Tag: Arab Strap
Paris Hilton is foisted on the world. Previously only known as a hotel in the French capital, she now became a person and her Simple Life TV program revolutionised the world. Shakespearean in scope and somehow making a coherent whole out of weighty issues like death, life, the general nature of existence and the futility of man’s struggle against nature, the Dalai Lama proclaimed the show to be ‘damn good watching’. The world decides to overreact against another disease. Luckily, Keith Richards finds the cure (along with one for cancer) when he and the rest of the still-Rolling Stones headlines SARSstock in Toronto. George Bush declares the Iraq War over. 6 years later, people are left asking: if that’s the case, then what exactly is going on in that country now? Meanwhile music continues to music in another relatively weak year.
10. The Wrens – The Meadowlands
Far from prolific, the Wrens have been around over twenty years and have only managed to release three albums in that time. Still, quality is better than quantity, and The Meadowlands proved to be their finest effort to date (which still stands, as we have yet to hear a follow-up). There’s nothing inherently special about their brand of indie rock; it is, after all, just guitar, bass, drums and vocals. It’s not music meant to be overanalysed, but it sure does sound nice.
9. Arab Strap – Monday at the Hug & Pint
Man, the Scots could use a bit of sunlight. Arab Strap were notoriously dour, but they almost seemed to revel in that fact (any band with a song called ‘Fucking Little Bastards’ is alright in my books, even if I wouldn’t necessarily want them to deliver a motivational speech). The band broke up in 2006 after one more album (2005’s The Last Romance) and Malcolm Middleton and Aidan Moffat have moved onto solid but unspectacular solo careers since then.
8. The Mars Volta – De-Loused in the Comatorium
The Mars Volta rose from the ashes of At the Drive-In, along with shoutier, more boring Sparta. The Mars Volta brought back prog rock in all its wanky, over-the-top glory and it was wonderfully magnificent, albeit very briefly. After about one album of 13 minute free-jazz guitar solos, the sheen comes off quickly. Their albums would increasingly get more and more self-indulgent and further up their own ass, but De-Loused’s batshit insane musical pyrotechnics still are a treat to return to once in a while.
7. Richmond Fontaine – Post to Wire
RF mainman Willy Vlautin can get a bit too maudlin at times (his wife cheats on him, his wife dies, his girlfriend dies/cheats on him, his mother dies, his dog dies, his truck dies, he loses his job, he gets beaten up, he ODs on crystal meth, repeat ad infinitum) but he hit a good balance on Post to Wire, crafting a sad but not histrionic record. Interspersed with occasional spoken-word ‘postcards’ telling the tale of one Walter Denny, trying to make it on his own far from home in an often harsh world, the songs resonate without exception. This album is the sound of every small town boy (and girl) who longs to leave their claustrophobic surroundings for some better dream and, sadly, fails more often than not. Pedantic side note: this album is listed in most places as being released in 2004. The band’s website has a 2003 date on this album (as did my collection).
6. Songs: Ohia – Magnolia Electric Company
Jason Molina is one of those slightly frustrating artists who changes his nom de plume (nom de musique? Nom de guerre? I guess it depends how you view music) much too regularly. He’s recorded under his own name, as Songs: Ohia, with Centro-Matic’s Will Johnson as the creatively-titled Molina and Johnson, but has (mostly) settled now on Magnolia Electric Co. The band’s new name is derived from Songs: Ohia’s final album, where they took a slightly rockier, Neil Young approach to Molina’s mid-tempo folk. It’s a formula short on innovation but long on mood, and I for one fail to tire of this album (or most of his subsequent work). He can still bring on some tears (‘Just be Simple’), but hard-strummed, slide-tempered guitar affairs like ‘John Henry Split My Heart’ are what really bring out some goosebumps.
5. The Dresden Dolls – The Dresden Dolls
This is music best described as piano punk, combining the anger of the latter term with the instrument of the former, along with heavy doses of cabaret pop and rock thrown in. Ben Folds tends to fall back a bit into balladry at times, but even the Dresden Dolls’ slower songs seethe and buck and slam. I wish more bands sounded like this.
4. Buck 65 – Talkin’ Honky Blues
Canadian hip-hop, much like, I don’t know, peanut butter and bacon sandwiches, has no business working but somehow does on occasion. Buck 65, along with K-Os, K’naan and Cadence Weapon, has put a lot of effort into making Canadian hip-hop a respectable genre, by putting his own spin on things rather than simply trying to ape the ghetto nature of a lot of American hip-hop. Talkin’ Honky Blues’ was utterly charming, as the artist born as Richard Terfry mused on subjects like baseball, shoe shining and nature. Subsequent albums saw him stretch himself more instrumentally (2005’s Secret House Against the World) and returning to the beat roots of hip hop (2007’s Situation), both to decent effect, but THB stands as an eccentric, accessible and engaging album as a whole.
3. Fountains of Wayne – Welcome Interstate Managers
This album was defined for most people by breakout (silly) single ‘Stacy’s Mom’. Sure, it’s catchy as hell, but that song also has very little to do with WIM as a whole. The album stands as a melancholic reflection on what it means to be in your late twenties/early thirties, putting in time in mid-level jobs in mid-level companies in mid-level towns. They tell this story through a fairly wide range of styles, from rock to pop to country. This is an album for soccer dads, and that is meant as a compliment.
2. Sun Kil Moon – Ghosts of the Great Highway
Mark Kozelek, like Jason Molina, records under a variety of names, starting out with Red House Painters, recording some solo albums, and now settling into Sun Kil Moon. He’s known for wringing sadness out of the oddest places (like his funereal covers of AC/DC), but it is the type of sadness to be luxuriated in, rather than dismissed. He’s at his best when he’s recording his own songs, and Ghosts of the Great Highway is a stellar example of an artist painting a beautiful portrait with such a limited palette. Tempos rarely stray from slow, guitars (acoustic and electric) drone away in repetitive fashion and vocals are set firmly to ‘mumble’. It never gets boring over its nearly hour length though, as Kozelek reflects on various subjects, most of them metaphors for/relating back to heartbreak. It may not be upbeat, but it is engrossing.
1. Muse – Absolution
Muse have become so ridiculous (some of it self-conscious, some of it worryingly unawares) in the last few years that it’s easy to lose sight of what a powerful rock band they used to be. Earlier albums played it a bit safe, whereas latter albums have gone off their fucking rocker. They hit a fine balance of balls-out rock and (somewhat) restrained prog-rock histrionics on Absolution, their finest album to date. Every bit of what’s good about Muse got an airing on this record, from softly-crooned ballad to stomping rockers, without once going overboard. This record made it seem alright to live in a paranoid world.