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Lou Reed: Sunday Morning After the Sunday Mourning Before

3 Nov

It was Kim Gordon who told me that Lou Reed had died, I swear.

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I turned on Twitter and there it was.

The words “So sorry to hear of Lou Reed s passing this is a huge shock!” from the blue-tick @kimletgordon account suggested this was not another of these tiresome internet death hoaxes but actually something very real. Why would the Sonic Youth (and now Body / Head) songsmith and latterday queen of NYC cool fall for such a dumb stunt if it were merely that? Indeed, Ms. Gordon went on to write a whole magazine article here in memory of the man she called “the first real anti-hero in rock”.

Lou Reed was one of these old gnarled, grumpy anti-heroes who you probably presumed would go on living forever, despite having smoked, sniffed, snorted and injected all manner of illicit substances for years (despite being “clean” for a fair few years) washed down, one would imagine, by plentiful quantities of liquor and strong coffee.

Not unlike Keef, Iggy, David or Julian, the craggy face of Lou Reed in his latter years seemed to be like one of those old trees standing strong in the middle of a storm, having absorbed years of battering from the “elements”. But in the end he died at the age of 71 – hardly a rock ‘n’ roll casualty – but still younger than my mum is now. And despite some pathetic tabloids trying to paint him as a poster boy victim of drug abuse he had been “on the wagon” for a fair while.

There is really no need for me to sum up Lou Reed or The Velvet Underground as most of you reading who are fans will know the backstory already while those who have a merely cursory interest in the fellow will have probably gleaned the relevant information in the many obituaries that were written after his demise.

You will already know that his parents sent him for electro-shock therapy at the age of 17 to “cure” him of his burgeoning, “worrying” homosexuality, that he was part of Andy Warhol’s “Factory” and got Andy to paint a cheeky banana on the cover of his band’s debut album, that he was a good mate of David Bowie and Iggy Pop (and later championed Antony Hegarty of “and-the-Johnsons” fame), probably took hard drugs and certainly wrote songs about it and hated giving interviews. We all know that John Peel championed The Velvet Underground in their early days because that’s what he did with most culturally important artists.

The fact that his most instantly recognised worldwide hit was about a series of transvestites and / or transexuals and contained a line about “giving head” is to the man’s eternal credit.

It took me YEARS to twig the innuendo in the album title of “Transformer”, which I’d always naívely presumed was some electrical power reference.

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To be frank, of the man’s relatively ample catalogue, I only own four physical albums of his, although others have resided on my hard-drive for some time, a few extrapolated “for personal use” from record library borrowings.

And yet it is probably in the influence of The Velvet Underground that many of the favourite bands of my teenage self in the 80’s that casts the longest shadow over my music collection.

Of my youthful “holy trinity” of The Smiths, New Order and The Cure, Morrissey has covered Satellite of Love, New Order covered Sister Ray (which they also did as Joy Division) and also performed Do The Ostrich pre-VU Lou band The Primitives (not Tracy Tracy’s band, more on THEM later), while there are photos of Robert Smith with Lou Reed and no doubt Cure performances of Velvet Underground material circulate beyond the realms of YouTube.

It was also through cover versions that I first came into contact with A LOT of Velvet Underground material that I probably didn’t know was actually by them in the first place at the time. Probably because I didn’t purchase “The Velvet Underground and Nico” until decades later, to my eternal shame. Like this wonderful Strawberry Switchblade version of Sunday Morning, probably the first of these aural delights (which you’ve already guessed I am going to catalogue):

Everyone from Ian McCulloch to Siouxsie to Japan to The Wedding Present to Ride to Nirvana to Bryan Ferry and back covered VU songs, and you could probably get a couple of complete compilations of “The Velvet Underground and Nico” with each track covered by a different artist, gleaned from a plethora of B-sides, album tracks, live recording and even the odd single.

Beck even covered the whole damn album.

The Cowboy Junkies‘ beautiful rendition of Sweet Jane is another case in point:

Could the glorious noise of The Jesus and Mary Chain have sounded quite the same without the sonic innovation of Reed, Cale, Tucker, Morrison and sometimes Yule? Although other bands have had a notable influence on UK indie and US “college rock”, I’d wager few would have had the impact on teenage ears if they themselves hadn’t been exposed to The Velvet Underground. Of course Gram and Neil and John and Paul and Alex and Jonathan and all the girl groups also left their mark, but Lou and his bandmates left a bloody great boot print.

Coventry’s recently-reformed Primitives not only nicked their monicker from Lou Reed’s pre- Velvets garage band incarnation (I may have mentioned them earlier) but also introduced my younger self to I’ll Be Your Mirror, another b-side.

As Brian Eno said, “The Velvet Underground and Nico” only sold 30,000 copies when it came out, but everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band“.

Even in his post-Velvets solo career, Lou Reed still attracted many a fine cover version.

The House of Love covered I Can’t Stand It to great effect:

Away from the world of indie, Reed’s oeuvre both with and without the Velvet Underground has also been keen sampling fodder.

A Tribe Called Quest‘s lift of a snatch of  Walk on the Wild Side for their breakthrough radio hit Can I Kick It? is probably the most well-known (the entire track is credited to “L.Reed” alone), but Massive Attack, RZA (him out of the Wu-Tang Clan), Del The Funkee Homosapien, LCD Soundsystem and even Marky Mark and The Funky Bunch have sampled Lou Reed’s compositions.

Further afield Japanese artists Pizzicato Five, Takako Minekawa and Kahimi Karie all sampled THE SAME Lou Reed song.

It wasn’t anything off “Metal Machine Music” either.

The most curious Lou Reed sampling though has to come from Norman “Fatboy Slim” Cook, who managed to match Lou Reed with his future wife Laurie Anderson on a 1990 b-side, a full 18 years before they married in 2008.

For me personally, post-Velvet Underground Lou Reed had its highlights in “New York“: the man’s tribute to the city he loved with all its dirt and crime and seediness (and to his friend the wheelchair-bound songwriter Doc Pomus) and his reunion album with John Cale “Songs For Drella“: a two-man warts-and-all tribute to their late mentor Andy Warhol.

Here’s the whole concert-film-recording thing of “Songs For Drella”, a tremendous record.

I hear “Magic and Loss” is another highlight, but embarrassingly, I’ve yet to hear that in full.

One for the Christmas wishlist there.

So long Lou, and thanks for inventing indie along the way.

Oh, and as we started with Lou Reed subtitled in Spanish, here’s my favourite cover of Walk On The Wild Side, which just happens to be in Spanish as well,

 Courtesy of Albert Plà:

The We Love All That Favourite 50: our Best Albums of 2012

22 Dec

It’s hardly the Festive Fifty. The hipsters at Pitchfork and Stereogum needn’t be worried. The indier-than-thou bloggers can sleep easy, knowing that I probably haven’t stolen a march on them and unearthed the coolest LP of the year that you never read about before… BUT…

This inaugural year-end best of is probably a melange of the obvious, the not-so obvious and the odd curveball extrapolated from many of the music blogs, podcasts, Mixclouders, Soundclouders, happy Bandcampers and Twitterers (tweeters? tweeps?) I have drained of bandwidth over the past 12 months or so. While trying to avoid the influence of the popular pages’ picks of the past year (try saying that with a mouthful of sausage and egg McMuffin) some did catch my eye and remind me of a few albums I’d not heard.

Nonetheless a handful of quite possibly inclusion-worthy releases registered too late on my not-as-sharp-as-it-once-was musical radar – Swans, Actress and a handful of rappers-who-might-just-be-swearing-and-bigging-up-their-own-love-lives-a-tad-too-much-over-the-course-of-their-album-even-though-musically-and-“flow-wise”-they-may-be-pretty-spot-on (yer A$AP Rockys, yer Kendrick Lamarrs etc) missed the cut for.. er… those very reasons. Just as Neil Young failed to ratchet up a higher position for the perfectly acceptable “Psychedelic Pill” due to rather trying lyrics on Ontario, and Lana del Rey missed the boat completely – despite a year of stonking remixes – simply because those bloody lips annoy me and the hype has sadly outshone the music. Azealia Banks (who is the exception that proves my self imposed-rule on excessive gratuitous swearing spoiling records) misses out because she only released a 4-track ep and a mixtape this year, while the top Japanese chillwave Bandcampers LLLL are omitted on a technicality that a four or five track ep (or a couple thereof) still isn’t a proper album. Cornelius‘ top remixed-by-his-good-self album “CM4” (his fourth collection of unique remixes for other people) was excluded as it’s really a compilation album, while salyu X salyu’s album “S(o)un(d)beams” came out in 2011. Oh damn, and I missed Cat Power. Bah. Too late now, sorry Chan. And Beak > and that other Geoff Barrow project which was most certainly double top. And John Foxx and The Maths, that was an ace album that just slipped my mind and I cant see how to shoehorn it in.  Botheration. Oh, blimey… Dinosaur Jr.‘s “I Bet On Sky”!! How could I forget that!?! And… what? Gaz Coombes had an album out?

So… are we going to do this in reverse order stylee?

THE FAVOURITE FIFTY 2012 –

OUR BEST ALBUMS OF THE YEAR

50. ON THE HOT DOG STREETS – Go-Kart Mozart

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Lawrence attempts a take over and reveals his preferences and pecadilloes, backed by what could be a synth ditched by Ted Chippington’s band. A very English album, without going anywhere near EDL territory. Or Morrissey territory for that matter.

49. ILL MANORS – Plan B

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A move away from his male-Winehouse chart-busting success, Uncle Ben tells a harrowing tale of Broken Britain, even though – as he reminds us – there’s no such thing as Broken Britain. Not an easy listen, but a well crafted concept album. Prodigy mix was a corker.

48. THE CHERRY THING – Neneh Cherry and The Thing

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Neneh Cherry drops the Buffalo Stance for some free jazz with Bristol’s The Thing. Wigs out in places.

47. ONE DAY I’M GOING TO SOAR – Dexy’s

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Kevin’s put the dress and suspenders away for a new set of clothes. Just as well really. He too, has got a “wiggle“.

46. THE ORBSERVER IN THE STAR HOUSE – The Orb & Lee “Scratch” Perry

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The Orb are a perfect foil for Perry’s mad dub-crazed meanderings, but their respect for him can let get the better of them when he really starts to wander. Golden Clouds is a brilliant re – work of the old 90s favourite though, and worth the price of an illicit download alone.

45. THE LOST ARE FOUND – Claudia Brücken

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Ex-Propaganda fraulein bangs out eclectic selection of covers including ELO, Bowie, The Band and Pet Shop Boys (though not the obvious ones). The voice is what makes the package shine, along with a pleasantly chilled orchestration.

44. IS YOUR LOVE BIG ENOUGH? – Lianne La Havas

is-your-love-big-enough LIANNE LA HAVAS

There was a great One Two Inch Punch remix of one of these tracks, and Mary Anne Hobbs loves this to bits, which can’t be bad. Maybe a bit mainstream for some, but pushes buttons for me. Just hope she avoids the Tasmin Archer syndrome! Still can’t work out if the double entendre in the title is deliberate or not.

43. PSYCHEDELIC PILL – Neil Young and Crazy Horse

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This marvellous album sounds as if it was recorded in the 70s, which considering it’s Neil Young is a compliment more than a put down! Crazy Horse haven’t aged at all, but – as I said before – lyrics to Ontario are a little (ahem) “shakey”. The mention of psychedelia also reminds me I’ve also forgotten Richard Hawley’s album. Sorry, Richard.

42. TRAMP – Sharon Van Etten

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Being a female singer songwriter the old comparisons get trotted out with this one, but this album is definitely worth a listen. All I Can is a fantastic anthem, despite mentioning “Old Tokyo” quite randomly.

41. MOST OF MY HEROES STILL DON’T APPEAR ON NO STAMP – Public Enemy

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Yeah boyeee! Chuck D, Flavor Flav and the rest wormed their way back into the British public’s general consciousness via the Paralympics, an inspired TV trailer and a five-year-old track that isn’t on this album. It’s no “Nation Of Millions” but this Fight The Power-inspired album shows this ageing crew of hip hop pioneers are still relevant in 2012.

40. TOY – Toy

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It’s feedback. And you can’t beat a bit of feedback, can you?

39. SHIELDS – Grizzly Bear

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Good to listen to late at night with a glass of 12-year-old whisky. Odd flashes of melancholy, occasional shoegazey splashes, even infrequent Billy Bragg chords. Just don’t try to dance to it.

38. FIN – John Talabot

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The Barcelona-based producer’s first album turns in some solid tracks of an electronic variety. Strangely for someone who pinched his moniker from what was possibly his old school, his music sounds anything but. A Catalan Flying Lotus? Oh damn, that’s someone else whose fine album I’ve left out. There’s a remix album out of this as well.

37. PIRAMIDA – Efterklang

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Efterklang is Danish for “remembrance”, but also “reverberation”. Fourth album “Piramida” is (say reviews) “hymnal”, and built around  simple rhythms.  John Grant likes ’em.

36. THE BELBURY TALES – Belbury Poly

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Most recordings on the excellent Ghost Box label evoke a world of haunted English villages, 1970s tv interludes and Open University broadcasts, enhanced by the beautiful Pelican Books-style sleeve art. And the Radiophonic Workshop. Sort of like modern electronic folk. But in a definitely retro dimension. Belbury Poly’s latest is no exception.

35. SLEEP GAMES – Pye Corner Audio

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More of the same as this too is a Ghost Box release, but (as John Peel used to say) this one fades in. For those of us who grew up with short wave radio, public information films and black and white TVs. And for those who didn’t but are curious to know what it sounded like.

34. BASTARDS – Björk

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Reworkings of her criminally under-bought “Biophilia” interactive album / app / concept thing from last year. Puff Daddy may claim he invented the remix (which is bollocks as Wikipedia says Tom Moulton invented the remix), but Björk re-invented the remix (remember her first remix album), and the blinding Omar Souleyman re-tread of Crystalline which opens the collection justifies the whole package sevenfold.

33. HAIR – Ty Segall & White Fence

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Letterman-approved noise-merchant Ty Segall released three full-length albums this year, which puts him up there with Prince and Ryan Adams in the “jolly prolific” stakes. This was my favourite of the three. The sleeve art is far better than that of “Slaughterhouse” which looked like it had been done by someone’s brother. On acid.

32. LUCIFER / LUCIFER IN DUB – Peaking Lights

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Peaking Lights are a husband and wife duo from Wisconsin (home of Yon Yonson, Dave Howard Singers fans). “Lucifer” is a trippy, dubby affair not unlike the woozier bits of Primal Scream’s “Screamadelica”, featuring the vocal contribution of their own sprog (who is, disappointingly, not called Lucifer, or even Damien) . “Lucifer In Dub” takes the trippy, dubby bit one stage further (hence the name), not unlike Primal Scream’s “Echo Dek”, into almost unrecognisable territory.

31. COEXIST – The xx

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Several years on from their stunning 2009 debut, Jamie xx is now a coveted remixer and the virtual entirety of that album has been covered by everyone from Damon Albarn to OMD to Shakira, mashed up with The Notorious B.I.G. and sampled by Rihanna.  Not to mention an infinity (see what I did there) of wubstep remixes. Three years on and the trio return with “Coexist”, which Jamie xx decsribed as “developed” but not “completely a world away” and “a development of where we were before”. Which is exactly what it is. The complicatons of relationships are mulled in much of Oliver Sim and Romy Madely-Croft’s interchanges, the thread running through most of the album. It’s not a quantum leap for The xx, but does further define the unique sound of a band, a bit like the instantly recognisable chords of Depeche Mode or the dissected beats of Cornelius (even though the album sounds like neither, if you see what I mean). And, like a vast swathe of this year’s selection, it could well be described as “haunting”.

30. SOLO PIANO II – Chilly Gonzales

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Imaginatively-titled follow-up to his “Solo Piano” album from 2004, featuring nothing but…er… solo piano. But sometimes there are times when only a bit of solo piano will do, and this does the trick a treat. Especially if you’ve already had your fill of Chopin’s nocturnes. A classical classic, as it were.

29. OH, MONSTERS! – Anni B. Sweet

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Another female singer-songwriter? And a Spanish one to boot? Haunting (it’s that word again), almost Irish-tinged vocals which wouldn’t jar if played after the album at number 11 on this very chart. And to think she once did a folksy cover of Take On Me.

28. A+E – Graham Coxon

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Following the “pastoral” excursion of 2009’s “The Spinning Top”, the reconciled Blur guitarist went back plying his established craft as a purveyor of excitable noisy pop songs, albeit longer ones than usual. Not his grazed knees on the cover btw, although he did take the picture.

27. WORLD YOU NEED A CHANGE OF MIND – Kindness

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The audacity of this North American fellow covering Mrs. Brian May’s finest musical hour (or three minutes) on this record was incredible, but the welcome revisiting of the late Chuck Brown’s Washington GoGo sound was even more so. Who would have thought that one album could channel Prince, Talking Heads, Trouble Funk and Eastenders? Now where did I put that Trouble Funk remix of Copey’s World Shut Your Mouth?

UPDATE: In a strange twist of events that seems to be some inverted echo of LCD Soundsystem’s “North American Scum” premise, it transpires that Adam Bainbridge, the long-haired brains behind Kindness and the fellow on the album sleeve above these very words, is not from the heart of Washington DC, but from Peterborough.

Which should make the gogo element of his album all the more surprising and somewhat dulls the novelty of his Albert Square re-visit. But only marginally.

26. SHRINES –Purity Ring

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Something about this album reminds me of the Grimes album. Is it the sound, the pitch, the vocals? Or is it just that it’s attractively weird and electronic at the same time. Grimes never sang about her sternum though, and Fineshrine is definitely one of my top five singles of 2012 – even though Tom Ravenscroft didn’t like it.

25. CELLULOID – Lippy Kid

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Top Bandcamp discovery this, a mainly instrumental minimal electronic album harking back to the days of 8O8 State’s “Quadrastate”, echoing the sounds of modern cities in the way an ultra-slick metro train might hurtle down the neon tunnels of a Blade Runner-era  Japan. Or something. His Love To Infinity EP (not on this album) is worth checking out too!

24. CELLS – Fake Blood

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As forgotten two-hit wonder Carmel once opined in the mid 80s: the drum is everything. Even if it may be a very upmarket drum machine or a pricey computerised rhythm program. Unlike his popular “USED” mixtape series which was a jazzy selection of downtempo breaks and the like, “Cells” is a return to the beat-driven sound for which he carved a remixing niche for himself, although house, techno and yer quality electronica are used to incredibly uplifting effect, of which lead track Yes / No is a prime example. Bang to the beat of the drum!

23. DON’T BE A STRANGER – Mark Eitzel

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The American Music Club founder returned to the recording studio after a good pal of his struck it lucky on the lottery and altruistically decided to plough a share of his generous takings into this album. As you might expect, if you are familiar with Eitzel’s often introspective oeuvre, it’s no chipper upbeat compendium of tunes… but competent production and a world-weary sense of humour pulls you through, and the record certainly stands up to repeated listening.

22. THE HAUNTED MAN – Bat for Lashes

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Blimey, how many albums on this list could be described as “haunting“, eh? And this one’s even got the word “haunted” in the title. Laura is the key song on this disc, and it too could be described as haunting. Beautifully so, but haunting nonetheless. Natasha gets her kit off on the album cover as well, although pervs should be warned that she seems to be carrying the body of a dead (and also naked) man that cover up her bits. Maybe she caught him ogling from behind the bushes. Who knows what goes through this lady’s mind?

21. DJANGO DJANGO – Django Django

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Rob da Bank liked this ‘un from the get-go and who can blame him? Hail Bop is the standout track from the album at We Love All That Towers (sadly they weren’t the first to use their comet-centrical punning title) as it has all the hallmarks of what I believe is called “an earworm” and Love’s Dart and Default were rum singles too. If the album reminds you a touch of the Beta Band it’s possibly because the Django Django drummer is the BROTHER of John Maclean out of the Beta Band.

20. SWEARIN’ – Swearin’

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Another Bandcamp discovery that can actually be found as a totally legal free download on the internets if you know where to look, Swearin’ are an exciting  Brooklyn band with echoes of the Sub Pop scene before grunge became stale. The Breeders are another touchstone when trying to describe that Swearin’ sound. If you can imagine a wide awake and jumpy version of slackers, this is what this band sound like. Hat tip to the Edinburgh Man podcast for alerting me to this!

19. IN OUR HEADS – Hot Chip

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Some people were disappointed with this latest Hot Chip album, as maybe their previous work had set the bar too high. However, tracks like How Do You Do? and Flutes are worthy additions to the band’s exemplary canon, although why Night and Day B-side Jelly Babies wasn’t an album track (or even an A-side!) is anyones’ guess.

18. VISIONS – Grimes

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Stupidly I expected Grimes to sound like Wiley or Roll Deep Crew, whereas actually this album is sort of industrial shoegaze chillwave electronica with female vocals (provided by Clare Boucher, aka Grimes) and hints of medieval folk music, Kraftwerk and metal in the mix. It’s strangely addictive, and sonically enthralling. It’s also on 4AD, which figures.

17. WONKY – Orbital

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The Hartnoll Brothers join the long list of 90s rave comebacks, including The Prodigy and… er… Guru Josh. Okay, maybe it wasn’t such a long list. Wonky the single stands out, not least because of that mad cat video, but Where Is It Going? was a stormer of a track, both in its remixed “live style” version and in its Paralympics appearance with Stephen Hawking, who last contributed to a pop record doing the vocals to Radiohead’s Fitter, Happier in 1997. Possibly. Oh, and Zola Jesus also appeared on there!

16. PAMYU PAMYU REVOLUTION – Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

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This is what Japanese pop should be about, dressing up in weird retro clothes, sporting daft cutesy wigs, long eyelashes and bizarre videos that would make any acid casualty check his drink. The whole album is like the “PONPONPON” video. Forget Gangnam Style and K-Pop, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is where it’s truly at in quirky Asian pop.

15. BREAKTHROUGH – The Gaslamp Killer

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I first became aware of The Gaslamp Killer after watching an online stream from Dublab.com of William Benjamin Benussen (for it is he) doing a live video mix. His debut album is a freak-out in a padded room but bizarrely addictive. There is also a rather instructive linguistic interlude on Britain’s favourite four-letter word.

14. BLOOM – Beach House

BEACH HOUSE BLOOM ALBUM

It’s American shoegaze (they call it “dream pop”, you know) but it’s, like, from now! Or is it chillwave? You get the feeling they’ve listened to a few Cocteau Twins albums and Lush singles but that’s really not a bad thing. In fact we need more records like this. It’s the Lazuli of the land, my son.

13. MATURE THEMES – Ariel Pink’s Haunted Grafitti

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Only In My Dreams was one of my singles of the year, an absolute pearl of a tune.. and although it is the obvious stand-out track on the album, the long player is no stinker. One track even sounds a bit like Julian Cope. Ariel himself does come across as a bit of a rose-tinted Evan Dando in the videos though…

12. SILENCIO – Laetitia Sadier

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Debut solo outing from the voice of Stereolab. Despite her split from her band partner Tim Gane, Laetitia sounds as political on this album as Gane did at the height of McCarthy’s cult fame. And yes, it still sounds a bit like Stereolab, and not just vocally. Should have done better in the year-end charts!

11. MELODY’S ECHO CHAMBER – Melody’s Echo Chamber

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Breathy French chanteuse (quite possibly named after Serge Gainsbourg’s trippy opus Melody Nelson) chases Tame Impala bloke half way round the world and tracks him down and gets him to help out with her debut album. Result, one charmingly woozy psych-pop album (mainly in English) with echoes of Lush and shoegazyness. Albeit one that sounds a bit like Tame Impala.

10. THE GHOST IN DAYLIGHT – Gravenhurst

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At times Nick Gravenhurst sounds like an English Jeff Buckley, at other times it seems like he wants to be Kevin Shields. Melancholy and thoughtful, wistful but at times noisy. Another fantastic late night listen, on Warp Records despite being bleep ‘n’ glitch free. Well worth your eartime, I would say, as are all his albums. You might even say it too was haunting (groan).

9. BLUNDERBUSS – Jack White

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Strangely less erratic than some White Stripes albums, “Blunderbuss” packs a punch. White’s reading of “I’m Shakin’” is a joy to behold. As journo Alexis Petridis once observed, “bonkers Jack White” is back on this album, jostling “earnest Jack White” to one side. Which can only be a good thing.

8. THE BRAVEST MAN IN THE UNIVERSE – Bobby Womack

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This album basically follows a similar precept to that of Gil Scott-Heron’s swansong “I’m New Here”, a moderately well-known black male singer with an illustrious back catalogue and of advanced years showing he’s still “got it” by singing amazingly over a modern but strangely un-jarring series of compositions. And it works, to great effect. All the more surprising considering this was partly the work of Blur polymath Damon Albarn. It’s a shame no-one bothered to do this with James Brown when he was still alive.

7. VALENTINA –  The Wedding Present

David Gedge is quite possibly the nicest man in post C86 indie-pop (or rock or whatever it’s called these days), but that doesn’t mean he can’t write a cutting line to a lover who spurned him. “Bang bang you’re dead!” he shouts on the opening track, with a very subtle Mark E. Smith “-ah!” at the end of the exclamation.. and this sets the tone for the whole album. Vintage Weddoes. “I understand you, and I can’t stand you.” And he even recorded one of the tracks in German.

6. LONERISM – Tame Impala

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The lone member of Tame Impala – Kevin Parker – explained the album thus: “For me, it’s a combination of nice sugary pop crossed with really fucked-up, explosive, cosmic music. It’s like Britney Spears singing with The Flaming Lips”. Couldn’t have put it better myself.

5. OH NO I LOVE YOU – Tim Burgess

Oddly, it was only once head Charlatan Tim Burgess had left his adoptive home in L.A. to return to dear old Blighty that he produced his most Americana-tinged record yet in the form of the wonderful “Oh No I Love You”.

Helped out by Kurt Wagner of Nashville alt. country heroes Lambchop (Wagner actually went to school in Sheffield, to confuse matters) Tim has turned a real gem of an album, another disc that merits repeated plays from start to finish.  High points are the record-lovers’ anthem A Case For Vinyl (did you see what he did there?) , originally a Record Store Day 7” single, White (which should have been a top ten smash but probably wasn’t) and The Doors of Then.

4. PEGASVS – Pegasvs

Some people out there might not be that familiar with Pegasvs (even though I featured them earlier this on the blog… keep up!) whose eponymous debut album oh-so-narrowly missed bagging bronze in this rundown of the best of 2012.

The Barcelona-based band was recommended to me earlier this year by @drelatsg on Twitter (who lives thereabouts) and since then they’ve garnered plaudits from TheQuietus (UKs premier intelligent music site), a BBC6Music play from Stuart Maconie and underground acclaim in various Latin American countries. Not bad for a noisy motorik band singing in Spanish! The album is a must-have, with tracks such as Brillar, El melodía del afilador, Atlántico and El final de la noche being standouts. Top videos too, courtesy of record label CANADA (all capitals). Hoping for bigger and brighter stuff from this lot in 2013.

3. CHANNEL ORANGE – Frank Ocean

channel-O

In the top five of this We Love All That 2012 chart heavy iPod rotation counts for a lot, and so Frank Ocean’s “Channel Orange” – his first album proper following a couple of critically applauded mixtapes – had to be top three at least.

 Part of the peculiar Odd Future collective (kind of an abstract homophobic Wu-Tang Clan but with fewer kung-fu references and even more swearing), Ocean (no relation of Billy, you’ll be relieved to hear) “stunned” the world by issuing a press release fessin’ up (I believe this is the parlance) to having “loved” (I’m quoting) a person of the same sex. This normally would not have brought the internet to gush with praise – this didn’t happen when Will Young came out, did it – but given that fellow Odd Future acolyte Tyler (the Creator) was becoming a sort of Buju-Banton-it’s-okay-to-like in the eyes of some online music hacks, Ocean’s frank (pun intended) admission was a breath of fresh air in a genre of black music where “no homo” had seemingly become a jolly catchphrase to revive another prejudice.

 Sadly, given that Ocean’s statement linked to a stream of the album which was the first chance most of us got to hear it, the man’s sexual persuasion did tend to overshadow the musical worth of a blinding album, which seemed to meld the good bits of Prince and Stevie Wonder and thrust them headlong into this confused post dubstep world. A Carpenters sample here, a (come on, let’s say it) wanky guitar solo there, an album that managed to sound vaguely off-kilter (Pyramids is over nine minutes long, but it seems shorter) but enticingly easy on the ear. Ill Manors it ain’t. Thinkin’ About You is another standout track, quite possibly about a male lover, real or imaginary. Unless I’m getting the wrong end of that “a new feel” line. Ok… best not go there. But a cracking song nonetheless. How can he top this though? Or will it be genre-hopping for Frank Ocean album number two?

2. BE STRONG – The 2 Bears

“Be Strong” can be summed up in one (albeit clumsy) sentence: positive 21st century balearic vibes for the beaten generation.

Another album that merits repeated playing, although the title track and singles Work and Bear Hug are obvious highlights. The 2 Bears moniker has been explained various ways… one being that it was a tongue-in-cheek reference to Hot Chipper Joe Goddard and comrade Raf Rundell as “bears” (google it) despite both being straight, another being that there was originally a third bear – Joe Mount from Metronomy – who left. Whether there was ever a Goldilocks or some porridge is debatable. The Hot Chip sound is detectable and Alexis Taylor even appears to chip in (pun intended) on Bear Hug.

But the Balearic mix of palatable 90s house beats and positive lyrics to uplift the listener whether on the dancefloor or in the “cans” makes a change from the tiresome dance clichés of sexual prowess and bling / cash / cars. If David Guetta was flogging this kind of gold dust to spotty braced-up American kids in Miami instead of the dross he currently churns out along with Pitbull, Flo Rida et al, the world would be a far better place, and more positive to boot. Oh, and the references in the title track are impeccable, possibly even more so than those of the band whose album is sitting atop the 2012 favourite fifty tree today…

1. WORDS AND MUSIC by Saint Etienne

For most people, the words “concept album” have disturbing connotations, often inextricably linked with the darkest excesses of prog rock, conjuring up all sorts of images related to an over-eager consumption of Tolkien, illegal substances and far too many hours ogling nine-sided dice in the Games Workshop. So if you are then told that the first track off this ‘ere concept album actually namechecks “Peter Gabriel from Genesis” you may start to worry. But fear not, for this is Saint Etienne we’re talking about here.

Words and Music by Saint Etienne” (to give the album its full title) shows that, even though a quarter of a century gone by since the fantastic London-centric collage that was “Foxbase Alpha” (tastefully – dare I say masterfully – updated by Richard X as “Foxbase Beta” in 2009), the Heavenly trinity (see what I did there?) of Stanley, Wiggs and Cracknell can still produce fantastic pop music. Like whisky that has spent years in an oak cask, the band have matured, while retaining the essence of what we liked about them in the first place. The wistful nostalgia and the dewy-eyed memories of greasy-spoon caffs (remember Mario’s Café?) still remain, as do the overt references to pop-songs-they-have-loved.

 The whole album, as the title suggests, is a paean to a bygone era, one probably dear to the hearts of anyone over thirty-five. The era “where music mattered”. Where music was a physical product, initially vinyl, which could serve not only as a backing track to our daily lives but actually something to be treasured, and often shared with friends – either “round at someone’s house” or copied onto a cassette tape – cementing friendships and defining what was “in” or “out” to the listener. Records were not just for playing, but for collecting… for coveting. As opposed to simply amassing, which is what even yours truly does with mp3s. And these vinyl platters aged, often adding a warmth to the recordings, a personal edge not unlike that which trouser manufacturers try hard to artificially replicate with their “stressed jeans” lines.

Every song on the album is connected to the way music connects to the listener: via the radio DJ, the club DJ, the seven inch single, the live concert, the stereo headphones etc. On a personal level I first heard the double album (with a disc of beefed-up remixes) and played the remix album to death, far more than the original disc. I even forked out for the 3CD box set, with a map, photos, a pin badge thing and all. But then a few weeks ago I listened to the original disc again and fell in love with it. Whereas the original album had previously seemed a bit limp compared to the kickin’ 2 Bears, Golden Filter and Tom Middleton remixes, upon further listening (especially to the lyrics) the whole album stood up as a solid body of work. Record Doctor is probably my least favourite moment on the album, but even that works in the context of the whole thing.

It’s rare to find an album these days that is not “just something to dip into” but a satisfying meal from start to finish. Where the words and the music are equally important. When one of your favourite bands does it, after so many years, it is to be commended. Along with the selection of remixers on the bonus disc as well, of course. The icing on the cake, as Stephen Duffy would have said.

So, when all is said and done, 2012 has been a fantastic year for music, even though – when the cans come off –  the non-musical reality is pretty grim. Better keep those headphones on then. Besides, in this weather they keep your ears warm too.

National Trust disco?

25 May

Not many people have mentioned this before, so I thought I might as well…

Maybe because it’s unkind, or maybe because it’s stating the bleeding obvious, but… these days Jarvis Cocker (for it is he) looks like a geography teacher.

Not that that makes him a worse person or anything, and his superior “Sunday Service” show on BBC 6Music is certainly one of the best things on the entire radio network. In fact, he is, along with Paul McCartney, Stephen Fry and the late John Peel – a British national treasure. Despite living in France.

So it may not be altogether surprising to find out that the former voice of Pulp has compiled an album for the National Trust, those nice people who look after Britain’s national parks, stately homes and the like. After all, he did once record a song called Trees.

It’s actually online – the National Trust album that is –
and legally available for free download here.

However, Jarvis neither plays nor sings on the album, although it may be his footsteps you hear walking through the leaves on one track. Or not.

For this is a sort of sound effects album, featuring birdsong, creaky staircases, clocks gently ticking, waves lapping the English shore and the noise (or the lack of it) of the country.

Jarvis himself said of the project:

“I hope this album is a “Holiday for the Ears”. It’s not really meant to be listened to intently, like a piece of music, but more as something to have on in the background to aid relaxation or contemplation. Plus, you get to visit 13 National Trust properties in the space of 30 minutes. No mean feat. I hope it has the feel of one continuous journey and conjures up an image in the mind’s eye of the places featured. I also hope it could inspire the listeners to then visit the sites for themselves.”

So whereas Damon recorded a song about a very big house in the country, Jarvis recorded a very big house in the country. (Of course the Kinks wrote a song called House in the Country, but let’s not go there..)

For those of you expecting some Pulp to download you’ll just have to make do with these cover versions (bad cover versions – get it? Oh, please yourselves) from Spain, a Catalan version of Common People by some fellows called Manel and a glockenspiel recorded live in a Barcelona market and a Spanish version of Something Changed complete with sorry “students-wandering-around-Madrid” video uploaded by a fan and not an official music or concert video by Astrud, the band responsible.

Try and enjoy them.

Manel – Common People (in Catalan)
Astrud – Something Changed (in Spanish)

Oh, and in case the covers aren’t your cup of tea, how about Jarvis’ heartfelt tribute show celebrating the one and only John Peel.

Jarvis Cocker Peel Tribute Radio Show