Part Four - The Penultimate Part Of This Awful Folly
Part four of five of my list of my favourite albums of 2010.
Laurie Anderson – Homeland
An aching, searing eulogy for the American Dream itself; a dark and gloomy concept album concerning the credit crunch; barbed and witty performance poetry set to a backdrop of throat singers, squalling free jazz, keyboard drones, techno beats and a very specially “treated” violin. Whilst young musicians everywhere, apparently horrified by the world around them, are looking inwards and backwards; it takes a middle aged veteran to write such songs based upon the terrible mess that she sees before her. That the album is such a foreboding and confusing listen says it all: The feel to dominate the album is one of unerring dread.
Without a doubt two songs form the gravitational hub of this book of fear and loathing: The eleven minute pitch-shifted drones of “Another Day In America” and the irresistibly catchy pounding “Only An Expert” which features the stellar electronics of Kieran Hebden and the searing guitar work of husband and legend Lou Reed. Somehow, both of these tracks together manage to sum up most everything that's wrong in the western world in 2010.
Yet, despite the chilling apocalyptic nature of the album, Laurie's sense of humour is always present and her tone is one of weariness rather than resignation. That's to say that there's still, apparently, hope. That she's by no means proclaiming us as doomed is something of a comfort – though her plaintive sigh that we're reaching for the stars which she thought indestructible in “Another Day...” is disquietingly ominous.
The ultimate testament to this album's worth, though, is NME's 0/10 review which petulantly moaned that they didn't understand it and that only pretentious and boring people will. Plaudits rarely come higher.
Badly Drawn Boy – It's What I'm Thinking pt.1: Photographing Snowflakes
The Hour Of Bewilderbeast was the first album I ever loved and, since then, I've been following Badly Drawn Boy as closely as is possible without incurring some kind of restraining order. That's to say that I'm a fan.
The news, then, that he'll be releasing no less than three albums over the next year was an almighty boon for me. My excitement only intensified after I became prithee to the sheer quality of the material as can be found within the first part of the imminent trilogy.
Photographing Snowflakes is a magical album. One of the first things sang by the man on the first song on his first album I've always taken as something of a statement of intent - “To put a little bit of sunshine in your life”. Every single one of his albums has, so far, delivered on this promise.
His music possesses a welcoming cosiness – his voice is as comforting as a pair of old shoes. This is, perhaps, the most intimate of all of his releases to date. All is bathed in a hazy reverb which makes the album perfect listening for such nights where it's bitingly cold outside yet warm and glowing within.
Autechre – Oversteps
Every album I've heard by these guys has managed to sound unique not just in terms of their oeuvre but also in terms of music itself. Nobody sounds quite like them, and no two releases sound quite the same. Hallmarks both of a group to treasure.
I found 2008's Quaristice to be stunning – small snippets of rhythmic mayhem and ambient beauty which, combined, made for a fluent, challenging and ultimately rewarding listening experience. All preliminary investigation indicated that Oversteps would prove to be their most accessible album yet. I wasn't quite expecting an Autechre “pop” album, but even so, such claims I initially found baffling.
All first impressions with Autechre are of bafflement. But still, when I hear this album today and am presented once again with such sublime rhythms and textures that would happily soundtrack the parts of my subconscious mind of which I'm proudest – it's hard to believe the extent to which I was initially unimpressed.
Never underestimate, friends, the power of repeat listening. So often has it been said that nobody really “enjoys” the music of Autechre. Rather, they “admire” it. Whilst I've never really found that to be the case (I don't listen to anything I don't enjoy), all the same I can appreciate this sentiment. However, I firmly believe it to be the case that even those most alienated by their past works might find something to “enjoy” here. Hell, they might even find something to love.
It's hardly their most “accessible” album, and it's far from their “pop” album – things are as skewed, machinic and alien as ever. But still, the dark world as conjured by these genius textures is one which I'm happy to inhabit for the hour or so of playing time. So happy, in fact, that a genuine despondency is felt when things finally begin to draw to a close. It's like I don't want to leave.
Never underestimate, friends, the power of repeat listening.
Liars – Sisterworld
The special edition of this album allows for you to peek through the keyhole on the cover to see a stretching vista of trees. Whilst the grim rackets and eerie soundscapes which make up this album are far from pastoral, all the same it seems to be an album about escaping to alternate worlds. The lush forest into which you can gaze inspire yearning once you immerse yourself in the rain-soaked streets, dark attics and crumbling dereliction conjured up by these twisted songs.
From the botched murder of “Scissor”, the stifling, suffocating domesticity of “The Overachievers” to the murderous cleansing in the utterly terrifying “Scarecrows On A Killer Slant”, this is a vision of hell. It's loud, dissonant and very, very bleak.
But to escape to the sisterworld as suggested by the title – that's aspirational. That's beautiful. The reason as to why this music never comes across as too ugly or oppressive is because you know that never are they revelling in or glorifying the darkness. Rather, they seem to be desperately attempting to crawl away from it. Ultimately, then, this is an album of transcendence – and transcendence is very nearly achieved on such vitriolic jams as “Proud Evolution” or “Too Much Too Much”.
Combining, as it does, the dark witchcraft rituals of They Were Wrong So We Drowned with the acerbic guitar shreds of their eponymous offering, this is quite possibly the best album Liars have ever produced. Thrillingly dark like binging on horror films with the lights out.
Grinderman – Grinderman 2
The first Grinderman album, sounding, as it did, like a desperate midlife crisis, must have been treated by some as something of a joke. A joke which rocked and rocked hard and good, but a joke nonetheless. I didn't quite know what to make of it in the context of Nick Cave's other pursuits. All I knew was that it rocked and rocked hard and good; and that, with Mr. Cave at the helm, we could depend upon the highest calibre of wordplay and witticisms.
But Grinderman 2 is so good as to suggest a very real depth and longevity to that which might once have been treated as at best a side project and, at worst, a joke. It isn't quite an opportunity for Mr. Cave to let his hair down in terms of volume, aggression or sleaze. This man first came to prominence in The Birthday Party, and his work with The Bad Seeds is littered with such caustic filth as “Scum”, “Stagger Lee”, “Hiding It All Away” and “Hard On For Love”. Rather, it feels like a thrilling exercise in raw spontaneity and improvisation. I hear that Bad Seeds albums are laboured over for months – with most of the songwriting taking place at a desk. Nothing but a cramped and sweaty rehearsal space lit, perhaps, by a red lightbulb could give birth to such vicious storms of throbbing medieval intent as can be found in the first three tracks on this album.
Whilst it's true that there is nothing here as immediately appealing and as endlessly hysterical as “No Pussy Blues”, neither was there anything as at once so utterly bizarre and so strangely touching on the first Grinderman album as “Palaces Of Montezuma”. Also, the searing fire of “Kitchenette” and “Heathen Child” are enough to suggest that these guys are getting better at doing whatever the hell it is they're doing. And they were already the masters. Roman Deities, you could say.
If the next Grinderman album is this good, I just might be forced to start taking them as seriously as I do The Bad Seeds.
TO BE CONCLUDED