Saturday, 29 August 2009

2007: Sound of Silver

That's how it starts.
We go back to your house.

We check the charts
And start to figure it out.

And if it's crowded, all the better,
because we know we're gonna be up late.
But if you're worried about the weather
then you picked the wrong place to stay.
That's how it starts.

And so it starts.
You switch the engine on.
We set controls for the heart of the sun,
one of the ways we show our age.

And if the sun comes up, if the sun comes up, if the sun comes up
and I still don't wanna stagger home
Then it's the memory of our betters
that are keeping us on our feet.

You spent the first five years trying to get with the plan,
and the next five years trying to be with your friends again.

You're talking 45 turns just as fast as you can,
yeah, I know it gets tired, but it's better when we pretend.

It comes apart,
the way it does in bad films
Except in parts,
when the moral kicks in.

Though when we're running out of the drugs
and the conversation's winding away
I wouldn't trade one stupid decision
for another five years of life.

You drop the first ten years just as fast as you can,
and the next ten people who are trying to be polite.
When you're blowing 85 days in the middle of France,
Yeah, I know it gets tired only where are your friends tonight?

And to tell the truth.
Oh, this could be the last time.
So here we go,
like a sail's force into the night.

And if I made a fool, if I made a fool, if I made a fool
on the road, there's always this.
And if I'm sued into submission,
I can still come home to this.

And with a face like a dad and a laughable stand,
you can sleep on the plane or review what you said.
When you're drunk and the kids look impossibly tanned
you think over and over, "hey, I'm finally dead."

Oh, if the trip and the plan come apart in your hand,
you can turn it on yourself, your ridiculous prop
You forgot what you meant when you read what you said,
and you always knew you were tired, but then,
where are your friends tonight?

Where are your friends tonight?
Where are your friends tonight?

If I could see all my friends tonight,
If I could see all my friends tonight,
If I could see all my friends tonight,
If I could see all my friends tonight.

Pitchfork voted this the second best song of the decade. I think they were one place out.

Friday, 28 August 2009

2006: Atlantis: Hymns for Disco

Being the first hip-hop album I really loved. I was introduced to this not long after it came out by my friend Omid, who lived in a student house with myself and four other young men at the time, each of distinctly questionable hygiene and industriousness. Omid and I were the two big music geeks in the house, and regularly took turns to burst into each other's rooms waxing lyrical about the latest thing we were all excited about (before settling down to the number one pastime of the modern undergraduate, Pro Evolution Soccer). Usually we liked what the other had to share. Tougher was finding something we could play communally that all six of us enjoyed, a goal that would have been reached much sooner if I hadn't been the stick-in-the-mud who insisted that Jamiroquai was, in fact, crap.

In the end it was Canadian rapper k-os' third long player, Atlantis: Hymns for Disco, that was the first to be met with unanimous praise. In a genre commercially saturated by hyper-produced superstars, regurgitating the same tired clich├ęs of guns, bitches and bling over Timbaland's ever-thinning beats, what appeals about Atlantis is its organic feel. There are few if any samples, most of the tracks are built around guitar riffs, and the whole thing is blessedly autotune-free. Best of all is that the album rewards repeated listenings, which seems contrary for such an instantly accessible album. For all this, and a man of Kevin Brereton's lyrical flow, skill, verbosity and intelligence, it is a continuing source of puzzlement that he remains relatively unknown outside of his native Canada.

2005: Broken Social Scene

When The National's Matt Berninger sang in 'So Far Around The Bend' of the song's protagonist 'humming in a haze forever / praying for Pavement to get back together,' he could have been describing Broken Social Scene. The Canadian ensemble craft a far more textured, dreamier sound than Stephen Malkmus' artfully dishevelled rock, but they share the latter's indie spirit, never more so than the moment when this album kicks off proper with 'Ibi Dreams of Pavement (A Better Day)'. When I bought this record I knew little of either Pavement or the eponymous Ibi [Kaslik], but I knew the song fucking rocked.

It was also indicative of what seemed like a new-found swagger. While the first record noodled along contentedly, and the wonderful breakthrough LP You Forgot It In People took strides towards more traditional song structures, Broken Social Scene feels like the band's all-singing, all-dancing pop record, and probably - though I'd love you to prove me wrong when you get around to it, chaps - their masterpiece. Put this on in the morning, when the sun's shining and it's your day off work. Listen to the impossibly joyous trumpet crescendo that brings '7/4 (Shoreline)' to a close, the irresistably catchy 'Fire Eye'd Boy', the boundless energy of 'Superconnected', and all the classic BSS tender moments inbetween. That's the sound of several of this decade's most creative indie-rock musicians pitching in to make something that sounds utterly cohesive, and having a whale of a time along the way.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

2004: Funeral

This is the only album I still listen to that has very specific memories attached to it. I can picture the room, my then bedroom (in 2005 actually), the fact that the curtains or curtain rail had broken, so that even late at night the room was lit by the streetlamps outside. Two or three nights at most, she walked over, and we just lay there and talked 'til we fell asleep. Wonderfully innocent, even though it wasn't a good idea practically. Obvious in the daytime but oblivious in the night. Funeral was the soundtrack, but specifically the first track, 'Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)'. No matter how many times I've listened to it in less magical surrounds since, at work, in different bedrooms, alone or with someone else, that first chiming piano melody never fails to take me back to that time. It's a great record, regardless, but it's possibly the best album of the decade because it has the ability to capture those fleeting, ethereal memories of childhood, of being sequestered from the outside world in 'our bedrooms, and our parents' bedrooms, and the bedrooms of our friends.'

2003: The Decline of British Sea Power

So one night a friend had come over to stay, and the night had been spent (as I recall) flitting about various bars and houses in Cardiff, the day's alcohol intake having begun at 8.30am with a can of lager to celebrate a friend's birthday awakening. After a day spent ingesting a variety of things I shouldn't have, we ended up in my room, listening this album's mind-blowing fourteen-minute climax, 'Lately'. I was slumped against my door frame, eyes shut tight, mouthing every word. When those words include, 'Do you like my prehistoric rock? Do you like my neolithic rock?' and so forth, it can make one look a little daft. Just saying.

That's the kind of kick I get out of this record though. It is, quite frankly, bloody epic. Starting off with forty-two seconds of Gregorian chanting - as you do - before kicking the doors down with a four-minute punk-rock sonic assault across two songs, the album finally settles into something of a stride with 'Something Wicked'. From hereon in it's sort of like this: breathy vocals, soft, Galaxie 500-esque acoustic melodies, sighing backing vocals... to be interrupted as often as possible by really loud distorted guitars! It's not a particularly new formula for indie rock, but boy do this lot do it well. Fact: 1.53 through 2.06 on 'Fear of Drowning' is the best thirteen seconds of music ever recorded.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

2002: Turn on the Bright Lights

Interpol spawned a slew of imitators in the 00s; that they haven't received more credit for their influence is probably due to the fact that most of the copy-cats ranged from merely half-decent (Bloc Party, She Wants Revenge) to actually terrible (Editors, White Lies). Even Interpol started to sound like a poor imitation of themselves towards the end of the decade.

Okay, so most of the lyrics make no sense. Some are downright terrible, notably the now-infamous line: 'Her stories are boring and stuff / She's always calling my bluff.' What was great about Turn on the Bright Lights, though, was that it was a rock record with little of the bluster associated with that concept: typically, 'meaningful' storytelling lyrics attached to boisterous, balls-out instrumentation. There was nothing remotely shambolic here. The slick, suited look of Paul Banks and co. matched their music to a tee: a neurotically tight rhythm section, mostly clean guitars, and unassuming vocals. Listening to 'Obstacle 1' again, the word syncopated doesn't do the verses justice: drums, bass, and guitar each seem to work frantically to fill every available space in the sonic meter, and yet it all combines to sound effortlessly classy.

Some complain, partly for these reasons, that Interpol are boring, that the songs lack emotion. I say if you're looking for hearts on sleeves, you're missing the point of the record. For me, listening to this album reminded me of hearing Young Marble Giants' seminal Colossal Youth for the first time: a masterclass in sparse, minimalist post-punk, not to mention one of the finest debuts of its era.

2001: Discovery

It sure was. Though Daft Punk had already been heard around the world following Homework, this was when they seriously blew up. Though James Murphy hadn't yet claimed to be 'the first guy playing Daft Punk to the rock kids', they'd certainly hit a level to justify that kind of boasting. And though it came with a new sound, sleek 'n' smooth enough that you couldn't turn on the television without hearing one of the songs advertising the new Picasso (or whatever), there was nothing sell-out about Discovery whatsoever.

It was simply the sound of a band in love with the pure, blissful pop-rock ballads of their youth, giving those already polished grooves an electronic once-over. I recall one writer saying that 'Digital Love' reminded them of a kids cartoon theme, which seems about right to me, because these songs sound like they've been around your whole life, each tune artifially created by robots in a French computer lab. I guess that's the idea of the whole look. It was only when I was listening to this album a few weeks ago, though, that it occurred to me: someone played that shred guitar; a real human sang those hypnotic (albeit heavily autotuned) vocals; and holy shit, a real pair of humans sat down and wrote these songs. That was when it dawned on me just how special Daft Punk are. And everyone, not least the rock kids who sold their guitars for turntables and synthesizers, continue to dance in agreement.

2000: Kid A

It's one thing to scoff that it's really not that brave or experimental at all - the band themselves were the first to point out that their own listening at that time was far more obtuse - but let's put things in context here. Radiohead's previous two albums had catapulted them to the level of worldwide, stadium-creaking rock ubiquity that Kings of Leon currently enjoy. And then they dropped this, to the sound of a million fifteen year-olds scratching their heads.

I was one of them. Kid A was just like nothing else I'd heard before. A lot of the songs lacked verses, choruses, guitars, drums, rhythm, singing, or all of them, and yet it was beguiling because of that. It seemed to occupy a world of its own, not least because all the other music I owned at the time sounded more or less like the stuff that filled up the radio, and the CD players of my friends. It was also the first time I really started to think about an album as being not just a collection of songs, but a 'long player' musical experience. The album swells and ebbs with the rhythm of a piece that was meant to be heard in one sitting, though the centrifugal force that is 'Idioteque' undoubtedly stands out, a career highlight for a band whose career is more or less one long series of highlights. It was the turn of the decade and Kid A was to be incredibly influential in the years following its release, as much on the type of records I listened to as the artists who made them.