John Walker's Electronic House

Top 11 Albums of 2005: 11 – 6

by on Dec.30, 2005, under The Rest

Due to that annual ethereal memetic peer pressure that clouds the air at this time of year, I feel a need to once more collate Top 10s of the year past, in order that my rightness of opinion can be accepted as a replacement for your idiotic wrongness.

So, to start with, the most obvious: Top 11 Albums of 2005. It’s so long it will be split into two halves.

11) Bonnie “Prince Billy” & Matt Sweeney – Superwolf

I don’t really care who either of these people are, and I’m sure it’s all very interesting, and they have lovely beards, and suchforth. But what interests me is the splendid pluckity-plick guitar and sweet, fractured vocals, sometimes confusing with their declarations of desires to spank an ambiguously aged other. Or singing about his penis. It’s my Gentle Album of the Year.

10) 13 & God – 13 & God

Combining two bands I’ve never heard of, 13 & God refers to the paradoxical nature of Christ’s duality of humanity and deity, when added to twelve disciples. Which is pleasingly immodest. German band Notwist and Californian Themselves recognised a parallel between themselves in the manner that a bootlegger might smirk when realising he can combine the Sugababes with Dr Dre. Not that they sound a thing like either of those two. In fact, they sound one heck of a lot like cLOUDDEAD, what with cLOUDDEAD being a side project for half of Themselves, who are also in Subtle, and are members of Anticon…

Oh, who cares. All this hiphoppery is then tempered down by the ambient-indie of Notwist, the tracks posted back and forth between them, until it all came together into something extremely palatable. The scary-angry-clown-gone-bad scorn of MC Doesone is softened by the gentle spirits of his collaborators, and at times the whole affair even leads to softness. It’s a pleasing mix, switching between harmony and conflicts of style, possibly most exciting in ‘If’ where the crashing of genres is at its most divided and yet effective.

9) Devandra Banhart – Cripple Crow

I was lying when I said Bonnie “Prince” Billy was my Gentle Album of the Year. It’s really this one. Banhart is a peculiar man, and I imagine if I could be bothered I’d easily be able to learn of his weird philosophies and reasons for generating vast albums so very quickly. But like Billy, I don’t feel like wasting the effort. Here are over twenty tracks of fantastic, acoustic, and often deeply disturbing lyrical dollups of oddness, that deceive with their immediately engaging melodies. I’m not sure if he’s actually singing about what it sounds like he occasionally might be, and I’ve decided to never find out.

8) Art Brut – Bang Bang Rock ‘n’ Roll

It’s fun to have been at the start of something. There was something special about the first time I saw Art Brut at Bath’s Moles club. It felt as though it was the gig they’d been waiting for – the one where the connection with the audience came to life, and the punk-pop-come-art-project slotted into place. Who knows. Certainly Kieron and I publicised the band as best we could, shouting refrains from the catchiest tracks at the tops of our voices as we walked through a sleeping Bath. For a couple of months phrases like “Hello” and “Goodbye” were replaced with “ART BRUT! / TOP OF THE POPS!” and “LOOK AT US! / WE FORMED A BAND!”.

Then from out of nowhere, the first single, ‘Formed A Band’, was noticed by a decent number of The Influencial. Zane Thingie was playing it on Radio 1, and MTV2 looped the video endlessly last Christmas, naming it as their single of the year. It looked for a moment as if their prophetic claims of appearing on Top of the Pops would soon come true. It was unexpected that the music programme should effectively die before they’d ever get their chance. The album, as anyone who’d seen them live three times in the same venue that year already knew, proved them to be no one-hit-wonder, with a collection of splendidly silly and cleverly written chats.

7) The Arcade Fire – Funeral

It’s probably wrong of me, but I want to compare The Arcade Fire to The Fiery Furnaces at their peak at the beginning of 2005. However, there’s something far more accomplished about Funeral – despite using a number of the same tricks, it holds itself together as a far more complete project.

The pacing and fluctuations in tempo create a splendid frenzy, seeming to inject a proboscis into the 1980s and extracting everything that made the era any good, but leaving behind the horrid hats and post-glam frippery.

Each track follows the same pattern – start slow, build slowly, finish jumping around with your head flapping about like a lunatic, all apart from stand-out track ‘Haiti’, and naturally the extended closing orchestral ‘In The Backseat’. These two instead offer a wind-down finish, but no less intense joy. And that’s the key – it’s a joyous album, no matter the subject, the lyrics mostly lost in the swim. And best of all, it uses xylophones without being corny.

6) Flipron – Fancy Blues & Rustique Novelties

Kieron gets full credit for this one. Needing to see the band for one of his high-fallutin’ muso magazines, he asked me to accompany him to the free gig at the Porter. Vaguely described as sounding a bit like Nick Cave, I was more than happy to trundle along and see what they might be. Well, nothing like Nick Cave.

Utterly splendid, however. Perhaps one could make a very poor argument that the narrative nature of the tracks might echo Cave’s storytelling, and just perhaps the hammond organ is reminiscent of the Seeds at the happiest. But that’s about it. Instead, Flipron are a collection of very competent musicians playing songs about the elderly, skeletons (“SKELETONS!”) and big baboons. The casual sitting-down delivery of the vocals adds to the feeling you might be hearing a musical version of the sort of bedtime story Tim Burton would tell his kids.

It’s clever, and that’s why it’s great. Musicians rather than band members, the competence of the music is well complimented by the extremely smart writing. These are the sorts of rhymes that make you grin.

And then get annoyed that your idiot friends only like the one about baboons because he says “arse”.

Comments are closed.