Listomania! Part Two
Grandaddy's final album, while not the equal of their best works, was, in my opinion, a fitting end to the band. Never comfortable with some of the demands of being in a band (touring, promotion etc.), Jason Lytle let out his frustrations on this cathartic last gasp, safe in the knowledge that he didn't have to do any of that anymore.
The Grandaddy trademarks are all present and correct; Lytle's breathy vocals, naive-sounding electronic flourishes and a keen sense of melody coupled with proggy leanings. The lyrical concerns of previous records (mainly, forgotten, neglected, obsolete technology), however, are replaced by bitterness (the bouncy 'Elevate Myself' that takes aim at the derided touring commitments), regret ('Where I'm Anymore') and relief ('Disconnecty'). This lends the album a sad, rueful air but also acts as an apposite full stop on a career that, while hit-and-miss, was never less than interesting.
Grandaddy - Jeez Louise (mp3)
When The Beta Band called it a day, everyone was looking to Steve Mason to carry on the invention and sense of adventure of that band into his King Biscuit Time project. This is something that Mason was largely successful at; large chunks of Black Gold do indeed sound like The Beta Band, with Mason revelling in infusing what are, on the face of it, indie-rock songs with a genuine maverick streak. Mason's love for modern black music is all over this album, from the grimey bass pressure of first single, 'C I Am 15' to the skippy, digital beat of 'Way You Walk', but it's crossbred, sometimes awkwardly, with his love for late-60s psychedelia, making the album nothing if not idiosyncratic.
It's this wilful quirkiness, coupled with some people's gripe that the songs here felt half-arsed, that means Mason will probably never achieve the mainstream success that he often seems to crave. Before this was even released, Mason announced that he was knocking the whole music thing on the head, due to increasing frustrations about being constantly skint. His will be a loss that won't be mourned by many, but when he can be bothered, like on the brilliantly baleful ballad, 'Rising Son', his is a sparkling talent and, for the most part, Black Gold displays that talent beautifully.
Tortoise & Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - The Brave & The Bold (Domino)
The covers album is a much-maligned project that is very hard to do well. Where others have failed massively, Tortoise and Will Oldham succeed, in my opinion at least. The Brave & The Bold wins out because both Tortoise and the Bonnie Prince imbue the record with a sense of play and fun that is gloriously out of step with the rest of their output.
They slow 'Thunder Road' (one of my favourite songs, which makes the fact that I really like their cover all the more impressive) down to a crawl and take it down a more stately route than the Springsteen original, but it still manages to be excitingly bombastic, just in a different way. Elton John's 'Daniel', in Oldham's hands, sounds unsettling, yet ultimately quite poignant. The jewels in the crown here are a rambunctious run-through of Milton Nascimiento's 'Cravo E Canela' and a tear-stained take on Richard Thompson's 'The Calvary Cross' that is equal to the original. The Brave & The Bold won't be anymore than a footnote in both these artists' careers, but it's an entertaining footnote all the same.
Tortoise & Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - The Calvary Cross (mp3)
Archie Bronson Outfit - Derdang Derdang (Domino)
After their first album, Fur did nothing other than establish them as slightly strange, garage rock also-rans, I don't think anybody expected anything from Archie Bronson Outfit. I don't think there were many people out there seriously looking forward to a new album. Then along came Derdang Derdang and still people weren't that arsed. More fool them, because Derdang Derdang was one of the most consistently thrilling British rock albums of 2006.
ABO mine a fertile seam of lowdown, dirty, psych-blues that nods to The Velvet Underground, Funhouse-era Stooges and the motorik of Can and Neu! It's a dark, yet danceable confection that you'd be stupid to ignore.
Marit Larsen - Under The Surface (EMI Norway)
As one half of Norwegian pop duo, M2M, alongside fellow poppet, Marion Raven, Marit Larsen went platinum in quite a few countries (although they never made any kind of dent over here) and recorded the theme to a Pokemon film. While Raven is duetting with Meat Loaf, Larsen ended up getting critical plaudits all over the place for her mature, country-tinged pop sound.
While Under The Surface doesn't really do anything new (some of the songs bring to mind Abba playing the Grand Ole Opry), it pushes all the right buttons in the correct order for anyone who likes their pop music to be heartfelt and sincere. Don't sleep on this one.
The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics (Warners)
Probably the most unfairly slagged off album of 2006 is At War With The Mystics and while it isn't great, it's most definitely got its moments. There's a bitter, rueful streak that runs through it that veers from the Lips' path of unbridled optimism, as evidenced by songs like 'Haven't Got A Clue' or 'The W.A.N.D.', that distinguishes it from their earlier albums, while 'Pompeii Am Gotterdammerung' even has the novelty of featuring Steve Drozd on lead vocal for the first time in Lips history.
It still can't sound like anything other than a Flaming Lips record, but in the harsh, fuzzy-sounding production and the snarky lyrics, it certainly points to Wayne Coyne and co. trying out new things as they enter the autumn of their career. Now where's Christmas On Mars?
Mungolian Jetset - Beauty Came To Us In Stone (Jazzland)
After their mentalist remixes for the likes of Kreeps and L.S.B. and their work as Pizzy Yelliott, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Mungolian Jetset's debut album would have been a beat-driven affair. Not so (the clue's in the label name), as Beauty Came To Us In Stone is defiantly a jazz record.
Don't run away just yet though, I don't like jazz myself as a rule, but this is all careening percussion and found sounds (jazz concrete, anyone?) and general oddness. It's a playful album that even jazzphobes will find something to like about. It won't be to everyone's tastes but Beauty Came To Us In Stone is one of the most criminally ignored and superbly off-kilter releases of the year.
Scritti Politti - White Bread, Black Beer (Rough Trade)
The myth, the man, the ego that is Green Gartside came out of exile this year to release his first album since 1999 and it's like he never went away. The Welsh-born blue-eyed soul merchant is still heavily indebted to black music and he still has that honeyed, luscious voice that would sound great even if he was reciting The Da Vinci Code. He's also still imbuing that soul with rough, post-punk edges, never taking his songs in an easy direction when he's clearly more interested in how the song sounds than whether you can whistle it at work.
The sight of this in the Mercury Music Prize shortlist was one of the nicer surprises of the year and, arguably, it should have won. White Bread, Black Beer is a joyful, sweet collection of songs, seemingly tailor-made for Sunday afternoons. Also, anyone who can make the line "Hold my fucking hands" ('Cooking') sound like a declaration of love is okay in my book.
Johnny Boy - Johnny Boy (Wild Kingdom)
When Johnny Boy released 'You Are The Generation That Bought More Shoes And You Get What You Deserve' back in 2004, for most people who actually heard it, they sounded like the next big thing. Then nothing happened. Then, this year, their debut album gets a stateside release, but doesn't even get picked up in their native UK. It's in no way an essential record, but what it lacks in coherence, it more than makes up for in just the sheer volume of ideas on display.
Clearly fans of chucking everything at the wall and seeing what sticks, then throwing the stuff that doesn't stick back at the wall to give it another chance, then just throwing the whole lot into the mix anyhow, Johnny Boy's debut is a busy affair, but a lively one at least. Jacks of all trades then, but the only thing they master is pilfering some of the best musical styles of the last fifty years (Brill Building pop, folky protest, speedy garage rock, even hip-hop) then playing them all back at the same time. There may well be too much going on here, but when they occasionally achieve clarity ('You Are The Generation...', 'Fifteen Minutes', 'War On Want'), it's a wonderful noise.
Fuckpony - Children Of Love (Get Physical)
Having their thunder stolen by their label bosses, Booka Shade, must have stuck in Fuckpony's craw a little, but from the vibrant cover to the music within, it was clear that Fuckpony have more in common with that other Get Physical luminary, Chelonis R. Jones than Messrs Merziger and Kammermeier. Children Of Love is a bright, colourful record with a sense of humour (check the helium vocals on 'Ride The Pony') that's as wilfully garish as it is genuinely sexy. It'll make you dance with a smile on your face.
More tomorrow, maybe,