Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Letters To The Ad Men

This is my new weekly column on the dark hole that is TV and advertising. For any idiots out there who can't recognise a joke, I must stress the mock consumer letters that will appear in this column are NOT real!

I recently obtained this letter that was meant for the manufacturers of Lynx deodorant:


I recently purchased some of your new chocolate deodorant and I must say I'm rather upset. The first, most pressing concern being the fact that this product does not smell of chocolate. I am quite frankly appauled and saddened. I also must protest at the fact that my once fleshy body has seemingly turned into a hard chocolate-like substance. I am afraid to leave the house, last time I did I was eaten and gawped at, it was awful, but hey it got the 'ladies' looking! Well done Lynx! I am currently writing this letter with my teeth as i have no arms and half an arse. But it's not all bad, I am also in talks with Channel 5 about starring in a documentary, 'Help! I'm A Chocolate Misogynist'.


Ha, not really. This is of course my clever way of expressing my digust at the new Lynx campaign, a fascinating glimpse into the unpopulated chasm of the male psyche. Basically the premise is this: man sprays himself with deodorant, man turns into grinning chocolate man, man becomes irresistable to women, man gets eaten by ravenous hormonal women. There are so many things wrong with this televisual monstrosity that i have found myself becoming baffled and appauled by something different every time i view this weird campaign...

Firstly I am appauled by the depiction of women as lusty, unbalanced beasts who devour chocolate men with non regard to their safety. Are we, as men, so afraid of women that we believe they will one day devour us all?! You have to be really worried about the man who came up with this advert, was he not given enough attention from his mummy or was he quite simply the witness to his dad, who was incidently made entirely of chocolate, being eaten by a pack of marauding women? Who knows, one thing is certain though, this is a disturbed view of gender politics, the writer is informing us that if you let women too close they will rip you apart, literally.

The other thing that really jumps out when viewing this advert is the constant stupid grin on the chocolate man's face. Is he enjoying being devoured, eaten alive? Is this supposed to be some sort of male fantasy? Are men now so desparate for affection that they will be gladly pulled apart just to be desired by women? After years of objectifying women have we finally, as a gender, begun to see ourselves as the object? Does this advert have an undercurrent of male guilt, we feel we should be punished? I just dont understand how this is supposed to sell a product! I mean, the Lynx 'message' has always been:

'Hey, you over there! Bit geeky and awkward aren't you?! Bet you don't get the ladies like us studs here at Lynx! It doesn't matter dear boy as we have come up with some magic potion to make women fall at your feet! Apparantly the smell of a teenage boy at the back of the cinema is what women want!'

Personally I'd rather rub a dead cat under my arms than use their stench, but that's my personal choice. Their message now seems to have now changed to:

'Hey you in the mirror! Quite attractive aren't you, probably have no trouble getting women. How would you like to be turned into a hideous grinning chocolate man whose last grim day on earth will consist of being ripped apart and eaten until you are lying on the floor, a glutinous mess of goo? Go on, the ladies love it!!!'

Their website, and I'm not lying here, actually has a section called 'Bird Watching', and tips on where to 'spot' girls. OK, are women now an endangered species? Last time I checked there were women, shock horror, walking around on the street! It out points the best places to spot these 'women' as a high class chocolate shop, a Mark Ronson gig (?) and 'Australia Day' at Walkabout pubs! It even suggests booking a seat on the Eurostar to be 'surrounded by fashion babes', in reality you'll probably more likely be surrounded by a family of four from Essex, the youngest of which insists on being violently sick on your new Topman shirt.In these extreme lengths of catching a glimpse of women, we really are reducing ourselves as a gender to dribbling men in dirty macs, this is not cool or macho it is deranged and unhealthy. Women are not a scary new species who we have to track down and hunt like animals. For god's sake grow up.

Ah Lynx, you dirty great misogynists!

Monday, 7 January 2008

Aidan John Moffat - I Can Hear Your Heart (Chemikal Underground, 2008)

While his former partner in crime Malcolm Middleton has been exploring his poppier side with last years 'A Brighter Beat', Aidan John Moffat has been cooking up a rather less commercial, distinctly darker and far filthier offering. Essentially a collection of what Moffat describes himself as 'erotic poetry', I Can Hear Your Heart is an exploration into adultery, domestic violence and the dangers of going out to parties in your pyjama bottoms. A mish mash of musical influences pepper the soundtrack to these mini poems, from crackling, aged samples of film scores and torch songs, through to monotone electric accordion sounds and crunchy drumbeats.

Opening with the found sounds and brooding strings of 'Atmos', the album then hits you square between the eyes with the wonderfully frankly titled 'Cunts'. Effectively an old Arab Strap rarity about colloquialisms for genitalia (how darling!) given new life as a short little ditty about gender politics, the woman refuses to use 'the c word' as a euphemism, instead using it to, in Aidan's words, 'deflate my wee ego'. 'Nothing In Common' is the first real stand out track, an exploration of the slow burning decay of a doomed relationship. That moment when you realise that beyond the basic lust of attraction, you have nothing in common. A kitchen sink drama, the couple sitting watching films they despise, he 'hates Dirty Dancing with a passion' and she 'hates words on the screen'. In the adjoining track 'Hopelessly Devoted', Aidan shows why he has always been a great writer, his uncanny ability to take a moment in life we take for granted as a happy time and distort it to make it bleak and darkly funny. In this case, the preppy teenage daydream that is Grease, imagining Sandy and Danny's relationship a few years on, reduced to a boring, sexless mess. Here it is in full...

'How did it work out for Sandy and Danny? Did she turn into a cow, did he turn into a fanny? Did they run out of joy to turn into song, was their sexless pretense dragged out too long? Did their cute little habits soon become bains, did they try not to fight in front of the wanes? Did he swing for her once, but stay open handed? How long did love last when greased lightning landed?' ('Hopelessly Devoted')

The next real stand out moment is the wonderful 'Good Morning', a strangely beautiful piece about cheating and guilt. Amongst the depravity and acerbic wit of the rest of the album, this is a little glimmer of beauty and love. Basically a man who, having just cheated on his girlfriend moments before, climbs into bed trying not to wake her. She awakes briefly laying her head on his chest, quietly exclaiming 'I can hear your heart'. There is something utterly, heartwrenchingly beautiful about that phrase and I must admit my eyes were a bit damp upon hearing it. The rising, swooning strings in the background only adding to the romantic intensity of being so in love that you listen to your lovers heartbeat. A quietly beautiful moment in an album of sorrow, violence and lust.

Following this rare moment of clarity and beauty there is the wonderful contrast of an interlude that breaks away from the overall story of the album, in which Aidan delivers one of the most daring pieces of poetry to ever come out of his mouth. Entitled 'All The Love You Need', it is a brave and shocking dissection of racism and prejudice. Essentially the poem is a stream of all the worst racial terms known to man, in the wrong hands this could be a horrific piece of pure hatred, but there is no chance of this when handled by a deeply intelligent thinker like Moffat. I believe the point of this poem is to highlight just how awful it is to be racially abused, as the listeners ears are filled with racial slurs, we experience what it must be like to hear them shouted at you every day. I think it shows us that if we wince and shy away from these words, then how will we ever defeat the bigots that use them. Within this 30 seconds of poetry, Aidan Moffat has gone from been a delightfully sleazy Scottish version of Serge Gainsbourg to becoming a peoples poet, a radical voice for a generation.

As the album rattles back on to the story we are presented with bleak tales of domestic violence ('You Took Well'), affairs with American girls ('International Valentine) and angry boyfriends ('4sex Message 2'). 'I'm Not Bitter' sounds not unlike very early Arab Strap, a mix of wonderfully out of tune singing and a filthy, scratchy cheap drum machine. There is a naivety and amateur feel to this track, it ends up being very charming. 'The Boy That You Love' is the nearest the album gets to a real song, longer in length (even though it still doesn't reach the two minute mark) and more tuneful in approach than the other short bursts of poetry and sound. It's a story of desperation and love in late night Glasgow, a girl enamoured with a boy who 'made her make up run' and 'made her heart hurt', all underpinned by a lilting, looped sample of a simple piano. 'Double Justice' is a strange tale of an awkward threesome between a girlfriend, her boyfriend and her ex, a song stinking of filth and guilt and, like all the greatest songs Arab Strap ever recorded, it makes you want to go take a shower after listening.

The closing track is where this record really stops being a musical project and becomes a collection of Moffat's writing. Entitled 'Hilary And Back' it is a nine minute plus short story, unaccompanied and uninterrupted by music. In short it is a story of Aidan, under the influence of too much drink, crashing a party dressed in his pyjama bottoms and a jacket full of beer due to 'leaving the flat in a drunken hurry, with no thought to my outfit'. He enters the party as a new person as he assumes a false name, and a false back story (including wonderful lies about driving an ice cream van and being abandoned in Australia as a baby!). Then follows a romantic tryst with a 16 year old, a bus journey in a blonde wig and a broken mobile phone, the last words of the album being 'And then I remembered my phone was fucked'.

The wonderful writing and effortless construction of a story within this album makes one hope that one day Aidan John Moffat will write the great British novel of the 21st century. He could even write a film, as there is something beautifully cinematic about this record. For now I guess we have this amazing work of art to tide us over.

Monday, 17 December 2007

The BEST 40 Albums of 2007 : 10 - 1

OK, so it's finally here. My top 10 albums of the year. There's simple angular pop, melancholic Scottish rock and an anti-folk singer covering anarchist punk, there's even a record in there by a man who calls himself 'the Swedish Frank Sinatra'! Anyway here it is...

10. GOOD SHOES - Think Before You Speak

An ingeniously simple album. Spindly guitars clash and meld over bouncy basslines and simple drums creating a sparse yet likable sound. The lyrics go from the mind numbingly mundane to cheekily political, tales of watching films on planes with girls mix with barbed comments on private education and snobbery. The best moments been when the two collide, like on the wonderful 'Morden'. A simple song about their home town, a place infested with drugs and violence, where on every corner there is a pound shop or a KFC. These mundane, minute details of their bleak setting clash with larger spreading social ills to create a frightening portrait of modern British life. Overall Think Before You Speak is a witty, concise and fundamentally enjoyable album about young British life, the problems deeply personal and ultimately frivolous yet symptomatic of a larger communal malaise. However depressing this sounds this record can only make the listener crack a smile, chirpy melodies and witty, urbane lyrics peppering the whole piece from start to finish. Like The Rakes if they were 10 years younger and 100 times angrier. Cracking.


2007 was the year I discovered just how amazing Super Furry Animals really are. Before this year I had taken them for granted, a band that have always been around on the radio or the telly yet never quite pierced the musical part of my brain. It was only when a friend bullied me into checking out SFA's singles collectionSongbook that I really had my SFA epiphany. Hearing all those amazing songs in one place made me finally appreciate them for the great band they are and by the look of this, their eighth album, always will be. Hey Venus! is simply great pop music. Exactly what you expect from SFA but with something extra. Packed full of catchy choruses, strange imagery and spacey, bouncy guitars. A lesson in how to make a great 21st Century album, one that encapsulates everything that was good about the past but is firmly rooted in the future. Brilliant.

8. JEFFREY LEWIS - 12 Crass Songs

Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. This album really is the impossibly twee anti folk hero Jeffrey Lewis covering 12 songs by the Essex based anarchist punk band Crass. OK, I know that was a shock, but now get up off the floor and get ready to hear the strangest album of the year. The strangest thing being that this album doesn't sound weird in the slightest. If you weren't told this was a bunch of Crass songs you probably wouldn't notice, Jeffrey's beautiful arrangement turning Crass' furious punk thrash into twinkling folk songs that burst into brash anti folk riots. He has completely made the songs his own, his unique vision paying off more than anyone could ever imagine. A classic work that's certainly up there with any of his other self penned albums. One day Jeffrey will be a star, just not yet.

7. MALCOLM MIDDLETON - A Brighter Beat

Brooding, melancholic and impossibly bleak, yet somehow uplifting and joyous, A Brighter Beat is Malcy's finest moment outside of Arab Strap. A combination of everything that was great about his previous two albums condensed into one amazing record. An album for anyone who has ever felt sad for no reason, felt lonely even with a thousand people around or just felt plain grumpy. The songs are sorrowful laments that charm your socks off with their honesty and humour. From the wonderfully silly 'We're All Going To Die', to the beautiful anthem for the shy ones that is 'A Brighter Beat' right through to the epic closer 'Superhero Songwriters', this is a consistently brilliant album. Every word a confessional, every note a wonderful bit of audio therapy. The self deprecating humour packed in every word stops the album descending into self obsessed misery, and forces the listener to crack a smile. A Brighter Beat is a testament to just how much Malcolm Middleton continues to grow as a songwriter. A caustic, grumpy masterpiece for the modern age.

6. THE ARCADE FIRE - Neon Bible

Distinctly more lo-fi than Funeral, Neon Bible sees a rawer, angrier Arcade Fire come to the fore. The attention turning from personal tragedy to global unrest. There is still the awe inspiring bombast of the bands previous work but now it seems slightly more unhinged and off kilter. This is a band who have grown and honed their craft before unleashing their second album, and it has paid off. Neon Bible is superbly understated yet magnificently epic, an ungodly mix of quiet and loud. There are songs that channel the spirit of Born To Run era Springsteen alongside downbeat funeral marches and massive string led operettas alongside a quiet mournful mandolin based lament, there is no particular sound to this record, just a feeling. There is an underlying aggression throughout, bubbling over in those louder, bombastic moments. Neon Bible is a wonderful record of twisted, confused American road songs that perfectly soundtrack our confused world.

5. RADIOHEAD - In Rainbows

Away from all the hyperbole surrounding this album and it's digital release, not many people have discussed the musical benefits of this wonderful album. Sounding like a mix of OK Computer ,Kid A and Hail To The Thief, with a pinch of Thom Yorke's own The Eraser album, In Rainbows is pretty much the perfect Radiohead album. Finding the perfect balance between experimentation and simplicity, Yorke's voice is no longer hidden behind filters and vocoders, coming through the mix to power the whole album alongside the twinkling, jangly guitars and beeping persistent electronics. The lyrical content is much more open than previous albums, almost personal in its simplicity and unveiled attitude. The album is also more human, more sensual. It's a more tactile and exploratory Radiohead, one that actually lives in the same mundane world as us, the humble listener. Much like OK Computer there is an underlying paranoia and a fear of your surroundings, yet now it's not quite as claustrophobic, there is an element of acceptance. In Rainbows is a confident collection of some of the finest songs Radiohead have ever constructed.

4. JENS LEKMAN - Night Falls Over Kortedala

A wonderfully lush collection of gloriously overblown pop songs. Jens' voice glides, like Stephen Merritt of The Magnetic Fields mixed with a Swedish Scott Walker, over slick layers of horns, strings and looped old fashioned samples. Jens' personality on this record flits from naive optimist to wide eyed Lothario, his beautiful songs covering love and loss, first kisses and crushes on hairdressers. One song even covers the strange goings on of a weekend at the house of Jens' lesbian pen pal, with Jens posing as her boyfriend to fool her conservative father! Brilliantly self aware and at times hilariously funny, Lekman's songs are unique and timeless, a flash back to a simpler time when pop music was big, brash and unashamed. You will fall in love with Jens Lekman, and it will probably sound like this record when you do.

3. THE CRIBS - Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever

I love The Cribs. Always have, always will. Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever, their third record, continues their flawless career. A fantastic collection of understated pop gems, The Cribs have bettered themselves again. Opener 'Our Bovine Public' is one of the best songs of the year, an aggressive ditty about the state of the musical nation and how Ryan never thought he'd be a hipster like everyone else and 'wear brown shoes'. 'Girls Like Mystery' is another self deprecating slice of Wakepop, with lyrics that reveal just what the brothers think of themselves and each other, trading lines like 'there's not much to say for me / that's OK you know that girls like mystery'. 'Men's Needs' is a wonderfully simple critique of modern relationships, and 'Moving Pictures' is one of the most overtly emotional songs in the Cribs' cannon, both showing a side of The Cribs more mature and less scenester bating than previous records. The next track 'I'm A Realist' has lyrics that dissect these two sides of The Cribs, 'I'm a realist / I'm a romantic'. 'Majors Titling Victory' is an attack on, yes you guessed it, MTV. A wonderfully rawkus grind that goes further than most of their tighter pop songs to highlight the influence of bands like Sonic Youth and Huggy Bear on their work. The Sonic Youth connection continues with the spoken word input of Lee Ranaldo on the cathartic 'Be Safe', arguably one of the best songs the band has ever produced. A huge, immensely bleak piece of beat poetry coupled with an impassioned, screamed chorus. Closer 'Shoot The Poets' is wonderful, a stripped back acoustic performance from Ryan that forms a delicate end to a less than delicate record. Put simply, this is a brilliant album that finally brought The Cribs to the larger audience that they deserve.

OK, this was such a hard decision. Who has made the best album of the year? What actually constitutes a 'best album of the year'? Do I award invention and experimentation or just pick the album that I personally have listened to most? Do I choose joyous pop abandon or cerebral forward thinking experimentation? Both albums are worthy winners, I can't stress that enough. Both are classic albums, they will last through generations and stand out as an indicator of just how good music was in 2007. Anyway here is my decision. At number two we have...

2. PANDA BEAR - Person Pitch

A few months ago when I started this blog I wrote an article, entitled 'A Study Into The Possibility That Panda Bear Has Made The Best Album of 2007', extolling the virtues of one Noah Lennox, founding member of Animal Collective and now the creator of the second greatest album this year as Panda Bear. Here's what I said about Person Pitch...

Opener 'Comfy In Nautica'is simply beautiful. The opening chants roll and crash, lulling the listener into a hypnotic trance. It's, at the same time, both a humbling and uplifting experience. The crashing drums and Gregorian chanting hit you round the face while Noah's sweet, tender and naive vocals caress your cheek to make it better. Its this mix of the grand and the simple that runs throughout the whole album, the grandeur of the music is contradicted by the simplicity and all round pop sensibility of the vocal patterns. As an instrumental piece this album would be an extremely experimental and rather avant garde, but nonetheless beautiful, prospect. The vocals give it that push over the edge into populist territory, a sweetener in a sour cup of coffee. Overall the album is a dual purpose product, you can either give your full concentration and study every nook and cranny, or you can just let it drift straight over you. It really is bliss to just sit and listen to this record and be taken away from life for 45 minutes and 36 seconds. It never gets old and this blissful feeling never dwindles. Put simply, it's a modern symphony. If there's any justice, Panda Bear will be looked at in a centuries time as a visionary and a genius. He is our generations shining light, our own little genius.

What can possibly beat a genius I hear you cry. Well, 4 geniuses might do the trick. And that's exactly the make up of the band that has made the best album of 2007...

1. THE SHINS - Wincing The Night Away

From the opening ethereal tones of 'Sleeping Lessons' to the delicate acoustic guitar of beautiful album closer 'A Comet Appears', Wincing The Night Away is a gorgeous journey through the wonderfully bright world of The Shins. An album of playful pop gems, wistful laments on life and opaque lyrics. A mixture of bashful naivety and joyous celebration.

'Sleeping Lessons' builds from just sparse, nautical keyboards and a heart wrenching vocal into an explosive symphony of guitars, crashing drums and twinkling keys. One of the best Side A / Track 1's ever, setting the scene for a pop symphony with a massive, building yet explosive start. 'Australia' is vintage Shins, bouncy melodies and powerful vocals creating a layered sound that twinkles and sparkles. 'Phantom Limb' is a great piece of songwriting, containing a shameless sing along hook yet still maintaining a cerebral and somewhat guarded lyricism, serving as a wonderful abridged summary of The Shins' sound. 'Sea Legs' is one of the biggest departures from this Shins sound of previous albums, a 5 minute plus lament powered by a distinctly hip-hop beat. The beat crackles and hisses underneath another nautical themed melody, the watery sound of a washed out slide guitar colliding with dreamy synths. 'Red Rabbits' sees another very different Shins, a reflective downbeat incarnation. A slow creeping bass runs underneath rather festive keyboards as James Mercer croons a lilting vocal melody. As the crackling sample of a cheering crowd fades away the opening jangle of 'Turn On Me' rings out into space. A wonderful song full of steel pedal guitars and charming lyrics like 'You must have known that I was fond of you / Fond of Y-O-U'. I get goose pimples every time. It's Mercer's delicate phrasing and heartfelt tone that push this album into the territory of greatness. His lyrics are full of oblique natural imagery and sea faring analogy, but can also be extremely honest and revealing. He doesn't give too much away, yet gives you a good idea of what makes him tick. He has the perfect balance. He is one of our generations finest frontmen despite his shyness and timid nature, he shows you don't need to be a posturing attention seeker to be a good band leader and frontman. Anyway back to the album and the spacey drone of 'Black Wave', a transitional atmospeheric track that feels like another movement of 'Turn On Me', albeit a darker, more experimental one. This is another reason why I adore this album, it works so well as a whole piece, it's not just a bunch of songs. There is a linear pattern to the way the songs are arranged. Put one track out of place and it would ruin the album. 'Split Needles' is as dark as 'Black Wave' yet packs a bigger punch. A mix of glorious offbeat drums and jagged, intermittent guitars, 'Split Needles'is a brooding march, full of introverted anger and discordant keyboards. 'Girl Sailor' is a mix of the Beach Boys esque melodies of their first album Oh, Inverted World and the more grown up country that graces parts of Chutes Too Narrow, coming together to form the perfect Shins ballad. But this is all just the appetiser to the 6 course meal that is 'A Comet Appears'. A finger picked guitar and the human voice form a powerful, heartbreaking moment. A bare, thoughtful lament on loneliness and faith. James Mercer's powerful, emotive voice weaves between each reverb soaked note to create the most truly touching moment on the album. Lyrically the most open track on the album, with beautiful lines like 'We can blow on our thumbs and posture, but the lonely are such delicate things. The wind from a wasp could blow them into the sea, with stones on their feet, lost to the light and loving we need'. Amazingly poetic and deeply profound for mere pop music.

Wincing The Night Away is a masterpiece, a classic in the making and truly the best album of 2007.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year xx

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

The BEST 40 Albums of 2007 : 19 - 11

OK, so we're into the top 20. From now on, for suspense (oooh!) we will be counting down 19-11 rather than 11 - 19 and so on. Just realised I should've done that from the start, ah well! So, it was Kubichek! at 20, who's at number 19? Who just missed the top 10? Who actually cares beside me?

19. ARCTIC MONKEYS - Favourite Worst Nightmare

A mature effort, the scummy men and taxi drivers of their debut are gone and in comes some beautiful songs about human idiosyncrasies and frailties. A more focused album full of songs that deal with less general social ills and focus on the individual. There are barbed critiques of our out of control fame culture alongside simple love and loss songs, it's a great mixture. This is a more confident version of Turner and co. The input of producer James Ford becomes apparent in the much more polished sound, the fuller arrangements and the general feeling of experimentation over repetition. A brave yet familiar album.

18. THE HORRORS - Strange House

Primal, raw and vital. A cracking collection of psychobilly gems from the band everyone thought was a joke. When they first emerged with their tight jeans, big hair and silly names, I thought 'oh deary me, more posers without songs'. For months I avoided them like the plague, the words surrounding them at the time being 1.NME 2.Myspace and 3.Goth, before accidentally hearing their song 'Gloves' on the radio. I didn't know who it was, I assumed it was a track from the late 70's. Vintage keys, screeeeemed vocals and guitars that sounded like the end of the world. This could have been The Cramps or The Birthday Party, but no the announcer's voice said The Horrors. The next day I bought Strange House, Junkyard and Songs The Lord Gave Us. This is the beauty of The Horrors, they get 'the kids' excited about bands they would have never have even considered before. As for Strange House itself, it's quite simply magnificent. Thrashing guitars, howling vocals and dark lyrical themes, all concise and exciting enough to keep you enthralled in the weird and wonderful world of The Horrors.

17. MAXIMO PARK - Our Earthly Pleasures

Now this is going to be more of a derogatory rant than you'd expect from a small review of the 17th best album of the year. Before I begin I must stress that I do very much enjoy this album, it's a lovely record. The songs are beautifully put together, lyrically obtuse and extremely heartfelt. There is one problem, Paul 'The Hat' Smith. I won't fully go into my gradual spiral from love to hate towards this man and his band (I will do that in a separate post!), but it is the reason this album didn't make the top 10. There's a general smugness and false over sincerity to this album that spoils the brilliant songs held within. Good songs, shit person.

16. DEERHOOF - Friend Opportunity

This year was the year I discovered the weird and wonderful world of Deerhoof. I know I'm very, very late but better late than never I say! I encountered them when a friend of mine dragged me along to their show at the Irish Centre in Leeds. They were spectacular, even though I had never heard a note of their music before I was enthralled by their fractured pop songs and non stop live show. The next day I invested in this very album and the excellent Milk Man, a great joint starting point. All the chaos and charming inconsistency of their earlier albums condensed into an 11 song record of fresh, exciting music. This is Deerhoof at their very best, erratic time changes, detached vocals and the odd moment of all out musical mayhem. Disjointed and free, yet perfectly formed and immensely enjoyable. A cracking album.

15. JAMIE T - Panic Prevention

Oh, little Jamie Treyes. With his cheeky, grubby little face and wonky smile he's the last person you'd expect to have suffered from quite severe panic attacks since his teenage years. This album is the soundtrack to those moments of terror, when Jamie would write songs or make mixtapes to take his mind off the impending doom in his mind. The songs come out loud and brash, a little clumsy yet altogether charming. From a simple acoustic bass and voice to a full band of ruffians, Panic Prevention shows just what he can do when let loose in a recording studio. Songs of love and hate, of nights gone awry and of young girls who've just had enough, the whole of Jamie's young life is in here. Honest, engaging and effective. A great debut.

14. NAPOLEON IIIrd - In Debt To

A great debut full of odd sounds, looped samples and timeless songs for the modern age. This is an album for the worker who sees their job as a mere sideline, a way to pay the rent, yet hates been told this by lad rock bands in pubs. Simple arrangements give way to orchestral barrages of samples and multiple voices, acoustic guitars merge with layer upon layer of found sounds and home made electronics. In Debt To has the bouncy feel of Fuzzy Logic era Super Furries if they were a one man band from Yorkshire experimenting with sampling units and tape loops rather than guitars and distortion pedals. This all comes together to form an amazing, genuinely unique sound. Napoleon IIIrd, under appreciated genius and West Yorkshire's very own Panda Bear.

13. INTERPOL - Our Love To Admire

This album contains some of the best songs Interpol have ever written. The perfect mix between the dark lullabies of Turn On The Bright Lights and the distinctly brighter pop gems of Antics, Our Love To Admire is their finest work. There is greater confidence in Paul Banks' voice than ever before, it's grander and just that little bit stronger. The guitars sing and the bass pulses and pops it's way through the whole lovely piece, the drums hit both hard and soft, controlled yet manic. Familiar yet enticingly different.

P.S. As a side note, Our Love To Admire is apparently their first cocaine free album, lets hope they stay off the stuff for at least a couple more albums!

12. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM - Sound Of Silver

A wonderful mix of cold electronic detachment and warm, fuzzy human emotion. Like Kraftwerk singing the blues, this is a much more honest and less hipster incarnation of James Murphy. Their debut was patchy, full of self indulgence and cowbells, yet had a certain charm when it really hit the spot, this whole album is like those better moments stretched out to a beautiful 9 tracks. Twinkling synths and tight drums mix with James Murphy actually singing lilting melodies with a heartfelt charm not previously seen from this electric grouch. The songs are perfectly formed and not a minute over the time they need to develop (unlike the sprawling, self indulgent 8 minute cowbell solo's of their debut!), 'All My Friends' been the perfect example, a solitary looped piano giving way gradually to a sonic cacophony of emotive vocals, skipping drums and a pulsating bassline. This was totally ruined by the cut down radio edit, proving LCD Soundsystem's songs are like a good cheese, they need time to breathe. Sorry that was awful! Put simply, and without cheese analogies, this is a great second album on which LCD Soundsystem have evolved into something so much better, so much greater and grander, yet simpler at the same time.

11. ANIMAL COLLECTIVE - Strawberry Jam

The moment Animal Collective stopped been outsider heroes and became the 21st Century Beach Boys. Bouncy melodies, catchy chorus' and lively chants rather than drones, this is a new Animal Collective, one of joyous dancing and celebration. The songs are less fractured than previous fare, looping melodies colliding and meshing rather than gong off on seperate tangents. 'Peacebone' is a great opener, all shouting and dancing with nonsense lyrics about 'dinosaur wings' and monsters and 'Derek' is one of the most beautiful pieces of music AC have ever constructed, a deliciously simple jangly ditty that closes the album well. A great album that brings the listener into a rather exclusive club of collected animals, that may now open to the public at large. A hypnotic, intense and overall fun album from one of the finest bands of the past few years.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

The 40 BEST Albums of 2007 : 20 - 29

20. KUBICHEK! - Not Enough Night

A wonderfully dark album full of crap nights out, stolen taxi's and doomed friendships. Like A Weekend In The City but with the testicular fortitude to look at the rather rubbish side of city life, a la The Rakes. Musically there is a rather strange marriage between post rock and, well rock! Idlewild esque riffing aplenty yet dynamic soundscapes too, this is an album by a band who don't like boxes. Honest, addictive and full of amazing pop songs. Like Maximo Park with a full head of hair and both balls intact.

21. KING CREOSOTE - Bombshell

To me Bomshell is the sound of all KC's DIY efforts condensed into one masterpiece. All this time under the radar and now the King decides to make a big, happy pop record. Beautifully intricate and personal lyrics crooned over a myriad of different instruments ranging from accordion to violin. The sound is big and lush yet not over produced, the perfect new sound for an artist with so much to give to so many people. All hail King Kenny!

22. FIONN REGAN - The End Of History

Delicate and simple, The End Of History is the sound of a musician at peace with himself and his guitar. There's no need for high production values or too many session musicians, this record is just the sparse sound of voice and guitar with the odd splash of timid drums. A wonderful collection of folk songs sung with conviction and wonder. Should have won the Mercury Music Prize, damn you Klaxons!!!

23. ART BRUT - It's A Bit Complicated

Simple, concise and full of charm. A record of immense fun and frivolity, cute British charm mixed with some much more competent musicianship than their rather scratchy debut. That's right Art Brut have evolved from rather amusing novelty act to accomplished songwriting geniuses. Eddie Argos talks his way through tales of neurotic woe and awkward sexual conquests over some jangly, taut pop melodies. Eddie gives us stories of stopping mid fumble to turn up a pop song and living on no money therefore being forced to eat stale bread like looks like toast! He even taunts critics with wonderfully caustic and self-referential lines like "I'm nothing to my peers, the envy and hatred. How many girls have they seen naked!". The perfect second album.

24. COLD WAR KIDS - Robbers & Cowards

Ah, Cold War Kids. Well they've been a grower! On first encountering this record as an import last year I was not impressed. It all seemed a bit too earnest, a bit too much. As the record got it's UK release I thought I'd give it another listen and this time I was blown away. I don't know what had changed, I think at first I had heard them at a time when they were a myspace hype band, there was too much expectation. Anyway, this record is amazing. A mix of delta blues and gospel, it's the sound of the god fearing American South. From the hypocrisy of the church to the confessions of an alcoholic, Cold War Kids channel the rawest subjects into wonderful songs of redemption, joy and fear.

25. iLiKETRAiNS - Elegies To Lessons Learnt

I adore iLiKETRAiNS. Let's get that straight. When I first saw them at the bottom of the bill at Lincoln Uni a couple of years ago I nearly cried. Their debut album, although not quite reaching the peak of their overwhelming live shows, is a great introduction to all things iLiKETRAiNS. Elegies... is a bleak march into our countries chequered past, we are served up stories of assassinated Prime Ministers, whole villages wiped out by disease and the final days of doomed explorers. All set to a brooding wall of sound worthy of Sigur Ros, the words delivered in a voice like a strangled, grieving Morrissey. This is however just the beginning, one day they will be top of lists like this. This is not their masterpiece, that is yet to come.

26. ASOBI SEKSU - Citrus

Fuzzy guitars, layered ten times over, are soaked deep into this record, washing over sweet female vocals that step into the background like just another instrument. This, my friends, is shoegaze for the 21st Century. Lyrics sung both in English and Japanese are indecipherable, whatever language you speak, as they create gorgeous melodies over the amazing audio sludge of guitars, bass and drums melded together in a sonic landscape. Ferocious pop songs married to experimental noise, lovely.

27. EDITORS - An End Has A Start

Oooh I can feel this being an unpopular choice already! What words are you going to use, BORING! COLDPLAY! OVERBLOWN! Well I don't care, I've had a lot of grief for extolling the virtues of Editors this year and I feel it's all unjustified. This is a great album (the only reason it didn't make the top 20 been the rather poor and flat middle section that lets the whole record down). An End Has A Start is an honest, unashamed and emotive album. It deals with grief and loss in a very real way, there are no cloak and dagger hidden metaphors, it's all right there in front of you and that is exactly what you want from this album. Musically a step forward from The Back Room, their second effort is more ambitious and ultimately bigger in scope. The most heartwarming moment comes, however, when the sound is taken to a whisper on the beautiful, piano led 'Well Worn Hand'.

28. HOLLER, WILD ROSE! - Our Little Hymnal

I reviewed this one a few weeks ago so here's a snippet:

'The sheer pomp and general epic size of this album could put the casual listener off, for those who like a touch of pomposity however it truly is a wonderful piece of work. 'Our Little Hymnal' takes a million different influences and condenses them into an hour long masterpiece, said influences only part of a tapestry not the whole story. If you love music with a touch of the epic this is the record for you. An album that is simple and elegant, yet powerful and primal at the same time.'

29. BRIGHT EYES - Cassadaga

A strange record to pin down, and one that caused me a lot of problems when compiling this list. Just how much did I value this rather self indulgent yet quite staggeringly beautiful album? So anyway number 29 it is, I think this is fair. This is by no means Conor's finest work (that being in my mind a toss up between Digital Ash In A Digital Urn and Lifted, answers or abuse on a postcard please...) but there is something inherently likable about it. The lilting slide guitar, the coherent and faintly apocalyptic lyrics and the feeling that Cassadaga is a well rounded and almost concept driven album. If this is an album about the end of the world, we're going out with a confused expression almost breaking into a smile.

Monday, 10 December 2007

The 40 BEST Albums of 2007 : 30 - 40

OK, so it's been a while since I posted on here but I'm back after some big deliberations about the best records of this wonderful year of music. It's been a year of discovery for me, I've discovered avenues of music I'd never heard or even considered before. From Animal Collective to Battles, The Shins to Jeffrey Lewis, it's been a year of new loves and old flames rekindled. Anyway here is the first installment of my top 40 albums of the year...

30. BATTLES - Mirrored (Warp)

A selection of creepy twisted helium vocals, tight yet expressive drumming and songs so darn funky, yet so clinical and cold, that they end up sounding like James Brown jamming with Gang Of Four in an abandoned warehouse. Amazingly abstract yet so accessible. A triumph of invention.

31. MUM - Go Go Smear The Poison Ivy (Fat Cat)

Lush, atmospheric and beautiful. A heady mix of glitchy electronics, hushed vocals and off kilter lyrics. Their best and most accessible album to date.

32. PATRICK WOLF - The Magic Position (Universal)

Not a patch on his earlier work but still a cracking album. Lacks the dark imagery of Wind In The Wires yet somehow misses the fun and passion of Lycanthropy, sitting somewhere in between. A troubled trip encompassing disco, torch songs and ukuleles. Difficult listening in places but when it's good, it's superb.

33. BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE presents KEVIN DREW - Spirit If...

Songs sung with a whisper, melodies like ghostly nursery rhymes and guitars that jangle and brood in equal measure. Delicate and understated yet capable of letting go and becoming something much bigger, something massive. A great album.

34. THE STRANGE DEATH OF LIBERAL ENGLAND - Forward March! (Fantastic Plastic)
This amazing record has a big sound and a big heart. Crunching orchestral guitars, impassioned vocals and a tendency towards historical accuracy rather than introverted heartbreak. This album is big, brave and beautiful.

35. VON SUDENFED - Tromatic Reflexxions (Domino)

A marvelous marriage of Mouse On Mars and The Fall's evil genius Mark E. Smith. An album of deranged lyrics, distorted beats and arguments with builders. Tromatic Reflexxions is the realisation of all Smith's krautrock dreams set to a manic, electronic soundtrack. A much better record than The Fall's rather lacklustre Reformation Post TLC album, which didn't even make the list, consider this the real new Fall album*.

36. HOLY FUCK - Holy Fuck LP (Young Turks)

No vocals here. Nope none at all. Can you cope? I thought I couldn't with my short attention span but here we are, Holy Fuck have made the top 40. When I first clapped eyes on the filthy beggars, supporting the wonderful Buck 65, they were making such a racket out of just toy instruments and old record players. I thought it was a gimmick, this album proves otherwise. Accomplished and tight yet loosely experimental, much more exciting than the rest of the electronic fodder we got this year from insufferable bores like Simian Mobile Disco and Justice. A cracking record.

37. BLOC PARTY - A Weekend In The City (V2)

When I first heard this record I was horrified. After the wonderful Silent Alarm and its abrasive yet beautiful soundscapes this seemed, to be rude, a bit wimpy. As the year has progressed however I've begun to appreciate this record for what it is, a wonderfully naive and honest dissection of modern life. With anger replaced by fear, anti American statements replaced with watching kids playing football in the park with your partner. I think Kele is in love.

38. THE LODGER - Grown-Ups (Angular)

The best of the post c86 bunch. They play songs that you think you've heard before, great lost pop songs that somehow ended up in 2007 inside the mind of a rather unassuming man from Yorkshire. Grown-Ups is like all the best bits of The Wedding Present shot through with grit and cheap ale. An album of sharp, concise and very pretty little ditties.

39. BAT FOR LASHES - Fur And Gold (Caroline)

A wonderful, adventurous debut. Full of so much space, the drums echo as if recorded in a giant cave that stretches out to infinity and the vocals just glide over, flighty yet strong. Simple and to the point, this album tells you everything you need to know about young Natasha Khan in one record. This could be a curse or an indicator of just how great a debut this really is, we'll have to wait and see.

40. BAND OF HORSES - Cease To Begin (Sub Pop)

A solid record, one of those albums where every song could realistically be a single. It's full of winter blues, crisp fuzz-free guitars and an overwhelming sense of loss. A huge development from their 2006 effort Everything All The Time, and you feel there is much more to come, something beautiful rather than consistent.

Monday, 26 November 2007

THE ATTACK OF THE SECOND ALBUM - How To Make The 'Perfect' Second Album

This is an old piece I wrote for a fanzine that never got published. It's a bit out of date, sorry, but it still rings true.

While listening to Sam's Town by The Killers, I suddenly get an amazing image of a rather flustered Brandon Flowers sitting bolt upright at 3am. Sweat forming on his brow, he suddenly realises that he should be more American, give this pansy British act a rest. I can just imagine him exclaiming to his Mormon wife, “Darling, bring me my cowboy boots and a copy of Born In The USA and for gods sake hide that copy of Dare!”.

Ah, second albums, they're ridiculous aren't they. You work on your début album for years, like an over zealous young girl planning her wedding at 10 years old. It's your life's work and then suddenly its done and you have to do it all again, in a year! And a brain overloaded with this kind of pressure and expectation can come up with some ridiculous things. One of these been the sudden impulse to become more organic. This usually manifests itself in either growing a beard, writing ludicrous songs about highways or deciding that recording in a toilet is a good idea. The British usually go for the toilet recording, the American's for the highways but the resounding hit is always, universally, the ceremonial growth of facial hair. A supposed signifier of masculinity and being a serious artist, but it usually just results in the band in question looking like twats, and people like me calling them accordingly. The Killers are an obvious example but I think I've given Brandon et al enough grief for now, and I'd like to concentrate on knuckle dragging faux Mancunian's Kasabian. Yes kids, Kasabian, otherwise known as the revolution in tight trousers, the indie A Team, the saviours of our little indie souls. I think it goes without saying that I have a slight dislike of Kasabian but I don't think this impairs my judgement of how unbelievably dire their second album is, and the accompanying facial hair (making frontman Tom look like a mixture between Grizzly Adams and Adam Ant). And they're also an exponent of the phenomena I like to call 'Overblown Comeback Video Syndrome'. The belief that to be welcomed back into the music industry's cold, cold bosom you must make a bloated, cinematic mess of a video to accompany your new single. That the hype surrounding your new single will somehow multiply because you dressed up and spent gargantuan amounts of money on a 'director' and an elephant. The video for Kasabian's Shoot The Runner, a turd of a song sounding like Marc Bolan shitting on Doctor Who's Tardis, is exactly this. Overly long and self aware, with the band adorned in military jackets and running around in a field getting shot at (now hang on that gives me an idea for an interesting comeback, inviting fans to take pot shots at Serge's crotch with an unpredictable, sawn off shotgun. OK, sounds far fetched but if it meant they'd sell a million albums they'd do it!) with overblown imagery of children blowing dandelion seeds into the air and then getting shot accompanied by long close ups on Tom's agonised, wrinkled expression. As if grief at a child's death in battle is akin to being a bit constipated. Perfect proof that the amount of records sold has no relation to acting talent.

Anyway, I digress, back to second album syndrome. The next pothole on the road to making a good and relevant second album is trying not to make another Is This It, to use The Strokes as an example.

One of the major problems in the psyche of the musician writing their second album is the fumbling insecurity of stopping and thinking, “Am I replicating what I've done before”. This nearly always leads to a far too removed sound from the first album or some kind of cobbled together concept album about cheese. I think this distancing yourself from your sound is idiotic, why abandon the songs you love, and therefore write for yourself, just because some overly analytical and critical reviewer like me might sidle up and say “that sounds just like the first one that”. It doesn't matter if it sounds like the first one, as long as all the songs aren't exactly the same, there's no age old rule that says 'thou shalt not make the same record twice!'. Why do you have to abandon everything and start again? Music is a progression but over a career, just because a record you made a year or two after you made your début sounds a bit like it in places doesn't mean you should be hung drawn and quartered. That should be reserved for those who go for drastic new directions and fall flat on their smug, self important faces. I think a perfect example of someone who has done their second album with no such fear of repetition are The Rakes. Ten New Messages is great and is a progression, but crucially still retains a lot of the motifs, and ultimately the sound, of their first effort Capture/Release. It's bigger and more ambitious in places but still has that same driving bass and prickly guitar, that same charmingly ordinary vocal. Lyrically however the themes have become more diverse and challenging. Post 7/7 paranoia is a constant theme, where on the last record the theme was going out getting pissed and going to work. This still remains but with that underlying tension, the darker side of human nature and the darker side of the Work Work Work (Pub Club Sleep) lifestyle immortalised on Capture/Release. It's as claustrophobic and tense as seminal records like Unknown Pleasures but also maintains that melodic and at times anthemic quality that The Rakes seem to possess.

OK, so here's a checklist;

1. Beards = Credibility? NO!
2. Don't be afraid to repeat yourself, just don't make the same songs!
3. Concept albums are for Rick Wakeman, men in capes and power metal, not little indie bands.
4. Fancy videos do not make a bad record good, they just show up your non existent acting talent.
5. Don't believe your own hype, if you don't make a good follow up, people won't like you anymore, it's that simple. Worried yet Ricky Wilson?*

*As an update, Kaiser Chiefs did make a follow up, it was shit.