Monday, January 05, 2009

also rans part one

Like a lot of bloggers, I’ve been beavering away trying to put together my list of the best records of 2008, and now that I’ve done so I’m immediately struck by how safe my choices are, so I thought a post or two might be needed to discuss some of the other brilliant and sometimes unpredictable records I’ve fallen a bit in love with over the last 12 months.

A lot of stuff this year seems to have been heavily influenced by the less fashionable bits of British music in the 1980s - the stuff that until now people have left well alone. Although I don't like many of the influences, it seems to have worked out nicely, whether it's Vampire Weekend channeling Paul Simon, The Wave Pics recalling the minor-chord riffs of early Dire Straits, or the two bands that sprung out of 2007's best band, Field Music.

2008 saw two wonderful albums by both of them. ‘Sea From Shore’ by David Brewis's School of Language added distortion and collage to the perfect prog-pop of his former band, while the self-titled album by his brother'sThe Week That Was took the ultra-melodic instincts of Field Music even further, and channelled almost to saturation point the big drums and gleaming production of mid-80s MOR pop, recalling Peter Gabriel and Genesis along the way. An odd set of influences, but a remarkable couple of albums.

School of Language - Rockist (above)
The Week That Was - Scratch The Surface (below)

A trio of impressive electronic records, meanwhile, seemed to be driven by similar impulses: the Windsurf album, ‘Coastlines’, recalled Tangerine Dream or Steely Dan via a Parisian nightclub, making for a sometimes cheesy and frequently moving concoction of synthesised driving music, which seemed perfect for listening to while pootling around Brighton in the drizzle.

M83’s excellent ‘Saturdays = Youth’ also built on 80s sounds to create a warm, if retro, dance record which bears repeated listens - it's denser and more fashionable, but still an odd record, full of delightful moments.

Oddest of them all was Max Tundra’s near-bewildering ‘Parallax Error Beheads You’, which was a cacophony of intricate synth pop, electronic beeps, double-speed bursts of melody and autotuned vocals that seemed to reference everything from 1970s TV theme tunes, the art-rock of XTC, the heavily ironic Momus, the pure tones of Scritti Politti and the insanity of Squarepusher. Most detectable, once again, was the note-perfect, deeply unfashionable jazz-rock of Steely Dan – but just weird, weird, weird. I hated it on first listen, and am fast falling in love with it.

I fear I’ll never understand it.

Staying with electronic stuff, I didn't listen to a lot - but I loved Claro Intellecto’s chilly Ambient techno, which reminded me of early Autechre, and 2562’s lovely ‘Aerial’ stood out as the only dubstep album (apart from the ‘Soundboy Punishment’ comps) which didn’t disappoint me; much-lauded albums by The Bug and Benga did nothing for me in 2008. A lot more fun was Zomby’s terrific ‘Where Were U in ‘92’ which took the joyful spirit of rave and distilled everything that was good about it. It was not a serious record - and all the more serious for it.

Elsewhere, I was as impressed as ever by the latest genius offering from Roots Manuva, whose albums get better and better, as well as Kail’s brilliant, explicit, hilarious hip hop concept album, ‘True Hollywood Squares’, which is not for the easily offended but is superbly original. Black Spade’s ‘To Serve With Love’ was another good rap record, soulful, intelligent and understated.

Roots Manuva - Again and Again (above)
Black Spade - She's The One (below)

Lastly, a real winner and a late discovery in 2008 was Color Cassette’s short, lovely album of laptop blips, folk and post-Penguin Café mini-orchestration. If you’ve not heard it, it’s a charming, gentle work of art perfect for lulling one into waves of daydreams. I’m dimly aware that the fact that this was closer to a place in my top ten than Portishead’s genuinely thrilling, astounding ‘Third’ is a grave injustice, but the fact is that I listened to it more. Perhaps you should buy both.

OK, that’s part one of the also-rans. The rest to follow shortly, followed by my top ten of the year. Thanks for staying with me this far.

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