Monday, January 14, 2008

Top 50 Albums Of 2007: 5-1

5. Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? (Polyvinyl)

On the surface, Hissing Fauna... is a, at times screamingly camp, fun electro pop record - a style that of Montreal have been edging towards for a while but which they fully embrace and dry-hump here - but that was just a front for one of the darkest, most emotionally naked albums of the year. It's no less than what should be expected from a record whose opening line is "We just want to emote 'til we're dead", really, but of Montreal's latest practically fizzes along, jerking and shunting from one piece of sunshine pop to another. It's tears of a clown syndrome however, as the lyrics, which paint a kind of bildungsroman of Kevin Barnes' fractious divorce and subsequent breakdown, are frazzled and fevered, running the gamut of emotions from denial to anger to, ultimately, acceptance.

Its structure mirrors Barnes' fragile mental state during the writing. There are no pauses between tracks, but no attempt is made to help the album flow either. The transitions from mood to mood, song to song are often quite jarring; for instance, the sudden lurch from the cool, handclapping punk-funk of 'Gronlandic Edit' into the citrus fizz synths of the joyous, hilarious tale of hanging around Norway with black metal fans, 'A Sentence Of Sorts In Kongsvinger' is startling. If this is all making it sound like a bit of a mess, then I guess it is, but it's a glorious, often harrowing journey that I urge anyone with a working set of ears to take at least once.

of Montreal - Bunny Ain't No Kind Of Rider (mp3)

of Montreal - Suffer For Fashion (mp3)

Bonus: Watch the brilliant video for single, 'Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse'.

4. Studio - Yearbook 1 (Information)

No doubt there'll be some grousing at my inclusion of this in the main albums list as six of its eight tracks turned up on 2006's West Coast in some form or other, but here's the thing; I completely forgot to include that record in last year's list, so consider this some sort of penance. Not that it doesn't deserve its place as, 'proper' album or not, it's one of the finest, most consistently rewarding releases of 2007. Yearbook 1 is the sound of a fine new talent emerging and greeting their public, after a handful of 12"s and 7"s (plus the aforementioned West Coast, which, until its re-release this year, was only available on vinyl). Studio's refined sound falls somewhere between fellow Scandinavians' Lindstrom & Prins Thomas and the krautrock of Ash-Ra Tempel (the cyclical guitar swells of 'No Comply' owes more than a little to the pioneering work of Manuel Gottsching), with a little King Tubby thrown in for good measure.

Studio work within the long-form Balearic disco template, but it's what they do in that framework that makes them so special. Rasmus Hagg and Dan Lissvik can't resist but bring almost every sonic frill and technique that's tickled their fancy over the years to bear, be it the post-orgasmic chill-rock of Screamadelica's lighter moments, Augustus Pablo's melodica driven dub, early-90s Italo-house, Klaus Schulze's synth experimentation or even light-fingered euro-pop. That it never feels forced is a testament to the talent of these stars-in-waiting.

Studio - Indo (Extended Version) (mp3)

Studio - No Comply (mp3)

Bonus: Love Is All - Turn The Radio Off (Remake By Studio) (mp3)

3. King Khan & The Shrines - What Is?! (Hazelwood)

Proof that sometimes all you need to make a great album is a grounding in garage rock'n'soul and red-eyed conviction. King Khan and his Sensational Shrines may not be pushing music forward in any way - they're actually bloody-mindedly backward-looking when all's said and done - but when there's nothing new or original to say or do, then you have to look to the past to get your kicks. Seemingly raised on every Nuggets, Pebbles or Back From The Grave compilation he could get his hands on, plus Atlantic, Motown and Stax' back catalogues, Khan filters them all through his own personality, which is also cobbled together from Otis Redding, Gerry Roslie and Screamin' Jay Hawkins.

So far, so derivative, but who really cares when the songs are this fucking great. The fortifying fuzz blast of opener, '(How Can I Keep You) Outta Harm's Way', the solid soul of 'Welfare Bread', the piano-rockin' 'No Regrets', 'In Your Grave''s supercharged psych-soul, the acid-damaged voodoo blues of 'Cosmic Serenade', all instant classics. KK & The Shrines also hit the odd stunning grace note, like the effortlessly funky 'Le Fils Du Jacques Dutronc' and the hilarious, solemn Dylan-aping closer 'The Ballad Of Lady Godiva', as if to prove that it's not all caveman rock around these parts. What you're left with at the end of What Is?! is the best darn garage rock album since, well, since all those British Invasion parodists got drafted to 'Nam. Fuckin' A!

King Khan & The Shrines - I Wanna Be A Girl (mp3)

King Khan & The Shrines - In Your Grave (mp3)

Bonus: King Khan + Mark Sultan = greatness: The King Khan & BBQ Show - Get Down (mp3)

2. Burial - Untrue (Hyperdub)

After making my list last year at number eleven with his self-titled debut, he just misses out on the top spot this time around with an album which, at the end of the day, is more of the same, only better, richer, more highly textured, more emotionally resonant and just way more addictive. Employing the same (bedroom) studio techniques he did on his debut - skippy, corroded two-step beats, strange percussive tics (a lighter being lit, shell casings hitting concrete etc.), massively compressed, twisted vocals, liberal amounts of vinyl crackle - it also paints a more romantic vision of urban decay than the all-out despair of his first album.

The swoony vocal refrain of 'Archangel' ("Tell me I belong") acts as a hook, allowing the listener to make that journey into the heart of darkness of Burial's music. Burial realises that dubstep is a limiting subgenre and so incorporates elements of r'n'b, UKG, trip-hop, even minimal techno in his stew. This results in a record with complexity, personality and soul to spare and one which should surely grab the shadowy producer this year's Mercury Prize. Then again, it might just be too good for that. File alongside Goldie's Timeless, Massive Attack's Protection and Leftfield's Leftism under Great British Modern Soul Classics.

Burial - Etched Headplate (mp3)

Burial - Raver (mp3)

Bonus: Bloc Party - Where Is Home? (Burial Remix) (mp3)

1. LCD Soundsystem - Sound Of Silver (DFA/EMI)

No prizes for seeing this one coming. Ever since that early leak at the arse-end of 2006, I've sung Sound Of Silver's praises loudly and as often as possible on this 'ere blog, but is it really all that? Or do I just have a fanboy crush on James Murphy. Well, to the untrained ear, Sound Of Silver may well come across as A.N. Other dance/rock crossover attempt, but with a bit of knowledge of DFA Records and LCD Soundsystem in particular, the massive leap forward that Sound Of Silver represents becomes clear. James Murphy has always been a canny producer, crafting effortlessly pleasing music out of his many, many influences, but this, LCD Soundsystem's sophomore release, sees the studio whizz also take on the mantle of superb songwriter too.

Whereas the last album lacked a little in the way of heart, this one makes up for it in spades. If you're not immediately moved by 'Someone Great' on first listen, if 'All My Friends' doesn't make you want to punch the air in adulation and hug the nearest acquaintance, if 'New York, I Love You' doesn't make you want to keep hold of that pal and sway and croon along, then you might as well be dead. What's most impressive about Sound Of Silver however, is that it's the gift that keeps giving. The songs that most thought at first to be makeweights, like the disco-tech of the title track or the punk-funk (with the emphasis on the funk) of 'Time To Get Away', or the rocket-powered new wave of 'Watch The Tapes' reveal themselves to be more than capable of standing up to the rest of the album on repeat run-throughs. Whatever. I could go on for days, but I won't. Ladies and gentlemen, please be upstanding for the album of 2007 and one of the best of the decade thus far. Kids! Never! Lie!

LCD Soundsystem - Sound Of Silver (mp3)

LCD Soundsystem - Time To Get Away (mp3)

Bonus: "And I was there!" Check out videos from LCD's gig at Manchester Academy from March 2007.

Phew! Not quite done with 2007 just yet, there's still a few little miscellaneous lists to come over the next couple of days and then we're going to be looking forward to what's to come in 2008. Should be fun.



Blogger jmatt said...

lot of thanks for doing this man. very much appreciated a great journey through a good year in music.

11:07 am  
Blogger Hank said...

your taste is delicate and fine.
this blogĀ“s so great!

8:57 pm  

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