Monday, 29 December 2008



1) Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
2) The Week That Was - The Week That Was
3) TV on the Radio - Dear Science
4) Department of Eagles - In Ear Park
5) Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
6) Q-Tip - The Renaissance
7) Flying Lotus - Los Angeles
8) The Walkmen - You and Me
9) Dodos - Visiter
10) Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend


1) Paramore - 'That's What You Get'
2) Dodos - 'Fools'
3) Futureheads - 'Beginning of the Twist'
4) Milosh - 'And Then It Happened'
5) Spiritualized - 'Borrowed Your Gun'
6) Rick Ross - 'Here I Am'
7) The Walkmen - 'In the New Year'
8) Fleet Foxes - 'He Doesn't Know Why'/'Blue Mountain Ridge'
9) Girls Aloud - 'Call the Shots'
10) Everything Everything - 'Suffragette Suffragette' ;----)

Sunday, 28 December 2008


Well folks, it seems that everything might just turn out alright after all.

This time last year, shit was looking pretty grim. All manner of stuff - jewellery, hair, clothes, shoes, faces - had turned a rather odious shade of gold, reflecting some pretty damn insidious, all-pervasive, corporate-minded cultural behaviour of the very worst kind. It seemed as though a fucked-up new apathetic-hedonistic Gilded Age was upon us, in which the alternative sphere had been wholly co-opted by the mainstream, in which even the shallowest dregs of 1980s culture enjoyed widespread revivalist homage, and in which Alan Fucking Sugar was treated as a kind of bizarre postmodern folk hero.

But by the end of 2008, thankfully, the situation had improved greatly (with the prospect of more unequivocally ameliorative good craic to come in 2009).

In the name of Jesus Keegan, by December it was even possible to hear people talking favourably about socialism, in a tone other than the now more typical one of total nouveau-ironic disapprobation!

Obviously, we have America in large part to thank for this rather wonderfully seismic epoch shift (although the credit crunch must also get a special mention here - people being less willing to spend their time indulging in bland frivolity of the Kate Nashean/Russell Brandean/Jo Whileyan variety when faced with a burgeoning twat of a recession).

Check out ‘In the New Year’ by the Walkmen: ‘I know that it’s true, it’s gonna be a good year CROWNNN-CRANDLEY-CRANDLEY-ANDLEYY-WOWWW’ and try not to weep shit as you listen to the articulated sound of an entire nation, nay, an entire geo-political hemisphere, nay, an entire cranking planet breathing a great oceanic sigh of relief as all the pessimism, fear and apparent hopelessness of the Bush Era finally began to dissipate.

Indeed, 2008 was nothing short of an anus mirabilis for American music of all kinds, a great, once-in-a-lifetime cultural flowering preceding, and ultimately, thank-fuck-fully, actually commemorating a truly incredible and historic victory for the Senator for Illinois in the US presidential election to end ‘em all.

The marvellous melodic Stateside efflorescence was in evidence right across the board .

Vampire Weekend fell into the collective consciousness like a perfectly-formed chicken nugget of pop brilliance; smooth and jagged in exactly the right places, literate, witty, funky, vocally gorgeous: pure, unabashed, sun-sodden Yankee optimism like we haven’t heard in a geet long while.

No Age and Deerhunter served up two very different, but similarly impeccably-wrought lo-fi shoe-gaze masterworks: woozy esotericism had never sounded so lovely.

Q-Tip came back with an irresistibly sweet offering (I really had forgotten hip-hop could be this immediate and enjoyable). Lil’ Wayne’s record was adventurous in an extremely welcome way, mainstream rap bolstered by a very un-Fiddy-like willingness to inject a light smattering of what might be termed soul into proceedings (sampling David Axlerod always a good starting point in this case).

Hercules and Love Affair produced a dance record which melded plangency and poignancy onto an unremitting, sonically inventive, sometimes even slightly folktronic, disco underbelly, while Flying Lotus came through with a smoky, layered, futuristic dance production job of the kind Britain used to churn out with unfailing consistency until relatively recently (Children of Albion - what has happened to our experimentalist tradition?).

Speaking of which, TV on the Radio surpassed themselves with an album that was just comprehensively beltaz in every conceivable way, summing up the mixture of confusion, melancholy and, ultimately, overriding undaunted empowerment that characterised the historical moment. It’s been a good while since the alternative fraternity had such a cogent leftfield bulwark as TVOTR on which to pin its hopes, in equal parts danceable, eclectic, innovative, melodic, cerebral, and zeitgeist-defining. In so many ways this was the record of the year, if nothing else, an album whose potential for widespread intercontinental influence on a massive scale is undoubtedly something to get excited about.

But really, 2008 was all about the New Primitivism. If one of the most pernicious manifestations of evil in the last decade was a terrifying, insidious fundamentalism, then this year witnessed a neat dialectical twist, as the radical margins put out its own powerful and affirmative proclamation of fundamentals. If the bad guys were going to be bloody, bold and resolute in stating their essentialist, reductive creed, then the good guys would have to respond in kind, with a selective, positive idealism that posited a core essence of stripped-down, inclusive, progressive Americanism.

Musically, this impulse was quite brilliantly embodied in the work of Dodos, Department of Eagles, Bon Iver, and above all, Fleet Foxes, records which collectively dug deep into American history to recover all the humane communalism, visionary magic and boundless optimism of the place, in a way that seemed to provide an emphatic reaffirmation of Lincoln’s description of his country as the ‘last, best hope’ of mankind.

Bon Iver lacerated the heart, Department of Eagles pointed to the future with their psychedelic/experimentalist take on things, and Dodos provided a bit of requisite hi-octane exhilaration, but Fleet Foxes produced a record that was so consistently, astonishingly excellent as to be fully deserving of a much-overused epithet: instant classic. When I saw them at Manchester Academy 2 in November the harmonies were so perfectly concordant as to send wonderful rainbow-coloured natural harmonics bouncing all over the box-like venue. Talk about e pluribus Unum! Really, you would have to be a McCain voter and/or an NME journalist to overlook the fact that something unusual and special was going on here.

(It was almost enough to make up for the loss of DFW, but not quite. I’m sure he would’ve approved).

Amidst all of this it was becoming increasingly difficult to justify being British, on a musical level.

Elder statesmen/women Portishead and Spiritualized were reliably interesting, and Field Music staple finally lived up to its promise with the awesome The Week That Was record (predictably ignored by the Topshop indie contingent - not Kate Moss’s cup of tea I should imagine).

But ultimately we’ll have to do better than the Mystery Jets if we as a musical nation are to have any relevance at all in the ensuing era (and glittery trendy MGMT are some way from being the best people to look to for American inspiration, although it’s not a terrible start).

At the end of it all the Award for Resonant Spirit-of-the-Age Lyric Writing goes to Dodos for ‘I’ve been, I’ve been silent’ (on runaway album highlight ‘Fools’ - all about the past tense here), combined with ‘we can do this on our own’. This summed it all up as astutely as did Thom Yorke a couple of years ago at the height of Bush/Blair with ‘we think the same things at the same time / we just can’t do anything about it‘.

It felt as though we found our voice again in 2008.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008


ME: Have you read Macbeth?
LOUISE: School.
ME: At school?
LOUISE: Yeah and I've seen the film too.
ME: Right, well it's not really like that with Shakespeare you know, not like there's a 'book' and a 'film'.
LOUISE: There often is though isn't there? There's a real actor version, then there's a cartoon version.
ME: Err, hang on ...
LOUISE: Have you ever held a chicken? I think it'd be dead good. A good weight.


My next post will be brimful of treacly Yuletide optimism and Obamanian positivity, I promise.

But in order for the this to be the case, I feel the need to have a pre-emptive, pre-festive, cathartic moan, a sort of gargantuan, purgative shit, a preparatory cleansing of the bowels for the imminent orgy of extravagant forward-looking hopefulness.

It will not come as a surprise to many of you that my gripe centres on the ol' reliable NME.

Now, as a one-time avid reader of this no-longer-very-good-at-all-in-any-way publication, I am fully aware of the charade that occurs annually in respect of the Albums of the Year poll. Readers respond with outrage at the inclusion/exclusion of their favourite/least-favourite artist, the NutsME quite reasonably asserts that the poll is very straightforwardly decided by an unimpeachably democratic points-system voting process amongst the writers, leaving no room whatever for sinister ulterior motives, commercial-mindedness, individual caprice, gerrymandering, hanging chads etc, etc. No one could doubt the rationalism and fairness of this.

However, the logical rigour of the voting process itself does not absolve the paper of all blame for the list. Responsibility is diffused to a collective level, but the writing staff must ultimately stand by this collective decision. Writers deploy the impersonal 'NME' rather than 'I' in reviews and interviews after all: the paper is inevitably the sum of its constituent parts, and the album poll stands as perhaps the most cogent statement of its ideology during the course of any given year (and no use saying the NME doesn't have an 'ideology' - it does, however nebulous and disparate, not to mention misguided and shallow, that ideology might be).

So any criticism of the Albums of the Year poll is fair game as far as I'm concerned. And, by christ, here goes ...

The top 10 is as follows:

1. MGMT - Oracular Spectacular
2. TV on the Radio - Dear Science
3. Glasvegas - Glasvegas
4. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
5. Foals - Antidotes
6. Metronomy - Nights Out
7. Santogold - Santogold
8. Mystery Jets - 21
9. Kings of Leon - Only by the Night
10. Friendly Fires - Friendly Fires.

I should probably start off by saying that there is a very great deal here that is commendable. Oracular Spectacular and Dear Science are certainly two of the most brilliant records of 2008, and Vampire Weekend's debut was one of the year's most enjoyable, entertaining pop records. Haven't heard much Friendly Fires stuff but it sounds pretty good on an initial listen. As Hamish McBain points out in a (characteristically miniscule, reading-age-six) preface to the list, no room in the top 10 (or top 50, for that matter) for Razorlight, Kaiser Chiefs or Pigeon Detectives.

But, really, what else is there to say to this but WELL FUCKING DONE MATE, to which might be added WHY THE FUCK DOES THEIR ABSENCE EVEN NEED TO BE STATED?! The omission of Razorlight from a poll purporting to catalogue the most artistically worthwhile, wrought, adventurous, innovative, subversive, moving, politically-engaged, intelligent, exciting, resonant music of the year is surely such a basic, first-rock-of-civilisation thing to do for the sake of human decency as to be almost totally unworthy of verbal utterance, a bit like expecting kudos for not getting behind McCain in the US presidential election, or like bragging about not nominating Josef Fritzl for a good parenting award.

These infantile, inarguably corporate-mainstream artists should never have got any support at all from the still notionally alternative NME, so it comes as something of a long-overdue, completely inadequate insult to hear that they have now fallen out of favour with, presumably, many of the same writers who were responsible for their grotesquely meteoric ascendancies in the first place.

Moreover, in terms of the actual poll itself: KINGS OF FUCKING LEON?! Theirs is a record so devoutly conservative, so AOR, so MOR, so creatively bankrupt, vocally excruciating, lyrically inane, and just so so so supremely shit as to actually make me feel a little bit sick, and I say this without a hint of hyperbole, metaphor or euphemism. The place of Kings of Leon in the collective memory will have about as much durability and relevance in years to come as the recent temporary rebranding of Pizza Hut as Pasta Hut, you mark my words.

Metronomy are OK, but ultimately nothing more than a not-very-multi-faceted hype band, likewise Santogold, who had a couple of fantastic tunes but whose album was some way from being one of the year's best out of a massive lack of consistency.

Mystery Jets - superficial '80s revivalism, boring, style-over-substance mediocrity.

Glasvegas - 'Daddy's Gone' was superb but this is another very average album that has been extravagantly over-hyped. Similarly with Foals, although certainly in this case there is a sense that once the Skins-induced haze has cleared there is actually something very worthwhile here, and hopefully this'll get the chance to develop independent of undesirable scenester bullshit with subsequent albums.

Oasis at number 22!? The Verve at 26?! Fucking Laura Marling at 14?!

Overall, it seems that NutsME has just catastrophically missed the point once again. Something has gone massively wrong when Metronomy and Mystery Jets are judged to be producing better art than Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver. By far the best British record of the year was The Week That Was album, and it doesn't even make the top 50 (presumably because it's not the sort of thing Alexa Chung and Kelly Osbourne are able to snort coke to). The writers of NME have conformed to type by nominating the shiniest, faddiest artists, completely ignoring such stellar, meaningful, zeitgeist-defining efforts as Department of Eagles' In Ear Park, Q-Tip's The Renaissance, and Dodos' Visiter. They're lucky that the hippest, trendiest fashionista band of the year (MGMT) also made an artistically interesting, forward-thinking album, but in the final instance the emphasis remains resolutely on Topshop-friendly, hype-worthy shallowness. For NutsME, MGMT are the Klaxons Mk II (ie. an ostentious, 'kooky' yet palatable, image-driven band) and that's about the level of depth they're operating at.

Brooklyn may have been partially imported to Shoreditch in 2008, but the idealism and profundity has apparently been left on the other side of the pond. NME will have to change pretty fast if it wants to remain relevant once people no longer have so much money to spend on glitter-encrusted tat. The Kate Mossification of British alternative music is now on the back burner, and it's time to choose Obama over apathy and hedonism, time to do away altogether with celebrity, the language of hype, T4, Jo Whiley, Doherty, Nash, Allen, London, decadence, Russell Brand, gold, silver, drugs, money, NME, clothes and the rest of it.

In 2009, let's get naked.

And I mean that in a D.H. Lawrentian rather than a Paris Hiltonian sense.