Oh 2004, you cold, hard seductress. Heightened emotions, and the musical pilings to go with them. These were strange days, backlit by a flicker-bug glow of aural enticement. Except that it feels counter-intuitive to be writing about Funeral – the début album by The Arcade Fire – in a 2004 context. Because it wasn’t released until 2005 in the UK, and as such soundtracked the time that I sat down by Grand Central Station and wept.
Although I should probably point out that I’ve never actually sat down by Grand Central Station, weeping or otherwise – that’s the title of an Elizabeth Smart novella that should be next on your reading list. I think what I’m getting at is that this record, and the intensity that comes with it, is indelibly linked to a specific point in time. This isn’t nostalgia, as such; more a process of definition, of interpretation, the strident opening bass notes of ‘Rebellion (Lies)’ a conduit through which splintered echoes flow. Of a late winter, and events that took place when by rights I should have been hanging around train stations, crying.
That I haven’t listened to this LP since – spookily enough – 2005 is entirely my loss. Apt, as loss (and love) are its central tenets. Yes; The Arcade Fire’s sound is big, and the vocal earnestness grows cloying at times, but where this record works is twofold; the interplay between the broad instrumentation and an unorthodox arrangement means that, from a purely sonic perspective, there’s always something interesting going on. And secondly, that afore-mentioned intensity is infectious in nature. Believable. Grabbing.
It could actually become a theme around these parts; the most significant albums of 2004 that were released a year late this side of the pond. We had to wait for LP by Ambulance LTD, too. And if Funeral is a winter record, then LP is most assuredly a disc for dreamy summer days. One in which the slight edge of the derivative – think generous layers of generic indie trope – is outweighed by the guile behind the execution. An oft-repeated mantra on this site runs something along the lines: oh, look, there’s a relationship between listener and record – and Ambulance LTD’s only long player to date (the band split a year or two later, with the name retained by lead singer Marcus Congleton) exemplifies this by virtue of its evocative ridges; there’s a great deal happening with the guitars, in the background, as if cultivating appreciation on a subconscious level. There’s a track titled ‘Swim’, below the words. It has wow etched all over it.
Elsewhere, and there were albums released in 2004 regardless of where in the world the record stores were located. Graham Coxon’s Happiness In Magazines artfully blends energy with introspection. Chrome Tape by Motormark is a boisterous affair – an aggressive, female-fronted electro punk racket. Young Forever, the first Aberfeldy LP, is sedate in comparison; a finely crafted and rather quite beautiful folk-tinged twee-pop outing – another constant on the LGM turntable since release.
The word comeback isn’t the precise notion that I’m looking for, but for two grand dames of the indie disco aesthetic, it does feel appropriate. Morrissey returned from a truculent hiatus with You Are The Quarry. And although it feels somewhat heretical to be writing this, it’s not a sparkling success. I caught this most insatiable of performers live a few times, leading up to and beyond the launch of this album, and even amidst that constant thrill of a Morrissey gig, the new material contrasted negatively against the contours of the back catalogue. It’s strictly relative, of course, but as statements such as ‘lacklustre’ and ‘formulaic’ were being banded about, I didn’t have the (Irish Blood, English) heart to disagree. Much more enticing is the eponymous The Cure. The first since splitting with long-time record label Fiction, this is probably more of a reinvention than a comeback. A reinterpretation of recording method, and a refocusing of mood. And whilst lacking the manic, abrasive qualities of Faith or Pornography, or the refined, introspective depth of Disintegration (I’m still maintaining that The Cure should have split in 1999), there’s very much an album here; it carries a dispossessed air, the opening words – I can’t find myself – echoing throughout in passages of vaguely-lit dissonance.
Night On Fire by VHS Or Beta; the début Franz Ferdinand record. And okay – both rifle through the record racks, purloining as much new wave angularity as they can realistically get away with in the studio. I don’t consciously keep up with what Franz Ferdinand are up to these days, beyond noting the occasional appearance on the Glasgow gig scene amidst the festival appearances; usually in flea-pit venues I’d have thought they could have sold out in a heartbeat. But if the boat has well and truly sailed as far as this band’s fame and fortune are concerned – and a new LP is promised later this year – I’m glad they at least got a couple of platinum albums out of it, considering the long number of years each member of FF spent toiling on the Glasgow gig scene before success arrived.
Also recommended, 2004 style: Winchester Cathedral by Clinic. Don’t Try This At Home, the final Laptop LP. The Magnetic Fields and their metamorphosis into a guitar band on i. And not recommended – The Grey Album, Danger Mouse’s deconstructionist meld of Jay Z (The Black Album, a cappella) and The Beatles LP. Because EMI don’t want you to hear this, and if you do possess a copy, then you’ve been just that little bit naughty in circumventing the wishes of our record company overlords.
We always end these revisits to time passed by identifying LGMs Album Of The Year. Which – as is frequently becoming the case – bounces around the prospective nominations like an over-enthusiastic puppy in a room full of dog lovers. Although for 2004, I’ve at least managed to narrow it down to three LPs. Two of which sold around five copies each, and failed to make it into any end of year poll that I’ve been able to unearth. In fact neither band even have an English Wikipedia entry, which in an era of user-generated content, multi-platform hooting and mass-exalted bibble, feels anathema.
OMR are a French electronica duo, their sound a dark, dense web in which each specific strand dispenses with the cheap thrills of broadly similar records, instead utilising the space left behind to detail the sharp physicality behind each track. The distinctive artwork of Side Effects (the image above the words) drips with cool, nocturnal colours reflected in the tracklist, Virginie Krupa’s husky vocals low in the mix, thus permitting the refined bleeps and buzzes to resonate. That this just misses Album Of The Year territory is perhaps due to how rooted within the city limits of a 2004 soundtrack this is, but if you’re looking for a record to glint from your midnight fugue, I’d very much suggest this.
The second band unknown to all things wiki is Danish noise constructionists Diefenbach, who released second album Run Trip Fall in 2004. They released this in 2003 as well, but only in their home nation, and as this fact only became apparent during the research phase of this piece, they’re being slotted into the 2004 breakdown instead. If only albums were released once – a single year for each territory – blog writing would be a far more simple proposition.
Although only one of the ten tracks breach the six minute mark, there’s a definite post-rock feel to Run Trip Fall. It’s all in the guitar riffs, the engaging chord progression, the concept that adding vocals would only detract (as it did on the far poppier follow-up Set & Drift). This is one of those records that should by rights be far better known; if there’s one notion we can take from 2004 beyond few of the actual albums were actually released in this part of the world, it’s that the is canon strong, and enticing – even if the memories are somewhat slanted.
So, after much deliberation: Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes by TV On The Radio is LGM best in show. I recall first hearing this, amidst a wave a brief yet enthusiastic reviews, and feeling utterly bowled over by so many aspects, each defined by the heady ambition of what is – don’t forget – a début LP (if you exclude the self-released demo). The liberal use of a cappella. The free-jazz inflection moulded to college rock rhythms. There’s a way in which Tunde Adebimpe’s honey-embalmed vocals sit against the instrumentation (and the falsetto-echoed lyrics) that’s simply wonderful. Tracks that carry an immense yet elegant, restrained energy. And whilst lead single ‘Staring At The Sun’ rightfully claims the headlines, even this has a fuzzy undertone that feels intrinsically dangerous. Poised. The opposite of avuncular – whatever that is.
This is also a album full of subtle electronic nuances, the loops and beats hidden deep in the mix. Which could feel like attempting to tick every art rock check-box if the execution wasn’t so refined. The introduction to a track such as ‘Don’t Love You’ suggests to many conflicting denouements, that interest is automatically heightened. ‘The Wrong Way’ pitches harmonious intent against blistering sax cadences. The synth-dominated ‘Dreams’ floats, as if the vinyl is levitating from the turntable, just a little. And etcetera, etcetera; I could continue – even if the word count of this piece suggests doing otherwise. So perhaps we should end where we began. Oh 2004, you cold, hard seductress. Heightened emotions, and the musical pilings to go with them.
Ambulance LTD / Swim
Aberfeldy / Vegetarian Restaurant
TV On The Radio / Staring At The Sun