Saturday, December 31, 2005

Musical retrospective 2005

Is it about time for a retrospective for the musical year? No? Oh well, I really don't feel like writing anything else at the moment, so this will have to do.

I mentioned in an earlier post that a concern this year came with the lack of listening to things I bought, all in the holy name of preservation. There is now anecdotal evidence to suggest that this is in fact a continuing problem, one that I will probably have to solve by putting more worth in singles and listening to tracks in their miscellaneous glory. But even with this issue, there were some nice enough finds which I shall document for posterity's sake.

I'm often amazed by how skimp my collection actually is in terms of depth, for anytime it grows, it seems to be entirely breadth-wise. Why is that? No doubt due to my love of experimentation, eh? Perhaps it indicates that I get bored far too easily with most things, and so most artists see me obsess enough over one album so as for me to buy it, after which no further mention is made. The best example are those crafty LS boys (Lynyrd Skynyrd, doncha know). There was a time where I was hell-bent on hearing every single one of their songs on the radio so as to judge which of their many albums I should purchase. Naturally their first and most famous one would be the start, but "Double Trouble" wasn't on it, so surely there would be many more to follow, right? Haha, surely you jest! For what followed was a paltry two listens to the first album, whereupon I promptly forgot about them completely. As for a reason why, 'twas purely down to a personal whim, borne perhaps out of a disappointment over "Simple Man" or something. It's possible to listen to samples so many times that when the real thing comes on, it seems limp and somehow not nearly as good. I can't rationalize it at all, I'm afraid (after all, there are some mighty good songs on that first album, you know; "Tuesday's Gone", now that is a lost classic). And so it went that I moved on to bigger and better things in my mind...such as, say, that punk-poet Patti Smith, who suffered a similar fate after Wave failed to impress on two (or was it three? It might make all the difference!) listens. It just goes on and on from there, I'm afraid.

The other side to this is that I treat most new music with wary caution. I'll never forget "Send Me No Wine", for aside from being beautiful, it was the song that made me admit to myself " maybe these guys aren't so bad after all". I started off treating the Moodies as competitors to the Beatles (and as such constantly rejected their melodic prowess), and so with every song, there was a part of me that went "Bah, that was no good! "Day In The Life", now that's a song!". Insane, no? It's yet more prominent when music is recommended, but I think the underlying issue here is fear of some already existing idol being shown-up by someone "better" - I seem to be saying "No no no, my idol is still the best, this is just a weak imitation!". Fear! A John Cale album, and a probable reason for one of my particularly neurotic tendencies.

So what did we have this year? It's hard to believe that it started off with Unknown Pleasures, because it feels like that one's been around for a long time. This is such a consistent little album it's amazing - there are no major misses, everything is nice and to the point, and it's very hard to feel let down after a listen. Granted, I can't get into the lyrics at all, but it doesn't matter, because it's the actual music that I dig. Some see Curtis as having some of the best lyrics in rock, but me, I don't see it sadly. What he sings is often too abstract and intangible for me to be able to appreciate. The combination of the music and the lyrics works well, of this there is no doubt, but I couldn't like a Joy Division song on the basis of lyrics alone; but like I said, it's not as much of a loss, because the music is nothing short of fantastic. The emphasised bass works surprisingly well, and when the guitar takes center stage, it's usually amazing. Who would've guessed that you could make an album where it's the bass that provides the hook? Certainly one of the best bass lines I've heard in my short musical life is that of "She's Lost Control" (which, incidentally, is a nice of example of the guitar really making itself felt when it bursts onto the scene - a Kinks riff and a mesmerising bass, how can you go wrong!?!). If I had to pick a favourite, it would be "Shadowplay", if only for the intro where the bass is shattered by the guitar. What a moment, and what an album!

What to say about The Good Son? I seem to talk about it every other post. Why in God's name? Heck, who knows, but let me say that the album isn't yet one of my favourites. When I think about the individual songs in isolation, they all seem good, but every listen has left me a little, well, disappointed. As though I'm expecting some great aural revelation or something! It's unfortunate, really, because there's some great stuff here, but alas, I seem to unable to judge it for what it is, instead choosing to pile on unneeded matters of circumstance. My fondest memory of it, though, is coming home tired one evening and then, after listening to this mellow album on my bed, suddenly feeling as though I had been granted a second burst of energy. You know, thinking about "Foi Na Cruz" again just makes me wonder why I don't love this yet. There are many positive memories, but where's the love? Damn, and "Sorrow's Child", that takes a few listens, but man, that hook will reel you in. Maybe I was wrong, maybe this is a favourite, except it just hasn't dawned on me yet.

By far the biggest surprise of the year was Roxy's For Your Pleasure. When I first listened to it, I was left wondering "Where the hell did that come from?"; I didn't expect that something so amazing could come from people I hadn't heard of at all; clearly, I still over-estimate my still fledgling knowledge of rock. From the moment the main hook of "Do The Strand" hit, I could tell there was something here, and chided myself for letting this album sit in my house for a year, unlistened to. It's true, with repeated listens, you tend to pick out a few weak moments, but I miss experiences like this. I went it having no idea who these Roxy guys were, having no idea what this album was or what kind of music was played, and when the music played - damn. They don't make moments like that anymore. Funnily enough, even though the follow-up, Stranded, is easily more consistent on a song-by-song basis, it's definitely not as enjoyable to me as this one is. You can sit down to Stranded and be entertained the whole way through. "Street Life" features a pretty synth riff, and a catchy melody, and "Mother Of Pearl" is one funky tune, but it isn't quite the same. The mood isn't there - when you start off FYP with "Do The Strand", you know there is nothing else like this. And "Beauty Queen" comes on, and there is hope for the world! And of course once "Editions Of You" takes its turn, you're in space, and everything starts to make sense. Damn, I'm forgetting what I was talking about, but this is great stuff.

Skylarking gets the most rewarding whim-purchase award, what with its collection of immaculate pop songs. Loose conceptuality is something I'm always game for, but I mainly went in expecting some strong hooks, and was not disappointed. The opening combo of "Summer's Cauldron"/"Grass" is the most charming one I've heard all year (although "Foi Na Cruz"/"The Good Son" may be the one that puts me most at ease). I remember that at the time I bought it, I was a little tired of experimental and revolutionary rock. I wanted something simple and melodic, no doubt feeling the dizzying after-effects of Ram. I didn't know much about XTC, but a positive review or two was enough for me. I chanced my hand and was duly rewarded. I wouldn't say this has great (pop) songs - nothing in the vein of "Uncle Albert", say - but it is chock-a-block with many very good ones. "That's Really Super, Supergirl", for instance - the heck!?! Why is it so likeable? Ahhh, music, the most mysterious of masters...

Somewhere in between the first and second half of the year, along came Quadrophenia, making a dramatic return. I heard it late 2004, but was so disappointed that I included it on my RYM list of albums I haven't been able to appreciate, much to my chagrin. I decided to give it another shot, and I think it was a gloomy Saturday morning that I gave it another spin. I set aside a good hour to let the album sink in, and the result was fantastic. Perhaps it was just the mood I was in at the time, but the experience was like no other. My memories are too complex to be put into words, but I do remember reeling from the bass-lines on a couple of the songs, and just totally digging the synths that Townshend uses with great success. I can't say if it's the rockers like "The Real Me" or the denser numbers like the title track that I appreciate - all I know is, the sign of a great album is when it is able to make you feel like no other can make you. Sometimes, you can't even put into words what this feeling is. It doesn't make for particularly interesting reading, I'll admit, but how is one supposed to accept the burden of putting into words something so other-worldly? Let me at least say that when the crescendo of "Love Reign O'er Me" hits, I really do feel like I've been through an opera. I have no idea if this is the height of art-rock, but to me, this is as good an example as any of a rock album that is perfectly on-par with a piece of art in terms of the feelings it can get out of me.

The second half of the year belonged to Morrissey, of this there can be no doubt. There's a review of Hatful Of Hollow that is yet to be completed, but I love that the album reintroduced me to the power of the single. It's funny to think that a single album could cause so much adulation on my part, in fact I can't quite understand it myself. On the basis of this alone, I proceeded to get most of the Smiths' catalogue within the next few months. Put it down to the power of the Morrissey - that guy can write. And sing, incidentally - there's nothing quite like Morrissey crooning on "Reel Around The Fountain".

Edit: Whoah, whoah, whoah. How could I forget? Eno's Another Green World should've been the first album that came to mind when I compiled this list. This is a great album. In fact, it's one of the greatest ones I've heard in a while. Were it not for For Your Pleasure blowing me away the first time, I would have no qualms naming this the best album I've heard all year. Again, objectivity be damned - yes, like Pleasure, towards the end it loses its bite. Much as I like "Everything Merges With The Night", I can't argue that it is anywhere near the same level of, say, "In Dark Trees". Oh man, what a song. I can't think of talking very much about the songs themselves, because this is going to be my reaction. "In Dark Trees", "St. Elmo's Fire", and, perhaps most of all, "The Big Ship"? Achingly beautiful, each of them. I've never listened to ambient music, well, ever, but some of these make me want to change that. I hear it sometimes said that the pop songs are out of place here, but I lurve "I'll Come Running" - I read somewhere about how Eno mastered the pop-format by this stage, and it seems rather apt! What a perfect little pop song! I think the pop and the ambient pieces work together nicely; after all, it gives one the opportunity to go from the blissful "St. Elmo's Fire" to the gloomy yet beautiful "In Dark Trees". It's fitting that Eno played a big hand in For Your Pleasure as well - perhaps the second half of the year was Morrissey's, but the year itself was Eno's it would seem!

Who to look out for next year? Ween are very much on the top of the list, simply because of GS's reviews. I can't help myself, I have to see what the fuss is about. The Cocteau Twins, even if it's just because of "Carolyn's Fingers". Perhaps Sparks and Steve Harley, if I can find them, but at the moment nothing else seems to come to mind. Thankfully, when I'm armed with money and go inside a music shop, potentials come out of every corner, so here's hoping that the coming year isn't a dull one musically.

Bah, I can't resist, pointless list time:

Best album I heard: Roxy's For Your Pleasure. I can't help it, this album just totally overwhelmed me. Like I said in the edit, Another Green World comes pretty darn close to winning this award, but since FYP was what immediately came to mind, I'll take that to mean that I somehow have a deeper reaction to it. Objectively, it tapers off to the end, but as an experience, I can't get away from those first six songs. The last two don't grip, but I need a bit of a breather and a light let-off. Those harmonicas on "Grey Lagoons" are cool enough.

Best song I heard: I don't like this award, it's way too difficult. If I must choose, it would have to be the Smith's "This Charming Man". I have no idea why, but this song really seems to resonate with me. I haven't been able to rationally analyze it, but after a point I've just given up and marvelled at how something could affect me so. If I were to debate on whether a single can be a piece of art, perhaps this would be my choice. The opening, with the beautiful jangly guitar that seems to bring the imagery of the words to life ("Punctured bicycle / On a hillside desolate"), is one of the finest things I've heard in a while.

Then again, there is "The Big Ship". I don't even bother rationally analyzing this one, it's simply the greatest instrumental I've ever heard. Soul-cleansing.

Edit from the future: Uhm, hello, "Editions Of You"? It still is one of the most unique and friggin' brilliant songs I've ever heard. Perhaps now you see the problem with trying to choose a best song, there simply are too many of them!

Most neglected album: The Kinks' Arthur. I didn't even mention it here, even though "Some Mother's Son" was the focus of a post earlier in the year. I don't know why, but something just hasn't clicked with this. But there are moments, there are moments that make me think that there really is something great here. "Shangri-La", for instance, ooh, now that can give you goosebumps. I owe it to myself to hear this more often.

Best song by an artist I thought I knew all about: Simon & Garfunkel's "Leaves That Are Green". As for why I thought I knew all about S&G, despite only having listened to Bridge Over Troubled Water, well... A charming little song with lyrics I wish I wrote ("I was twenty-one years old when I wrote this song"...!).

Song I should love more, but don't: Cave's "The Weeping Song", no doubt. Great lyrics, catchy melody, what's not to love about it? I like it, I like very much in fact, but I somehow don't love it, and to me, this is a mystery.

Favourite Morrissey moment: Hey, the guy deserves a special place all for himself. Hard to pick, but have you heard "Panic" lately ("Hang the DJ!")? There's something about the "And I wonder tooo myself" line that I just love - somehow sad, yet the delivery cannot be matched. To quote a fellow blogger, unbelievably profound.

Song that made me wish I heard the album earlier: Strange award, but it would probably be "As I Sat Sadly By Her Side", off Cave's No More Shall We Part (review pending!). I was tentative of the album for no particular reason, but then as this opened up proceedings, I was left rueing that I doubted the Cavemeister.

Friday, December 30, 2005


Headlights cut through the foggy night
Asleep in India, awake in Tibet,
For a moment in between
I saw the golden egg.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Venus in furs

"What is there to do this afternoon?"
Thinking about this, I lay down and tried to plan something interesting.
Instead I slept, and it felt like a thousand years.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Postmodern highrise tabletop stomp

"...Yes, yet I don't quite know that you exist"
He blinked slowly. "Turn on your television, my son", he said.
"'Tis done"
"And what is it that you see?", he said.
"...Reach out, touch faith".
He smiled.