Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Top 50 Albums Of 2007: 45-41

45. Bloc Party - A Weekend In The City (Wichita)

I have to say, right off the bat that I agree with pretty much all the criticism levelled at Bloc Party's sophomore effort. It is overwrought, it is over-earnest, it is a little too on-the-nose for its own good, but the reasons that most gave for disliking A Weekend In The City are exactly the same reasons why I think it's one of the best, most fully-formed British albums of the year. After all, 2007 was the year that British indie music dumbed down to an all-time low.

Thank heaven for Bloc Party then with their thoughtful, cerebral take on a mainstream rock record. They didn't quite hit all the targets they aimed for, but the raw emotion of 'Kreuzberg', the barely-controlled rage of 'Hunting For Witches' and the towering, post-rock-y torch song, 'SRXT'. Not forgetting 'The Prayer'; a true modern rock song. I'd rather have a band like Bloc Party overreaching than the settle-for-less, scruff-pop of The Pigeon Detectives or Jack Penate any day of the week and I salute them for their hubris.

Bloc Party - Kreuzberg (mp3)

Bloc Party - Song For Clay (Disappear Here) (mp3)

Bonus: 'Hunting For Witches' live at Glastonbury.

44. The Tough Alliance - A New Chance (Sincerely Yours)

I really can't get a handle on The Tough Alliance at all. Are they taking us all for a ride? I'd argue that they are, but divorce that from the music for a moment and it doesn't matter a jot whether they're really snickering at us or not, as A New Chance is pure pop escapism regardless of what angle you view it from.

Us hacks have no end of fun over-intellectualising pop music and I think that's what The Tough Alliance want us to do. The sugary confections here are quite obviously the work of pop scholars. Take 'Miami' for instance. It's a model of efficient, almost annoyingly catchy pop impermanence that, were it rolled out in Majorca in the summer would be a massive novelty dance tune to rank alongside 'Barbie Girl' or 'Saturday Night'. But there's something blackly ironic at the heart of TTA that just makes this seem that little bit twisted and therefore great. As we all know, at the heart of brilliant pop music there's a streak of perversion and TTA's is a mile wide.

The Tough Alliance - A New Chance (mp3)

The Tough Alliance - Neo-Violence (mp3)

Bonus: Watch the video for 'First Class Riot'.

43. Blockhead - Uncle Tony's Coloring Book (Self-released)

Ahh, instrumental hip-hop. So easy to fuck-up, so hard to get right. Hip-hop without MCs can be ever so boring, can't it? Well, James Anthony Simon aka Blockhead goes down the Avalanches route on this, his third album 'proper' (there've also been a few CDRs along the way), by sampling old radio programmes, lifting out-there sounds from old gramophone records and turning them into something joyful and way too attention-deficient to ever be considered boring.

At points, Blockhead mines a soulful, Shadow-y seam (like Rjd2 before he picked up that fucking guitar) on tracks such as 'The Strain' and 'Do The Tron', but most of the time he's having way too much fun to get all moody on us and the overall effect is of a more song-oriented Kid Koala like on 'Put Down Your Dream Journal And Dance' and 'Get Your Regal On'. Pound-for-pound, beat-for-beat, one of the most FUN records of '07.

Blockhead - Do The Tron (mp3)

Blockhead - Duke Of Hazzard (mp3)

Bonus: There ain't much new 'net-based stuff on Blockhead so here's an old video of his for 'Insomniac Olympics' from his album, Music By Cavelight.

42. Battles - Mirrored (Warp)

At which point a million bloggers cry outrage at its low placing. Look guys, I like it, I really do. It's lucky to be in my top 50 at all, considering how strong this year has been, but let me explain a few things first. Mirrored gets in my list by virtue of it being soup-to-nuts, the most forward-looking album of the year. It's an astonishing debut, which carries some of the most balls-out avant-rock I've heard in yonks. It really is an achievement.

One thing it isn't, however, is warm. Mirrored for all its affectations towards melody, form and drive often feels too mechanical to really be considered great. Battles have taken a massive leap-forward from the cold, calculated - yet frequently brilliant - math-rock of their EPs and created a full-length that's actually closer to math-funk, if anything. It's just that it all feels very studied and overly-constructed. Maybe that's the point and maybe I should have caught their live show at some point this year. Perhaps that would have changed my mind. I have no doubt that Battles will make better, more outlandish, hopefully more welcoming records than this in the future though and those I am very much looking forward to.

Battles - Ddiamondd (mp3)

Battles - Leyendecker (mp3)

Bonus: Some pretty decent footage of Battles playing 'Tonto' live.

41. Girls Aloud - Tangled Up (Universal)

There are many reasons why Girls Aloud are better than Battles, but I won't go into them all now. The main one is that Girls Aloud are just the best manufactured pop group out there right now. Seriously. They make any 'real music' carping seem moot from note one of Tangled Up, as it's clear that Girls Aloud make music that's hell of more real than most bland old indie.

There's spirit, heart, sexiness, soul, joy and pure adrenaline-fuelled thrills in abundance on Tangled Up. It's as though they took their superlative The Sound Of Girls Aloud hits album as the jumping off point to make an album that sounds like it should be a singles collection. Disregarding the obnoxious 'Sexy! No No No...', there's not a wasted moment on this. Honestly! And I'm not just saying that because it's hip to say you like Girls Aloud these days.

Girls Aloud - Close To Love (mp3)

Girls Aloud - Black Jacks (mp3)

Bonus: Gawp at the video for 'Call The Shots'.



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