy Budd mashed with Bristol styled wonkiness. Speaking of which…
RSD : Good Energy
…the godfather of the Bristol scene (pertinent question surely after all these years: water/ingredients /Bristol? There must be a reason?) collects his cinematic dub singles from recent times with some majesty. I never tire of Koto, Kingfisher, or those god-given basslines that’ve rumbled through his work since the much loved (and rightly so – where is my Carlton album when I need it?) Smith & Mighty days
Martyn : Great Lengths
Everyone knows this right? You’d have to be have been living under a big immovable block of reinforced concrete (or in Bali where things like this really didn’t creep through unless you made a real effort – I guess I did) to have missed the most all-pervasive release of the first part of 2009. Do I need to hear it again? My last.fm stats say yes – this is the third most played album in my totals ever (or at least since I signed up a couple of years back). The best pop album of 2009, or more realistically, as dark and melodically adventurous as I’d like pop to sound like, but rarely does.
DJ Hell : Teufelswerk
Old fashioned big room house music, or is it techno? I guess it really is, but the boundaries have always been so blurred it’s a silly argument. Magnificent whatever you may wish to call it, despite the, I think, cheesy opener with Bryan Ferry. See, now I’m kicking myself for calling it old-fashioned, as the second half slips effortlessly into a wide-ranging modernistic cinematic sprawl that Fritz Lang would have crawled across broken shards to use. Epic and, using the word that should never be used, genius.
Bad Lieutenant: Never Cry Another Tear
Yeah, I know, it’s hardly an adventurous choice (see my reissues too) but after four decades of music acquisition at a silly rate, I’m allowed a moment of happy reflection and indulgent nostalgia. The new New Order album without some of the bits that made New Order, New Order, if you will, but it’s rather fine and safely spine tingling for all that (and I did, after all, love the last two, much slighted, guitar-based New Order albums so much, so there).
Andrew Weatherall : A Pox on The Pioneers
Yeah, and Andy, no slouch in the pioneer stakes himself, is indulging somewhat himself in an album that references the early post-punk 1980s, and, if I had to point a finger even more, Mick Jones‘ magnificent Big Audio Dynamite (who are worthy of a bit of reverential referencing), and in the process takes a few equally reverential jabs, if that’s the correct word, maybe not but it’s better than saying poxes, at King Tubby, Terry Hall, his own Sabres of Paradise and so much more. And includes what may be some of 2009’s best lyrical lines, when talking about responses to his music: “‘As a teenage girl, your music made me bad’”. A glorious document of a career as a musical deviant, and, yes, one of the very great pioneers. Oh, and quickly grab yourself a copy of his Fact Mix. It says it’s only up for 3 weeks (it dates from September) but at the time of typing, it’s still available; and, if you’ve not had the pleasure….
Fuck Buttons: Tarot Sport
Produced by Mr. Weatherall, for our listening pleasure, and to my likely conservative ears, quite an improvement over their debut. The idea of a wall of aural textures for pleasurable listening is a tough one to pull off. Mostly it fails after it passes the clever hurdle, and tries to jump the pleasure hurdle. The Battles were very much like that for me – yes thoroughly clever, but horrible to spend any time with. And so it was with Fuck Buttons‘ debut. I played it and loved what they were trying to pull off, but hated the end result. So, thank you Mister Rotter, you’ve taken the ideas, sanded off the ugly bits and added a splash of uber-epic. And it may well be, this week at least, my favourite album of 2009. If only I could let rid of the underlying, and uneasy feeling that I may have inadvertently succumbed to a mutant child of prog-rock…
Terry Lynn: KingstonLogic 2.0
I dunno where I found this – an email from someone I think. A touch of 80’s Gussie Clarke digital stylings, albeit much toughened, a smattering of hard staccato ragga pop, a swing towards MIA here and there, and an album that veers towards the harrowing lyrically but with a sugar coating. Kingston via Canada. Love it.
New (non-album) video:
Damian Lazarus : Smoke The Monster Out
Thoroughly blissful electronic soundscape that sounds like the sort of thing that Lennon may well have made if he’d been around today (assuming of course that he’d had the benefit of himself a generation or two earlier, breaking down the walls that make albums like this possible). If you’d asked me in June what my favourite album of 2009 was, I’d have pointed to this without a moment’s pause. I love the humour of this record and the unpredictable swings that still, after months, take me by surprise. A wonderful, wonderful mish-mash taken from twisted journeys through the mind of one of this decade’s most adventurous creators.
2562 : Unbalance
God, this is glorious. It a record to make you writhe with the beauty of it all. Throbbing drums, tugging basslines and majestic swirls of synth. And that’s just Escape Velocity, the last track. The rest of this album leaves you weak long before you get to it, so much so, that the wash of the track is almost too much to deal with after al that. That may all sound thoroughly verbose and pretentious, and yes, I guess it is, but really, try putting an album like this into words. I can’t.
Jamie Jones : Don’t You Remember The Future
A rather fetching meeting point between old school electro (Egyptian Lover guests on the album for heavens sake), and club friendly tech-house, which really slipped through the cracks this year but kinda hit a nerve with my, oft self-denied 80s electro fetish – oh and the sort of Prince record that Prince might be making if he wasn’t so dull now, in the minor club hit, Summertime.
Elvis Costello : Secret, Profane and Sugarcane
Yeah, I love Elvis Costello, and I’m one of a shrinking number who buy everything he does. And I love it when he goes all plastic like – and this is his plastic bluegrass album. He tries to be authentic, as he does when he does the silly classical thing, and back in the day when he first went to Nashville and made the completely plastic and completely engaging Almost Blue. And yes, his voice on these tracks, especially the slow ones, is still gorgeous. The last track, a sitting-on-the-front-porch remake of Lou Reed‘s Femme Fatale, is just a wonder.
Sally Shapiro : My Guilty Pleasure
Oh, this is lovely. I’m a sucker for this sort of slight indie euro-pop, so called italo-disco in some sort of odd nostalgia for a sound that never really existed, at least as it’s pined for in the 21st Century. That doesn’t make this record any less appealing, and the fact that Sally (Swedish I believe – hence the engaging sterility that is such a trademark of every Swedish band from ABBA onwards) is so detached from both a public persona and the underlying pretty synths that make up the musical bed of this album makes me like it even more. What does all that mean? Not very much I guess, but if you really want an eighties reference point for this record I’d point you in the direction of the pre-KLF genius that was Lori and The Chameleons .
This, which got mixed reviews ranging from confused to ecstatic, was both gorgeous and exhausting. Two pioneers of electronic composition reworking, and remaking using both analogue and digital machines, orchestral performances of Maurice Ravel and Modest Mussorgsky, taken from the Deutsche Grammophon catalogue (Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra to be exact), without ever feeling the need to resort to the obvious or the cliched. The end result was hypnotic. Killer remixes from Ricardo Villalobos and Craig came shortly later as a single.
Omar-S : Fabric 45: Detroit
The guy who works at the Ford Motor Company by day (putting marks on things with a felt pen I believe) and turns out this sort of deep urban techno by night. I guess things must go around and around that head all day, demanding expression after hours. Whatever, this was one mighty Fabric mix, featuring all original tracks, some new, some not so new, but all ruggedly meshed together in a raw and individual way that extends the soul of his city (Florence Ballard is his aunt, after all).
Various: Stroke – Songs For Chris Knox Well, yes, of course, it’s on the list, even if it’s less than a week old. I’ve known Chris since 1978, we’re mates, but not really close. I released the first Tall Dwarfs‘ record in 1981, before his natural home, Flying Nun (and the day Chris left, it really stopped being Flying Nun) existed. Whilst the true pain is his and his family’s, his stroke hit me, as it did many others, pretty hard. I had a swathe of messages and emails from people, including ex-Toy Love members, who felt like they too were helpless to help, being nowhere near. It was a day or two before the news became clearer, and it was an unsettling few days or more.
So, this record matters to me. Chris was a big part of my life and I felt rather hollow the night of the gig in Auckland. You kinda sit in Bangkok thinking that you really need to be somewhere else, but are unable to be. So I played this over and over.
It’s quite a record, and the heartfelt love and sincere affection comes through on so many of the tracks. Myself, I have a little trouble with two or three of the tracks, but when it hits, it just floors you. My friend Russell Brown said that one track on here, Will Oldhams‘ cover of My Only Friend, bought him to tears, and others here have almost done that to me, including The Crying Wolfs take on All My Hollowness to You. Indeed I was rather taken that all three songs from that original TD EP from 1981 all made it on to the album and all sound quite marvellous.
and so to the reissues:
I liked the Dimitri Nightdubbin’ collection of 80s B-sides a lot. The B-sides of so many funk and proto-house 12″s across that decade contained the real gold on the release, and most have never been compiled. I have about 80% of these, and many many more from the era, but it’s nice to see so many of them in one place digitally. Just a question: why do the likes of Dimitri and Dave Lee so often feel the need to ‘edit’ what was often perfection? I had this conversation mid-year with Norman Jay and we both agreed it was simply ego. Shame, as it tarnishes something that was better left alone.
The first 3 Buzzcocks albums have seen reissue several times, but none as well as the two pack EMI issues earlier this year, which sound almost as good as the vinyl did the first time around. 30 years on, they still sound like the pop masterpieces they did the first time around.
Oh, and then there was the limited (yes I’m bloody biased) digital re-release of the remastered (by Alan Jansson) album from The Screaming Meemees , with bonus tracks. I’m hoping that 2010 will see the double CD complete with 20 minutes of unseen live material that’s sitting on my desk.
The Beastie Boys ‘ masterpiece, Paul’s Boutique found its way back onto my playlist this year. The package was superb, with the original album gatefold beautifully recreated. It’s just a shame that the rampant copyright infringement that is this album, and the subsequent settlement of claims, meant that no bonus tracks made it on to the reissue..the associated 12″ tracks for example, many of which have never made CD.
But, 2009’s reissues / remasters were dominated by The Beatles, of course, and in mono, stereo, 8 track, quad, or any other format you can think of they still sound fantastic, and the new boxed sets / remaster (and most especially the mono box) take them to another level. And of course, without these records the first time around, likely nothing in this post would’ve existed anyway…
Still waiting on the Kraftwerk, but this’ll do for now…
A December arrival, but a week in the King Midas Sound album, Waiting For You, has been stuck on my stereo and iPod. The bastard child of Massive Attack and decades of pirate radio, like so many of the records on this post, it could only be British. The bizarre thing is, the British are fairly useless at making just about anything..with the glaring exceptions of television and popular music, in which, in both cases, they not only lead but drag an often unwitting (or the in the case of the US, unaware) planet after them. Wonderful, sensual, gorgeous and utterly of its time.