Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Losing My Edge

I don't really listen to albums anymore. I buy them, occasionally, 2 or 3 at a time. I listen to them once, all the way through, as I import them onto iTunes. Anything thats immediately offensive to me - skits on rap albums, obviously filler songs etc - I don't even bother importing. Then, if its an album by a band thats important to me, I'll make the effort and listen to it on my iPod on my way to work or when I'm at the computer. Since I moved house earlier this year, I haven't even bothered setting up my actual stero yet. So 99% of the time, I listen to iTunes on shuffle. This means that I'll buy an album in March, and by December, the random nature of shuffle has decreed that, of the 8,000+ songs on my computer, I'll only have actually heard 5 of the songs of that album since its been imported. This was the fate of Broken Social Scenes's eponymous album this year. Oddly enough, shuffle also decided that of those 5 songs, I would get to hear one (7/4 (Shoreline)) no less than 5 times. Which means that I know and like that song but the rest of the record is a mystery to me.

I'm too lazy to make playlists unless its for a specific trip or event. I rarely search for a specific song on my iPod so that I can listen to it, but I do spend a lot of time skipping songs when listening to shuffle. So albums have become somewhat meaningless. Songs are the new currency for me, and the strange preferences of shuffle do throw up certain songs at certain times. Particular tracks do seem to recur, and I will get to know one song from an album in a few weeks, while another eight are never even heard, as in the case of Broken Social Scene. This makes any Top 10 list of tracks this year slightly arbitrary, or at least a joint effort, the work of both myself and my iTunes. I should also point out that working where I work means constantly hearing music, some of it good, most of it awful, all of it on a long loop which means I hear some songs dozens of times a day. Most songs cannot stand up to such scrutiny.

Added to that, I listen to more old music than new. I probably buy as many old cds as I do new ones. The album I've listened to most this year was Ghosts of the Great Highway by Sun Kil Moon, and even that came out in 2003. There are always singers and bands and composers and musicians I've heard of but never heard, genres I get a new interest in, songs I hear in films that send me off exploring. That is, after all, one of the great things about music - there is so much uncharted territory personally, so much to hear and discover. I'm getting on a bit, too, theres a disturbing amount of grey in my stubble these days, and a lot of new music leaves me unmoved. I haven't read NME in an age, I don't listen to the radio, I don't watch music tv. I feel, in a way, terribly close to that "2 albums a year" demographic. Only instead of Snow Patrol and James Blunt, my two albums would be Roedelius and The Triffids.

So, obviously, no Top 10 albums list. But top 10 songs, that I can do, though in no particular order :

Phoenix - North
Phoenix write pop songs, usually. But this song is all groove, no hook. Literally. An instrumental that never really goes anywhere, just glides along driven by a sort of krautrock motorik pulse, its the best-sounding song on their last album, which tries far too hard to sound like a poppier Strokes. Here they stretch out and relax, and it suits them so much more.

The Raconteurs - Broken Boy Soldier
I think...I prefer The Raconteurs to the White Stripes. I love Brendan Benson, and Jack White in fun-mode is, well, more fun than his Stripes stuff, for me. My favourite moment here is the intro : the way the first guitar scrapes itself in like fingers on a blackboard, then the throb of the bass, then the little tinkle of the second guitar. But it sounds like a great 70s band to me, which is how its supposed to sound.

Amy Winehouse - Back to Black
She obviously has a fantastic voice, and here she uses it over a classic soul backing, a stately paced string arranged ballad of lost love and pain, with her characteristically funny, truthful lyrics ("He kept his dick wet") done justice by her sincere-sounding delivery. "Sincere-sounding" makes it sound dry, but its anything but. She just sounds like she means it, which is a big part of her appeal.

Republic of Loose - Comeback Girl
They sound like the J Geils Band and Little Feat and the Stones circa Emotional Rescue. Whiteboy funk, played by recovering indie boys. This song has a joyous chorus, made up of a falsetto cry, a mumbled plea, and a call-and-response "Yeah", all of it erupting out of a stupidly relaxed one-chord groove.

Mogwai - Auto Rock
The usual Mogwai sound. A bit of piano instead of acoustic guitar, maybe. The guitars build more quietly in the background than usual, and they don't really start to hit until about 3 minutes in, and even then it doesn't have the ferocity you expect from this band when they cut loose. Instead its all focused on that big anthemic melody, and its a great melody. Plus theres that bass drum really pounding tribally all the way through.

Cat Power - The Greatest
The fact that I found it hard to pick between about five songs from this album suggests that its my favourite album of the year, I think. But this, the opening track, with that gentle, graceful mix of strings (playing a melody reminiscent of Moon River) and piano, and Chan Marshall's always lovely voice, is just beautiful. It sounds like it could have been recorded in any year since 1950, and that for me is a good thing.

Fujiya & Miyagi - Photocopier
It sounds a bit like Can, only catchier. With more electronics, and Damo Suzuki actually making his lyrics audible. The chorus goes "And we were just pretending to be Japanese." Some of the other songs on their album sound just like Neu!, too, only catchier. And sometimes a bit like Eno. Only catchier. I love them.

The Lemonheads - Become the Enemy
Evan Dando has a genius for writing a scruffy, catchy pop-punk-country-rock tune like nobody else, when he can be arsed. Except hes only ever really been arsed consistently for one single album over the course of his entire career, and Its a Shame About Ray was 15 years ago. But I suppose I should be grateful that hes still alive at all, and still releasing records. This has that casual brilliance hes always been capable of, and sounds as if he just rolled out of bed one morning and wrote it before he'd even woken up properly. It even rocks, a bit, in that shrugging Lemonheads way, as if to really rock out is a bit uncool. As if they can't be arsed.

Loose Fur - The Ruling Class
Wilco are one of my favourite bands, and anything Jim O'Rourke is involved in is worth listening to, so Loose Fur are a no-brainer for me. But where the first album is a bit of a die-hard-fans-only experiment, the second actually has a fine set of songs. This has a strummed country feel to it, and a slightly eerie whistled refrain. Whistling always sounds eerie to me on records. Young Folks by Peter Bjorn and John includes some creepy whistling. Even that Air song from few years back, Alpha Beta Gaga, which was all whistling - its a bit creepy. Something unhinged about the cheeriness of whistling? Jeff Tweedy has a great rock & roll voice, too, even on a semi-spoken tune like this.

Guillemots - Trains To Brazil
A euphoric summertime song about cold winter mornings, with an amazing horn refrain in place of a chorus.

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Blogger daveysomethingfunny said...

I still reckon the Winehouse song should have been the Bond tune. It was the only one I ran home and downloaded after hearing it at work.

I also ran home and learnt how to play the intro to Broken Boy Soldiers on my guitar. Didn't bother learning the rest of the song...as is often the case.

The skip button on my ipod is in danger of falling off because of shuffle.

Also the Guillemots album only has about two good songs. So in that instance you're not missing much.

12:24 am  
Blogger David N said...

I really like much of the Guillemots album, though obviously I've only heard some of it once. Damned iTunes.
The thing I really love about Back To Black, I've realised, the detail that just absolutely makes the song - is the big doomy tolling bells before she sings the word "Black" on the chorus. Its straight out of a Morricone spaghetti soundtrack. But yeah, it does have that silky dangerous romanticism of a Bond tune. Though it doesn't have the even-more-dangerous -sounding middle eight all great Bond songs have. Thats worth a blog, actually - alternative Bond songs. Bjork used to release one a year.

8:41 pm  
Blogger jamesinbrasil said...

i am an albums purist - so i am the complete opposite of you. i will only listen to an album if i have all the tracks in the correct order, and its rare for me to not listen to an album in its entirety. so the world isnt exactly going my way. i like to use shuffle sometimes, its nice to hear those random tracks that you haven't heard in years, but generally i can't handle the idea of those unheard nuggets, potentially going to waste. doesn't the fact that you like what you've heard of the broken social scene album make you want to listen to it all, to see if the rest is as good?

11:34 am  
Blogger David N said...

Well, yeah, of course it does. But I also want to listen to all the other albums I've bought recently - by which I mean the last 6 months - and all the stuff I've downloaded and all the older stuff I still don't know.

This is when I'm not watching movies or tv shows or playing games or reading. So basically when I'm on the computer or commuting. there just isn't time. Thats the trade-off, I guess : you haven't seen any of the movies on my list. Because you were listening to music.

7:02 pm  

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