I haven’t posted on here for a while, partly because I lost the passwords that Del and Rich gave me for the sit and partly because I’ve been steeped in Moby-Dick-related English Literature coursework. Since you ask, I found Moby-Dick, the novel, similar to Moby-Dick, the whale: big and unenjoyable. I never feel I’ve done enough to contribute to my local record shop though, so, now we’re six months in, here’s a short top 5 of what I think are the best records of the year so far. The opinions expressed are my own (an enthusiastic customer) and not of Music’s Not Dead.
#5. The Knife – Shaking The Habitual
In a word? Demanding. Karin and Olof Dreijer have been busy – Olof did an entire degree in gender politics and Karin borrowed his reading list; she also made the soundtrack to a collection of feminist porn films and together they co-wrote an opera about Charles Darwin. I doubt I’m the only one who thinks this backstory sounds like Spinal Tap Goes To Art College, but this level of “taking yourself too seriously” pays off with records like this. While it seems so intimidating, epic, aggressive (and, yes, overblown) on the surface, pushing past the shock value of Shaking The Habitual reveals a strangely human and passionate record. Both the lyrics and artwork are steeped in political agendas, while the music itself varies from thrilling to eerie to pretty and all of the above. The Knife have once again taken electronic music to new territories, in between vicious techno and sparse ambient – it took me several listens to properly dig deep into this thing, but now I can’t seem to turn away from it. Demanding? Sure. Rewarding? Definitely.
#4. Deerhunter – Monomania
Me trying to write about this band is like a devout Muslim trying to write about Mohammed so I’ll try to keep this short. Just as a guideline, since The Knife’s last album, Deerhunter have managed to cram in three LPs and two EPs, alongside five individual solo albums between the two frontmen. Being prolific, however, comes at a price – frontman Bradford Cox started to notice how his bandmates were getting married and were generally doing well for themselves. All he was doing was making music, obsessively and relentlessly, and it’s this mind-set that bleeds through ‘Monomania’. The band’s more ethereal dreampop influences are almost completely binned here in favour of a grimy ramshackle garage rock. From the furious analogue screech of ‘Leather Jacket II’ to the Television-ish almost-pop of ‘Back To The Middle’, ‘Monomania’ is a record proud to wear its influences on its sleeve somewhat, but having said that, it’s a record only Deerhunter could have made.
#3. Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest
Good memories came pre-packaged with Tomorrow’s Harvest. Being the drooling gawkish fans we are, my flatmate and I refused to go near any online streams so we could listen to the vinyl on the best speakers we could find. More often than not, a Boards Of Canada record takes some breaking in – few people seem to take to them on the first play – but even we were surprised at how instantly loveable Tomorrow’s Harvest was and still is. The paranoid beats and eerie synths are all still paranoid and eerie, but this time the outright gorgeous bits are doubly gorgeous. And while it’s the band’s most immediate record yet, it still has the depth of their best work, revealing more and more subtleties on each play, and is as suited to sound-tracking blinding sunshine as it is to Biblical deluges of rain.
#2. Kurt Vile – Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze
Kurt Vile was my least favourite gig of last year. In the packed Kentish Town Forum which I had travelled 2 ½ hours to get to, the band played to the rudest audience I’ve ever seen, talking so loudly I actually had to strain my ears to try and filter it out. After being stuck next to a woman who only ever stopped talking to her boyfriend about her job to shout “Oh I know this oooonnnnneee!!” at the start of every other song, I left. I’m pretty glad I went to that gig though, because in thirty years time, someone will say to me “No way, you saw Kurt Vile in 2012?!” “That’s right,” I would smugly reply, “and you know what, hardly anyone was even listening.” Right now I feel like he’s on track to being one of those American icons alongside Jack White (though sounding nothing like Jack White). The songs on Wakin’ On a Pretty Daze are warm, often thoughtful, often fun, often really bloody long, but consistently great. It sounds ear-friendly and pretty on first play, but cuts deeper with each listen, and whether he’s talking about growing old, giving up smoking, paranoia, or that old chestnut “love”, he does so with an honesty, humility and humour possessed by very few.
#1. The Pictish Trail – Secret Soundz Vol. 2
Gimmickry alone can never make a record good, but it can lure you in long enough to listen properly. I doubt I would have listened to The Pictish Trail if I hadn’t heard of the ridiculous concept of ‘In Rooms’, consisting fifty 30-second songs recorded in 100 days. Even so, when I actually bought it on a whim, I found just how much emotion, silliness and brains a great songwriter like Johnny Lynch can pack into such small packets and I listened to it on shuffle/repeat, over and over in different combinations. The first (also great) album was called ‘Secret Soundz vol.1’, the second was ‘In Rooms’, and finally, five years after the first instalment, ‘Secret Soundz vol.2’ outstrips them all. This record occupies a weird no-man’s-land between the modern Scottish folk of King Creosote and the sparky electro-pop of Hot Chip. Some sounds have gotten noisier, dirtier, but elsewhere it’s more lush and fluid than ever – the songs themselves are often cryptic, but there’s always raw sentiment that shows through. I find something heartbreaking in the way Lynch sings “Good morning, I don’t care” in The Handstand Crowd, just as I find something completely joyous in the way he sings “You’re so completely now” in Long In The Tooth – I still don’t know what either song means. Maybe my opinion will change, but ‘Secret Soundz vol.2’ continues to grow and grow on me and I can honestly say there has been no record released this year that I have enjoyed more than this one.