Tag Archives: 2009

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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This Year’s Obsessions: Music Video

While I was writing my 2009 albums post, I realised that a lot of the music that really stuck with me wasn’t on any album at all (well, these obviously are, but barring Fever Ray I wasn’t remotely interested in getting the respective albums). Since my PhD I’ve been fascinated by music video (for those interested Carol Vernallis’ Experiencing Music Video is an incredible book btw – it goes into all sorts detail on how music videos work, and is incredibly inspiring). For me music has always been as much a visual medium as an aural one, and I tend to see music video as the highest form of the medium. I can’t stand it when bands/artists don’t understand this, and hearing ‘it’s all about the music’ (subtext: it’s all about sounding and looking like some shit band who split up before you were born, conforming to some bizarre notion of authenticity. Authenticity kills art) makes me want to torch your house – I hear that as a statement of total artistic and intellectual cowardice.

Anyway, here’s a wee list of the videos that moved me this year, together with an attempt to try and explain why.

Beyonce: Single Ladies

As per usual, Beyonce marries some pretty nasty lyrics to some stunning music (see also Ring the Alarm – Bomb Squad gone R&B with whiny lyrics about how her man doesn’t want her. It should have been so much more…). The sheer minimalism of the music is fantastic – it’s literally a beat and her voice, with the odd splash of synth – and it’s the kind of thing you only seem to ever hear in R&B.

There’s something deeply strange (and new?) about the video – it feels to me like the point where music video abandons any interest in manufacturing sex appeal and instead pushes through to something else. Beyonce’s movements don’t really have any relation to the usual motions you’d see in a video like this (all exaggerated strutting (look how independent I am) and pouting come ons). Instead they’re more like visual music, an entirely abstract visual language, separated from all the usual signifiers.

I’m not sure I’ve really explained myself here, but there is clearly something happening in this video. Here’s hoping someone follows it up.

Lady GaGa: Paparazzi

Her only good song (I thought Pokerface might be going somewhere until it got to that horrible chorus). Having said that, she’s currently light years ahead of anyone else when it comes to pop music’s (vital) visual side. This video is a perfect demonstration of that – everything is hyper hyper stylised and executed with such authority. If Beyonce’s video felt like the establishment of a new visual language, this feels like a restatement of pop music’s best qualities – the longing that’s key to so much great pop music, coupled with a complete dedication to the visual.

Shakira: She-Wolf

I think this came after Single Ladies, but it kind of feels like Single Ladies was the logical successor to it. There’s a similar focus on distinctly odd movements and body shapes, but Shakira definitely plays up the sex. It’s also nowhere near as assured as Beyonce’s video – the bit at the end where she’s dancing on a rooftop feels awkward and clumsy, like the real world’s intruding into pop’s fantasy, like Shakira’s an actual person as opposed to a Pop Star (okay, so this sounds kind of cool…). Anyway, when I rewrite the world’s history according to my own whim, there’s going to be a line from She-Wolf to Single Ladies to… something incredible, that marries Lady GaGa’s visual flair with the language glimpsed in Single Ladies, with a serious critical understanding of the world we live in (because let’s face it, we haven’t had that in years and years in the charts, and we desperately need it).

Also, any song that gets to number 1 with lyrics that include a word like lycanthropy is an instant win.

Florence & the Machine: Dog Days

Easily the weakest video here, and compared to the others the visuals are largely uninspired and don’t really take any risks. Presumably it was done on a smaller budget than the other videos, but a lack of money isn’t any excuse for a lack of imagination. It’s a great optimistic pop song, but you’ve got to wonder what she means – surely if anything, the dog days are only just beginning?

Fever Ray: When I Grow Up

See my albums post. Everything about this video is perfect – the lighting, the setting, the shaman girl, the man watching her. It all just works so well together. It’s as if Tarkovsky was reborn in an American(?) suburb and took to making music videos instead of films.

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Zero

Not sure this belongs here, but Karen O’s dancing in the video is fantastic. It’s the way it feels like she’s trying to be cool, but her idea of cool is a scene from Fame. There’s a wonderful sense of unselfconscious joy to it, it makes me happy…

There’s maybe a trend here that they’re all female artists (slightly excepting the Yeah Yeah Yeahs), and all my albums were made by female artists/bands with female singers. But then, women have always made the best art.

Um, I hope this doesn’t come across as me just perving over female pop stars…


Craig’s Albums of 2009

No great explanation and in no particular order, all well reviewed elsewhere:

  • Low Miffs and Malcolm Ross
  • The Wild Beasts – Two Dancers
  • Annie – Don’t Stop
  • Fuck Buttons – Tarot Sport
  • Yeah Yeah Yeah’s – Its Blitz

Actually very difficult to choose this year, some tough choices in my wee head.
Two honorable mentions:

  • The Wildhearts – Chutzpah! – such remarkable consistency, such a remarkable band
  • MSP – Journal for Plague Lovers – I was bizarrely excited about this and it didn’t disappoint. Not as staggering as THB, but pretty great nonetheless.