Getting there slowly but surely. We might be two weeks into 2008, but that won’t stop me from looking back at 2007. By this rate it will be February before we get to the end of this list…
20. The Tuss — Rushup Edge
Whoever is responsible for this is at least a genius at generating hype. While the music is ostensibly by Brian and Karen Tregaskin, there are all sorts of clues that point towards this being the work of Richard D. James.
It’s difficult to imagine such an obscure record to make the pages of The Guardian under normal circumstances, but the whiff of Aphex made it happen. And the sight of IDM spods on the internet excitedly polishing off their magnifying glasses (after The Campfire Headphase failed to contain any codes to crack) carried the hype overboard.
Of course, I had to buy it to see what all the fuss was about. Turns out the music is okay, and it certainly sounds like Aphex. I’d be very surprised if something this accomplished really was the work of a hitherto unheard-of duo based in deepest Cornwall.
19. Field Music — Tones of Town
Field Music are the least well known, but easily the best, of the triumvirate of artsy indie-rock bands from the north east of England (the other two bands being The Futureheads and Maxïmo Park). I have to admit to being a bit disappointed with this album at first, but as with previous Field Music records its wonders were revealed with repeated listens.
Their first album was a little delight that combined contemporary indie sensibilities with a liberal dose of syncopation, Beatles-style strings, some quasi-Steve Reich-style minimalism and little snatches of oddness. Tones of Town (while a bit on the short side) expanded on the template beautifully.
However, my highlight is a song that deviates slightly from the template: the more melancholic ‘Place Yourself’, a pleasant, reflective song.
Since the release of Tones of Town, Field Music have gone on hiatus as a band as we know it. But a solo project on Thrill Jockey is in the offing. I’m looking forward to hearing more of School of Language.
Video: ‘In Context’ — highly recommended viewing!
18. Scott Walker — And Who Shall Go to the Ball? And What Shall Go to the Ball?
Definitely the strangest release I got my hands on this year. Scott Walker wrote this music to accompany a contemporary dance piece. So we know what territory we are in here.
The music took some time to get used to, even for a fan of Scott Walker’s recent work. ‘Part 1’ really just consists of some electronic hums and some strange scraping sounds that sound a little bit like that noise people make before they exaggeratedly spit. This lasts for over three minutes, when some largely atonal strings come in, abruptly starting and stopping seemingly arbitrarily.
‘Part 2’ is no less weird, with a foreboding, driving, deep drum beat and string and horn sections squealing like an elephant in a particularly rhythmic distress. But the biggest surprise of them all isn’t to do with the music. Scott Walker’s distinctive voice does not make a single appearance in this entire work.
As you might guess, And Who Shall Go to the Ball?… takes some getting used to. I was certainly left feeling disappointed when I first heard it. But now I think it is quite good.
It certainly seems as though Mr. Walker is entering a rather prolific phase. In past decades you were lucky if Scott Walker brought out a new album every ten years. But hot on the heels of The Drift, he has been appearing on compilations and all sorts. Not to mention the other projects between Tilt and The Drift such as the Pola X soundtrack or producing Pulp’s We Love Life. Every year he seems to be doing a bit more than in the previous year. Here’s hoping.
17. Jonny Greenwood — There Will Be Blood
I think Jonny Greenwood is one of the most important musicians around at the moment. He is most famous for whacking around with guitars in Radiohead, but his solo music reveals him to be a highly accomplished composer as well.
The soundtrack to the film There Will Be Blood further cements this. The film is set in the early twentieth century, so there is not quite the same space for electronic experimentation as Jonny Greenwood had with Bodysong. What you get instead is a beautiful, melancholic mixture of piano, strings and ondes Martenot. The ondes Martenot is such a magical instrument, and it is used to great effect here.
Maybe I am getting carried away because Jonny Greenwood is a rock star. But I really think that ‘Eat Him By His Own Light’ is within touching distance of some of Erik Satie’s work.
The soundtrack contains a lot of work that Jonny Greenwood has done in his role as the BBC’s ‘composer in residence’. Notably, it contains excerpts of ‘Popcorn Superhet Receiver’. It is such a shame that ‘Smear’ — probably my favourite Jonny Greenwood piece — does not make an appearance as originally promised.
Unfortunately, not all of the music is engaging. Also, this album is only half an hour long even though Jonny Greenwood recorded two hours worth of music for the film. I suppose we should be grateful for the scraps, but the album ends without you realising it was even close to the end. Oh well.
16. Battles — Tonto+
I have to say that ‘Tonto’ wouldn’t have been my first choice as a single. Nothing against the song — it’s just a bit long-winded for a single. Mind you, my brother disagrees with me strongly on this!
There are no new tracks on the EP, although it is still quite a treat. After a disappointing remix of ‘Tonto’ by The Field, the seemingly omnipresent remixer Four Tet comes up with the goods. A remix of ‘Leyendecker’ by DJ Emz featuring Joell Ortiz is good enough, although it completely jars with the rest of the EP and the general Battles vibe.
Perhaps the best part of the EP, though, is two live tracks — performances of ‘Tonto’ and ‘Leyendecker’. I go on and on about how great Battles are live, and this is further proof. But as ‘Leyendecker’ winds down on this EP you can hear drummer John Stainer beginning ‘Race: In’, which just makes me desperate for a full live album of some sort. Make it happen!
15. Sigur Rós — Hvarf / Heim
A fair couple of mini-albums. I was getting a bit sick of Sigur Rós, but Hvarf / Heim won me over again.
Hvarf is basically a collection of old songs that never got released before, so it was never going to be a five star album. But nevertheless it is a good listen.
Heim is a more engaging listen. It is made up of some rather lovely live acoustic recordings of some of Sigur Rós’s best songs. The highlight is one of my favourite Sigur Rós songs, ‘Ágætis Byrjun’.
14. Air — Pocket Symphony
A reasonably pleasant album from Air. Not their best, but a good listen nonetheless. My main criticism with this album is that it sounds so similar to Talkie Walkie. So if you don’t like previous Air albums, it’s probably best to give Pocket Symphony a miss.
Even a collaboration with Jarvis Cocker feels like a missed opportunity. Another collaboration, ‘Somewhere Between Waking and Sleeping’, with Neil Hannon, is more successful — although it plays up to the stereotypes of ‘chill-out’ music. Nice song though.
There are some good songs — ‘Left Bank’ and ‘Mer du Japon’ are particular highlights. However, there is nothing approaching some of the killer songs they have come up with on previous albums.
If you like Air though, you will not be disappointed with Pocket Symphony.
13. Gescom — A1–D1
The mysterious Gescom collective resurfaces for the first time since 2003’s immense Iss:Sa. This new EP, A1–D1, appears to be a collection of six remixes, glitched up to the max.
The only one I can recognise is ‘B1’, which is a remix of Brian Eno + David Byrne’s ‘Come With Us’. It really highlights the spookier elements of the original song, which hadn’t really grabbed me before. It’s quite creepy to listen to really. One of those tracks to ban myself from listening to at night.
I haven’t heard of any of the other stuff that has been remixed for A1–D1, although people with a much better knowledge of the history of electronic dance music will apparently recognise them. It’s really groovy though.
‘A2’ is a good blast of messed up acid. ‘C1’ has a tantalising melody and jumpy beat that never seems to sit still (despite the fact that it doesn’t change much, if at all), leaving you wanting more. ‘C2’ starts off with one of the most dizzying soundscapes I have ever heard.
It is also being claimed by Skam that this is the world’s first ‘left-handed’ CD case. Yes, it opens the wrong way.
All-in-all, a really good Gescom release. I don’t know if the Autechre lads had anything to do with it, but it is nonetheless a good CD to have while we wait for Quaristice to come out.
12. Burial — Untrue
What I know about the fledgling dubstep genre could be written on the back of a postage stamp. It would say ‘Burial’ on it. I kept on reading about Burial. Somehow he has captured the attention of the chatterati, as I read more and more about him in places like The Guardian. Having seen ‘Burial’ written in too many end-of-year lists and ‘hear this before you die’ articles, I took the plunge and bought Untrue.
I had no real preconceptions. All I knew was that Burial was a ‘dubstep’ artist (dubstep being a relatively new kind of electronic music popular with Shoreditch types), and that he was fiercely anonymous to the point that “only five people know I make tunes“.
On first impressions I was a little underwhelmed. It sounded good, but it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. It was like a more experimental, sparse garage music. A bit like what Pole would sound like if he came from London.
I have to say, now that I am used to the sound I think it is fabulous. It sounds like it is from a futuristic urban dystopia. “London 2030, you’re the last man alive” sort of thing. A good accompaniment to last-night walks around town.
I don’t know if it will make me investigate the dubstep genre much further. It will certainly make me buy Burial’s first album at some point. Good stuff.
11. Modeselektor — Happy Birthday!
The latest Modeselektor album contains nothing revelatory. It certainly doesn’t grab me in the same way as their first album, Hello Mom!. And in a lot of ways, Happy Birthday! feels a lot like they are recycling old Modeselektor tunes.
However, I have still found myself enjoying this album immensely. ‘2000007 (feat. TTC)’ particularly gets stuck in my head a lot. It is an excellent mix of great music and good humour.
The collaborations with Thom Yorke and Maxïmo Park are missed opportunities for me. And if you’re looking for something different to their first album, you’ll have to look elsewhere. But it’s nonetheless a thoroughly enjoyable and engaging listen.