Sunday, January 07, 2007

2006 Music Review

Here is a review, in no particular order, of what's been the soundtrack to my year. I hope you enjoy!



CSS - Cansei de Ser Sexy



Possibly the best find of 2006 for me, Sao Paulo's CSS's had their first release for Sub Pop this year with the eponymous 'Cansei de Ser Sexy' or 'Tired of Being Sexy' (aren't we all?); apparently named after a quote from that most interesting individual, Beyonce! The band formed in 2003 as an excuse to meet up and drink, and back then only the drummer could play! CSS are refreshingly unashamed of having fun with their music and making people dance without needing to prove that they can do it with an intellectual slant, or in a nonchalent cooler-than-thou poise for camera as seems to be synonymous for 'indie' here in the UK. CSS don't so much deliver fast, funky, sharp guitar licks as throw them in your face and down your throat. Cast-off your indie-boy essay baggage as per Pitchforkmedia and enjoy the slices of attitude that are served up for you here. Opener 'CSS Suxxx' tells you immediately how it's going to be, with the title chanted mantra-style over a wrestling-stage of guitar noise. Before long, you're concerned at your inability to hold your feet still to the dirty groove of 'Let's Make Love and Listen to Death From Above' and the album centrepiece 'Art Bitch' with its absurdly dirty lyrics such as 'I am an artist/I am an artsy bitch/I sell my paintings to the man I eat' and 'Lick, lick, lick my art-tits/Suck, suck, suck my art-hole', and all in a Brazilian accent. CSS mainly sing in English, but my Portuguese girlfriend assures me that their native tongues are just as dirty, with lines such as 'Underneath the covers I moan in D-minor'. Nice.

The album is by no means a seminal album, but to look at it that way is missing the point. I won't even say that the album is solid, although everything is fun, you do sometimes find yourself 'waiting' through some of the lesser tracks for the big-boys (those big-boys being 'CSS Suxxx', 'Patins', 'Let's Make Love and Listen to Death From Above', 'Art Bitch' and 'Music Is My Hot, Hot Sex'). In that way, CSS can be reminiscent of 'Chicks On Speed', but the playfulness and freedom is needed to allow for the moments where everything comes together. What this album is is a tonic, an indie ex-foliator, a murk-detergent. Just stop writing about it and dance man!





Regina Spektor - Begin To Hope



What more can be said of the ever-wonderful Regina? 2006 saw a welcomed return for this Russian-born New York songstress with the confident and competent Begin to Hope. As would be hoped, the LP reflects the intelligence, wit, classical-training and offbeat, quirky humour of this unique performer, with the songs often taking handbrake-turns from simple piano riffs and gentle vocals to ivory car crashes with warbling moans to match, but always keeping you on side; no need has Regina for living in the back of beyond with her harp and a gothic veil, this is a New York city girl, and while the characters in her songs are richly drawn and doing some frankly confusing stuff, it's all with a knowing wink and a come-along-for-the-ride invitation, and hey, you're free this afternoon, so why not?

The songs that make up Begin to Hope struck me as being slower-paced in general than those of previous outings, but that's not to say there's no spice here. Just check out 'On The Radio', in which Regina muses over melancholy meanings of life, before asserting, 'No, this is how it works/You peer inside yourself/You take the things you like/And try to love the things you took/And then you take that love you made/And stick it into some/Someone else's heart /Pumping someone else's blood/And walking arm in arm/You hope it don't get harmed/But even if it does/You'll just do it all again', 'Hotel Song' with its direct and honest 'Come into my bed/I've got to know/Know know you' , the raucous 'That Time' with its closing verse of 'Hey remember that time when you od’ed?/Hey remember that other time when you od’ed for the second time?/Well in the waiting room while waiting for news of you I hallucinated I could read your mind/And I was on a lot of shit too but what I saw, man, I tell you it was freaky, freaky', and the pounding 'Edit' seemingly condemning you because 'You don't have no doctor Robert/You don't have no uncle Albert/You don't even have good credit/You can write but you can't edit '. Sorry Regina, I did try.

However, fear not the slower works between these towers, for each has a life of its own. Opener 'Fidelity' explains just how much these form part of the fabric of Regina herself , with 'I never loved nobody fully/Always one foot on the ground/And by protecting my heart truly/I got lost in the sounds I hear in my mind/All these voices/I hear in my mind all these words/I hear in my mind all this music'. Samson seems to suggest that even the infamous Nazirite would bow to Regina in the bedroom with 'Oh I cut his hair myself one night/A pair of dull scissors in the yellow light/And he told me that I'd done alright/And kissed me till the morning light/The morning light/And kissed me till the morning light'. Warning: this does not occur on a Norah Jones album. Nor does this from closer 'Summer in the City', 'Summer in the city means cleavage cleavage cleavage/And I start to miss you, baby, sometimes/I’ve been staying up and drinking in a late night establishment/Telling strangers personal things'. Well, how did Joe Cocker miss that one?

Simply put, this is another great work from Regina, and one in which a fuller sound and maturity has seemed to come about. This is Regina's time, and we await further news with great expectations. If you haven't discovered Regina yet, then the time could not be riper.




Tom Waits - Orphans
Or: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards



One album just wasn't enough for Tom this year. Some artists occasionally feel the need for a double-album, but when Tom was feeling particularly profilic, he just leap-frogged that and went for the triple. The set is a collection of 24 rare and 30 brand new songs. Each disc working as a separate collection; the first disc 'Brawlers', with the more roughcut rock and blues cuts, the second 'Bawlers', the more melancholy tunes and ballads, and the third disc 'Bastards' having the more experimental songs & spoken word pieces. Needless to say, with how much I loved 2004's 'Real Gone', my favourite of these is 'Bastards', but everything here works.

Particular favourites include 'Road to Peace', a scathing and accurate critique on nothing less than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, 'Long Way Home', 'Shiny Things', 'Take Care Of All My Children', 'What Keeps Mankind Alive, 'Children's Story', 'Army Ants', 'Dog Door', 'Nirvana', 'Dog Treat' and 'Missing My Son'. If you know Tom Waits and it's not for you then fair enough, but if you are into the contempory scene, but have so far not considered the great man, then acquaint yourself now. If the triple daunts you, then go for 'Real Gone', but note here that I'm waxing about his two most recent works; this man's aged muse is in exceptionally good health.




Jarvis Cocker - Jarvis



2006 saw a welcomed and overdue full return for the Pulp frontman. While I will open here by fully admitting that I haven't spent enough time with this album to give a complete assessment, I can guarantee for you that single 'Don't Let Him Waste Your Time' and centrepiece 'Fat Children' show that JC is still a 5-star artist. Both of these songs demonstrate that Jarvis knows exactly who he is, where he is, and where he's been. This is no Oasis-style cling to the big times, but a brave new flag and a true course toward the new horizon, which is exactly what you'd expect from someone of Jarvis' ability and intelligence. Fat Children caustically assesses the lack of cornerstones in the new society, with 'Well they wanted my brand new phone with all my pictures of my kids and my wife/A struggle ensued and then, fat children took my life' and 'Well some passer-by took me to the station/The police force were somewhere else/Putting bullets in some guy's head for no particular reason'. Ow.

While it may not be Pulp, this is an album with distinct merit, and anyone who was ever into Pulp as more than a brit-pop sweep-along will find some solace here. I look forward to mining it for more.




Joanna Newsom - Ys



There are two main camps on this one. The first goes 'What the fuck?', and the second (disturbingly now found in The Guardian, The Independent and every half-hip art/music magazine in the country) goes 'This is the most seminal album since the wax cylinder was invented, it takes roughly 700 listens to get it, but when you do IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE FOREVER, and all the people who don't get it will relocate underground whilst us higher intellects will attain a higher plain'.


OK, I'm exaggerating. A little. Where I stand is somewhere inbetween these two. As someone who adored 2004's 'The Milk-Eyed Mender', I was psyching myself up for just how good 'Ys' would be, and at the same time trying to ignore the hype (which is why unheard of bands are so nice), and as a result I am now still in the fog. Maybe I do need to get up to 700 listens, and I'm resistant to come out with a quick 'The Milk-Eyed Mender was better', but it was certainly simpler (and that's saying something). There are only five tracks on 'Ys', but it comes in at over 52 minutes, and it does not consist of post-rock landscapes with crashes guitars and avalanches of white-noise to perk you up. Instead there are harps and warbles of medieval poetry that go on for quite some time. Reading lyrics, you start to pick out characters of interest, and repeating listenings do deliver hooks, but if you're new to Joanna, I'd recommend that you seek out the BA of MEM. If this then tickles your lute, get ready for some post-grad pondering as lesser types around you hit the easy fix of Meredith Brookes.




Tilly and the Wall - Bottom of Barrels



Coalescing from several floundering Omaha groups in 2001, Tilly and the Wall take their name from children's book "Tillie and the Wall", written by Leo Lionni, with their surreal and childish album artworks being very much in the vein of Lionni's own covers. It's little surprise therefore that the music continues in the same thread. However, although the tracks here are full of wonder at the world and the 'come along' gusto that goes with it (especially centrepiece 'Sing Songs Along'), there is suffused through this work a dark underside; the 'Tilly kids' do not get things easy...



Take coming of age track and opener 'Rainbows in the Dark', changing the usual 'He broke my heart' scenario and adding 'Oh, and my face too', with 'Then I met a man with a fist for a hand/Held me flat on my back, taught me how to give in/Some phrases were shot, pretty roses got tossed/The gift of a fat-lipped grin'. The second track 'Urgency' gives us an idea of how Tilly see themselves amongst all this with 'A protester's sandwich board in the park/Said you know the world is big and got a loose heart/You've only got what you've just polished clean/So you either start screaming or start singing'. Singing it was then.



Lesser bands trying this level of pretension, with well-formed lyrics or no, would foul it up, and come down on the wrong side of the saccharine divide. However, Tilly wrap it up in such clattering pop numbers (complete with a tap dancer instead of a drummer) that it all usually comes together well, with the lacklustre tracks being the ones where the music takes a back seat and the lyrics are left awfully bear (ballads 'Love Song' and 'Lost Girls'). Despite their originality, the band remains easy to place as very much an American indie emergence in terms of arrangements, style and content; no British band would have the boldness or the ability to pull this twee/serious balance off. Our nearest, the wonderful Belle & Sebastian, would never resist the temptation of infusing some self-aware cleverness and maybe some stories about a gay 10-year old playing with marbles that only they knew the true meaning of. And that is a very good thing. Tilly's tweeness is bold and direct and in the throngs of 'Sing Songs Along', you really don't want them to be more self aware, you don't want to sit and ponder whether you're really being hoodwinked or not, you just want stand up, kick-out and sing along right there with them. Go do it.




Ladytron - Extended Play



A short note on this one just to say that in a year when the mighty Ladytron released no original material, they did at least come out with a compilation of remixes, mainly taken from their tight 2005 release, 'The Witching Hour'. From the tensed 'Everything You Touch' to the throat-clutching re-vamp of 'Sugar', this is worthy stuff. Throw in the dark atmospherics of 'Citadel' and 'Tender Talons' and this becomes an entity in its own right, which is of course how remix albums should be.



Nina Simone - Remixed and Reimagined



With the myriad of best of's and 'Ultimate Cool Worth-The-Price Boxsets with Booklet' Nina Simone outings, it was perhaps inevitable that a remix LP would come along. However, it was very pleasing to discover that as with the Ladytron release, this is worthy and inventive stuff. Of course, you have to sit through 'that one from the Muller advert', but skip it and you have a beat-heavy and honourable set of reworkings of this grand master. It'll even suit for one of those 'fader to low' evenings...



Superqueens - Royal Shit



Awesome stuff. Avidly looking forward to all future material. Let's just hope that continued success doesn't calm the nerves of acerbic Michael Conray and lead the 'Queens to release an album of love ballads. Unlikely.

Here is the review I gave out in September:

Following Rullsenberg's feature on the new Superqueens album, The Royal Shit, I just had to join her in singing the praises of this mancunian project and its continued success. After catching their debut Cheap Shots via His Peelness, I had high hopes for the follow-up and even though snapshots such as The Ghost of Billy Whizz and the superb Rat Poison (featuring which pre-release almost got us into trouble with the band!) were excellent, it was still with some trepidation that I started to play The Royal Shit.Thankfully, there was no need for the worry as the album is solid. Continuing their trademark bitter urban poetry over piercing beats and dark synths, Superqueens weave their way through eight entertaining dark tales, achieving an accuracy far beyond any of Frank Skinners coy-boy musings. Take Rat Poison's bleak observations of social decay and disregard by the powers that be, 'Maybe it was something that he ate, or sniffed or soaked up from TV, That made his eyes flash "It's late, It's feeding time", In the restaurant of the dead community' or Spinning Leaf, a rival for Rat Poison's crown and a reckoning of society's advancements, 'I've been thinking about the Egyptians and their slaves, How the Pharaoh's tomb meant their mass grave, And I've been thinking about England, and us'. Add to this titles such as Per Ardua Ad Strangeways, Mister You're A Lapdancer, Not For All The E's In England and The Ghost of Billy Whizz ('Billy Whizz is dead. Long live the new dealer, Go crown yourself in Nike and Fila, Good luck, make money, mac, marina, He got harpooned by a hypo in the sunny afternoon') and you can see the general direction of the Superqueens' duo's outlook. My only regret here is that the album version of Rat Poison buries the siren effect far down in the mix whereas the BBC session take had it as a prominent feature, but really that's just splitting hairs when the quality level is this high.




Nina Nastasia - On Leaving



A new release from the Peel favourite, hipper-than-thou Nina Nastasia. Yes, it's less orchestral than we'd like, yes, the songs don't change from quiet spaces of calm to crescending emotional implosions in the space of a few seconds (well, not as much), and yes, it's a little short, but with pieces like 'Settling Song' making my girlfriend cry on first listening, this girl still has it all.

And finally....

Amplifico - coming soon...

Edinburgh-based web-project Amplifico's self-funded independent debut album with me on the sleeve will be released early 2007!! Watch this space. It's going to be GOOD!

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9 Comments:

Blogger Scott said...

You know what would be really cool?

This may be asking a lot, but if you had little snippets of a song from each album, that would be cool. Here in the U.S., I've never even heard of any of these bands (well, of course I've heard of Nina Simone)... it'd be interesting to see what the Brits are listening to!

8 January 2007 at 01:16  
Blogger George Walks said...

I'm afraid I don't have the time or the technical ability for that! However, what you can do is search a radio page such as Radio Blog or search for the artists' myspace pages.

Happy hunting!

8 January 2007 at 17:39  
Blogger Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Brilliant reviews G and a FABULOUS selection...

and yes, I should be working...

10 January 2007 at 09:39  
Blogger George Walks said...

Ta Rulls, did hope you'd like. Currently getting down and dirty with my new Christmas imports. Oh yeah!

10 January 2007 at 17:14  
Blogger Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Oooh, how are the new acquisitions? Including those crucial AshGroovers collections?

10 January 2007 at 17:34  
Blogger Simon said...

Great review! Makes me want to go and check out all this music! Saw Jarvis on Jools Holland a couple of months ago and really liked it. I totally agree about 'YS' by Joanna Newsom - completely amazing!

Cheers

Si

10 January 2007 at 19:27  
Blogger George Walks said...

Yes, the Jarvis still rocks, and the Newsom is still a very interesting artist in any case. Hope your Christmas had a good soundtrack Simon.

11 January 2007 at 16:44  
Blogger George Walks said...

Lisa - the new acquisitions are fine and dandy, more will come on that front. Haven't heard much on how you found L&N12 and 13.

11 January 2007 at 16:46  
Blogger Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Public praise being writ as we speak! But ya know we loved 'em!

15 January 2007 at 21:32  

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