Written by: Goran Child, Special to CC2K
Sorry. I’ve been off writing a play for the past 6 weeks, and off in Edinburgh consuming very few non-intoxicating elements for the past 3 days, and then I came back on here and saw that everyone had thrown down these countdown lists of their top several examples of things for 2008. Fair fucking play, I thought. I remember doing one of these for an inferior website about 4 years ago, when I was in my mid-teens and possessing a more naturally inquisitive mind than the alcohol-sodden stub with which I find myself this morning, and I gave my musical top spot to Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster’s still-mighty second album, Horse of the Dog. Isn’t that interesting?
That I’m confining myself to British albums this year isn’t due to my being some troglodytic quasi-nationalist moronic bigot (if it were, my #1 album would be Girls Aloud – Out of Control; unlike most of the British public, I haven’t forgotten this little news item from 2003. Remember though: even though Cheryl Cole was found guilty of an unprovoked assault on a black woman, she was found not guilty of racially aggravated assault. This means she definitely isn’t racist. Yep. Definitely not racist. Even though she attacked a black woman for no reason. She’s not racist though. Indeed, she was the UK face of Coke Zero, which comes in a black can – so she can’t possibly be racist. Don’t think I’m being ironic. There’s absolutely nothing ironic about saying Cheryl Cole isn’t racist). No, the reason I’ve decided to ‘do British’ is because if I allowed myself to cover the entire musical globe, I’d only end up confusing myself, and also feeling obliged to try to include as many different countries as I could, so bands like Boris, Rovo (Japan), [Art].Ficial (Brazil), Cult of Luna, Dungen (Sweden), The Evpatoria Report (Switzerland), Jonquil (all over Europe), HitchcockGoHome! (France), Black Mountain (Canada) – all of which have released outrageous records this year – must make do with honorable mentions only. Hell, I could think of about 30 American albums of the post-rock/drone sub-genre alone from 2008 which could contest the number one spot (if that contest were to take place, by the way, #1 would be Earth – The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull, hands down). In many places, both geographically and generically, it’s been a fine musical year. And the Melvins brought out Nude with Boots, which is arguably this year’s most fun album.
Which brings me to my list. As I said, many countries could claim 2008 to be a strong musical vintage, but the UK would have a hard job doing so. The usual crop of tedious pre-fab ‘indie’ bands and ‘singer-songwriters’ have dominated popular consciousness (of the former, I refer to the Kaiser Chiefs, Fratellis, Automatic, Feeling, et al; and of the latter, of course, one need look no further than James Morrison). Then, as if things weren’t bad enough, people started importing, discussing Kings of Leon’s uncannily average Only By the Night and its fucking awful lead single ‘Sex on Fire’ as if they merited inclusion in that pantheon of idiosyncratic musical Americana which – as any idiot knows – started, peaked and ended with The Band. In a year of very few musical positives from the ‘Kingdom’, one can only really take solace in the fact that David Gray and James Blunt failed to produce any new material.
As ever, though, some people buck the trend and show some real class in the face of rampant and pervasive anodynity. Even though a lot of the country’s most interesting acts seemingly took the year off, here are ten who grabbed it by the balls. But before that, here is a handful of albums which narrowly missed the cut:
Frank Turner – Love Ire and Song;
Dananananaykroyd – Sissy Hits EP;
Glasvegas – Glasvegas;
Metronomy – Nights Out;
Kyte – Kyte;
Foals – Antidotes.
10. This Town Needs Guns – Animals.
Received by many critics as something of a disappointment, and for no good reason other than its often near-incomprehensible melodic density, this is a dexterous and assured debut from the Oxford quartet. Tim Collis’s saccharine guitar drips all over this one, making for a listening experience that is both soothing and invigorating. Carving out a distinctive sound in the currently rather fashionable math-pop landscape is an achievement in itself, and TTNG do so stylishly.
Try: Classy opener, ‘Chinchilla’.
9. Fuck Buttons – Street Horrrsing.
Jimmy Hitt is spot-on when he calls this ‘original sounding shit’, foul-mouthed urchin that he is. Experimental, but not in a ‘OMG Battles are like so cool LOL’ way, this Bristol-based duo have unleashed a multifaceted debut album that pummels the listener in slow motion, like a slightly more subdued cousin of Old Man Gloom. Repaying repeat listens, during which its fuzzing ominousness reveals latent depths, this one’s a bit of a behemoth.
Try: dance music from Hell, 65daysofstatic on a comedown 8-minuter, ‘Bright Tomorrow’.
8. Braintax – My Last and Best Album.
Joe Christie/Brando Flux bowed out of UK hip-hop with an LP which adequately demonstrates why he will be a much-missed presence in the scene. Presiding over an arresting collection of beats with customary panache, with the whole thing competently produced by C-Swing, this is forward-thinking, autotextual hip-hop (hip-hope?) which rarely dips below the very top drawer as it takes aim at bourgeoisie complacency with a distinctive succinct accuracy. In a year when erstwhile co-conspirators Jehst and Task Force didn’t add much to their impressive canons, Braintax abdicated from the UK hip-hop throne in style.
Try: breakneck, furious anti-West polemic, ‘The Beast is Us’.
7. Drever, McCusker, Woomble – Before the Ruin.
This collaboration of folk vocalist type (folkalist?) Kris Drever, dexterous fiddlester John McCusker and Idlewild frontman Roddy Woomble could have led to something twee, awkward and shite. That it led to a muscular collection of modern folk songs – many of which could become future standards in themselves – is a testament to the congruity of its three protagonists. The dual vocals of Drever and Woomble form an unlikely but inspired pairing, although many of its highlights come when Drever cuts loose alone.
Try: Kris Drever-led ballad, ‘The Poorest Company’.
6. Clark – Turning Dragon.
In which strange ambient DJ type decides to bare his teeth a bit, producing a sophomore record which sees off the cuddliness of his debut Body Riddle in favour of something with a far more sinister sheen. This is dance music which is too clever for most nightclubs and their awful banal patrons: unashamedly sophisticated and more than a little bit flashy. Where many examples of the genre favour muscular bass, pungent synths and little else, Clark’s skittering sonic collages are a far more challenging proposition, comprising an album that is fascinating at any volume.
Try: semi-psychotic, portentous jitterer, ‘Beg’.
5. Rolo Tomassi – Hysterics.
Painfully trendy this lot may seem, but when they get going the day-glo-vegan-mascara-caked-twat-masses run for the hills. Much of the time, their material is fundamentally grindcore, and utterly incongruous with glow-sticks and student frat parties. It’s also ruddy brilliant, and Hysterics – released late in 2008 – is a strident debut album. This, combined with Jaguar Love’s brilliant Take Me to the Sea album stateside, should more than make up for this year’s lamentable loss of the Blood Brothers. Sinister and dervish-like, like both a Golem and a Gremlin, this is killer. Album closer ‘Fantasia’ will make you ill.
Try: hyperactive slab of mentalist post-punk, ‘Scabs’.
4. Vessels – White Fields and Open Devices.
Elegiac, and bigger than any UK band this side of Oceansize, this Yorkshire outfit has come out with a stupefying first album which, from wayward, staggering opener ‘Altered Beast’ to whispering closer ‘Wave Those Arms, Airmen’, is hugely impressive throughout. Quite how it only took them 12 days to record is one of the great mysteries of humankind. No doubt a fearsome entity live in concert, these guys are positively Virgilian in their grasp of the epic. A stunning achievement, this.
Try: ‘Look at that Cloud!’, perhaps the loudest song of 2008.
3. Johnny Foreigner – We Waited Up ’til It was Light.
If Vessels are a dreadnought, Johnny Foreigner are a rowing boat with a jet engine: loud, fast, barely-stable and structurally implausible. Concocting one of the busiest sounds I’ve ever experienced from a three-piece, this Brummie gaggle manage to be simultaneously graceful and rowdy, fragile and bruising, beautiful and sublime. Yet another debut album on a list principally populated by them, this is the sound of a band who are ambitious, hungry, rousing and beguiling. Stunning.
Try: ‘The End and Everything After’: shows off their hydra-esque sound TO THE MAX.
2. Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid.
Certainly the most ‘mainstream’ album here, Elbow’s fourth symphony is all the more impressive because of that. Welding pedigree musicianship to an overall impression of true class, and steadfastly refusing to balk before the weight of rubbing shoulders with the UK’s impressive legacy of guitar music, Elbow have tossed out something mighty with characteristic sprezzatura. The best of their formidable crop of albums, this makes the unenviable task of being one of Britain’s premier rock bands look straightforward.
Try: ‘The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver’ – brimming with Elbow’s signature delicate puissance.
1. Youthmovies – Good Nature.
Back in March, I wrote an in-depth review of this album for one of those blog things ( read it here). If the timbre of unfettered ecstasy in which that review is written doesn’t indicate that I like this album VERY MUCH, then nothing short of me actually ejaculating onto your computer screen will. Put simply, this could hold its own against any album I’ve ever heard; and it’s hard to beat for depth and longevity. A superlative achievement, and one of which this Oxford-based fivepiece can be very, very proud indeed.
Try: the whole thing, but if pushed for time, get ‘Archive It Everywhere’ – a song practically crackling with emotional profundity, and perfect New Year’s Eve solipsism fodder.
Well, there you are. Pretty underwhelming in the end, wasn’t it? And simultaneously encouraging and depressing re: the state of British music in 2008: 7 of the 10 albums here were technically debuts, and only The Seldom Seen Kid can realistically hope for significant record sales. This suggests that experience in the UK scene leads to artists becoming jaded and compromised, and we’ve seen that this year with crocks of crap from Oasis, the Verve, Kaiser Chiefs and Take That, among others. There is a significant minority affecting British pop-culture – the oafs who vote in shows like The X-Factor and Strictly Come Dancing – and they’re gradually forcing everything good into the underground with their slavering devotion to the banal. Not heard of some of the bands on this list? Then listen harder. Here’s to 2009!