For someone who used to post about new-ish releases fairly often, I seem to have become trapped in an early-’80s musical timewarp here. It’s not all the fault of Popular, although that has had a big retro-influence on my listening for the past couple of years. A lot of the problem is that the parental lifestyle no longer allows much space for listening to whole albums. I rarely get a chance to listen to stuff on the stereo, because a certain two-year-old objects to anything that isn’t Madness’s “Driving In My Car” or Feist’s The Reminder (“the lady”, as we know her; thank God it’s a good album, or by now the lady would have driven us nuts). On the trip to and from work I listen mostly to podcasts (Adam and Joe on 6 Music, Radio 4’s Friday night comedy, and a few others), and even that has stopped while I’ve been cycling to work in the good weather. Apart from that, my listening has mostly consisted of single tracks gathered here and there, almost all of them through iPod headphones.
Some of those tracks are great, and I’ve been meaning to reboot my music posts here for a while by talking about them, but another obstacle has been that the gap since I last wrote about new music has been growing and growing... my 2007 round-up doesn’t even mention my favourite album of that year (Radiohead’s In Rainbows, natch), because it hadn’t come out.
So this is by way of catching up on the 2008 stuff, with 2009 to come. Fortunately, the iPod keeps track of how many times you’ve listened to individual songs, which makes it easier to remember the ones I loved at the time. Here are ten of them, in alphabetical order by artist.
Beck’s Modern Guilt didn’t particularly grab me (and an album has to really grab me to get more than a couple of listens nowadays), but its lead single certainly did; I could listen to it dissolve into its closing psychedelic guitar freakout over and over, and did.
As time passes it becomes clearer that the Chemical Brothers have consistently been one of my favourite bands of the past decade; the first couple of albums may have got all the attention, but everything from Surrender onwards has been brilliant. This new track from the Brotherhood compilation was no exception.
I didn’t pick up the Lady’s latest album until this year, but last year I listened to this remix a lot, combining as it did two great things: the voice that guested on the best album of 2004, and the sound of my band of 2006. The link is to the video of the original, but that’s good too.
Folds’s latest album, Way to Normal, was entertaining enough, but not up to the standard of some of his others, although the spoof version was a nice touch. Its standout track, though, was hilarious, and embarrassingly sing-along-able. If you’re following the link, be warned that the song is a bit New South F-ing Wales.
I’d gone cold on Goldfrapp, whose successive releases did less and less for me, but this caught my attention, and Seventh Tree ended up as one of my albums of the year, recapturing the excitement of Felt Mountain without remaking it. Read Pitchfork’s review and conclude the opposite, and you’re pretty much there.
Keane’s Perfect Symmetry had an awful cover and a pretty awful string of songs, a far cry from the moody and addictive Under the Iron Sea, yet this teaser track from their website had promised so much. “Spiralling” was the sound of an indie band (semi-indie, anyway) reinventing themselves with three and a half minutes of punchy ’80s pop. Tellingly, the album version dragged it out to 4:19 with a noodling intro and killed it.
More retro-’80s. New Zealand’s Ladyhawke recorded a whole album that seemed to sit somewhere between Kim Wilde and Pat Benatar, all filtered through a 2000s electro sensibility. Half of the songs didn’t do much for me, but the other half worked well, none of them better than this.
In December I discovered another of my albums of the year, The Boxer, thanks to the persistent plugging of music blogs. The National’s reference points seem to be a bunch of artists I don’t listen to much, like Tom Waits and Nick Cave, and others I do, like Interpol. In case that sounds too downbeat (and a lot of it is), rest assured that this song is lively and magnificent, although who knows what the lyrics mean.
They were the sound of last summer, and I liked “That’s Not My Name” like everyone (even if everyone’s now denying it), but my favourite track on We Started Nothing was the opener, “Great DJ”. They could have stopped there, really.
Yikes, more retro-’80s. And We Are Scientists started out so indie, with an earlier album that won some acclaim and which I’ve listened to precisely once. I listened to this track endlessly, though, along with the rest of Brain Thrust Mastery, “Ghouls” and “That’s What Counts” being other highlights. Never thought I’d warm to the saxophone again.
Beyond those tracks and albums, I have to confess that a lot of my listening in 2008 was pop, pure and simple. The Sugababes’ singles collection was surprisingly solid, and I might even check out the Girls Aloud one. And when Popular reached the band whose 1976 album was the first I ever owned, I felt compelled to pick it up on CD... and then to buy their other seven, for the combined price of two new releases, and listen to them continuously for about three months. Say what you will, it’s a catalogue studded with diamonds, and if all you know are the singles you’re missing out. Their story is also compelling, especially considering it happened in parallel with punk. Bet you never knew that Frida was meant for Hitler’s master race.
When I look again over the list of albums I bought last year, I see plenty of new releases by old favourites not mentioned above, including some I liked (James’s comeback Hey Ma, which missed Brian Eno’s production, Elbow’s The Seldom Seen Kid, Mo’ Horizons’ Sunshine Today), some I didn’t (Earth to the Dandy Warhols), and some that didn’t make much impression either way (Snow Patrol’s A Hundred Million Suns, Matthew Sweet’s Sunshine Lies, Tom Petty’s Highway Companion, Mr Scruff’s Ninja Tuna, The Pinker Tones’ Wild Animals, Spiritualized’s Songs in A&E, Aimee Mann’s Smilers, Supergrass’s Diamond Hoo Ha); as well as a few hip new bands that I admired briefly but which didn’t really stick (Vampire Weekend, Cut Copy, Fleet Foxes, Glasvegas), and one long-lost Britpop band, Marion, whose This World and Body and The Program had interesting shades of the Longpigs and Muse. So despite what I wrote before, I did listen to a fair few albums; just not as often as I once would have.