7. THIS IS MY TRUTH 2005 - 2009
When we waved goodbye to the smackheads, the beer bellies, the scum and the grime of the town I’d lived in for almost my entire adult life, I did have a tinge of regret, uncertain of a future in a village where there were just two Sunday buses and the local teenagers idea of fun was pulling skateboard moves in the park rather than breaking and entering. I guess what we were really trying to do was rebuild our castle somewhere less unruly, pull up the drawbridge and try and forget about the youthful junkies and middle aged drunks of this world.
A downer amongst these shifting sands was the return of my melancholic depression when I had nothing of much consequence to be depressed about. I tended to agree with whoever said: ‘Human beings are simply not equipped to deal with the crushing demands of 21st century living and its deluded ’I’m busy therefore I am’ update of 17th century philosopher René Descartes. In the new millennium there were so many illusions underpinning our lives; of being busy, of security, of control, of happiness, yet each day raced by faster than the last, the pace of life accelerating down the metaphorical cul-de-sac towards the inevitable brick wall.
Once considered the lazy man of Europe, traditionally Britain had always lagged behind in the work ethic stakes. I did my best to uphold that honourable reputation, but at times it felt like I was the only person who was as we turned into a nation of hopeless workaholics. In real terms that meant less job security, less time off and fewer rights which somewhat ironically left us with more aspirations than ever before and an uncontrollable lust for more, more, more, although that in itself made us feel increasingly like there was something missing. Even with my laid back, feet-on-the-desk attitude, I had a strong desire to be lifted out of a life that had got immeasurably hectic. All too often l would find myself drowning in a sea of irrelevant crap with no idea of how I’d got there.
It wasn’t the classic midlife crisis my friends insisted it was, that popular, almost jocular condition suffered by middle-aged blokes confronting their mortality by retreating into a fantasy world of young hotties with Daddy issues or dressing head to toe in leather to ride the powerful motorcycle they’d been denied in their youth. That didn’t have anything to do with it. I merely contemplated the tedious politics of my job, the constant chipping away at my pay in the name of budget cuts and my near pathological hatred of authority figures and crashed, bottoming out not by drinking too much or by taking Class A drugs as I was sorely tempted to do, but by taking the softer option of becoming addicted to over the counter pain killers and gibbering like an idiot to my friendly, village doctor, who without even looking up offered me the option of happy pills or therapy.
For the first year I opted for something dreamy in white which immediately turned me into a soporific, grinning blimp, gliding through the world with every bump and dip chemically removed. Therapy was something I refused to consider. In 1997 I’d been pushed into attending a number of sessions with a variety of batty old hippies to ease my employer’s concerns about my fragile mental state but found that my teenage experience of psychiatry had made me suspicious of the benefits. But once I understood that the little white pill I was taking had a dark side by suppressing good feelings as well as the bad, I decided to put my misgivings to one side and give therapy a go. And so began my climb back to the point where I could function effectively without clinging on to the small cardboard security blanket with Citalopram written on it.
In the spirit of finally sorting myself out, as my slump hardened I took the therapy seriously and realised that the black hole sucking me in was made of the same kind of childhood issues everyone has. My problem was that I’d repressed them for so long they’d developed into shadowy demons with voices loud enough to drown out the real voices, like my beautiful Claire when she told me how much she loved me. She’s lying the demons would roar and I’d believe them, my self-loathing and anguish going from there.
The sessions I attended religiously every Thursday didn’t exactly cure me, but they did introduce my self-image to my real self, made them some tea and cake and encouraged them to get along. And three years later they found that they got along pretty well, and I began to realise that actually I quite liked the real Chris with his lack of self-esteem and always feeling like a fraud, his over thinking and mean spirited snobbishness and his habit of turning into the incredible hulk every once in a while, but also his intelligence and talent, his loyalty to his loved ones and his ability to open up, be open and tell it like it is. I finally recognised that actually I was alright, and once I had got past medication and therapy and managed it without abandoning my loving, caring partner or my family, I was a little bit more alright. Of course, with such an intense deconstruction of my own mindset I was always going to crawl up my own arse occasionally, but thankfully I’d been taught where to find the exit so when I did venture up that dark passage, I was able to find my way out and not become trapped in my customary cycle of despair.
As ever music was around to help pull me through, my son’s infectious enthusiasm there to invigorate me whenever I wavered. For the first time in a decade I started going to shows again, and I mean proper shows with contemporary artists, not The Stones on one of their ‘Fleecing The Punters’ tours or any other bunch of greedy old bastards jacking up their millionaires pensions off the backs of sad, forty something, nostalgia freaks eager to rekindle the good old days. With so much else to listen to I could never get my head around that sort of retromania and I still can’t. It was crap, pure showbiz, but an early signifier of what was to come.
Following the initial surge, by the mid-noughties the internet’s ability to connect new artists with their audience had started to mature. The matrix of connections built through social networking reached critical mass and the flier pasted to a phone box became the blog read by thousands. With eager young fans keeping up with more music than ever before, tastes broadened and specialisation followed meaning artists could get as weird and as out there as they liked with no fear of rejection. Every possible avenue was explored, even once forbidden zones like the stirring, passionate, arena ready anthems of Arcade Fire, the new, weird Americana of Beirut or the unearthly, progressive rock of Sigur Ros. None of these artists were stars in the traditional sense, but they were still able to find a global fan base and make a significant impact and decent living, often off the back of one great album. Sure there were too many beards about for my liking and the smell of hippy would rise up again and again to pollute our nostrils, but hey, that was just my old punk prejudices coming out to play.
As pop culture became more and more fragmented and transient, the meaning behind music and the reasons for making it changed. In the face of an ever expanding abundance of leisure options (examine that phrase and savour the taste of death in the words) music lost its cultural power, so much so that it became impossible to create a big movement in the way that had been possible even in the nineties. Suddenly everything had become so post-modern and broken down that in the west at least no-one thought about revolution anymore. In the cracks between the generations, hidden deep within the class system, the racism, the haves and the have not’s there was still the occasional voice of dissent, but they were being overwhelmed by the tidal wave of greed, intolerance and fraud. And I have to admit that often even the tiny amount of politically engaged, meaningful art I did manage to find sounded horribly irrelevant and indulgent, lost and lonely in the vast retail parks of consumerism. I still found it essential for my own personal hope and sanity, but I couldn’t help wondering if I was just deluding myself, particularly as no matter where I believed I stood on the weighty cultural and political issues of the time, the fact was that I appreciated the value of a killer tune more than ever.
While I eagerly embraced MP3 culture, illegal downloading and all that, I was more than happy to leave gaming and the virtual world of social media alone; virtual friends, virtual sex, virtual war. In the noughties nothing was quite what it seemed. The moment technology reconfigured the cultural landscape, surface and appearance had the edge over substance, the rise of the internet and social networking instilling an unnatural fear of losing reputations. It was all very restrictive, very pacifying and very safe with no-one prepared to rattle the cage for fear of becoming an outcast. And yet while the west slumbered in a digitally induced heaven, there were more bad things happening in the world than at any other point in history, and my son was slap bang in the middle of the very worst of them.
Afghanistan may not have been the greatest place to be but for an infantry soldier it was the only place and Richard had no qualms about being there. Having joined up determined to live a life outside the norm, and with the noble intention of at least trying to make a difference, by the age of 23 not only had he literally seen the world, he had also completed two combat tours of Afghanistan. The first came in September 2005 when he had just turned nine- teen. A part of the British rapid reaction force, he had spent six months based in the northern city of Mazâr-i-Sharîf, a tour that included the death of only the second British soldier to be killed by hostile action in Afghanistan and the relief of a company of Norwegian troops in Maymana near the border with Turkmenistan when their base was attacked by Afghans protesting against a series of anti-Islamic cartoons printed in a Danish newspaper. Eight months later his second tour was even more deadly. Living off ration packs and sleeping amongst the insects and the rodents, his company were active participants in the infamous Siege of Sangin where they were surrounded by Taliban fighters and besieged up to six times a day over an increasingly desperate four month period during which their command centre was almost overrun on a number of occasions.
Disregarding the very real dangers, Rich told me that it was in the midst of combat when he felt the most alive, indeed the most everything. As a parent getting through those long months was purgatory, the permanent dread of a knock on the door in the middle of the night impossible to convey, but it never crossed my mind to cloud his feelings with my own fears. I learnt to live with it as we all did simply because we had to. Not that it made it any easier when I waved him off in September 2009 for the third time on a tour predicted to be the most dangerous and deadly of the lot. But in a baffling, incomprehensible way, I was still kind of envious.
Following three years of hard work I had emerged relatively unscathed from therapy with a clearer understanding of how my head worked. It had taken me almost fifty years to realise who I was yet as comfortable as things were, my life had slowed to a crawl. Like most of us I knew damn well what I didn’t want but no idea what I did. Maybe that’s why I began to question my long standing commitment to the power of music. As James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem so eloquently put it, I was ‘losing my edge’ and beginning to wonder whether the lifetime of mental and emotional energy I’d invested had been such a wise move after all, and whether seeking utopia through songs and albums had been a horrendous, inconsequential even witless mistake of epic proportions.
What I needed was some kind of meaningful gesture to regain my perspective, so I hatched a bold, Bill Drummond type experiment to listen to just one new album a month to the exclusion of everything else for a whole year. I knew that ‘tuning out’ and taking myself out of the loop of new releases and damping down my desire to hear something from the past would require plenty of self-discipline, but I was positive the end result would be worth the sacrifice. In the second week of September 2009 I picked out The XX’s debut to kick off with, a decision based on nothing in particular. However, even though I loved the albums unique, multi textured sprawl and played it morning, noon and night, predictably my experiment began to fall apart almost immediately.
Within a week I found myself chomping at the bit to hear Dizzee Rascal's Tongue n' Cheek and Big Pink's A Brief History Of Love but maintained my resolve until Dan thrust a CD-R of The Arctic Monkeys new album into my hand and I could resist no longer! As luck would have it Humbug turned out to be a load of rubbish, failing miserably to last the distance and make it into the soundtrack to my or anybone else’s life. But it did serve one purpose by proving beyond doubt that even with my near forty years of listening, the anticipation and thrill of hearing new, potentially life changing songs remained irresistible. Just three weeks in, I resigned myself to the fact that my grand experiment had failed and pulled the plug.
Perhaps if I’d holed up in a remote cottage in the highlands of Scotland and attempted the same task in total isolation it might have yielded a different result, but in real terms it had already served its purpose by confirming what I already knew; that music and the songs I invested in possessed the necessary magic to conjure up tantalizing visions of a better existence, a place to hide from the harshness of the world during troubled times, and create a route map into happy middle age and beyond. In the ongoing, unpredictable chaos of my life, they continued to be my tablets of stone, my truth!
LCD SOUNDSYSTEM ‘Losing My Edge’ (LCD Soundsystem LP January 2005)
James Murphy may have been losing his edge, but by the time I got to the second half of the noughties I’d already lost mine. Otherwise, how do I explain being completely unaware of the songs existence even though it had been around as a single for two and a half years? In hindsight I guess that was an appropriate failure on my part especially as the subject matter featured an ageing hipster who suddenly finds himself irrelevant when a new generation of kids enters the fray. As someone who had always balanced his own cool taste with the anxiety of growing older, it was a salutary lesson in just how much I’d lost touch.
Over an old post punk beat, Murphy threw insults at the kids ‘coming up from behind’ while trying to retain a few crumbs of credibility with some ridiculously tall tales of his early encounters with Can, Suicide, the Jamaican Sound Clashes, Ibiza and other sacred moments, eventually signing off with the list to end all lists of influential musical obscurities and icons impossible to top. A hilariously funny yet poignant history of hipsterdom, ‘Losing My Edge’ remains my most played song of the decade.
ANTONY & THE JOHNSONS ‘Hope There’s Someone’ (I Am A Bird Now LP March 2005)
Sometimes a song has the power to literally take your breath away. Whatever you're doing it forces you to stop and just stare at the speakers, dazed by the sonic beauty emanating forth. As pretentious as that may sound, ‘Hope There's Someone’ really was that extraordinary, Antony Hegarty’s remarkable voice imbuing the heart wrenching lyric and its plea for companionship with such devastating emotion it became a thing of pure, unadulterated wonder.
BECK ‘Scarecrow’ (Guero LP March 2005)
Poor Beck has never been much loved, habitually dismissed as a record shop junkie sheltering behind tunes cynically designed to garner praise from a public who just don’t give a fuck. Me, I think he’s great, each album carrying a welcome familiarity in its dusty, new from old beats, and of course Beck being the urban craftsman that he is, deliciously groovy.
GORILLAZ ‘Feel Good Inc.’ (Demon Days LP May 2005)
Damon Albarn has always been a clever bastard so I can only imagine the gnashing of teeth when Noel Gallagher heard Gorillaz for the first time. Then again, soft, middle class, southerner Damon has always had more talent in the daily evacuation of his bowels than hard nut, working class, northerner Noely has in his entire body. No matter what the mono browed one thought, when Gorillaz debut first appeared it completely redefined the meaning of the term musical side project. And the second instalment Demon Days was no less revolutionary, but it did mark a shift into darker realms. I liked it a lot more, touched as it was by a palpable, all too human sadness offering far more soul than Jamie Hewlett’s cartoon concept originally suggested.
SUFJAN STEVENS ‘Chicago’ (Illinois LP July 2005)
Given my dislike of America the nation (not Americans per se), when a literary folk poet of my acquaintance threatened to record individual albums dedicated to the states of the union I wasn’t exactly jumping for joy. It’s a good job then that Sufjan Stevens only managed to complete a couple of them, the first about Michigan, the second the cleverly subtitled Come On Feel The Illinoise. There was no need to do anymore because his staggeringly ambitious, lushly orchestrated songs about God, mortality and love could just as easily be applied to any of the remaining forty eight states.
GOLDFRAPP ‘Ooh La La’ (Supernature LP August 2005)
Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory spent the noughties flip flopping between icy glam and electronic balladry. I preferred the former, ‘Ooh La La’ being their most successful example. It also happened to be their best; supercharged, futuristic and proof that the addictive stomp of seventies glam will never die.
SIGUR RÓS ‘Hoppipolla (Takk LP September 2005)
‘Hoppipolla’ was the first song my daughter Charlotte told me she liked. A great example of the way music was being utilised in the new century, its use in the trailer for the Planet Earth series and the soundtrack to the film Penelope meant there was no avoiding it. For some reason Sigur Rós’s first three albums had passed me by, but when I began to dig a little deeper there was no denying their magic, Jónsi Birgisson’s attempt to mythologize their other worldliness succeeding in shattering the language barrier and tapping into our universal past. No wonder they enchanted my six year old girl!
THE JUAN MACLEAN ‘Give Me Every Little Thing’ [Cajmere Mix] (Give Me Every Little Thing EP October 2005)
At some point in the early noughties a disco revival began to gather momentum amongst those seeking a solution to the conflicting sensibilities of rock and dance music. Suddenly the likes of Daft Punk and groups like The Rapture, LCD Soundsystem and even Franz Ferdinand were getting the rock kids down on the floor to shake their booty. A lot of it was unoriginal, derivative, shamelessly trendy and a bit shit, but some of it, like Green Velvet’s squelchy and spare remix of ‘Give Me Every Little Thing’, was fantastically good.
ARCTIC MONKEYS ‘Mardy Bum’ (Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not LP January 2006)
When The Libertines imploded The Arctic Monkeys must have surprised even themselves with the speed they filled the gaping hole. Almost immediately they were declared ‘Their generations most important band’, maybe because in essence they made stripped down punk records with every touchstone of British music covered; the Englishness of The Kinks, the melodic nous of The Beatles, the sneer of the Sex Pistols, the wit of The Smiths, the groove of the Stone Roses and the clatter of The Libertines. Not bad for a bunch of lads from Sheffield who spent their teens listening to hip hop. Where that influence really showed was in Alex Turners lyrics and frenetic delivery. Forgetting the flowery fancies conjured up by the Dickensian Doherty, his tales were of the scum-ridden streets of the 21st Century as opposed to the 19th.
LIARS ‘The Other Side Of Mt. Heart Attack’ (Single A Side February 2006)
In the second half of the noughties I’d more or less given up on buying and listening to albums, certainly in the huge numbers I once had. Downloading meant why bother when I could cherry pick the best songs. Besides, who had seventy minutes to wade through a load of crap filler on the off chance of discovering yet another nugget of gold? The downside was that whereas once I’d completely invested in an artist’s records, art and theories on life, suddenly those things didn’t seem to matter anymore. Inevitably that meant I would regularly find myself listening to something and have no idea who or why it was, which is exactly what happened with ‘The Other Side Of Mt. Heart Attack’. I knew nothing about Liars but that didn’t matter. I loved their song and that’s all that did.
THE KNIFE ‘We Share Our Mothers Health’ (Silent Shout LP March 2006)
In the mid noughties Silent Shout was exactly the type of album helping to keep electronic music alive. Carrying an uneasy ghost in the machine feel, it cultivated a mood of encroaching dread through a ceaseless inventiveness that pulled together every peculiar gift the Swedish brother and sister duo had been blessed with. And within all that there was some serious lyrical weirdness going on; waltzes for the dead, childlike wailing, fairytale creepiness, terrified housewives, rage, forests, politics and singing into a ceiling fan from a hospital bed!
HOT CHIP ‘Over And Over’ (The Warning LP May 2006)
The Warning sounded like a wonky version of smart electronic pop, but what really surprised me was that within its propulsive, danceable rhythms it was possible to detect a distinctive seventies and eighties funk’n’soul influence touching on everything from Donna Summer to Jam & Lewis. What I didn’t know was that despite being a bunch of self-confessed, solidly middle class geeks from Putney, Hot Chip’s relationship with black music had been an intense and complex one, so they used those influences to rework their electronica into a new, refreshingly original form. In 2006 The Warning was the latest in a long line of albums predicting our pop future!
CAMERA OBSCURA ‘Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken’ (Single A Side May 2006)
An achingly poised update of Lloyd Cole's 1984 classic ‘Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?’ and a throwback to the glory days of Glaswegian indie pop, where girls swooned and boys worried.
LOVE IS ALL ‘Busy Doing Nothing’ (Busy Doing Nothing EP June 2006)
As technology helped odd little groups and artists become modestly successful, it also made room for a lot more cultural variety. In this new environment every musical and physical border and barrier was removed until it became perfectly feasible for previously unfashionable countries like France to become the new centre for grinding dance music and Sweden to become a new home for clattering, neo, post punk pop like Love Is All.
JARVIS COCKER ‘Running The World’ (Single A Side July 2006)
Over a portentous, electronic orchestra, one of our greatest living Englishmen solemnly muttered ‘cunts are still running the world’. As I contemplated the selection of grey faced, grey suited, grey minded bureaucrat’s I’d worked with over the years, all I could do was nod sagely in agreement. And yet deep within its cold, black heart, ‘Running The World’ was really a classic tale of despair and disgust, Jarvis knowing only too well that the closest the plebeian masses would get to a social revolution was a ruck at the January sales.
JAMIE T ‘Shelia’ (Single A Side July 2006)
What could possibly have attracted me, a nice, lower, middle-class, forty something to this twenty year old South London brat’s squalid three act play packed with a sad cast of boisterous alcoholics, jilted drug dealers, abused daughters and ne’er do wells? The devil as they say was in the detail, like the plummy John Betjeman quote from ‘The Cockney Amorist’ and the bellow of ‘London!’ interrupting the chorus. Raised up on a rattling hip hop backbeat and Jamie T’s croaky, Joe Strummer like patois, ‘Shelia’ became curiously uplifting.
MR THING & YUNGUN ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’ (Grown Man Business LP September 2006)
Whenever I hear ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’ I’m reminded of how Thingy’s plundered, Stylistics era beats had never been used before, and how Yungun was one of the few British MC’s, to have the fire and skill to negotiate such a tricky transition between straight reminiscence and profound melancholy without falling into schmaltzy sentimentality.
PETER, BJORN AND JOHN ‘Young Folks’ (Single A Side August 2006)
Featured on numerous TV and film soundtracks, in particular Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, my daughter’s favourite homage to the travails of being a teenage girl, beyond its smart construction the ‘Young Folks’ struck a chord because its prim and proper aesthetic presaged the cultural currents of the late noughties. Of course the major downside to being a major influence on Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers and all those other toothless trend humpers marketed as the cutting edge to folk who knew no better was that it tainted the songs legacy. But it wasn’t Peter, Bjorn and John’s fault that their happy go lucky tune became an avatar for what was left of indie’s move toward the craven, the artificial and the perilously lame. They were just trying to make a brilliant pop record.
BEIRUT ‘Postcards From Italy’ (The Gulag Orkestar LP December 2006)
The internet opened up the blogosphere to every kind of musician and non-musician looking for their own post box to the world. When Zach Condon recorded Gulag Orkestar, his compelling vocal presence, Balkan brass, charismatic melodies and love for old world Europe made him sound like an ancient crooner. And yet he was just a nineteen year old kid recording in his Albuquerque bedroom. Without the new digital world he’d surely still be there and we’d be none the wiser.
NAS ‘Hip Hop Is Dead’ (Hip Hop Is Dead LP December 2006)
While I’m sure Nas’s tongue was firmly in his cheek when he solemnly announced ‘Hip Hop Is Dead’, having been a commercial proposition for over 25 years (a long time for any genre to stay relevant) 2006 did seem as good a place as any to pronounce the death sentence. During that period, what hip hop taught me like no other music before or since was that while it could be the most thrilling noise ever, and in the golden age of the late eighties/early nineties often was, it had become a desperately unmemorable procession of production line robots with lyrics trudging the hedonistic treadmill of bling and booty.
Even the sound of hip hop, its one saving grace in the absence of political engagement or MC as poet, had deteriorated. The odd angles and eerie spaces had been flattened out only to be replaced by portentous Digi-synth fanfares, plastic Autotune and lumbering, vintage beats deliberately degraded to sound good on YouTube and mobile phones. Ironically Nas’s declaration did force me to reflect on this lack of vigour and invention, so much so that I decided that as far as I was concerned hip hop really was dead and Nas’s brilliant construction based on Iron Butterfly’s epic ‘In A Gadda Da Vida’ could be its tombstone.
PANDA BEAR ‘Comfy In Nautica’ (Person Pitch LP March 2007)
Most of Person Pitch consisted of intricately constructed, heavily layered and repetitive samples of old songs and instruments with Noah Lennox, otherwise known as Animal Collective’s Panda Bear, singing strangely familiar and touching melodies over the top. At once reminiscent of a fictional, perfect version of the sixties, the albums inbuilt spirit of wonder was encapsulated by opener ‘Comfy In Nautica’.
ARCADE FIRE ‘Intervention’ (Neon Bible LP March 2007)
When my youngest son marched off to war, Neon Bible was the kind of album he had playing in his headphones. Even with Arcade Fire’s epic, coming Armageddon, doom and gloom, he was able to find the hope and courage he needed within the earnest grandeur and majesty of their music, ‘Intervention’ alone boasting soaring strings and a great welling chorus building to a glorious climax. An absolute masterstroke, it was a song that lyrically was so mired in unfathomable darkness there’s no way it should have sounded so dazzling. But it did, a thrilling enigma providing comfort in some seriously dangerous times.
BATTLES ‘Atlas’ (Single A Side April 2007)
Living in a small terraced house in Swindon old town, the painting of his beloved model soldiers only interrupted by an occasional trip to the shed to bash down the music still bubbling up in his head, Andy Partridge remains the perfect anti pop star. Strange then that despite never being mentioned in the same sentence, the songs this bloke from Wiltshire wrote for his pop combo XTC should still be informing a top rated indie group from New York.
M.I.A. ‘Paper Planes’ (Kala LP August 2007)
M.I.A. was never trendy in my small coterie of friends, the use of The Clash’s ‘Straight To Hell’ considered sacrilege by those old enough to remember. And yet ‘Paper Planes’ was a lot more than just a nifty steal. I liked to think of it as a modern day torch song for the worlds disaffected, M.I.A.’s genius lying in her ability to make the fairly meaningless lyrics about US immigration sound like a grand proclamation. And with its chorus of gunshots, the ‘kerching’ of a cash register and a kid’s choir singing ‘All I wanna do is take your money’, how did anyone resist?
THE OSCILLATION ‘Liquid Memoryman’ (Out Of Phase LP October 2007)
One of the reasons for the decline in dance music’s ability to shock and amaze was the arrival of the superclub and loathsome, dollar eyed, superstar DJ’s, a set of unfortunate, profit led circumstances which didn’t exactly make for cutting edge mavericks pushing things forward. Thinking back to the more pioneering days of rave I came across The Oscillation who evoked the same spirit, albeit with real drums, a hint of the Floyd and not being strictly danceable.
BURIAL ‘Archangel’ (Untrue LP November 2007)
For those of us who knew little about the every twist and turn of EDM micro genres, the rise of Burial to Godlike status came out of nowhere. Given its uncoordinated, often sparse rhythms, I couldn’t imagine anyone seriously into EDM finding too much to get excited about on Untrue, but to me it was truly addictive, groundbreaking and modern, the digitally manipulated, repeated voices creating a beautiful sense of sadness that matched my own desperate, introspective state perfectly.
MGMT ‘Time To Pretend’ (Oracular Spectacular LP December 2007)
Occasionally a song comes along that is so fantastic it blows all the bullshit away. With such an incredible tune and searing, electronic melody, ‘Time To Pretend’ did just that, lines like ‘I'll move to Paris, shoot some heroin and fuck with the stars / You man the island and the cocaine and the elegant cars’ detailing the kind of shallow, rock’n’roll lifestyle I used to fantasise about as a teenager.
HERCULES & LOVE AFFAIR ‘Blind’ (Single A Side March 2008)
Propelled forward by a classic disco groove topped with some urgent brass and weeping strings, ‘Blind’ related Antony Hegarty’s tale of transition from innocent certainty to disillusioned isolation. It could have been about love, sex, sexuality, society, drugs or an amazing night out and the emptiness of the following morning. Alternatively, it could have been about a community that spent so long on the dancefloor waiting for a moment of shared epiphany that it drifted off into the margins only to be snared by bad sex and harder drugs. 'Blind' was probably about all of those things and more which is why it still stands as the greatest dance anthem of its time.
BON IVER ‘Flume’ (For Emma, Forever Ago LP April 2008)
For Emma, Forever Ago emerged from Justin Vernon’s three month hibernation in the woods of Wisconsin. While any fool can write and sing about loneliness, he sounded so truly alone I wondered how he made it through. I’d often dreamed about such isolation, to escape the world for a while, but after listening to For Emma, Forever Ago I wasn’t quite so sure.
PORTISHEAD ‘Threads’ (Third LP April 2008)
The first time I heard Third I had it marked as an album of unrelenting misery by a once glorious group who had regressed to sound like the runners up in one of those awful local band contests from the early eighties, although the feeling that I’d missed something kept gnawing away at me. After a couple of days that feeling had become so persistent that I relented and played it again, and continued to do so until the albums full majesty revealed itself.
With Beth Gibbon’s sounding like she was singing the last startling broadcast from a post apocalypse fallout shelter, the eleven songs didn’t so much make me pay attention as stare out of the window, a creeping panic causing my mind to flutter in a million dark directions at once until the doomy drum rolls and bleeding edges of ‘Threads’ called time in a clamour of nuclear alarms. Music without a time, place or context, it wasn’t what you would call a joyous experience, but then where is it written that brilliant albums have to be cheerful. And Third really is brilliant!
FLEET FOXES ‘White Winter Hymnal’ (Single A Side July 2008)
Pops greatest myths are always played out in the summer, what with all those terminal images of scantily clad girls, sand, sea and the fucking Beach Boys. And so Fleet Foxes simple paean to the beauty of winter came as a welcome distraction, a wondrous moment of icy cool hidden within our irregular sunshine and more regular showers.
MOON WIRING CLUB ‘Ten Years Or Twenty’ (Shoes Off And Chairs Away LP September 2008)
Recreating a musical English past has always been fraught with danger so hauntology, one of the more intriguing micro genres to emerge from a noticeably genre free decade, was up against it from the start. England and the English landscape lay at the heart of this new obsession with artists attempting to reconnect with the intangible musical feelings and experiences that influenced their formative years.
Moon Wiring Club and their strange transmissions were perhaps its most dedicated exponent, Shoes Off And Chairs Away the best of its kind if only for ‘Ten Years Or Twenty’, a quite staggering, spooky trip through deepest, darkest, pastoral Britain. Utterly captivating and so completely English, it was a wave of eerie sound that instantly transported me back to a time when nothing was quite as it seemed. Never before had this green and unpleasant land sounded quite so unsettling.
EMPIRE OF THE SUN ‘We Are The People’ (Single A Side September 2008)
With their exotic headgear and videos, Empire Of The Sun wanted us to believe they were sound tracking some Steven Spielberg mega buster from the eighties so thank goodness they were nothing like it. Interesting without being cool, strange without being weird, their pop came in many colours and was all the better for it.
GLASVEGAS ‘Lonesome Swan’ (Glasvegas LP December 2008)
At its best rock’n’roll should be able to lift you from your daily tedium. In a disappointing decade drowning in cynicism that sounded like an outdated concept, but when I heard ‘Lonesome Swan’ the hairs on the back of my neck stood up and I was a believer once more. Singing real songs about real people in a real accent, with their all for one, one for all gang mentality, for two minutes 43 seconds Glasvegas were a revelation.
ANIMAL COLLECTIVE ‘My Girls’ (Merriweather Post Pavilion LP January 2009)
‘There isn't much that I feel I'd need / A solid soul and the blood I bleed / With a little girl and by my spouse / I only want a proper house’. Allied to an insanely catchy and danceable tune, Animal Collectives ode to the bonds of family sounded like it was written especially for me.
LILY ALLEN ‘The Fear’ (It’s Not Me Its You LP February 2009)
For the first time since the early eighties pop began to move away from guilty pleasure territory, aged scribes and intellectuals trampling over each other to expound its considerable virtues. Suddenly pop became interesting and cool proving, as if any proof were needed, that the pop song is still one of the greatest inventions there is. ‘The Fear’ was a classic case in point. A withering comment on a world that is all surface, no feeling, it may have been just a pop song, but then bullets are only metal, money only paper and religion just old stories!
PETER DOHERTY ‘Last Of The English Roses’ (Single A Side March 2009)
Pete Doherty was regularly portrayed as the classic, misunderstood, romantic fop clinging helplessly to a bottle, a syringe or a guitar as the crowd egged him on to self-destruction. And yet in a peculiar way he came to symbolise the helpless frustrations of an alienated British youth finding life in the 51st state of America a sad farce. After the near hits and misses of Babyshambles, our Pete finally managed to grab his reputation back on ‘Last Of The English Roses’, a rousing sing song to be hollered in the pubs of old Arcady.
THE MUMMERS ‘March Of The Dawn’ (Tales To Tell LP April 2009)
Few new groups could pull off the feat of inhabiting their own little universe quite as convincingly as The Mummers. Merrily weaving a web of old fashioned storytelling, Tales To Tell tapped into a very English eccentricity of Edward Lear fairytales, Victorian literature, music hall, circuses and Lewis Carroll that was all rather magical and childlike.
THE XX ‘Islands’ (The XX LP August 2009)
Propelled by the beats of Jamie XX while spinning romantic tales of loss and regret, Madley Croft and Oliver Sim characterised a British music that for once was difficult to pin down. A woozy, somnambulant, minimalist version of dance music (with guitars) for when the clubs were shut and the sun was coming up, it was not so much chill out as comedown music for those who didn’t go out at all but imagined they did.
MUSE ‘Uprising’ (Single A Side September 2009)
Sometimes I just can’t be bothered wading through the traditional pillars of cutting edge music, trudging through the thick, unrelenting barrages of beats and noise in search of a graspable melody to hum. Sometimes all I want is pure escapism and Muse, a trio of impeccable pop prog muso’s from Devon, with their blend of the Glitter Band and Dr Who, may have done nothing more than make a whole lot of folk shake uncontrollably to their beautiful noise until the next beautiful noise began, but in the Autumn of 2009 that was enough.