A collection of posts from my original weblog...or the inscrutable rantings of a madman...could be both...

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

After a brief intermission...the rest of the best...

5.) Mogwai/Happy Songs For Happy People (Matador/Pias Records) ~ The gee-tar noodling Glasgow natives came out of a year and a half hiatus (after only releasing the "My Father My King" EP in 2002) with their new full-length, and it's their best one yet. I don't know if they've been practising their tunes 'till the reach a nice, purdy sheen--but this stuff is tight!!!! They've also opted to have original producer Tony Doogan in the control room, instead of Dave Fridmann (The Flaming Lips, The Delgados, Mercury Rev)--who's been in the chair for the past couple of albums. Almost every track is stand-alone amazing--only Ratts Of The Capital, with it's guitar-squalls and meandering, drags a bit, but even that doesn't bring down the majesty of the whole. Hunted By A Freak, the opener, builds and builds to a crescendo of guitar, robot voices and a processional beat, then pulls back again to the spare opening riff...then builds again..it's stunning! Kids Will Be Skeletons, my favourite track, could be an amped-up Another Green World out-take--it's a beautiful ambient sound-scape that flows along as if recorded for a summer day. In fact, most of these tunes recall Eno's '75 landmark...so much so that I can't help thinking "A.G.W." was a major inspiration for "Happy Songs..." It's melodic, haunting and subtle...this ain't a Peaches album, and thank Eno for that!!

4.) The Mars Volta/De-Loused In The Comatorium (Gold Standard Labs/Universal) ~ I had heard the buzz, heard that these guys were the "next big thing", that they were formed from the remains of At The Drive-In, etc. I was reluctant to check them out--for fear the buzz wouldn't translate into a good record at all. My mate Mega convinced me to buy the disc...and it blew me away. I mean, it's got Flea on it, but he's not doing his show-offy "Hi, the name's Vanilla Bootsy"-stuff he does with R.H.C.P., and there's a guy playing vintage Fender Rhodes licks, straight out of "Bitches Brew" or "The Inner Mounting Flame". There's a bizarre concept going on, and all the song titles read like chapter headings in a sci-fi novel. These are punk-prog tunes that stretch to 6..8...even *12* minutes (gasp!) Something's happening here, and you don't know what it is..do you, Mr. McLaren? Is progressive finally cool again? We won't go that far--but this stuff is very strange, and very welcome. See them live, too...it's like The MC5 meets Return To Forever, then they both go get a pint at Hawkwind's commune...then your mind gets scrambled...

3.) OutKast/The Love Below;Speakerboxxx (Arista/LaFace Records) ~ A hip-hop double album, and a whole disc afforded to each members' separate ideas...self-indulgent? Sure. Completely necessary? Well, it is a double album..are they ever? A total failure? Nope. While I find "The Love Below" (Andre 3000's portion) to be a lot more daring and off-the-wall loopy--love songs, done in funk, R&B and hybrids of those with hip-hop, "Speakerboxxx" (Big Boi's record) provides a good contrast, with it's street vibe and roughneck rhymes. Yeah, they could've shaved off half the tunes and had a colossal single album...but then, you can say that about everything--going all the way back to The White Album. There hasn't been a whole lot of great hip-hop this year--not to my ears anyway--everyone was raving about The Streets early on, then all the thugs made Eminem a film star...and after that...let's see...2Pac's 30th posthumous record came out...and...hmmm...besides OutKast and Blackalicious, a whole lotta hollow gangsta posturing and bling-blingin'. And if you've heard anything catchier than Hey Ya! this year, please tell me---'cos that jam puts a mile-wide smile on my face. There's rumours that Andre and Big Boi are getting all "Fleetwood Mac" with each other..separate records, separate acts in their stage show...it's too bad. Well, if this is the end of OutKast, they went out with stylee to spare!!!

2.) Ed Harcourt/From Every Sphere (Heavenly/EMI Records) ~ I thought this was a 2002 release..but Pixie reminded me that it came out in February of this year. Harcourt's follow-up to Here Be Monsters continues his mix of romantic/troubled tunes--but his command of the studio is improving and he's got a top notch band backing him. Harcourt's veddy-English gothic tales may not light everyone's fire--but he's a good tonic for all the guitar-toting indie boys and whatever remains of the "girl-with-a-piano" scene of the 90s...and he seems to get better and better. The moods differ on every tune, and while sometimes that can make for an uneasy listen, he always provides a generous hook here..a sweet little piano phrase there. By the time you get to the closing, epic title track...you appreciate the journey that much more. I think Harcourt's got the potential to rival Kate Bush's ambitious albums--I hope he gets to make at least a few more, anyway. Incidentally, his debut indie-EP, Maplewood, has been re-issued on Heavenly/EMI this year also, and is worth a listen. Cheers to My Darling Pixie for providing me with Harcourt's records!!!

..............and.......my favourite album of 2003 is..................................................

1.) Elbow/Cast Of Thousands (V2 Records) ~ I was a bit hesitant when I first heard this--nothing really "jumped out" at me. I was concerned that maybe they couldn't top their 2001 debut, Asleep In The Back. Had the moody Mancs lost their magick touch? But then, with further listens...little phrases kinda poked their way through the mix at me. First, it was the opener, Ribcage, with that catchy piano riff, sing-along chorus at the coda...damn that's a great track!!! Still my fave on the record....but then others....Fugitive Motel, where lead singer/guitarist Guy Garvey's voice just coats the chorus like some vintage Laphroaig whiskey...Not A Job, with it's melancholy beauty and soaring, Peter Gabriel-esque chorus (These guys make better Peter Gabriel records than Gabriel himself--and it takes him ten years to come up with new ones). There's Grace Uner Pressure, which, despite sharing it's name with a hideous Rush album from 1985, starts out slow and reverb-ed..and builds to an all-out, uplifting chorus--featuring the crowd at Glastonbury 2002 as backup singers, and Jimi Goodwin of Doves. They ably slip by the sophomore slump--and though they've retreated a bit from the more progressive sounds of their debut...they've crafted a brilliant record, worthy of repeated listenings. Well done, boys--now get in the f**king studio and make another one!!!!!!!!




Editorial note: Pixie has decided to re-tool her Top Ten list--I'll post it here when she submits her new list