I've noticed that many of my musings begin with an apology of some sorts, usually relating to the punctuality of my posting, or lack thereof. I am sorry for this (there I go again) but I'm afraid while I'm still searching for work, posts won't be quite as regular as I would like.
So here are numbers six to three in my 'Albums of the (last) Year Countdown'. That's FOUR, yes FOUR albums to celebrate and dissect. Some may argue that this is all a bit pointless now that we are into February 2009 and to a large extent I would agree. However, in true 'Mastermind' fashion; "I've started so I'll finish".
6. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
An interesting one this. Upon first listen, you’re slightly taken aback by the African influences. Not in a “this is incredible” kind of way but more like “this is different”. It’s pretty catchy too. You look down to find your foot tapping uncontrollably. Before you know it you’ve listened to the record four times back to back and are now whistling every impulsive melody, “la-la-ing” each hook and drumming along jauntily to the tricky rhythms on the nearest desk or knee. It’s an album so addictive, it must have been smuggled in through customs. Released in February 2008, it also set the bar very high for debut releases. A bar that was very rarely reached throughout a year in which few new acts “crossed-over” into the UK mainstream. Vampire Weekend’s blend of cheery, catchy indie-pop and the fact that they looked like they just stepped off the set of a teen college drama, meant they built a large fan-base in 2008. All the more encouraging for “the state of modern music” when you consider that this is a band that isn’t afraid to pack diverse instrumentation such as harpsichords, brass, strings, steel guitars and rock drums into a four-minute pop song.
Listen to: Walcott
5. The Raconteurs – Consolers of the Lonely
Whilst most bands are currently referencing ‘The Guide To Making Successful Indie Music In 2008’ that clearly states “artists must be influenced by one or more of the following; Joy Division, Pixies, Sonic Youth and The Velvet Underground”, The Raconteurs here concern themselves with resurrecting sounds from times when the term ‘art-rock’ was most likely used in reference to a material from which sculptures could be made. The Raconteurs’ first album “Broken Boy Soldiers” was a hit, not least because of the presence of a certain Mr Jack White, but it also contained an abundance of joyous classic rock riffs as well as showcasing the hugely underrated talent of Brendan Benson. ‘Consolers of the Lonely’ ups the ante by taking their debut as a staring point and pumping it with steroids to create a muscular and theatrical sound that in parts wouldn’t sound out of place on a Tenacious D record. The drums in particular sound cavernous, possibly out of necessity in order to compete with the fearsome, crunching guitars. Restraint was a word obviously outlawed by the foursome early in the recording, but the result is a collection of loud, thrilling and fun power pop and retro rock anthems that will cause even the coolest of art-school zealots to whip out their air guitars in a fit of frenzied posturing.
Listen to: Salute Your Solution
4. Laura Marling – Alas I Cannot Swim
Delicately beautiful, graceful and captivating, but that’s enough about Miss Marling herself. Folk made a big impact on alternative music in 2008 and in ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’, Laura Marling showed that age is no barrier to writing emotionally charged tales of love and loss, sung with a heartfelt sincerity that could shatter even the hardest of hearts. Marling’s trembling, slight, breathy vocal style is utterly beguiling, whilst lyrically the record treads some pretty dark territory in places. The album benefits from being listened to from start to finish and sounds as good on a balmy summer's evening, accompanied by a glass of wine, as it does on a cold winter’s night, warmed by blankets and a hot chocolate.
Listen to: The Captain and Hourglass
3. British Sea Power – Do You Like Rock Music?
Booted up with eight feet firmly entrenched in the soil of idiosyncrasy, but with arms fully outstretched to embrace a wider audience, on ‘Do You Like Rock Music?’ British Sea Power created a larger, more confident sound than was present on their first two offerings. There is an undoubted sense of increased accessibility that might in some circles have supposed ‘aficionados’ muttering the words 'sold' and 'out' in hushed tones. A brave decision then for a band widely respected for their indie credentials. But also one that pays off, by helping to sculpt a record with great focus and purpose, without sacrificing originality or a sense of identity. Although the overall sound may have a bias towards cavernous outdoor stages and festival fields, lyrically BSP stayed faithful to their renowned leftfield approach to song writing. Songs such as ‘Canvey Island’ talk of bird flu and floods in 1953, whilst ‘Waving Flags’ speaks directly to European immigrants with supportive refrains of “Don’t be scared” and “Welcome in”. Having delivered on the promise of their debut and in doing so changing course slightly, it will be interesting to see where the good ship Sea Power sails next.
Listen to: Waving Flags