The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

40. I’M FROM BARCELONA: Let Me Introduce My Friends

Senior CoM readers may recall the Polyphonic Spree – lots of them, all singing in and about ecstatic redemption – and have long since resigned themselves to wondering what they might have been like had they remembered to write whole songs and not just middle eights. Although I’m From Barcelona are in fact from Sweden, they present a far less intimidating picture of how such a group might have sounded. There are by my count 29 musicians in the line-up on this record, and though I suspect that the vast majority of these sing and beat sundry percussion instruments, the communal feeling is convincing and the songs quite marvellous. In balancing huge, optimistic tunes, in various styles ranging from indie to schaffel and even, on the sublime closer “The Saddest Lullaby,” gospel, with lyrical sentiments which are warm and welcoming but also betray reserves of fear and insecurity (“They’re all trying so hard to make a man out of me/But there’s always gonna be this little boy inside of me”) they reach the heartstrings perhaps no longer within the orbit of the Flaming Lips, whose At War With The Mystics simply tried (my patience) too hard – in particular the opening three or four tracks are so naturally euphoric as the Guillemots’ euphoria is painted on with yellow-coated turpentine; after hearing “We’re From Barcelona” with its lively, catchy chant of “Love is a feeling that we don’t understand/But we’re gonna give it to ya” you want to rush out and hug trees (and indeed the next track is entitled “Treehouse”) in a C86 Go! Team sort of way. Whether you can tolerate half an hour of the same thing may be an open question, and they will have to paint some fresh colours for the next album, but into this 2006 I’m From Barcelona fit with magnificent aptness.

39. KID KOALA: Your Mom’s Favorite DJ
His Carpal Tunnel Syndrome debut I will always associate with the late spring Monday morning in Abingdon when I bought it – it made me laugh as so much earnest post-Shadow DJ cybernetics were singularly failing to yield any humour (has there ever been a deader end in music than UNKLE’s Psyence Fiction?). However, the Montreal maestro’s bona fide debut, the Scratchcratchratchatch mixtape which he only ever intended as a demo, is reportedly his masterpiece – two fifteen-minute long sides of scratching and sampling antics which have never been given a formal release. Your Mom’s Favorite DJ is an attempt to recapture and update that record’s jouissance, deploying the same format, and it’s fantastic; an aural slippage of fragments, beats and, in the various “Slew Test” takes, startlingly avant-garde, like the Red Krayola smooching the Antipop Consortium (and better than either). However, the general mood is one of zippy, nippy playfulness; and I note from the CD booklet that Kid Koala is willing to provide mixtapes for weddings free of charge. I wonder if he would be interested in doing a mix for ours…?

38. ISLANDS: Return To The Sea
37. THE MOST SERENE REPUBLIC: Underwater Cinematographer
More relishable goodness from Montreal; Islands are primarily Nick Diamonds, who organises his various friends, including Arcade Fire’s Regine Chassagne, into moulding some wonderfully light pop which isn’t too light to exclude shifts of perspective and improvisational tropes. “Don’t Call Me Whitney, Bobby” is a contender for song title of the year, but my favourite is “Jogging Gorgeous Summer” featuring Regine clanging away on her steel drum, and in a perfect world one of the happiest, most hopeful number ones you’ve ever heard.

The Most Serene Republic are from Toronto, and their mainman appears to be one Adrian Jewett, but this is a quite spellbinding display of articulate, low-budget post-surf pop whose remit ranges from joyful singalongs (“Where Cedar Nouns And Adverbs Walk” with its refrain of “I think we know all the words by now!”) to extraordinary post-psychedelia brainscapes (the closing “Epilogue”). As with the Islands record, you never feel that this is being scientifically assembled on a Hoxton-approved conveyor belt – this eclecticism is instinctive and attractive. I also like the human(e) touch of the individually numbered (in ink, handwritten) copies – I own copy number 1650, though am sure Cromwell would never have approved…

36. NOBLESSE OBLIGE: Privilege Entails Responsibility
They are initially a rather savage, sour and arch male/female electropop duo (anyone else remember Eddie Maelov and Sunshine Patterson?) bent on (or over) assaulting everything and everyone within their reach (“Offensive Nonsense”) and who even, on “Fashion Fascism,” sample Goebbels. Yet tunes like “Bitch” and “Daddy (Don’t Touch Me There)” are compellingly danceable, and the record’s real key to potential greatness lies in the unlisted extra tracks of low-lit, bluesy acoustic readings of these songs which reveal a painfully personal grief and shows them to be the most vulnerable parties of all.

35. THE BICYCLES: The Good The Bad And The Cuddly
Can’t he get enough of Canadian indiepop? Er, no…especially when this partial Meligrove Band spinoff (Canadian musicians, you see, have no problem whatsoever with playing in different bands in different combinations for different purposes) furnished a better Beatles/Monkees marriage (they even cover “Cuddly Toy”) than the bloated echt-Beatles of Love managed; it sounds as adventurous yet approachable as powerpop has always threatened to be, and songs like “I Will Appear For You,” “I Know We Have To Be Apart” and the quite startling “Australia” are timely rejoinders to the where-did-all-the-tunes-go lobby (2006 model). “Ghost Town” isn’t the Specials classic, but in its individual way is extremely special.

34. SUNSET RUBDOWN: Shut Up I Am Dreaming
33. WOLF PARADE: Apologies To The Queen Mary

And apologies to Feist, K-Os and the Constantines (among many others) for not getting into this list on a semi-strict “released in 2005” basis – and no apologies whatsoever for the dominant Canadian presence in this list; Britain, you just didn’t try hard enough, or alternatively far too hard. The Wolf Parade album properly belongs to the end of last year as well, but didn’t permeate British record shops in earnest until early January; and anyway, it would be unjust to exclude this harsher downside of Arcade Fire light – once again, bold advances meet up with irresistible songs, most mightily of all “Shine A Light” (not the Constantines number, but its blood brother) which melts and stings like rapturous honey newly extracted from the hive with a rogue drone still attached.

As the cover of Shut Up I Am Dreaming attests, “Spencer Krug is in Wolf Parade. This is his other band.” If anything, the Sunset Rubdown disc is even more adventurous, especially with mindblowing long winders like the seemingly unending “The Men Are Called Horsemen There.” But there is also a defiance which rises above mere petulance, such that the record does seem like the kind of album a 2006 Bowie should be making.

Bearing very much in mind the notorious 1985 NME albums list which included in its top ten albums of ‘60s archive recordings by the Velvet Underground and Sam Cooke, I gave considerable thought to whether I should include this thirty-one-year-old recording in my own list for this year. Is this defeatism, a white flag surrendering to the “truth” that 2006 wasn’t a great year for music? My reply is: normally, yes it would be – but music this vital and alive has to be recognised, particularly as it has never been previously released commercially and is thus strictly speaking a new record, unlike, say, the Sibylle Baier album which I have regrettably excluded since vinyl copies were circulated and sold, albeit in miniscule quantities, back in 1973 (otherwise it would have been a shoo-in for the top twenty).

Those familiar with my Maja piece on the
Ogun label will recall that Isipingo only released one album in their, or Miller’s, lifetime, 1977’s astonishing Family Affair. This Radio Bremen live recording stems from 14 months previously; Osborne, Tippett and Moholo are all present and correct, but Nick Evans assumes trombone duties and Mongezi Feza, Wyatt’s conscience on Rock Bottom, with less than a month to live, is on trumpet – and such an eloquent and insolent trumpet it still is.

There are four very long tracks, and although the Tippett/Miller/Moholo rhythm axis hasn’t yet burst quite as freely as it would do throughout ‘77/8, the horns look out fervently forward; Evans’ solo on “Children At Play,” burningly articulate and passionate, is his finest on record, Feza fuses Booker Little lyricism and Don Cherry puck throughout without any apparent effort. Meanwhile, Osborne’s alto is initially mild mannered, but then he suddenly catches fire midway through “Eli’s Song” and, as he always did, cuts right to (and through) the listener’s core. Furiously powerful music, and one of two arguments in this list for burying the parlous myth that British jazz is incapable of embracing greatness.

31. FINAL FANTASY: He Poos Clouds
Back to Montreal (via Toronto) for today’s final entry, and all those who still imagine Ys. to be the beginning of everything to follow are gently pointed in the direction of this frequently breathtaking – and genuine – fusion of orchestral manoeuvres and lyrical intensity. It does help that Owen Pallett’s voice is far more palatable to the tender ear than Newsom’s; an appealingly vulnerable light tenor (almost Todd-like) which floats and darts amidst and around his orchestrations. Often very funny (“This Lamb Sells Condos”), Pallett’s music swiftly dovetails into corners far more challenging – the vaporous cloisters which arise out of “I’m Afraid Of Japan,” and the hard-won tenderness (“The scars of self-abuse with a couple of hours in a private clinic”) underlying “Do You Love?” As droll and moving as Randy Newman at his (12 Songs) finest; and note how the strings rise, fall and breathe with the voice in perfect symbiosis. Oh yes, Canada ruled in 2006 – and there is yet more to come.

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