At last! I have got round to the top ten. Was it worth it? Probably not. Next (i.e. this) year, I am only doing the top 20, I swear…
10. Hanne Hukkelberg — Rykestrasse 68
A neat album of playfully experimental jazzy folky songs. The interesting but subtle use of found sounds makes Rykestrasse 68 an unconventional album, but one that never forces the fact down your throat.
At the heart of this album is good songwriting and a wonderful singing voice. I just love the quirkiness of the vocals in ‘Fourteen’.
9. The Future Sound of London — From the Archives Vol. 1–3
The Future Sound of London are (a little bit) before my time. But they are still among my very favourite electronic music groups, despite the fact that electronic music normally dates really badly. Sadly, little has been heard of FSOL since the release of Dead Cities in 1996 (not counting that Amorphous Androgynous stuff). I don’t suppose we can be too upset — they were stunningly prolific in the few years leading up to that moment.
I often yearned for the return of FSOL. A best of here and a compilation there has come, mostly reminding people that maybe FSOL just belonged in the 1990s. Would their music still seem so vital today? I wondered.
Well in 2007 FSOL seem to have begun a huge clearout of some sort, releasing several CDs worth of archive material from the 1980s and 1990s. So far only From the Archives vol. 1–3 seem to have come out on CD. I’m biding my time to see if the rest gets a CD release, but it doesn’t look like it.
Anyway, the point is that From the Archives is amazing. It is hard to believe that all of these tracks are rejects. It is clear that the technology available to them was not what it would be today. But this just means that it sounds like classic FSOL in their prime. To think that they had all of this awesome music just sitting around doing nothing for all those years!
Plenty of tracks contain familiar elements and samples from more well-known FSOL material. So it is useful to think of it as a historical document as much as a collection of albums.
The artwork takes a similar tack. Well-known elements of old FSOL artwork have been remixed into a form that is rather deferential to the peak period of activity. All in all, it’s quite a refreshing approach because normally bands seem keen to distance themselves from the past.
Because it sounds dated, and consists of music that didn’t make the cut, it is perhaps best to recommend it only to people who are already fans of FSOL. But for those people, what a treat this is! I couldn’t believe my luck when I read about it.
For those not so keen on getting the lot, there is a digest 2× vinyl edition. And Bleep are selling what appears to be an alternative digest version on MP3 and Flac.
8. Simian Mobile Disco — Attack Decay Sustain Release
Simian Mobile Disco is the phoenix that has risen from the ashes of the early-noughties indie-electro band Simian. Slaving away for years only to have your shtick stolen by the much more successful Hot Chip as soon as you disband. It must hurt.
A change of tack was in order for the Simian lads then, and Attack Decay Sustain Release is the result. Unashamedly danceable to an almost cheesy extent, don’t expect much in the way of experimental explorations. Do expect to be grinning ear to ear.
7. Björk — Volta
The pre-release hype had it that this was Björk’s most accessible and poppy album for around a decade. There is a modicum of truth in that. But fans of Björk’s wonderful explorations won’t be disappointed.
Okay, so if you compare the Timbaland-produced lead single, ‘Earth Intruders’, with one of the more guttural offerings from her last album, the almost a cappella Medúlla, then it does look like a change to a poppier direction. But there is more to Volta than that.
In reality, it is just as exploratory as other Björk releases. Any preconception that Volta is a pop album is encouraged by the fact that ‘Earth Intruders’ opens the album, but the balloon is popped when the song fizzles out and ends with a cacophony of foghorn sounds that last over a minute.
There are a few other fun moments. ‘Innocence’, the second single, is a particularly interesting song. It is fun and catchy, but if it is commercial then it is a delightfully skewed version of pop. For me, though, the best moment is Vertebrae by Vertebrae. I love those dissonant horns.
6. The Fiery Furnaces — Widow City
It is a sign of how strong 2007 was for music that The Fiery Furnaces are so low on this year’s list. Possibly the most prolific band around, they often churn out more than one album per year and quality never seems to drop.
Okay, so Widow City isn’t quite up there with Blueberry Boat or Rehearsing My Choir. But this is still a stunningly awesome album. Fans of Matthew Friedberger’s double solo album will be particularly pleased — Widow City is similar in style in a lot of ways.
The album begins with a lush, slow, Eno-esque guitar solo. A fine curtain raiser to the normal Fiery Furnaces diet of playful alliterative lyrics, Mellotrons and other vintage synths, and delightfully wonky prog.
Unusually, there are some weak moments in this album. Some tracks towards the end of the album are particularly forgettable, but ‘Clear Signal From Cairo’ takes the wooden spoon — it just hasn’t clicked with me at all.
5. Justice — †
It’s easy to get bored of electronic music. In dry patches you listen to one techno album after another, none particularly improving on what has come before. Then a group like Justice comes along to provide a breath of fresh air and remind you why you love electronic music.
What’s good about this album is that it is really immediate. It is clearly designed for the dancefloor. But there is still a good deal of sonic experimentation going on there to keep it interesting for the chin-strokers like me. And of course Justice have that infectious sound that only Parisian groups seem to have (hence the number of times you see Justice compared to Daft Punk).
My favourite track is ‘Tthhee Ppaarrttyy’. It’s not a banger as you might expect from the title — not at first anyway. Instead, it sets the scene of a person preparing for a party against an introspective-sounding melody. Can’t forget the other highlights though — ‘DVNO’ and, of course, the monumental ‘D.A.N.C.E.’
4. Underworld — Oblivion With Bells
I have been a fan of Underworld for quite a while, but I was still floored by the quality of this album. It has been a while since Underworld have released a studio album, so I was wondering if they were running out of steam. On the contrary, they have raised the bar.
It takes a while for the album to get going. I thought lead single and opening track ‘Crocodile’ was so-so. After that things star to get better. Before you know it, every track is a winner.
Particular highlights include ‘Ring Road’ which has an infections driving beat and hypnotically rhythmic vocals. It’s impossible not to nod your head or tap your foot along. Meanwhile, ‘Boy, Boy, Boy’ sounds like the past future of pop music that sadly never happened.
What amazes me is the fact that after all of these years Underworld are still going strong. Okay, it’s been five years since their last album, but this is top quality stuff. Most electronic acts tend to fizzle out after a few years. But Underworld’s history can be traced back to the 1970s, and they’re still going strong. I might even go as far as to say that Oblivion With Bells is Underworld’s best album. Karl Hyde must be the coolest fifty-something around. Except for Brian Eno.
The top 3 is coming tomorrow. I promise.