I often find writing about music to be a strange and fussy preoccupation. The swash of subjectivity, refracted through blasé attempts to underline the mechanics of attraction. And should you subscribe to any notion that the records we listen to help to define us as people, disentangling the particulars of sound from this listener-gripped detail makes for strained prose, on occasion.
Certain artists are, of course, easy to write about. There’s a flow behind the music upon which words can latch on to – sitting down at the keyboard with even a loose notion of articulation can become several hundred sentences as if a reflex action, regardless of whether the sentiment is lauding or dismissive.
Elsewhere, it isn’t so simple. It’s as if we’ve invested too much over the years to blithely compartmentalise our thoughts into zippy, zingy phrases. We like the records that we do because of that unexpected minor eighth two minutes into the track. Because the backing vocals coo. Because Jesus makes me listen to it – at gunpoint. Etcetera.
This is a rewrite. The original piece began: I didn’t buy any records in 2005, due to that prison sentence for my role in the Great Jazz Riots of the previous year. Some highly strained metaphor that failed to link my own dodgy imagination with those far more legitimate strands which serve as a catalyst for dynamic sound. Such as on Sympathy For The Record Industry by Matson Jones, in which the tidal ranges of the vox / guitar / bass / drums convention are subverted by twin, buzz-saw cellos, prowling where lead and rhythm guitar usually interact. Or on the aptly-named Tom Vek début We Have Sound – an exercise in aural construction where every contour comes deliberately warped, and the space in which each track inhabits is equally as important as the sound itself. And whilst Broadcast LPs appear in these Significant Albums pieces as if by default, Tender Buttons arrived with a panache that’s understandably dazzling and inventive.
Because that’s the key concept, here: inventiveness. An essence that elevates the material way beyond generic indie disco appreciation. Songs that are full of spiky, interesting tenderness (Sympathy For The Record Industry) are further enhanced by the shadow of something sinister. We Have Sound displays an acute understanding of scope and poise, its minimalistic, electronic detailing backlit by a sneaky playful quality. And as for Tender Buttons: listening becomes a precious act. One if which belief is suspended in a skein of refined retro elegance.
(As an aside: I saw Tom Vek live on a few occasions around this time – day release from prison and all that – and there was very much a vogue-obsessed, hipster appreciation thing going on (see also the Clap Your Hands Say Yeah album, the LCD Soundsystem album, and Coming On Strong by Hot Chip). That all of these records still stand up to scrutiny, eight years later, is testament to the whoosh embedded across each swerve and feint).
(And as another aside: yes, I know that Sympathy For The Record Industry hit the stores a year earlier in the US. Split release schedules appear to be a running theme hereabouts – there’ll be another disc up in a minute with a similar story).
So yeah: invention. Not that it’s always apparent. Or enduring. My memory had Odditorium, Or The Warlords Of Mars by The Dandy Warhols down as a worthwhile experience; not something upheld by any recent listening. With Teeth, the fourth (proper) Nine Inch Nails LP further emphasises the disconnect between engagingly intricate instrumentation, lyrical content, and vocal flat-footedness, so that I ended up uncertain as to why I invested cold hard cash on this. Ladytron’s Witching Hour is of far more interest; after two albums of cute, synth-layered propulsion, this is a repositioning to far darker, beefier territory. Singles in which howling guitars complement dramatic chord structures. I’ve mentioned before how certain Ladytron tracks come across as big sisterly, and nowhere is this more apparent than on ‘amTV’ – a chugging suburban teenage narrative infused by midnight-scented, dramatic ennui, and whilst lead single ‘Destroy Everything You Touch’ grabbed many of the headlines, it’s this particular song that I return to.
Also: Twin Cinema by The New Pornographers. Because you all know by now that I have a soft spot for albums flavoured with upbeat, clever American power pop. The New Pornographers are The Delgados that originated from Vancouver instead of Glasgow. And who knows – maybe summer may even make an appearance soon.
Takk… is the moment Sigur Rós became a mainstream proposition. For whilst it’s mean-spirited to begrudge global success to a band that conjure such fiercely beautiful music, frequently encountering excerpts of this record stripped of all context diminishes its dramatic impact. Because – apparently – this album has an evocative, wide-screen, uplifting quality that’s particularly well suited to underpinning otherwise unrelated narratives – who’d have guessed? In fact, skimming through this site’s archives I note that Takk… has already been featured with an overdose of adjective, so I’ll point you toward anecdotal evidence for this album’s impact, instead. The other day, in the supermarket, a young kid – seven or eight, perhaps – was trying to reach the top shelf in an aisle to grab a bottle of peach schnapps for his nightcap refreshment. And as the wee mite struggled on tip-toe in a valiant attempt to lever the hard liquor in his direction, his eventual triumph over adversity was accompanied by those flowering chords of ‘Hoppípolla’ appearing over the supermarket PA system. True story.
My favourite album of 2005 is by King Creosote. Which is where we came in I guess – those opening three paragraphs were written with the music of Kenny Anderson riding high in my mind. The smoothly grizzled grace of his vocals instantly introduce a heart-warming burr to any daily routine – but that’s not the only reason for suggesting word construction as challenge. Neither is it the intensively personal relationship I have with his songcraft – although defining any of that no doubt travels beyond my remit here, self-exposure being tacky and all that.
Most artists have a linear approach to discography. Write, record, release on a number of recognised formats, repeat to fade. Anderson’s modus operandi is far more closely aligned to the folk traditions of co-operation, performance, and material that verges upon open source. This makes detailing the KC back catalogue a difficult task within the confines of a music blog; I could write long into many nights on this subject, and arrive at a word count far more suited to book format – and that’s without even mentioning his mischievous, anti-establishment attitude to the music industry (another constant shared with the folk music fraternity).
Because as a songwriter, Anderson is as prolific as he’s gifted, delighting in the idea of sitting on songs, or communally reshaping, or releasing on limited edition vinyl rationed to five copies, or exclusively performing certain songs live. He intrinsically understands the vitality behind collaboration – a sort of shared, evolutionary value in which the material constantly breathes in novel patterns; highlights from previous records reappear on disc reinvented, rejuvenated, equally resplendent despite the switch of context. His dalliances with major label backing coexist with a DIY attitude that underpins the Fence Records outlook – he’s also lovely, which kind of helps.
That make sense?
Depending upon which source you consult, he either released one, two, or twenty-nine albums in 2005. Rocket DIY has that intimate, homespun feel to it that emphasises how special King Creosote songs are. My album of the year however is KC Rules OK – his first under the auspices of a major label (re-released a year later with a few tracks reinterpreted). With The Earlies as his backing band, and the age of much of the material suggestive of a matured, fine wine quality, the flow behind this record is quite extraordinary. The listener gains an insight into composition as an organic process – whether ballad or upbeat, intimate and bitter-sweet or jaunty and persuasive, the bones of each track can’t help but exude a lyrical tenderness, a refreshingly old-fashioned musicality, and above all – a warmth.
There’s also a final, elemental reason why KC Rules OK will forever have a place in my heart. This reason. *Sigh*
Tom Vek / C-C (You Set The Fire In Me)
Ladytron / amTV
King Creosote / 678