2005: Music

Usually I do a chart at the end of the year. But this year there are far too many things that are putting me off from doing that. I was asked to do a top 10 for Boomkat this year. My attitude to this chart was the same as that of the people who built those new houses just down the road: there was space for one new house, so they built three. Honestly, they might as well have put dolls’ houses there.

Er, anyway, yeah. I sent them three different charts. I can’t even remember what my last chart was. So it’s not there yet, but apparently it’ll be up in the new year. Pah! So I’m not going to do a bigger chart here. It’ll ruin the suspense, you see. Anyway, how am I supposed to give a separate position to each of the eleven Analord EPs? And those ones that I got sent and could only be arsed listening to once?

So instead, I’m going to take a look at a few albums that I have something to say about. This will be a right old meandering post, just like that other one about television. Hopefully this post will be better though.

Click ‘Click for more’ for more, including opinions on:

  • Boards of Canada
  • Autechre
  • Boom Bip
  • Prefuse 73
  • Four Tet
  • Jaga Jazzist
  • Polar Bear
  • Sutekh
  • The Fiery Furnaces
  • The New Pornographers
  • and many many more…

Disappointments

It was a bit of a disappointing year for music really. Lots of good albums, but no real great ones. A lot of big artists released music this year, and most of them didn’t live up to the high expectations. Here are some of the biggest disappointments. Funnily enough, a lot of these albums still made my top 10. I suppose I was just expecting too much… Or maybe I can’t bring myself to leave Boards of Canada outside my top 10. Well, I’ve given that one away, so there I will start.

Boards of Canada — The Campfire Headphase

The Campfire Headphase coverNow, on the face of it, The Campfire Headphase is by no means a bad album. It’s quite good actually. Most of these tracks are really quite awesome, and it’s quite an addictive album to listen to.

But then when I listen to their older albums, I wonder what on earth happened to Boards of Canada? Music Has the Right to Children is still exciting to listen to after all these years. Geogaddi is so vibrant, full of depth and eclectic. None of that is there in The Campfire Headphase. We just have a little guitar riff repeated over and over again with a bit of drumming over the top. These tracks don’t evolve or move on.

Nevertheless, as I said, there are some great tracks on this. Satellite Anthem Icarus is a good sort of zone out tune and Oscar See Through Red Eye is up there with the best moments of Geogaddi. But, frankly, there are a lot of tracks from A Few Old Tunes that are better than most of this.

Autechre — Untilted

Untilted coverSo, have Autechre lost it a bit, or have we just become immune to their awesomeness? As that bloke from Mixing It implied when they played Ipacial Section, it’s as though we expect them to be really awesome, so when they are actually awesome it just sounds all a bit average.

I dunno. Compare this to their previous couple of albums, Confield and Draft 7.30, and Untilted does seem pretty weak. It sounds like a cross between Draft 7.30 and Chiastic Slide to me. But is there much point in comparing Untilted to previous Autechre albums? Nah. There’s a different approach here. It’s less beard-strokey; more fun. It’s no longer splrrtt patatatat chratatat; now it’s more like *crunch* boom boom boom.

I often get a real urge to listen to Untilted. Like when I’m standing in the corner of a classy Kirkcaldy establishment, scared rigid of the cheesy grooves, I find myself standing there thinking, “How much would I be enjoying myself if they played ‘Augmatic Disport’?” This is the Autechre album where you just turn it up and enjoy it. …That doesn’t mean it’s not still a bit of a disappointment though. (Incidentally, this is still probably in my top three or five albums of the year, and it’s definitely the album that I’ve listened to the most. Some disappointment, eh?)

Boom Bip — Blue Eyed in the Red Room

Blue Eyed in the Red Room coverNow, unlike those two fakey disappointments above, this is a real, bonafide, genuine disappointment. Somebody suggested to me that Bryan Hollon is getting more mellow in his old age. I think he’s just becoming shit. The excitement of Circle and Seed to Sun have been completely drained away. Blue Eyed in the Red Room sounds like IDM for grandparents. There are some good songs, but really, this was the big disappointment of the year for me, without a doubt.

Prefuse 73 — Surrounded by Silence
Prefuse 73 and The Books — Prefuse 73 Reads The Books EP
Piano Overlord — The Singles Collection 03−05

Surrounded by Silence coverFor reasons that I can’t quite put my finger on, I have gone right off Scott Herren — his recent stuff, at least. His material since Extinguished has left me feeling a bit disappointed. Surrounded by Silence is a good album, but it cannot touch One Word Extinguisher. I read somewhere that he’s doing a lot less of the old chopping, which I hadn’t realised before but it’s a good point. There are some good moments in this album, particularly in the middle of the album and the last track. But overall, this album just doesn’t quite do it for me.

His collaboration with The Books was more of a grower, but still a bit of a disappointment. As for the Piano Overlord releases — once again, they are okay, but just a bit bland for my liking. The remixes towards the end of the Collection are the best tracks. Apparently the new Prefuse 73 mini-album is a return towards the direction of One Word Extinguisher. Let’s hope.

Eels — Blinking Lights and Other Revelations

Blinking Lights and Other Revelations coverOnce again, this is an album with some good songs. But it was so underwhelming to listen to. Imagine ‘Electro-Shock Blues’ watered down, and then spread thinly across two discs. Blinking Lights and Other Revelations is what you get.

British Sea Power — Open Season

The title of their first album, ‘The Decline of…’, would have been more apt. An unspectacular album; it sounds much more tired and jaded than their exciting and energetic debut.

Christ. — Seeing and Doing

The opening track is quite nice — but it only lasts for a minute and a half. The rest of this EP is a bit flat sounding to me.

Average albums

This category is closely related to the one above. But none of these albums disappointed me as such. They are satisfying, but not spectacular.

Four Tet — Everything Ecstatic

Everything Ecstatic coverFour Tet has been making good, but not great, albums for years now. He has continued this trend with Everything Ecstatic. It is exactly as good as you would expect it to be. Nothing more, nothing less.

Animal Collective — Feels

Well, I wouldn’t call this one average as such. I think it’s quite a good album, but once again I just don’t quite see what all the fuss is about.

M.I.A. — Arular

Arular coverM.I.A. is this year’s official middle class-endorsed Voice of The Streets™. Everybody is totally raving about this album. And it’s good; I like it. But I don’t think it’s quite as good as a lot of people are making out. Yeah, it’s good. That’s it.

Gravenhurst — Fires in Distant Buildings

This is an okay album. But does the world really need another one of these dark indie-rock albums?

Surprises

The releases that — for whatever reason — have surprised me.

Jaga Jazzist — What We Must

What We Must coverThis is one of my favourite albums of the year. In a year when most bands either came out with below-par efforts or released something along much the same lines as their previous work, Jaga Jazzist brought out an album that was both radically different to and better than anything they had done before.

The basic elements — rocky jazzy electronicy — remain. But the rock is turned up to 11. Guitars take the spotlight. And they started singing as well — there’s even an a capella bit that lasts about a minute in perhaps my favourite track from the album, ‘Swedenborgske Rom’, which ends in a Sigur Róssian climax. The radical change in Jaga Jazzist’s sound disorientated me at first, but I came to love their new approach, and this became one of my very favourite albums of the year. I seriously considered putting it at the top for a long time.

If I were to have one quibble it would be that the album is a tad short for my liking. A second disc of demo versions provides an interesting insight into the evolution of four of this album’s tracks, and some of them are even great tracks in their own right. All-in-all, full marks go to Jaga Jazzist for providing us with a pleasant surprise and a fine album.

Maxïmo Park — A Certain Trigger

A Certain Trigger coverThere are a few things that are surprising about this album. First of all, they are on Warp — a label usually known more for noodly electronics than guitar bands. Also, Maxïmo Park don’t annoy the fuck out of me like most indie bands. They’re actually quite good, and A Certain Trigger is a fantastic album that I haven’t got tired of listening to. Good work.

AFX — Analord 01–11, etc.

For the past few years, releases from Richard D. James had been sparse. Not this year — this year he released 11½+ EPs, as well as re-releasing the rare Hangable Auto Bulb. The Analord EPs are perhaps a little patchy, but the high quantity means that there is lots of great stuff to keep AFX heads happy for a while.

Jamie Lidell — Multiply

Multiply coverJamie Lidell took a radical departure from his previous work as a soloist and as part of Super_Collider. His older stuff was very dark and murky. A lot of it could be quite difficult to listen to. With Multiply, he has taken the complete opposite approach. He is using his absolutely amazing voice to its full potential. The songs here are wonderfully bright; they are easy to listen to without being boring and without losing that experimental edge. And this album contains one of the most downright cool songs of the year: ‘The City’.

Gorillaz — Demon Days

Demon Days coverThis album was produced by Danger Mouse, who was probably previously most famous for The Grey Album, which sent EMI mental a couple of years back. Now he’s producing albums for EMI. I think this is quite a nifty album; a great pop record.

Doves — Some Cities

Now, the album as a whole is not surprising. In fact, it could easily have gone into either of the two categories above. It mostly just carries on with the familar Doves sound, except with much less power than their previous two albums. But there is one track — ‘The Storm’ — that is certainly not what you’d expect. It is a fantastic track, matching melancholy with grooviness. It’s unlikely, but it works so well.

Growers and goodies

Polar Bear — Held on the Tips of Fingers

Held on the Tips of Fingers coverI didn’t think that this would ever happen — I bought an album because of the Mercury Music Prize. At first I thought they were just this year’s token jazz nomination, but when I saw their performance on the television I thought it was fantastic. I keep on meaning to get into jazz more. All the records that I own that could be anywhere near classified as ‘jazz’ are rock / electronic crossover style things. This still has lots of electronic wizardry, provided by none other than Leafcutter John.

But it’s the madcap jazzery that I really like about this album. This album is a real blast; great fun to listen to. Noisy at points, like ‘Argumentative’ and ‘Beartown’; beautiful at other points, like ‘The King of Aberdeen’ and ‘Life That Ends Too Soon’ which also features wonderful vocals: one of my favourite songs of the year. One of the most pleasent surprises of the year.

Sutekh — Born Again: Collected Remixes 1999–2005

Born Again coverThe first disc of this 2CD set is pretty awesome. There are lots of great remixes here. I haven’t heard any of the original tracks on this album — nor had I heard any Sutekh before hearing this album. It is a good sign, therefore, that this album has convinced me to check out more of both Sutekh and many of the artists that are remixed. The second CD is much weaker. I could take it or leave it. But it is worth it all for the first disc. (This album also takes the first prize for most convoluted album title of the year.)

Jackson and His Computer Band — Smash

This is one of the most awesome albums I have heard all year. I feel that Jackson Fourgeaud is breathing some much-needed new life into electronic music. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been getting as much attention as it really deserves. A really underrated album; if you haven’t checked this out, please give it a try.

The Fiery Furnaces — Rehearsing My Choir

Rehearsing My Choir coverThis is my favourite album of the year. It took me a while. I always liked it, but for a while there was something that stopped me from making this my favourite album of the year. The Fiery Furnaces made their sound even more challenging. Along with the madcap electronics sat antique instruments — harpsichords, rattling pianos and so on. It creates an uneasy mixture of sweet and savoury. Every track undoubtedly has five-star moments, but there was something about the album that seemed to lack cohesion.

But having listened to this album surely a few dozen times now, it all fits perfectly. Everything about this album makes sense now. Although perhaps this is simply because I am now so familiar with it. I think it also says something about The Fiery Furnaces that I haven’t yet mentioned the fact that this is a concept album about and sung by their gran — and it doesn’t seem contrived.

One thing that I find amazing about this band is the fact that they are committed to releasing at least one album every year — if you count EP they released two in 2005, and there’s another one due out in February 2006! And they still manage to make amazing albums like this. I am absolutely in love with this band.

The New Pornographers — Twin Cinema

Twin Cinema coverOh, this is such a fun album! I wasn’t too sure at first, but it grew on me an awful lot. I like it because it sounds quite different to the normal, although The New Pornographers don’t seem to go out of their was to be overly experimental or weird. The tunes are great. And this is what matters: it is just such an enjoyable listen. I dare you to listen to this without a huge grin on your mug. You’ll find it difficult.

Other notables

Chok Rock — Big City Loser

A great little EP, along similar lines to Jackson and His Computer Band to my ears. The best thing about this EP is the final track, Take A Plane, which is a real stunner.

Harmonic 33 — Music For Film, Television & Radio: Volume One

I could take or leave most of this album that harks back to the style of 1960s library recordings. But there is one standout track, and it doesn’t come much cooler than this: ‘Departure Lounge’. Take a listen: I’ve lined it up for you here:

…and the following albums that I don’t really have much to say about at the moment but definitely deserve a mention (links are to reviews that I wrote when they were released):

  • Broadcast — Tender Buttons
  • Broadcast — Microtronics Volume 02
  • Fog — 10th Avenue Freakout
  • Sigur Rós — Takk…
  • Sigur Rós — Hoppípolla
  • The Fiery Furnaces — EP
  • Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra-La-La Band — Horses in the Sky
  • Why? — Elephant Eyelash

Other reviews that I wrote this year:

What does 2006 have in store?

Well at the top of the list is Radiohead. New material from them is long overdue, and it sounds as though they’re going to get something out there next year.

Chris Clark is due to release stuff early on next year, and Prefuse 73’s new mini-album sounds like it could be promising.

However, what I really hope for more than anything else is a new My Vitriol album. That difficult second album is clearly proving to be a particular problem for My Vitriol — their first, Finelines, was released in 2001. They re-emerged over a year ago now with a blog (and now a MySpace), so there are signs that something will finally happen. Finelines is such a fantastic album; it came out at just the right time for it to affect me quite a lot (I was that age). Hopefully they can deliver the goods a second time.

As always though, the real goodies will surely come from artists that I haven’t heard of yet. Here’s hoping that 2006 can produce some more truly great albums than this year did, because it’s been a bit of a disappointment for me.

Update: People who came from Last.fm started writing comments here, if anybody’s interested.

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