The Null Device
And now, here is my annual write-up of the past year in music:
Top 10 albums of 2006 (in alphabetical order, by artist):
- The Blow - Paper Television
Polished yet glitchy electropop, with just the right mix of slickness and roughness, with thoughtful lyrics. Pile Of Gold is perhaps the best pop song about the economics of sex ever recorded, The Big U talks about the universe as a romantic rival, and Babay (eat a critter, feel its wrath) is a rather clever use of meat-eating as a metaphor for unrequited love, from the point of view of the eaten creature/spurned lover. The melodies are pretty catchy too; this all works as pop music.
- CSS - Cansei de Ser Sexy
They came out of Sao Paolo, they look like American Apparel models, have songs with titles like Let's Make Love And Listen To Death From Above, Artbitch and Music Is My Hot Hot Sex, and their name means "tired of being sexy" in Portuguese. Which all sounds perhaps a bit too VICE Magazine, though their music is actually good; a bit like a more electro Shonen Knife.
- Gersey - No Satellites
The Melbourne group's third album, sees their guitarwork joined by more driving, angular grooves. It's all good.
- I'm From Barcelona - Let Me Introduce My Friends
A record so exuberantly joyous that it makes The Go! Team sound like The Smiths by comparison. A Swedish chap named Emanuel and 28 of his friends getting together to sing perfectly catchy pop songs about stamp collections, treehouses, and friendship, and once you hear them you'll be forgiven for wanting to join in and sing along. As the end of the booklet says, now you're from Barcelona too.
- James Figurine - Mistake Mistake Mistake Mistake
A new record by Jimmy Tamborello, better known as half of The Postal Service. Only with the smugly saccharine romantic-comedy feel of Give Up replaced with Kraftwerkesque cold feeling and sparse electronic buildups like winter landscapes scrolling past alongside an Autobahn. The choirs of robots are back, though they're less shiny, and their joy circuits have since burned out. One of the quiet triumphs of the year.
- Mojave 3 - Puzzles Like You
Once upon a time, Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell were in a band named Slowdive, and crafted lush, intricate walls of gently intense emotive sound. Then they threw that all away, formed a band named Mojave 3 and started making stripped-down 2-chord country/folk busker tunes, refusing to even mention their previous incarnation. Now they got their groove back, and come back with an album of lush, layered pop songs. It's not shoegazing (though there are enough bands doing that for those who want it), but it is a return to form.
- Momus - Ocky Milk
The latest from self-styled tender pervert Momus, a mashup of influences from Canto-pop and synthpop to music-hall, ragtime, along with nods to hip genres such as glitch and freak-folk (though Momus, in his glorious eccentricity, is the sort who never quite fits into a scene or genre). There are numerous layers of subtlety and reference in this work, and analysing them could be a PhD thesis in itself. Having said that, it makes a more listenable (if still wilfully eccentric) pop record than Otto Spooky or Oskar Tennis Champion. My favourite track would probably be Zanzibar; one day, I want to go to Zanzibar and watch the sun set over the Atlantic whilst listening to this.
- The Radio Dept. - Pet Grief
The second album from the Swedish shoegazer/indie-pop band, and a very polished work, with lush yet wistful pop songs constructed from clunky 1980s drum machines, processed guitars and the odd keyboard, and a few Pet Shop Boys influences sneaking in amongst the Slowdive and Sarah Records.
- Spearmint - Paris In A Bottle
A concept album, based around an encounter between four young strangers in Paris a decade earlier and their wishes for the future, told in recollections from the imperfect present. Spearmint are in fine form, doing what they do well; catchy bossa-nova-influenced pop songs with themes of bittersweet complexity; their arrangements are more sophisticated than on earlier records. Highlights are the two tracks which bookend the CD, and the disco groove of Psycho Magnet; also listen out for the French accordion on Wednesday Night.
- Wolf & Cub - Vessels
Some kids from Adelaide with guitars, but don't let that put you off. This isn't the knuckle-dragging rockist primitivism of Jet or Eddy Current Suppression Ring but a quite effective blend of krautrock and psychedelic rock grooves, with perhaps a nod to the Stone Roses; it has driving motorik grooves, dubby basslines, fuzzy guitars, the odd psych-rock freak-out and creative use of pedals and studio effects, and it all hangs together rather nicely. I only discovered this album at the end of the year, though feel that it merits inclusion.
Other albums of note included: Beirut, Gulag Orkestar (which is rather good, though has been played to death now, thanks to everyone who reads Pitchfork; see also: The Arcade Fire), Hot Chip, The Warning (think 1980s Prince meets Aphex Twin; highlight: the title track, with its contradictory combination of gentle beauty and messages of aggression), and Small Sips, The Morning Ripples (a new project from members of Sodastream and The Paradise Motel, in a somewhat Mojave 3-ish direction), New Waver, Neuters (a compilation of covers of popular songs, reinforcing New Waver's Darwinian-pessimist ideology).
There were also new albums from Belle & Sebastian (which was OK, though I'm not sure I like the 1970s rock direction they're going in) and Camera Obscura (which sounds less like Belle & Sebastian than their previous album, and takes more cues from 1960s country and Motown). Ninetynine also released a new album, though it didn't grab me quite as much as The Process and Receiving The Sounds Of Science Fiction.
The gigs of 2006 were (in chronological order):
- Belle & Sebastian, Brighton, 3 February, and Hammersmith Apollo, 10 February
Part of the tour promoting their new album, and it was great. For a band who are trotted out as the stereotype of music for bookish introverts, they rock pretty hard. The live version of Electronic Renaissance, which has become a staple of their gigs, is pretty good too.
- Jens Lekman, Bush Hall, 16 February
He was brilliant; playing a lot of songs, some new and some old, and putting everything into it. And at the end he appeared in the corridor with an acoustic guitar and serenaded the crowd with two songs. Jens, you rock.
- dataPanik, the Luminaire, 6 April
They rocked. There was so much energy and intensity. It was the same feeling I had when I saw Ninetynine for the first time at the Punters Club all those years ago. Unfortunately, the rest of the world didn't feel the same way and dataPanik, after failing to get interest, disbanded. More's the pity; though I look forward to next year's Bis reunion gig.
- Architecture In Helsinki, ULU, 13 May
Another great AIH gig, with a tight performance and a 7-minute block-rocking extended version of Do The Whirlwind. They played a few new songs, which are in more of an electro-funk direction, and sound brilliant. I eagerly await their new album.
- Os Mutantes, Barbican, London, 22 May
The legendary Brazilian Tropicalia band, who influenced everyone from Talking Heads to Architecture In Helsinki, played their first gig in 34 years(!), at the Barbican. It was a momentous event. The audience seemed evenly divided between Brazilians and non-Brazilians. The gig didn't disappoint; they put on an impressive performance. When they did Bat Macumba, people were dancing in their seats.
- François and the Atlas Mountains, supporting Camera Obscura, 11 June
Don't get me wrong, Camera Obscura were good, but François and his friends stole the show. Playing (and swapping) a variety of instruments, from Casio keyboards to a harp, they performed some rather nice indiepop songs with a good deal of exuberant energy. They're one to watch for the UK people.
- Spearmint, Bush Hall, 21 August
One of three Spearmint gigs I saw this year, and the lads put on a good show each time.
- CSS, Dingwalls, 10 September
They were lots of fun to see. Their gig was more rock and less electro than their album sounded, and Luisa Lovefoxxx seemed to be having lots of fun on stage.
- I'm From Barcelona, Hoxton Bar, 14 September, and Jamm, 15 September
If I had a gig of the year, it would probably be this one. I went to see their first gig (on the
rightnorth side of the Thames), and liked it so much I went to the second one the following day. There were 22 people on stage, singing, clapping, playing instruments and fruit-shaped shakers, playing around and having a great time whilst making perfect pop music. It was like the best party ever, only in the form of a pop concert.
- Ninetynine, Smekkleysa, Reykjavík, 21 October, and The Windmill, Brixton, 31 October
It was a reduced touring line-up, consisting of only Laura, Cameron and a girl who was filling in for Amy, though the magic was there. The mighty juggernaut that is the Macfarlane/Potts partnership was out in full force, and they played lots of old songs, including all the favourites. I swear that Polar Angle rocks harder every time they play it.