OK, in a purely self indulgent way I thought I would list my favourite albums of the year. There’s no order - just ten that I’ve enjoyed. Having Spotify installed on your machine will improve your enjoyment of this list.
Andrew Weatherall - A Pox on The Pioneers One of those albums where really there’s no peaks, just a selection of very listenable tracks that pass the time pleasantly. A fresh take on the post-punk vibe that’s dominated a lot of music in the last ten years, which given the volume of records mining this seam is some achievement.
The XX - XX What can I say about this album that hasn’t been said already? The Chromatics, Young Marble Giants and Insides are all valid comparisons. For four (now three) East Londoners under 20, this is a very established debut. Although it came out in August, this to me is a perfect winter album
Ben Frost - By The Throat Possibly the scariest album of the year. Mogwai’s soft/loud dynamic taken to its logical (and digital) conclusion. There are parts of the album that sound like something is try to claw its way out of the speaker.
Julianna Barwick - Florine Diplo said of this album that it sounded like Care Bears making love. Have to say, I know what he means. Southern church singer loops layers of wordless vocal phrasing to beautiful effect. Ambient album of the year.
JJ - No.2 The last few years have seen at least one classic pop album from Sweden. This year was no exception. A perfect collection of summer classics that flirted with world music, new age and AOR while keeping its own company. Sincerely Yours is laying a claim these days to being the Factory of the 2000s.
The Sight Below - Glider This year’s guilty pleasure for me. The Sight Below is clearly in debt to Wolfgang Voigt’s Gas project - but there’s no more records coming from that series and the production gives it a different feel - a more nocturnal, colder feel. House music for gazing out of windows in the twilight.
Micachu and The Shapes - Jewelery A perfectly balanced combination of pop and noise. I found it incredibly addictive when I first heard it - constantly surprising. One of the best albums to come out of the Shoreditch scene this decade.
Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix Lisztomania reminded me of Good Vibrations in the way it does so many things in just a few minutes. The John Hughes tribute video set to this does a better job than any words here of explaining its appeal. Phoenix for me were always a band that were on the edge of releasing something really good. That frustration with their sound is no more as they fulfilled their potential on what was probably my overall favourite of the year.
Shackleton - Three EPs Although I like some dubstep, much of it leaves me cold. Ironically, this is a cold sounding record but released on Berlin’s Perlon - who are better known for releasing some of the more orginal sounding minimal techno of the last few years, this shared a similar strange energy.
Memory Tapes - Seek Magic The Memory Cassette/Weird Tapes releases of Dayve Hawke eventually lead to an album that continued the early promise of one of this years best discoveries. Part of a number of similar bands at the minute, that luckily no one has agreed a pigeonhole name for yet, this to me sounds like music in the late 80s/early 90s went a different way - like grunge never happened. While this album isn’t on Spotify, two of the Memory Cassette singles are and are well worth your time.
Also enjoyed this year
Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion
The Field - Yesterday and Today
The Yellow Moon Band - Journey to Several Remote Countries
Prins Thomas and Lindstrom - II
Wilco - The Album
Marconi Union - Tokyo
The Gentleman Losers - Dustland
Fuck Buttons - Tarot Sport
The Flaming Lips - Embryonic
Dinosaur Jr - Farm
Tracks of the year
For the last few years I’ve given friends a CD of my favourite tracks of the year. With the decline in CDs I thought I’d bring this up to date and provide a CD-R sized Zip file of my favourite tracks of the year. Details are within the file so if you’re interested, click here.
…and finally best of the decade.
This is a far trickier thing to do. It normally takes a few years for my choices to settle down and I’ve tended to forget albums from the start of this decade, not least because I don’t have Last.fm as a memory jogger before 2004.
So, rather than going into the same detail as before, below follows, in no particular order is a provisional ten…
Lindstrom - Where You Go I Go Too
Stars of the Lid - …and the refinement of their decline
“The government doesn’t even count its own cameras, let alone anybody else’s. For starters, the magical figure of 4.2 million dates from as long ago as 2002. You will find it hard to credit how the figure was calculated. A pair of academics, Michael McCahill and Clive Norris, did a survey of Putney High Street, where they found 49% of businesses had CCTV while, around the corner in Upper Richmond Road, they found 34% used it. Rather different results. What they did then was bizarre in the extreme. They simply split the difference. With no evidence that Putney would be typical of the country as a whole, they made the assumption that, across the entire country, 41.5% of businesses would have CCTV cameras. This, they calculated, meant 4,285,000 CCTV cameras in total in Britain.”—How many CCTV cameras are there in Britain?
Sokushinbutsu were Buddhist monks or priests who allegedly caused their own deaths in a way that resulted in their being mummified. This practice reportedly took place almost exclusively in northern Japan around the Yamagata Prefecture. Between 16 and 24 such mummifications have been discovered.
For three years the priests would eat a special diet consisting only of nuts and seeds, while taking part in a regimen of rigorous physical activity that stripped them of their body fat. They then ate only bark and roots for another three years and began drinking a poisonous tea made from the sap of the Urushi tree, normally used to lacquer bowls. This caused vomiting and a rapid loss of bodily fluids, and most importantly, it killed off any maggots that might cause the body to decay after death. Finally, a self-mummifying monk would lock himself in a stone tomb barely larger than his body, where he would not move from the lotus position. His only connection to the outside world was an air tube and a bell. Each day he rang a bell to let those outside know that he was still alive. When the bell stopped ringing, the tube was removed and the tomb sealed.
“Certain incarnations of rock and hip-hop culture can become outdated, but it’s impossible to imagine a world in which either ceases to exist as a sonic framework. To borrow an overused economic cliché, they are too big to fail. It should go without saying that the same is true for music as a whole.”—The Death Of Music Has Been Greatly Exaggerated
Rumor has it that Bowie kept his hair and fingernail clippings in the fridge of Michael Lippman’s home where he was living then, so they could not fall into the hands of those he thought wished to put spells on him. Bowie constructed an altar in the living room and he graced the walls with various magick symbols which he handpainted. Candles burned around the clock, he regularly performed banishing rituals, and he protected his friends by drawing sigils on their hands.
The seventeen-year-old Cameron Crowe allegedly found a stirred-up Bowie burning black candles against an aborted magical ritual during the LA period. [Bowie and the Tree] Eventually Crowe published several narratives in Rolling Stone and Playboy of Bowie drawing black magick symbols, seeing disembodied beings, thinking he was the Messiah, keeping bottles of his urine in the fridge…
“Alan Moore once told me that, in conversation with Julie Schwartz, it has come up that schwartz, who started out as a literary agent during the pulp years, had met HP Lovecraft. As Alan retells it, he couldn’t help but ask Schwartz what Lovecraft was like. And Schwartz said, “y’know, when I met him, I said to myself, I gotta remember what this guy’s like because in fifty fuckin’ years Alan Moore’s gonna ask me.”—Do Anything 023 by Warren Ellis | Bleeding Cool Comic News & Rumors
It was 7:25 on Sunday night when I got a text message from one of my snarkiest friends: “Someone from GLAAD needs to organize a Black Lips boycott.” I could deduce from this information that someone in Black Lips did something potentially anti-gay, but seeing how very little I care about the band, I didn’t bother to follow up until yesterday.
The story in a nutshell for those of you who missed it: Two skinny young white men — one with handlebar mustache, the other without — had begun feuding on the Internet, perhaps over whose throwback garage band is more dated and pedantic. The pair found themselves at the Brooklyn bar Daddy’s on Friday night where the clean-shaven boy claims that the mustachioed boy began “talking shit” while his girlfriend “spit in the face of all [my] friends.” Buoyed, perhaps, by alcohol, pride, and gender role conformity, the two boys began beating each other until “blood started pouring out,” and — according to the mustachioed one — “six dudes fucking started kicking me until I blacked out.”
In and of itself, this story is uninteresting to me. I grew up in New York City’s hardcore punk scene, where I couldn’t go a Sunday afternoon without watching six dudes kicking someone until he blacked out. (Violence is, like, so 1987.) What did catch my attention were the “official statements” from both parties — the Black Lips’ Jared Swilley and Wavves’ Nathan Williams. Williams, for his part, tried to downplay the situation, but held on to his — is there a better way to say this? — dick-swinging braggadocio: “It was unfortunate that it escalated to that point but [Swilley] got what was coming to him.”
First of all, I just wanna say that Wavves was NOT involved in that fight. That faggotdidn’t even touch me.
What happened was, after we finished our set I went to Daddy’s with some friends and saw that faggot from Wavves talking to a photographer friend of mine. The only thing I did was walk up to him and say, “You’re that faggot from Wavves and I don’t like you.” He smiled a bit but didn’t say anything.
Bottom line is that faggot from Wavves didn’t even hit me.
I wanted to pause on this for a moment — not so much because Swilley has the playground mindset and vocabulary of a 13-year-old boy in 1984, but because as far as I can Google, there are still people in the indie rock scene who don’t seem to think using the word “faggot” is such a terrible thing. It is understandable, even.
• I went to college and am tolerant [of gays], but this is still bad-ass. Way to go J!
• stop getting offended you crybabies. this is rocknroll. treat it like a spectator sport. homeboy doing anything to you?
• fuck all of you. Jared and Black Lips are great, Wavves is retarded. I don’t even care that he kept repeating “faggot”, he has a right to be pissed.
• i think that its “okay” that he used the word faggot because his band members kiss on stage
It has been duly noted that the overwhelming majority of commenters found Swilley’s use of the epithet to be, well, stupid. But having grown up gay in an atmosphere rife with anti-gay hostility — also, like, so 1987 — I can tell you that young gay people are not so much concerned with the numbers when we’re internalizing the dominant ideologies of the outside world. Therefore, using these comments as a logic-source, I’ve composed a list to distill some of the lessons young gay indie rockers will take away from the debacle. This is what I’ve learned about homophobia from Black Lips:
I. BEING “TOLERANT” OF GAYS IS ONLY EXPECTED FROM NORMAL PEOPLE A college education only goes so far in terms of exposing young people to the diversity of our planet. We learn how to be respectful of gay people — “tolerant” even, much in the same way we are tolerant of mosquitoes — only so far as we need to interact with them in our jobs or in our families or hanging out at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. But on the Internet, we can anonymously envy the freewheeling “bad-assness” of a privileged heterosexual who is given the license to freely call people “faggot” as a commentary on the bad-ass dichotomy of heterosexism: “You are a weak, effeminate, and worthless human being,” it says. Way to go!
II. IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT, YOU ARE A “CRYBABY” Similarly, if you object to Jared Swilley calling your sister a “stupid whore,” you are no longer rock ‘n’ roll. Because rock ‘n’ roll — and particularly indie rock — is about degradation, not self-empowerment. It is about exclusion, not inclusion. It is about being lucky enough to have been born on the “right” side of a power structure that gives you nothing to cry about.
III. BEING “PISSED” GIVES YOU THE RIGHT TO DO ANYTHING YOU WANT On November 4 of last year, a group of young men from Staten Island watched the election returns in dismay: America was about to elect our first black president, and these boys were pissed. Armed with a pipe, they attacked two black men, harassed a Hispanic man, and then ran over a white man who they thought was black, placing him in a coma — all the while screaming racial epithets.
“I was angry. I was drunk,” Ralph Nicoletti told the judge. “After Obama was elected, we decided to go after black people.” The judge did not feel he had “a right to be pissed,” but whatever, “Fuck all of you.” Wait, right?
IV. KISSING BOYS AS A FORM OF SHOCK ENTERTAINMENT GIVES YOU A GAY PASS When members of Black Lips kiss on stage, it is designed to be somehow shocking or — in some places — obscene. It is not designed to express romantic love or sexual orientation, but to elicit laughter or revulsion. This is because, in our society, the idea of two men kissing in public still invokes disgust, at best, and violent attacks at its worst. I do not kiss my boyfriend for art or controversy, but the lesson here is that our genuine affection for each other will only be culturally recognized if it is funny or upsetting.
Also, the guy from Calexico is now allowed to use the word “spic” because he owns some timbales and Asher Roth is, using this logic, allowed to use the word “nigger” because he played with the Roots on Jimmy Fallon.
Of course, I know there are bad-ass rock ‘n’ rollers with anger management problems who are nodding their heads in disagreement, saying, “It’s not the same thing!” But it is. In my life, I have been called a faggot, a spic, a nigger, a wetback — and I promise you: I’ve never once felt that one word hurt less than the other.
“At a cost of more than sixteen thousand dollars, the 1986 marriage between Phet, a male part-Siamese, and Ploy, his tabby bride, in Thailand’s biggest discotheque is recorded by the Guinness Book of Records as the most expensive pet wedding. In addition to a twenty-three-thousand-dollar dowry, five hundred guests, and sixty thousand dollars in cash and presents, no wedding detail was forgotten: the bride wore pink satin, the groom was fitted out in a matching pink tuxedo with lacy cuffs, the bride arrived by Rolls-Royce and the groom by helicopter, the maid of honor was an iguana, the best man was a parrot, and Ploy received a custom kitty wedding ring. What a visual treat for the guests. Or was it? Animal-rights activists tried to stop the wedding and have the cats seen by a veterinarian as both Phet and Ploy had “the diamond eye,” a rare type of feline glaucoma that is considered to bring good luck in Thailand. Phet’s untreated condition was so advanced that his left eye was transfigured into a bulging glassy orb, a freakish counterpoint to the otherwise “cute” wedding portrait of two blind cats swamped in bubble-gum pink silk. Their owners were hoping to mate the mystical-eyed cats in the hopes of increasing their luck with a litter of glaucoma kittens. As ever, one man’s cute is another man’s queasy.”—
TV has become a revolutionary force for good in the majority world (not just a couch potato-maker). Using a robust sample of data over many years and countries, Kenny shows a high correlation between areas that receive and consume TV and positive trends in literacy, school enrollment, health outcomes, birth control, lower levels of drug use and corruption, and even increased prosperity.
Take soap operas, a genre famously attacked by cultural critics and seemingly on the decline in the “North.” In Brazil, India and other developing areas, soaps portray successful and independent women—and watching them has been linked with increased social status, rights and economic well being for women in those countries.
Imagine a game that connects directly to your mind, and where you are completed controlled by the system. Every thought, every picture, every sound is given to you; you get to do nothing on your own. You may be tossed from one area to another without warning. You may, one moment, be given a view that is almost god-like in its expanse, and, the next, be experiencing everything from the narrow point-of-view of a particular character. You have no control over pacing. You have two options at any given moment; quit, or keep going to the end. When it’s over, if you want to play it again, it’s the exact same thing.
I usually get the response, “That sounds like a *hideous* game! Why would anyone play it! What’s it called, anyway?”
“I think the Internet is the most amazing thing to have happened to humanity in several hundred years. Not perfect, but amazing. I find the constant nagging to explore and predict all of the horrible facets quite disconcerting, and rather a waste of time. These aspects exist, yes, but are typically the outliers, sometimes sensational, yes, but I believe it is my right as a scholar to choose to focus on the positive aspects without being taken to task for some lack of judgment or critical thinking.”—Text Patterns: the costs of ideological amplification
Good vs. evil thinking causes us to lower our value of a person’s opinion, or dismiss it altogether, if we find out that person has behaved badly. We no longer wish to affiliate with those people and furthermore we feel epistemically justified in dismissing them. Sometimes this tendency will lead us to intellectual mistakes.
Take Climategate. One response is: 1. “These people behaved dishonorably. I will lower my trust in their opinions.”
Another response, not entirely out of the ballpark, is: 2. “These people behaved dishonorably. They must have thought this issue was really important, worth risking their scientific reputations for. I will revise upward my estimate of the seriousness of the problem.”
I am not saying that #2 is correct, I am only saying that #2 deserves more than p = 0. Yet I have not seen anyone raise the possibility of #2. It very much goes against the grain of good vs. evil thinking: Who thinks in terms of: “They are evil, therefore they are more likely to be right.”
“There’s a really interesting post on Reuters “Entrepreneurial” blog about how Starbucks is opening “stealth” Starbucks – Stores without the Starbucks name over the front door – These are starting to appear in Seattle, its hometown, and London. Like the other stealth outlets, these have antique-style furniture, retro lighting, and not a Starbucks logo in sight. Even though Starbucks would never admit it, this has to be a fucking crisis for them. When a brand is forced to hide its own identity, doesn’t this imply that its name – the core of the brand – has lost value?”—Will There Be a Branding Bullshit Reaction? - PSFK
“I’ll summarize and abbreviate my view of what an ideal pizza should be: A pizza is a flatbread with a sparse but often intensely-flavorful topping, usually of Italian origin, especially in its olive oil. It is not an edible platter for Italian cold cuts, cheeses, and marinated, roasted vegetables. It is a flatbread, a wonderfully delicious, yeasty flatbread baked on a hearth; the hearth can be the stone or metal floor of an electric or gas deck oven, but small logs of wood burning on a stone surface are preferable for both flavor and temperature, which ideally should vary between about 600 dg. F. at the hearth and 800 or 900 dg. in the air above it, just right for finishing the flatbread in 90 to 120 seconds so that the dough underneath the pizza is crisp and charred; the top and topping are burnished and bubbling; and the dough in between is more chewy than crunchy or bready; and the rim of dough around the circumference is puffy and crisp and shot through with bubbles of air.”—All You Need to Know About Di Fara, 2009 | Slice Pizza Blog - Jeffrey Steingarten chips in. Google him, or better still, Amazon him and read The Man Who Ate Everything.