Fresh-faced indie slackers armed with a derivative sonic template firmly tied to the nineties (Yo La Tengo, Teenage Fanclub, Swervedriver) and a tragically unimaginative band name, Yuck have nevertheless been garnering quite a bit of attention for their eponymous debut – at least until the new Pains of Being Pure At Heart record drops, I suppose. “Georgia” is their effervescent brand of fuzzy guitar-driven pop at its most engaging, flawlessly executed by musicians who clearly relish in the ecstasy of influence. Originality may not be one of their strongest suits, but Yuck’s way with jingle-jangly melodies would have many bands out there green with envy. – Keith.
SINGAPORE: I’m Waking Up To… Elektone – Falling Into You
Memories fade in and out of reality when it comes to Elektone’s dreamy brand of electro-pop. Started by Zulfadly Amin, a graduate of our National Arts Council’s Noise Singapore initiative, he and his merry band capture love and light waves as pangs of desire wash over Singapore’s bullet-speed society. Taking a moment to enjoy Elektone’s music is almost like allowing yourself to fall asleep in a mass rapid transit, dreaming of tomorrow as yesterday happens all around you. – Brian.
One of those albums I missed last year, this debut effort by Walls – a collaboration between Allez Allez DJ Sam Willis and Alessio Natalizia of Banjo or Freakout – meets you on that blurry pathway between dreams and reality. You can’t quite pin down where that point lies (is it even a point?), but you find it constantly worked out between Willis’ electronic synth leanings and Natalizia’s guitars and instrument-like vocals. On “Soft Cover People”, surprises abound just when the latter’s contribution appears to dominate to the point (no, there really isn’t one) of no return. Eventually, things come together rather satisfyingly on this one, so I think I’m finally ready for bed. – Dan.
What made James Blake such an exciting new discovery last year and eagerly anticipated artist this year is the kind of suspense he’s built up through each of his three EPs released in 2010. The cinematic space-age paranoia of The Bells Sketch set the stage perfectly for the deconstructed genre-bending breakthrough of CMYK, both EPs demonstrating Blake’s deft hand at handling complexity and willingness to upset the flow of things.
Seen in that light, ending the year with the more laid-back Klavierwerke might have almost sounded like a step backwards. However, this was arguably the EP that made the most progress in bringing together Blake’s musical distinctives and making them stick. At the same time, as his most organic work thus far, it also lifted the veil slightly in giving us a glimpse of the person behind that shape-shifting sound.
With his finally-released debut album, James Blake pulls a rather shocking move of baring himself totally, even if the cover art remains as that now familiar but still enigmatic self-portrait, albeit in a cooler shade of blue. The songs, by no means simple, actually sound like proper songs, and his voice, once processed and chopped up at will, now lies naked for most part. And the presumed temptation to meet the hype with more tricks seems to have quite an opposite effect, with vast expanses of emptiness timed and situated perfectly.
It’s a gamble that could so easily backfire. And it almost does. Listening to songs like “I Never Learnt to Share”, I discover the secret of how much Blake loves and surely adores Antony Hegarty. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s just too vulnerable, and I feel I now know too much. Yet, I’m forced to overcome my own awkwardness when faced with the immediacy and sheer gorgeousness in the intricate details of tracks like “The Wilhelm Scream”, a stirring personal vignette about falling and turning that subtly lifts you off the ground along with it. – Dan.
What times are we living in? Did you see that coming? What makes the guitars so exuberant? Are the band really from Chicago? If so, why do they sound so Brit, so glam, so Beatlesque all at once? Could you ever imagine C86 sounding hi-fi? Are they really that young? Countless questions abound with Smith Westerns‘ Dye It Blonde, an album that revels gloriously in wake of the best crafted pop music of old. Bursting with imagination, this sophomore effort is unapologetically excessive but never wasteful, making its 35 concise minutes an unquestionably delightful listen, brimming with innocence and fervor. I really couldn’t ask for more. – Dan.
I guess this song is most fondly remembered for its Michel Gondry-directed video, achieving such iconic status in popular culture that even garnered it a Simpsons’ tribute/spoof. Along with his Lego-brick treatment of “Fell in Love with a Girl”, Gondry’s filmic reduction of the band to its bare essentials – in this case, the band’s stunning bombast through simple repetition – is a concise distillation of what Jack and Meg have accomplished with their stark visual aesthetics (primary colors of red, white and black), single-minded musical direction (old school rock and blues) and daring ambition (can two people sound like a seven nation army? hell yeah).
For me, “The Hardest Button to Button” is actually the White Stripes song I’ve heard most in my life. As the chosen tune on my morning alarm, it’s quite literally the song I’ve been waking up to over the past year. On good mornings, it takes only a few plays of Jack White’s ominous single bassline before I hit the snooze; on worse days, my heart starts beating faster only when Meg turns up the beat and Jack transforms the intro into a snarling siren. That’s probably quite a decontextualized way of relating to Jack and Meg, but I guess that’s how they’ve somehow become part of my daily morning routine, and in a small way, part of my life. – Dan.
Ok, this is really the last of our 2010 reviews. Anchoring this column is Keith, who’s listened to more reissues this year than Brian and me combined, putting us to great shame. Enjoy the list, and have an awesome year ahead!
Antena – Camino del Sol (Numero)
I suppose we could possibly populate this list with plenty of the other fascinating releases from the Numero label, and French trio Antena’s 1982 debut album is one of our favorite things. The fleet and exquisite jazz pop of Camino del Sol was well ahead of its time and you can hear their influence particularly on the balearic sounds of bands such as Air France and jj. – Keith.
Black Tambourine – Black Tambourine (Slumberland)
The scruffy indie pop of Black Tambourine still sounds as raucous and refreshing as ever, with popular groups such as The Pains of Being Young At Heart and Dum Dum Girls trying to recapture Pam Berry and her band mates’ dreamy charms. Their music is resurrected once again in a new Slumberland edition that presents the band’s spontaneity and lo-fi brilliance in greater scope, beefed up this time with several previously unreleased tracks. – Keith.
The Cure – Disintegration (Rhino)
Exaggerated nostalgia perhaps, but a whole generation of crepuscular souls hid in their bedrooms and mope along to the sweeping atmospheric pop songs of Disintegration, the 1989 Cure masterpiece birthed during a time of incertitude when Robert Smith was apparently disgruntled with commercial success. Rhino’s lavish three-CD repackaging, which also includes relevant outtakes and live recordings (of each track), is the best way to revisit Disintegration in all its monolithic magnificence – dark places haunted by nocturnal spiders and a bad fog of loneliness. – Keith.
David Bowie – Station to Station (Virgin)
Famously, David Bowie was so fucked up on cocaine that he later could not recall making Station to Station. This visionary 1976 album – Bowie’s best, in my humble opinion – was his full-throttle attempt at turning rock mythology on its head for poetic effect, a work of flash delirium that anticipates the Krautrock-infused sound he would forge in Berlin with Brian Eno on Low (1977). The ambered haze and rippling futuristic soundscapes on Station to Station still sound absolutely phenomenal today, the Thin White Duke’s gloomy grandeur having lost none of its power to astound. – Keith.
Destroyer – Streethawk: A Seduction (Merge)
Speaking of which, there has always been hints of David Bowie’s glam-pop influence on Destroyer records. 2001’s Streethawk: A Seduction remains the pinnacle of Dan Bejar’s tuneful songwriting and wordy idiosyncrasies, and this 2010 Merge reissue nicely whets our appetite for this year’s January release of Kaputt. – Keith.
Galaxie 500 – This Is Our Music/Copenhagen (Domino)
All it took was three albums for the Boston trio to make their indelible mark on music history. This Is Our Music (1991) was to be their last, and in this reissue, finds itself paired with Copenhagen, a recording of their final concert. At the encore, the band perform songs by their evident heroes: the Velvets’ “Here She Comes Now” and Jonathan Richman’s “Don’t Let Our Youth Go To Waste”. The latter, one of the most career-defining of their covers, couldn’t be a more fitting swansong. – Dan.
Jane Birkin/Serge Gainsbourg – Jane Birkin/Serge Gainsbourg (Light in the Attic)
Light in the Attic follows up its 2009 US reissue of Serge Gainsbourg’s seminal 1971 concept album Histoire de Melody Nelson with the release of another his classics in Jane Birkin/Serge Gainsbourg (1969). The paraphernalia of decadence served up in this first whirlwind collaboration between Serge and a then fresh-faced Birkin is potent as ever – not surprising when you consider the shock value of “Je T’Aime… Moi Non Plus”, and the smoldering pop provocation of “69 Année Érotique”. – Keith.
Robert Wyatt – Rock Bottom (Domino)
Domino Records’ extensive reissue of Robert Wyatt’s solo works is a real godsend, allowing us to get reacquainted with his surrealist-influenced pop music full of sonic invention and genuine mystery. The precipitous Rock Bottom, the 1974 album recorded after Wyatt had suffered the accident that left him permanently confined to a wheelchair, is the best place to start, the surreal wonders of this deeply personal six-song cycle freighted with both loss and renewal. – Keith.
The Rolling Stones – Exile on Main St. (Polydor)
This was actually my first time listening to this record, and in spite of what I’ve read before, I just couldn’t imagine the Stones having this much blues and soul in their rock and roll, not to mention gospel or even country. The context of the album’s production, in all its tumultous decadence, is probably helpful but not essential for listening: whether you’ve been following the Stones’ for the past half a century or you’re a new convert like myself, this is an equally rewarding trip in all its swaggering brilliance.– Dan.
Tom Zé – Studies of Tom Zé: Explaining Things So I Can Confuse You (Luaka Bop)
It seems impossible to properly recapitulate Tom Ze’s manic career trajectory, and we won’t attempt to do so here. Instead, we would rejoice in the release of this lovingly compiled 3-LP box set that successfully compresses the many dimensions of a man who has been such a pervasive influence on Brazilian countercultural pop music. – Keith.
sharon van etten:
Lately, I have been obsessed with this band from Montreal called Automelodi. I work at a record label (Ba Da Bing Records) and my boss, Ben, is constantly getting new records in. He knows I have a soft spot for 80s/90s post punk/early electro, vaguely alternative music... and so one day, he put on a Wierd Records compilation. It was a vinyl set of like 4 pieces or something. There were so many good bands on there... however, Automelodi stuck out in my mind as being an authentic, genuine, NON-cheesy version of the 80s I wish I was a part of. The song in particular that gets me going in the morning is called "Schéma Corporel".
mp3: automelodi - schéma corporel
bani haykal from b-quartet:
often enough, it’s the early morning rush which gets me excited about shutting my eyes. and by morning, we’re looking at the 4 a.m. time frame where all you hear is yourself in a foggy blur, thinking if sleep is really all that important because the early few are storming off for work. in all honesty, there is no ipod nor a single earplugging devicetron which i’d attend to. often enough, it’s someone else’s sonic leak i’m getting addressed by. but, i’m listening to Steely Dan’s “Babylon Sisters”. in my head, at least. sanity ‘from the point of no return’, personally. it’s a breath of fresh air. despite its age. everything is beautiful then.
mp3: steely dan - babylon sisters
naomi yang from galaxie 500:
The perfect song to start the day is “A Tonga Da Mironga Do Kabuleté” – the live recording from 1971 by Brazilian artists Vinícius + Bethania + Toquinho. It is like a beautiful sunrise – although I think that the lyrics are actually some sort of political commentary disguised as a Candomble/Afro-Brazilian curse – but whatever! And then you should just leave the CD on, and listen to the rest of the album while you have your coffee. And you will have a great day.
mp3: vinícius + bethania + toquinho – a tonga da mironga do kabuletê (live in buenos aires, 1971)
jamie stewart from xiu xiu:
i have a nico button on my guitar strap and her excess eyeliner has been burning the dirge "janitor of lunacy" into my waking ears as of late, at least 20 times in the last week. until yesterday we have been on tour in scandinavia, russia, poland, austria, germany and czech. these grey locations held hands with her harmonium perfectly.
mp3: nico - janitor of lunacy
justin ringle from horse feathers:
i have been obsessively listening and waking up to this tune by gillian welch called "annabelle". it's a song about a sharecropper in alabama and it is so sad, beautiful and timeless that I can't help but listen more than once in a row. the harmonies in the chorus make my hairs stand up... beautiful song.
mp3: gillian welch - annabelle
tracyanne campbell from camera obscura:
my favourite song at the moment is called 'one in a million' by steve miller. it's really beautiful. his voice is like honey in the sun and it totally melts my heart. the lyrics are quite simple and i guess
corny but it's a great tune and the production is so good it really doesn't matter. i wish i'd written it. in fact i'd love to do a cover version of it. i was recently in stockholm visiting my friend victoria (bergsman) from taken by trees and we were singing it in the flat and talked about recording it. watch this space...
mp3: steve miller band - one in a million
stuart murdoch from belle and sebastian:
every day when i leave the house and walk over the iron bridge and up to the glasshouses, i listen to “what for” by james. i have a habit of dropping back 20 years in my thoughts, and having a parallel soundtrack running in my head so that i may be walking in a street in 2008, but my head is in 1988. i don’t know why that is. this is an up and hopeful song of the period from a band i used to care for deeply.
as we slip into the autumn here, i am prepared to let my new song of obsession become “the game” by echo and the bunnymen.
“everybody’s got their own good reason why their favourite season is their favourite season”.
mp3: james - what for mp3: echo and the bunnymen - the game
alison eales from butcher boy:
I'm waking up to Labi Siffre, and wondering how I managed to stay asleep for so long. His songs are diverse, unpretentious, and performed with tangible joy. I'm literally waking up to him as well - I have 'It Must Be Love' set as my alarm, and it is proving to be a very nutritious musical breakfast.
mp3: labi siffre - it must be love
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