1. The constant murmur of DFA1979
I am not trying to confuse you. That is not poor editing. 1979 fell under a keyboard avalanche of excitement about the sheer mention of the Canadian duo. I’m finding it hard to relinquish the hard press of the shift button in fear of failing to imbue the level of excitement that exists in these fingertips.
You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine qualifies for any Championship Vinyl Top 5, regardless of criteria. The album is perfect. I would kill for that band. Sadly this murder-inducing love for the band comes not without its pain. Being introduced to them post-split has meant it’s been an especially troubled relationship. For years, the fact that I’d never see them perform live was a hard pill to swallow. Much harder than the fact I’ll never see The Kinks or The Doors.
Fast-forward seven years and I’m sat at a computer reading and re-reading the line from an interview JFK did with Billboard.com – “The new album will come out in March, but we will be done with it in December.”
It doesn’t exist yet but even the knowledge of a time-frame for when the new material will drop has certainly made me happier. Death From Above 2014.
2. A year of discovery
I’ll preface my second great moment of the year with another slice-of-life-context-pie (it’s still delicious). 2013 was, brace yourself as apparently this is a bit weird, the first time I’d been on a plane. It took twenty-two years and a few months for me to take to the skies, but when I did I felt like a regular Christopher Columbus [genocide aside]. Don’t worry I did it in style. WELL, actually I didn’t but EasyJet just offers too great a deal to care. The point. On a day spent traversing the streets of Istanbul, filled with coffee and buoyed by the sight of a cat in a basket of scarves, I wandered into a record shop. I am, like a lot of people, a chronic peruser. To wit; a shop filled with meticulously ordered vinyl… THE POINT (I’ll get there) is I didn’t leave with nothing as on the third or fourth round of the tables my ears were seduced by the discordant guitar of Seefeel. So I didn’t touch down in England telling of the feast of Turkish delights in a music scene waiting to be uncovered, but I had returned to Britain aware of the musical talents of a British four-piece. Fine investigative work. So now on listening to ‘Dead Guitars’ I don’t only hear that track, but I am stirred by a deep longing for my daily Simit (it’s like a bagel/pretzel cross and cost a deliciously low 37p). That’s it, the point right there.
3. A year of discovery Part II – Lady Lamb the Beekeeper & Drenge
Number 3 is not so much a moment as a list of instructions.
1. Find a community of music fans/enlist a bunch of your good friends – the more varied the better as far as musical tastes are concerned –
2. Post new music you enjoy
3. Assume they’ll return the favour
4. Enjoy the dividends.
Some examples: I had no idea who Lady Lamb the Beekeeper was until her debut was added to said group’s accompanying Spotify playlist. One listen and the rewards of collaborative sharing were as evident as the joys of a cup of coffee on a cold morning. “My hair grew long, so I fucking cut it” cries Aly Spaltro towards the end of ‘Bird Balloons’, epitomising that rawness which is so quickly enticing in her sound.
The same also goes for Drenge’s* debut. I’ve liked me a fine two-piece ever since a Lego Jack & Meg adorned my TV screen. Unlike MTV though, two-pieces are very much still going strong. Drenge is two men that create SO much noise. Oh, and it’s damn good, definitely should have been given a nod over Arctic Monkey’s latest in the Mercury Prize nominations. Put on Lady Lamb the Beekeeper and Drenge now. Do it. Go on. Now. One after the other. Warning: unavoidable side-effect, conspicuous increase in fist-pumping.
*Fact for the day: Drenge is Danish for boys
4. The National and, more importantly, Local Natives @ The Roundhouse
The joy of non-synchronised touring schedules and regulated writing speeds means that every year, at the very least, one band I’ve been attentively following releases a new album. 2013 seems to be an especially bumper crop* for just this phenomenon, evidenced by, amongst others, The National’s seventh album and Local Natives’ second hitting the shelves. Natives’ Hummingbird is already up there in my AOTY and I doubt that is likely to change. To cap off these particular releases The National announced a few one-off shows with buddies and production charges Local Natives.
Flash-forward to the Roundhouse and once again, albeit for slightly different reasons, the support outshone the main act on my return to the ever-lovely venue**. Now, don’t get me wrong – The National’s performance transfigured me into an even bigger fan of theirs as a result [Matt Berninger getting shouty is always awesome] but, Local Natives charmed the pants off me. They had so much pizazz. I know using pizazz makes me sound like a mum describing a new jumper as “fun” (WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN) but only once before has my experience of live music induced such buckling of the knees (George Lewis Jr. of Twin Shadow is one sexy performer). LN nailed it. That post-show catalytic renewal of affection saw their debut become somehow infinitely superior upon re-listening, and a rapid throwing of money at their feet for their forthcoming Brixton show the minute I got through the front door.
*I’ll be honest I wanted to digress into a weird and long-winded analogy of how music (like food) is planted and harvested but I decided it might be too alienating for an introductory post.
**I.e. Band of Skulls as a pleasant surprise compared to Dead Weather who were expectantly so. The magic of the unknown quantity.
5. George Lewis Jr. continues to exist
Hype is a fine art. Curating the excitement for musicians new LP’s requires both allaying and simultaneously stoking, predominantly by the release of some musical nugget or other in the run up to it. Sadly, this (like a current trend in movie trailers) can have negative effects; severely spoiling the end-result via overegging the pudding [or braying about the pudding so damn much that people no longer give a flying fuck about the pudding any longer, hi Haim!].
However, what to do when these nuggets have no relation to a forthcoming EP/LP? My heart skips a beat? Unavoidable swoons? Either way, I get excited. Enter George Lewis Jr., the man behind the aforementioned knee-buckling Confess and an excellent bunch of other stuff which is excellent. It isn’t album #3, but he’s providing me with morsels of musical goodness from his creative table which I am more than content with.
Well, for now anyway.
For better or worse, 2013 has been dominated and defined by high-profile comebacks. Some have been excellent, others so misjudged that all rose-tinted memories have been tarnished forever. Let’s break it down:
1. Justin Timberlake
JT is pretty much my favourite popstar of all time, so containing my preposterous excitement levels in the midst of Warwick library when I heard about his comeback was a bit of an ask. Would we hear the next ‘Señorita, ‘Sexy Back’ or ‘Cry Me A River’? Well, no, as it turns out. Timberlake’s comeback was a remarkably mature affair which largely sent critics into a frenzy, enjoying his fresh approach to the ‘marriage’ album [if occasionally gagging at some of his metaphors]. Whilst very good indeed, it lacked that extra ingredient to bring it into the big leagues it aspired towards. News of a second part to The 20/20 Experience seemed just the ticket, dialing down the 8-minute and injecting some early-00s vaccine-resistant superbug level catchiness and groove into the sequel. Um… nope. A collection of half-baked b-sides and further lyrical diabolicalness saw Part 2 get the rough reception it deserved, with JT’s binge on quantity over quality deflating the balloons of his own comeback party.
2. David Bowie
Totally unexpected, wholly sublime – what else would we expect from Bowie? His first studio album in a decade was preceded by ‘Where Are We Now?’, a melancholy, subtly gorgeous song that proved perfectly poised to coincide with a miserable extended winter. The Next Day was very special, self-aware whilst always looking forward, demonstrating that no one does it quite like Bowie. He deserved that Mercury Prize for getting Tilda Swinton in his video for ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’ alone. Now if you could just do a tour Dave, that would be grand.
3. Destiny’s Child
This ‘comeback’ (if you could call it that) felt a little bit underwhelming, to be honest. ‘Nuclear’ floated out of the blocks, practically yawning the announcement of a lazy cash-in of compilation and then a three-minute spot in the midst of Beyoncépalooza – poor Michelle. Destiny’s Child deserve better. Treat this as the novelty warm-up for an inevitable extended reunion when Blue Ivy has a few insanely rich younger siblings to keep her entertained. Whether the world needs Destiny’s Child again is a contestable point, but this seemed more a case of needing to pay the ‘Bills, Bills, Bills’ than a long over-due celebration of all things ‘Bootylicious’.
4. Daft Punk
Truth be told, four months on and I’m still fairly unsure about Random Access Memories. The extraordinary hype surrounding their first album since 2005 was a master-class, combining teasing secrecy with barn-storming announcements in a how-to guide for all fuck-up record label marketing teams. The duo further built this up by crafting the superb, timeless and incessantly infectious lead single with ‘Get Lucky’, but when RAM finally dropped, I believe the rest of the album didn’t quite live up to the initial promise. I can’t shake the muzak vibe of it all. But then it went to Number 1 in twenty countries. Hmmm.
Only one thought came to mind when watching this train wreck. BYE BYE BYE.
1. T in the Park 2013
As someone who considers himself a born advocate of all things music – bar twerking and Axl Rose [thanks for the image of a twerking Axl Rose Mike] – turning 21 without ever having been to a proper music festival would have been borderline blasphemy. To save myself from a lifetime of self-ostracisation and regret, I chose to pounce upon the sun-kissed dustbowls of Kinross-shire, and more specifically T in the Park, in a year which just so happened to mark the 20th anniversary of the weekend event. An accordingly stellar line-up cemented the golden greatness of that July weekend.
The standard intermittent pangs of remorse when I consider some of the acts I eschewed across those three days aside, fond memories of losing my shit as Phoenix ripped into ‘Entertainment’; hearing two incarnations of ‘White Noise’ in a single afternoon (the first from AlunaGeorge, the second from Disclosure themselves); and marvelling at how much of a douchebag Yannis Philippakis is in a live environment, did more than enough to cement the occasion’s tremendousness. Undoubtedly the highlight of my summer.
2. Yeah Yeah Yeahs @ O2 Apollo Manchester
Although I still hold a huge beef with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ management team for only booking the trio tour spots in Manchester, Leeds and London for the UK leg of their Mosquito circuit, the eight-hour round trip to Manchester and back was more than worth the hassle. A frantic navigating the unfamiliar city with burgeoning excitement and friends in tow, culminating in a hushed moment when we came within feet of Nick Zinner as he hurried into the back doors of the venue.
In the gig itself, highlights came frenetically thick and fast, bringing out the big guns (‘Zero’, ‘Date with the Night’, ‘Maps’) alongside fan curios (‘Phenomena’, ‘Art Star’) with equal sophisticated swagger. Huddled together right at the front of the gorgeous, operatic hall, we were in a prime location to enjoy the cracking foundries of energy lighting up the stage. ‘Sacrilege’ (firmly in contention for ‘Single of the Year’) provided an instant dose of euphoria, which only went on to swell and swell as the performance progressed. Karen O was on fighting form as she pranced, danced and skittered across the stage; shrieking, detonating glitter bombs and deep-throating microphones like a maniacal blond whirlwind. Yeah Yeah Yeahs are a truly electrifying live experience, one which treats the eyes and ears with force and finesse.
3. Hibernation is over!
Such a wealth of artists returned from extended album breaks or hiatuses in 2013 that next year is already starting to pale in comparison. Not only did Queens of the Stone Age and Daft Punk return with their first studio albums in years, but the quality of the individual songs themselves are largely among the best in their respective careers. Random Access Memories was slightly jumbled in tone, yet overflowing with the kind of joie-de-vivre which so many of its peers lack, while …Like Clockwork finds Joshua Homme scaling new heights as a songwriter, exhibiting an aching maturity to counterweight the trademark swagger of the group.
Elsewhere, Arcade Fire bombarded us with the mighty single ‘Reflektor’, David Bowie burst back out of the shadows with The Next Day, and My Bloody Valentine finally attempted to top Loveless with their first record in 21 years. There may have been other disappointing returns to the fold this year, but with legends such as these back on the radar, for the most part, we have every right to celebrate 2013 as a year of great homecoming: a time when such veteran players sound at their most forward-thinking.
4. Field of Reeds. In a field.
These New Puritans’ masterful Field of Reeds afforded me a more – ahem – “immersive” experience of Field of Reeds than any other record I’ve been attuned to recently.
Soaking up new albums is always best while on the move, and mulling over their cadences while on long walks through the great outdoors generally makes for the most enjoyable experiences. With this in mind when encountering some July doldrums, I grabbed my headphones and made for the meadows, with These New Puritans to accompany me on the trip. And of course, I got lost along the way.
Getting lost on the moors of southern England while listening to the ghostly soundscapes of Field of Reeds wasn’t exactly fun, but it was certainly a breathtaking experience, especially when hearing the likes of ‘The Light in Your Name’ and ‘Organ Eternal’ repeat their doomed mantras. In particular, as ‘V (Island Song)’ gracefully ticked beyond its four-minute mark and those ghostly waves of spine-tingling horror began to unravel, I was immersed in goosebumps.
Field of Reeds is an album strong enough to transport its listeners to a particular time and place all of its own accord, but when hopelessly immersed in a physical manifestation of its subject, it felt more multi-dimensional than ever. If nothing else, it proves that straying from footpaths can be a good idea on occasion.
5. Vindings: Netting the Alien soundtrack on vinyl for £3.50
Jerry Goldsmith’s chilling score for Ridley Scott’s 1979 triumph is as much a masterpiece in its own right as it is when paired with the film’s extraordinary visuals. Otherworldly, haunting, and with each one of its arrangements laced with cinematic beauty, it’s an exceptionally-crafted suite of suspense and catharsis. Finding it for a mere £3.50 in Leamington Spa’s Head was simultaneously the nicest surprise of the year, and also my best value-for-money purchase of the past twelve months. Huzzah!