This Year’s Obsessions; Niall

We’re both going to do a post about our favourite music this year. Here’s mine:

This year my tastes seem to have been slightly more indie and mainstream than they have been for a while. I’m not entirely sure why, but it might be (partly) down to me not reading The Wire so much (I still think it’s the best music mag out there, but the writing hasn’t really grabbed me for a while, not the way it used to). I did like Loops, though it could have done with a few more interesting writers – I found some of the essays (bloody Nick Cave gets everywhere…) a bit tedious.

Fever Ray: Fever Ray

Easily the album that really grabbed me by the throat this year. I’d largely missed The Knife (barring this stunning video), but the above video completely knocked me for six. The lighting, the colours, the suburban shaman girl… It’s the album in miniature, the way it takes this everyday setting and turns it into something other, something far stranger and more unexpected and unpredictable. It’s music that makes the ordinary strange, with lyrics about dishwasher tablets and foresters in high heels. And like the best music (/art), the more you listen to (/obsess about) it, the more it shapes your perception of the world, the more it shows the everyday banality of life in this culture to be nothing more than an illusion.

The world is far stranger than it appears.

Gang Gang Dance: Saint Dymphna
Technically this was released in 2008, but I’m rarely up to date with my listening habits and only got it this year. Anyway, I’m deeply in love with this album and its giddy, ecstatic joy. That bit towards the end of First Communion where it just opens up and races to the finish was the biggest rush of the year for me.

Ideally this is the kind of band I’d like us to be – excited, ecstatic and omnivorous in terms of sound and genre. Sadly I think we tend to be too heavy handed and wed to our guitars though. The only song that comes close to the ideal is Sunshine Starlight (still needs a better name), which is fairly atypical compared to our other stuff.

Camera Obscura: My Maudlin Career
This is as indie as I get before I have to throw up. There’s all sorts of things wrong with this album – the fact it could have been recorded 50 years ago and it would have fit in perfectly, the way it’s drenched in so much reverb it sounds like it’s covered in honey and syrup and treacle all at the same time, the utter lack of ambition… But French Navy is a stunning, jaw-dropping pop song, which pretty much makes up for it. I’m not exactly happy about it (really this is not the kind of music I should be listening to in 2009) but I have had this album on a lot this year, so I couldn’t ignore it here.

Los Campesinos!: We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed
This is Kieron Gillen’s fault (serves me right for going to youtube to see what he was talking about). See my Camera Obscura comments. While indie though, Los Campesinos! definitely have some ambition and manage to create some interesting sounds despite themselves. And there’s a fantastic bitterness strung through their songs – it’s great to hear a band like this who recognise this world is a pretty horrible place to live. Bizarrely inconsistent lyrics (quality-wise) – “I’ve got a fist on fire”, really? and:

“I taught myself the only way to vaguely get along in love is to
like the other slightly less than you get in return.
I keep feeling like I’m being undercut.

…in the same song. Anyway, I think it’s their odd combination of bitterness and optimistic(?) music that got me. This is another one that’s had a lot of plays despite myself.

Subtle: For Hero: For Fool
Way behind the times with this one. Forget Camera Obscura, this (this and Gang Gang Dance) is what music should sound like in 2009 (I’m aware of how depressing it is that neither album was released this year). Doseone is really the only lyricist worth listening to these days. Here’s his take on reality shows:

“winner of the only and annual “serious serious gut’s competition”…
(Sponsored in part by the pain reliever people and heads of music television)

Yes, you and ten other tough guys
slit smiles across your then perfectly sturdy stomachs
and spread your large intestines boldly out across a coated white poker table….
the starter pistol barked and each contestant commenced to carefully comb
their own eager entrails from behind a one-way wall of mirrored eyewear
everyone a hopeful breathing heavy
sifting through their mortal coil with their finger tips,
for the most intimidating lengths
of well sculpted and primetime stomach links.

Every so often… in the name of health
an executioner capped usher struts about the gut covered table
misting everyone’s exposed and heaving organs
with a modified and fancy water pistol.

As always this years celebrity judges are only
of the most incredible persuasion
charles bronsons angry and gay only daughter,
icecube back from when he was hard
and a framed 8×10 of joe namath’s kneecaps.

And because you won
they stitched up your open abdomen first.

gave you a nice rambo knife,
some choice cigarettes
and cut you loose in the ozarks.

The question being not if, but when
you will kill for your next meal…”

…and the music somehow keeps up with that, a swirling flux of sound that darts off in odd directions and never repeats except in the most unexpected fashion. Also it has the line “desperate times call for step-by-step schematics of the human dive”, which to me suggests an entire world. I’m pretty sure I’m going to steal it at some point in the future.


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