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

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

30. J DILLA (JAY DEE): Donuts
Dictionary definitions are one thing, but for these necessarily selfish purposes I will take “hauntology” as using elements of the past to signify memories of a future that never was, could never have hoped to have passed. In the case of Donuts this assumes the form of a bright, summery absence – tell me about it – with its thirty-one brief instrumental cuts and loops. All we know is that had J Dilla not succumbed to cancer he would have done something different from what has been left us here. Never intended as anything more than potential breaks for rappers, some of the tracks were used on Ghostface Killah’s Fishscale, a record likely to loom large in end-of-year polls, and not unreasonably so, since it may be the Wu’s Blood On The Tracks, their final autumnal glint of stark brilliance. Yet I prefer the lush, unpopulated spaces of “Time: Donut Of The Heart” or “One For Ghost,” if only because their welcoming deserts revive the unrepeatable summers of 1975 or 1995, all Bonnard splendour and Rothko rueful shade, but also because anyone who uses 10cc’s unacknowledged greatest single (“The Worst Band In The World”) as the basis of a break (“Workinonit”) has – or had – to be someone of rare discernment and vision.

Some of 2006’s sweetest music underpinning some of 2006’s most savage words; Rilo Kiley never really floated out to my boat, but Lewis alone (to a degree; her numerous collaborators here include Conor Oberst and M Ward, the latter giving a far more convincing account of himself on his own rather flat Post-War) is exceptional; she gives Bush and The War a double blow with “The Big Guns” and “Rise Up With Fists!!,” decries fake love on “Melt Your Heart” and “Happy,” is sometimes so naked you have to retreat for several emotional miles (“Born Secular,” “It Wasn’t Me”), does the year’s best neu-folk ballad in the form of the title track, and also wins my award for the year’s best cover version with her calamitously calming reclaiming of the Traveling Wilbury’s “Handle With Care,” an object lesson in capturing and describing the perhaps unintended emotion within certain songs, as well as being one further example of Dylan’s songs (even in part) being better sung by others.

28. ELLEN ALLIEN AND APPARAT: Orchestra Of Bubbles
Arguably the year’s best New Pop album, if such a thing can still be recognised; beats propel, twist, fade, reside and arise in numerous subtle combinations amid great damaged pop songs like “Way Out” and the New Order-outdoing “Floating Points”; Ms Allien whispers rather than announces, while the magnificent “Turbo Dreams” may be the real missing link between Thomas Leer and Boards Of Canada. If ever an album deserved to be entitled Confessions On A Dancefloor, it is this one.

27. METRIC: Live It Out
Another one which really belongs in 2005, but then again it didn’t get a full British release until this year, and as the only Canadian entry in NME’s otherwise lamentable Top 50, I can hardly overlook it, particularly as it demonstrates in Emily Haines a female talent who I think has already crossed the threshold into greatness (and that before I realised who her father was). In a year when so much tiresome posturing masequerading as strength of character ended up with the plaudits and the sales, how refreshing it was to turn to Haines’ immense talent and her superlative voice, caressing, tempting yet disturbed and compassionate. Terrific (and sometimes terrifying) songs like “Poster Of A Girl,” “Monster Hospital” and the brilliant “Ending/Start” display rock music of attainable elasticity, moving very naturally between the dynamics of guitars and electronics. And it would have placed higher in this list were it not for the even more remarkable record which Haines made on her own, of which latter, more anon.

26. GRIZZLY BEAR: Yellow House
So much candied drivel has flowed under the wrong bridge under the pretext of paying homage to the Beach Boys that we forget that sometimes the real advances on their pioneering work can come from wholly unanticipated corners. This New York quartet are largely acoustic, with apposite dabs of electronica where needed, but on such selections as “Little Brother” and the enormous “On A Neck, On A Spit” (where the repetition really is with them), I think of the temporarily stranded Beach Boys of Sunflower, or the remoter areas of Holland, slowly nudging forward as a statue might lurch to walk. At times, as on “Marla,” I am put in mind of a patient elephant dragging along a wagoned community of prematurely disaffected refugees – there is such a hugeness to such seemingly finite musical resources (“you can’t possibly go without that”) and their control of dynamics is so instinctively understood and wonderfully realised that one thinks this to be one fertile place where “rock” could roll once it’s passed the final recognisable post.

25. SKREAM!: Skream!
He is more resuscitation than revival. More than anything, Skream!’s work reminds me of the seldom-cited ‘90s garage outfit 187 Lockdown – down to the album’s yellow cover – whose “Kung Fu” might just be my favourite single of that decade in a “Mouldy Old Dough” way. Listening to “Midnight Request Line” or the staggering “Stagger,” those oddly familiar slashing synth strings, Bernard Herrmann chord changes and beats more implied than pronounced conjure up shades of reluctantly leafy Camberwell streets at dubious dusk, supermarkets precariously balanced halfway up Dog Kennel Hill. “Check-It” with its brilliant Warrior Queen vocal punches and zigzags like I wish Lady Sovereign had done.

But “Summer Dreams” might be 2006’s single most moving piece of music; garage beats like they used to be – before guns and forces and misguided money and pointless death came into the equation – over which Martin Shaw’s miraculous trumpet improvises a hurting, articulate lament for a scene, a belief, which may no longer exist; I think of Laura and me in the coach, late summer 2000, on the way back home, listening to “21 Seconds” through our shared Discman headphones over and over, working out who was who, marvelling and celebrating…well, more than enough said. When Shaw’s solo, and the track, end, we hear a modest but enthusiastic round of applause as the landscape gradually atomises into ashes. It is 2-step’s “Being Boring” and it is eternal.

With its talk of “Mammal Beats” and “Get on the beast with the four-legged meat” there is a reminder of Bow Wow Wow’s return to nature; with its amazingly fleet sense of improv freedom, Montreal’s Les Georges Leningrad may be the true successors to Rip, Rig and Panic; from the tentacles of “Skulls In The Closet” to the macrobiotic fidgets and smears of “The Future For Less,” they retrieve the swamps and go primitive in the Rousseau/Spencer sense – No Wave goes shamanic as no one has done since the second Slits album, which latter incidentally Sangue Puro gobbles up for breakfast.

23. LUSHLIFE: West Sounds
Markedly less praised or publicised than The Grey Album, but this Beach Boys/Kanye bootleg conference works just as well, and perhaps a little more profoundly (the “You Still Believe In Me” input into “Jesus Walks” makes it doubly apocalyptic, like Brian Wilson-as-God laughing at Kanye-as-humanity’s hapless lot) and sometimes a lot more humorously (the fabulous juxtaposition of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” with “The New Workout Plan”). In the unlikely event of a Beach Boys Love equivalent (For The Love Of Mike?) this would still be the superior work of art.

22. THE MELIGROVE BAND: Planets Conspire
While it’s obvious that Rough Trade has a special distribution deal with the Meligrove’s people, it still struck me as a significant sign, returning to London after Easter, to see it in their shop, two months ahead of its official UK release date, seeing as how Lena had sung its praises to me before the holiday, and at a time when I felt (and still do feel) that being away from a computer (and therefore, to all practical intents and purposes, away from her) was akin to having my arm pulled off. So its heartfelt, brilliantly arranged songs of love and faith regained (“Isle Of Yew,” “Grasshoppers In Honey”) hold a special value for me. There is a greater sadness throughout its second half, but this in itself is not discouraging. I found the record uplifting when I was at my lowest, and supremely reassuring when at my highest. There are still twenty-one records to go in this account – and I have concentrated long and hard on their order – but all fifty records here are more than worthy of your money and attention. For now, the Meligrove Band are yet another Toronto triumph, in a year where Canada triumphed, for music and for me, so many times…and this Canadian delegation is still far from complete.

21. OUTKAST: Idlewild
As immense as and arguably more encyclopaedic in style and ambition than its dual predecessor, but there was no “Hey Ya” equivalent and so it seems to have subsided into quiet ignorance, which is extremely unjust. Those of us who thought that Andre was running off with OutKast’s creative baton are summarily corrected here, since Big Boi seems on this occasion just to have the edge of adventure; the luxuriously avant-garde balladry of “Peaches” and “Morris Brown” is largely Antwan’s work; his “Call The Law” is the Prince of 1986 stuck in the middle of an On The Corner traffic jam, while “Mutron Angel” makes all other attempts at “futurism” in 2006 appear as quaint as Guy Mitchell. But none of this means that Andre is left lapped; the extraordinary hip hop/swing fusion of “Idlewild Blue,” “Chromomentrophobia” (song title of the year) and the outrageously supine “Life Is Like A Musical” reveals Dr Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band rescued for our newer age (as Aguilera so conspicuously failed to do with her own similar attempts). His Macy Gray collaboration “Greatest Show On Earth” is exquisitely aqueous and unmoored in tonal or rhythmic waters, while the startlingly bleak eight-minute-plus closer “A Bad Note” features Andre’s ghost moaning at 16 rpm midnight (cf. the Associates’ “An Even Whiter Car”) while David Whild’s guitar duly weeps.

My favourite of all the 25 tracks, though, is the Andre/Antwan collaboration “Hollywood Divorce” which with its Aphex poignancy and Snoop/Li’l Wayne running commentaries, made that Saturday night in August even more magical, as Westwood played it, let it fade, paused for a few seconds, then let out a contented sigh, or purr: “I really am feeling that at the moment.” So were we. Though I have no desire to see the parent film (cf. Under The Cherry Moon), Idlewild truly is the sort of record Prince used to be capable of making as a matter of routine; it’s that great and it must not be overlooked.

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