My favourite records of 2011

Though of course, my favourite records aren’t records. They’re bits, 1s and 0s. They’re not even being read from my hard disk – they’re on a NAS box downstairs, so they float to my laptop through the air, weightless as a shadow. Funny then, that my favourite record of last year is the one with the most weight -

1) Yuck. It’s not original in the slightest; on first, second, and third lesson, it sounds far too familiar. You think it’s something light and silly, a pastiche of the 90s, of Dinosaur Jr and Nirvana’s blearier moments. But the more it spins, the heavier it and heavier it gets, and the more there’s a pull to the songs, and they begin to generate a real gravity of their own. They have the most beautiful momentum to them. Inside the feedback and verse-chorus-verse, there’s a tender core of something familiar delivered in such a precise way that it feels completely new and totally fresh. It’s £4 at the moment on Amazon, an absolute steal.

2) The Antlers – Burst Apart. The problem is that the opening song is so incredible that it’s all downhill from there. I Don’t Want Love is a tremendous performance, slow and confident, a damaged, inverted Feeling Good where the sound is a shimmer against a great voice. The rest of the album is still good though; soft songs that manage to be delicate but not insubstantial.

3) EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints. For one reason and another, I ended up listening to a lot of Hole this year. There’s some of Courtney’s bile to EMA’s album, but less bombast. Like Yuck, another album with great cocoons of feedback hiding pretty, sticky melodies that really fly. It started getting into my head from the first listen of the first track.

4) Let England Shake – PJ Harvey. It’s as good as everyone says. And it’s only £4. Weird and witchy, but emotional too.

5) Drake – Take Care. Not often I really get into hip-hop/r n’ b, but this is really something different. Well, it is if you skip the dreadful, one dimensional opening track, which features a joke about Asian girls that wouldn’t even pass muster on an ITV sitcom. After that though, the core of the album is bleak, sparse and unsettled. It twists and turns, doubting and believing, wrapped up in a nocturnal bleariness and creating a very specific mood and place.

And a few more that I enjoyed: Bombay Bicycle Club (and not just because I like bikes), though aside from Shuffle it all slips by a bit too easily. The War on Drugs – crap war, great band, Sbtrkt for late night working (not sure I want to remember that) and the Vaccines were tremendous fun.

Best reissue? The Smashing Pumpkins Gish and Siamese Dream. Before these, I thought Billy Corgan was determined to destroy any sense of affection his fans might have had for him (a wrestling league?!), but these reissues are sensitively done, nicely packaged and Corgan’s commentary was great.

 

 

Desert Island Discs podcast

Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs is now available as a podcast1. The show is shorter than the radio version as it only includes samples of the chosen songs. Still, it’s often the case that the interview is as interesting as the music so this isn’t too much of a hardship. In fact, in the case of the inaugural podcast, the interview is actually much more interesting than the music.

The guest is Morrissey, who’s introduced by host KirstyYoung as “the outsider’s outsider”, beloved because of his “harsh romanticism.” It’s not a tough set of questions, but all the better for it – relaxed, a little indulgent, but an excellent back-and-forth. I particularly liked Morrissey’s description of his younger self as “constantly waiting for a bus that never came.” Musically, it’s less engaging, being a bunch of 70s art-punk stuff with doomy gothicky overtones:

1) New York Dolls – (There’s Gonna Be Be A) Showdown
2) Marianne Faithful – Come and Stay with Me
3) Ramones – Loudmouth
4) Velvet Underground – The Black Angel’s Death Song
5) Klaus Nomi – Der Nussbaum
6) Nico – I’m Not Saying
7) Iggy and the Stooges – Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell
8 ) Mott the Hoople – Sea Diver

I’ve made a Spotify playlist of Morrissey’s picks; it’s missing numbers 5 and 6.

1 The page design is excellent, making it obvious you can subscribe to the program using a wide variety of software. The BBC even includes a link to a Zune subscription, despite the fact it’s only on sale in the USA.

Added to the wishlist: The Cello Suites

[Book] Via the indomitable Tyler Cowen’s short but sweet Books of the Year post:

“A very good gift book is Eric Siblin’s new The Cello Suites: J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece.  It signals the sophistication of both the giver and receiver and yet it is short and entertaining enough to actually read. Package it with the recent Queyras recording of the Suites, if need be.”

Now that is how you write a book recommendation. I would like to know more about classical music. And of course, one is not averse to signalling one’s own sophistication.