Wednesday, March 28, 2007

2007: The First Quarter In Review. Part One - January

Okay so the title might actually give the intention away somewhat, but let me give you some reasons as to why I'm doing this.

So far, 2007 has been an eventful year for music. If you view the passing of time in discrete yearly chunks that is. The music blogger's prerogative is to view the start of each year as a clean slate; to put the old year to bed with some lists that serve only to denigrate music by measuring it up against itself, therefore turning making music into some kind of contest. This cheapens both the music and the artists, but we do it anyway, because we're sad, lonely and ever so fucking anal. We also figure that if we throw the reader a bone or two in the form of mp3s, then maybe, just maybe, they'll want to know our reasoning behind why we like the new album by Modest Mouse more than we like Arcade Fire's new effort. So we're kidding ourselves and we're underestimating you.

Also, in our roles as bloggers, we subject ourselves to more music than we can compute. The incessant list-making therefore is a tool to help our brains remember which of those many records we actually liked and which ones we thought sucked. This helps absolutely no-one, but I guess they make for some kind of entertainment. I know I enjoy making them, as some of you would have guessed. Really though, if I hadn't done lists of my favourite songs and albums of the year in December, would anyone have been disappointed? The answer is that I don't know. I know that it gives me enjoyment and, I guess that, due to the response I got from them, quite a few of you guys enjoyed them too.

It's with this in mind that I present to you a brief rundown of albums I've liked, albums I haven't liked and albums I've listened to once and have no desire to ever hear again from the first three months of the year, with added commentary and, of course, free mp3s. It's more of an overview than a crummy old list though. I'm starting with January because that's as good a place to start as any.

Slow to start as always, January offered very little in the way of jaw-dropping releases. One thing we did get though, were a few high-profile (for the indie world, at least) disappointments. Probably the biggest of these was Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's second album, Some Loud Thunder. Before I begin to pick at its faults, let me make it clear that I don't think it's a bad album, far from it, it just wasn't anywhere near as good as the first. First of all, the opening title track, buried under a morass of fuzz and red-lining harder than Raw Power, seemed a strange move. It alienated people from the word go and also, it just didn't seem right to ugly up such a pretty, sweet melody with all that harshness. The more you listen to 'Some Loud Thunder', the more you 'get' it, but CYHSY really shouldn't have bothered trying to make it so hard for people to like.

The bloody-minded awkwardness didn't stop there either. Two songs that have been doing the rounds for a while in their live sets were conspicuous by their absence. The omission of 'Cigarettes' and 'Me & You Watson' threw the ineffectuality and inassuming nature of songs like 'Arm & Hammer' and 'Five Easy Pieces' into stark relief. Also, if someone can explain the point of the short instrumental interludes here, there's a fiver in it for you.

Like I said though, Some Loud Thunder is far from a huge disaster. 'Satan Said Dance' is a funky, nervy delight that David Byrne would have been proud of, while 'Underwater (You And Me)' is quite possibly the sweetest thing they've recorded in their short career. However, with repeated listens, the problems with Some Loud Thunder become harder to gloss over. I guess that's what the skip button's for, but I'd rather not have to resort to that.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Underwater (You And Me) (mp3)

Damon Albarn's new side-project, The Good, The Bad & The Queen released an album in January to a pretty favourable critical reaction. This surprised me because, personally, it bored me to tears. A dreary, beige dirge-fest which served only to highlight Albarn's ever-growing ego, it was a complete missed opportunity. Fancy having a bassist as lithe and rhythmic as Paul Simonon or a percussion god like Tony Allen at your disposal and not using them! Damon's passionless, droney vocals were pushed to the fore on every track, each of them lyrically concerned with how shit Britain is. Well, Damon, maybe you're right, but would it kill you to find some humour or some light in the drudgery? Go back to making decent pop music with Gorillaz, please.

The Good, The Bad & The Queen - '80s Life (mp3)

The Shins finally got around to releasing a follow-up to the peerless Chutes Too Narrow in January. Entitled Wincing The Night Away, it just wasn't the great pop record that we know they're capable of. They occasionally hit the heights of old on the breezy likes of 'Australia', 'Turn On Me' and the single, 'Phantom Limb', but too often the songs tend to meander aimlessly. Some of the band's effervescent zip was gone and thus, Wincing The Night Away was a bit of a disappointment.

The Shins - Australia (mp3)

January wasn't all doom and gloom though. In fact, in the very first week of the month, we were treated to Candylion, the second solo album by Super Furry Animals frontman, Gruff Rhys. Folk-tinged pop music was the order of the day and this is a man who can knock out a good pop song or two in his sleep. There are still traces of the psychedelia he plies in his day job, but Candylion is an altogether softer beast. Even when the percussion is borderline furious, as in 'Lonesome Words', Rhys' lilting voice and finger-plucked acoustic give the whole album a deliciously floaty air. Also, in the twee-but-not-sickeningly-so title track, the driving, in more than one sense, 'Gyrru, Gyrru, Gyrru' and the groovy sprawl of closing track, 'Skylon!' he produced three songs that were better than anything on the last SFA album. Not just a vanity project then.

Gruff Rhys - The Court Of King Arthur (mp3)

Elsewhere, two of Britain's bright young things threw out thoroughly decent debuts. Whether Klaxons's debut Myths Of The Near Future (full review here) was actually any cop was rendered irrelevant by the relentless hype and backlash that surrounded its release. Therefore, most people who wanted to like it did and those who wanted to see them fall on their arse hated it. Personally, I think its a debut that shows more promise than it actually delivers on, but they're definitely a band moving in the right direction and, despite what the band and the press try to tell us, they're not rave, nu or old.

Klaxons - Two Receivers (mp3)

Wimbledon's own Jamie T offered forth his debut in the month of January too and it was a bullish, confident, slightly messy, often brilliant record. Panic Prevention, once you get past Jamie's marble-mouthed delivery is a largely enjoyable listen and one that marks his card both as a shrewd chronicler of everyday British life in the vein of Mike Skinner before he lost it and a canny writer of hummable, joyous pop tunes. Its release kind of came and went without much fanfare but you'll be doing yourself a disservice if you didn't give it at least a cursory listen.

Jamie T - Brand New Bass Guitar (mp3)



Sunderland's Field Music are one of those bands who you think should be bigger and more respected than they actually are. Tones Of Town is their second album of perfectly realised, immaculately constructed pop songs. Taking the stop-start rhythms of the British post-punkers and melding it to beautiful soft-pop melodies, they make music that hits on both an immediate level and a more cerebral, architectural level. The way that Field Music's songs are fashioned is meticulous, not a sound or a note is out of place, but they're never dry or overly tricksy. Above all else, Tones Of Town is eleven catchy songs, but its the intricacy of the arrangements and the care and attention on display that keeps you coming back for more.

Field Music - Working To Work (mp3)

Tomorrow, it's February's turn to be assessed with a cold, methodical eye. Stay tuned.


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