Slow and British

The year is drawing to a close and, like everybody else for whom music represents an obsession, I'm obsessively cultivating those sacred "year-end" lists.

My "best albums of the year" will be exactly the same as that of pretty much everybody else but with two very important differences:

1. Nobody else liked Zero 7's "Yeah Ghost".
2. Nobody else cares about my opinion. My ultimate list will not be discussed, spat upon, torn to shreds nor used as a basis of what to buy, what to hear. I can but dream. Oh fuck off.

But there are other lists to be compiled before that one. First, here's a list of albums I "dug" that were released elsewhere last year that I only heard this year because I'm slow and British.

1. Empire Of The Sun - Walking On A Dream
When this was first released over here, earlier in the year, most everyone seemed to be spouting exactly the same. The "E" word and the "M" word. The "E" being "Eighties", the "M" "MGMT". I took issue with both. Synths and drum machines have been a fixture of pop-music since the 60s. Why, then, are any musicians who peddle a vaguely electronic sound these days instantly painted/tainted with the "eighties" brush? And MGMT? Luke Steele had been doing the whole lysergic psyche thing for years before those Friends of Fridmann, but nobody likened MGMT to The Sleepy Jackson, did they?

But that was all immaterial. For two solid weeks it formed the soundtrack to my dull and drizzly journey to work through dreary Northenden and deadly Wythenshaw. Every day was damp and grey. And yet, every day the sun was shining. This album offered perfect escapism - it rendered those depressing streets positively dazzling and ensured that I was in something vaguely approaching a "good mood" upon arriving at work.

To me, much of it sounds like the soundtrack to a technicolour, hyperkinetic Japanese videogame. Think Game Cube, Dreamcast - think Puyo Puyo, Puzzle Bobble, Outrun or Super Monkey Ball. Listen to those steel drums at the end of Half Mast - that's what I'm thinking. Even has lyrics about hotels in the hills with carousels. Pure, joyous escapism. Never got along with that last track, though.

2. Women - Women

This came out very late last year overseas and seemed to come out here very early this year. As such, I can't help but view it as being somehow removed from time and space. I mean, it's important to not link music to whichever year it happens to be released - and when visiting established albums it's a lot easier - but when you're coming across music as and when it's released, well, it's difficult - for about five years after their release albums feel like little more than products of their time.

So it's unusual for me to find an album released so recently that feels so detached from everything else. The music helps, of course. At any one moment it sounds at once a product of grimy log cabins, of sodden pine forests and of shady crack-alleys. What's a crack-alley? An alley in which crack is taken? What in tarnation? An anus.

Yes, it sounds filthy, dangerous - but also vast, fresh and dripping. The album drips as it sizzles and not one vocal is discernible from the scalding mix. There are, of course, moments of creepy sweetness - but the full descent into feedback noise madness at the end leaves a lasting feeling of disquiet and discomfort. Short, at little over half an hour, but a listening experience somewhat akin to taking that short-cut home through the graveyard at night.

3. School of Seven Bells - Alpinisms

I loved The Secret Machines. I still do. I love The Secret Machines. And yet, I never got around to listening to their third album. Thing is, Benjamin Curtis apparently left as a consequence of finding himself disillusioned with the fact that his band were beginning to dabble in territory too conventionally rocky for him. Citation needed, indeed.

"And if the band you're in starts playing different tunes/I'll see you on the dark side of the moon" - for Mr. Curtis, the dark side of the moon was The School of Seven Bells; an airy, curvy haven with air so crisp it's bitingly cold. I'm not usually a fan of describing music solely in terms of bands of whom I'm reminded. However, when I heard these sweet Mellow Candle harmonies over music as otherworldly as The Cocteau Twins (albeit with less dated production values) - well, all of a sudden that third Secret Machines album didn't seem so appealing. No. I still very much want to hear it. It's just that, I always liked Curtis's work, and if he was finding them too - pedestrian? - and took all his good ideas here - well, the urgency was lost, you know?

Alpinisms. Makes me wish I could ski. Or, at the very least, that I lived in the mountains. A glorious album with which it is by no means a bad thing that it causes me to fall asleep.

NEXT - Three disappointments of 2009. Oh no!

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