Monday, July 31, 2006

Top Five Records of the Year So Far
Saelan's Mid-Year Round-up inspired me to create a list of my own. I thought it would be a pretty easy task but soon found that a lot of the records I've been listening to a lot this year actually came out last year - Coil's Black Antlers, Kate Bush's Aerial, Matt Elliott's Drinking Songs... More alarmingly, I found it hard to come up with ten new records from 2006 that I'd liked enough to buy. I abandoned the project for a while before realising that there were at least five records this year that I actually liked enough to consider potential future classics; five really important, meaningful and possibly epochal records.

Scott Walker - The Drift
Not his best record but quite possibly his definitive statement. The essence of all that is Scott boiled down to opaque black goo. Drink it all down. It's good for you.

Scritti Politti - White Bread Black Beer
At first I was put-off by home computer-iness of the production - endless preset break loops and parping VST synths. But, perhaps for the first time in Scritti history, this album isn't about the sound - it's about the singer and his songs. In this sense, computer studio production is the acoustic singer-songwriter sound of our times - sonic shorthand for intimacy and confession. This is probably the only context in which Green would be able to make such an unusually personal album.

Ekkehard Ehlers - A Life Without Fear
Again, this was initially disappointing. I keep hoping that Ehlers will make another album as simple and blissed-out as Plays or Heroin. A Life Without Fear is a much more thorny proposition and - on repeated listens - all the better for it. That's not to say that there aren't passages of intensely lovely droning here. It's just that they're interspersed with all sorts of musical and conceptual about-faces and double-takes. A most welcome challenge to expectations.

Burial - Burial
As with a lot of the best music, you can spot all the neat reference points here without really being able to see how they ad up to the finished product. This is being proclaimed the first masterwork of dubstep and, as such, its obvious precendents are in the 'ardkore continuum - rave, jungle, UK garage, grime... But there's a whole other, wholly other, sonic strata revealing itself here. I detect the elegiac melodies of early (and recent) Aphex Twin, the faux-ethnic atmospheres of :zoviet*france: and the gritty digi-dub of Basic Channel. Whatever, the case, this is a unique, utterly compelling and genuinely mysterious album.

Current 93 - Black Ships Ate the Sky
Once again, I initially found this rather off-putting (an odd pattern developing here - could be significant). I was very wary of the amount of guest appearances contained herein - the same thing that threw the last Antony album hopelessly off-kilter (naturally Antony appears on Black Ships...) Also, on actually hearing the album, I was shocked by how dark and complex it sounded. I'm a big fan of Current's ultra minimal, reflectively mature albums (Soft Black Stars, Sleep Has His House...) and was a little disappointed to hear Tibet et al revisiting the tortured, tortuous terrain of All the Pretty Little Horses, Thunder Perfect Mind etc... Fairly quickly, I came to realise two important things: (i) Tibet's use of guest stars is audacious and brilliant - each arranges and sings his or her own version of the same song, with the - almost universally fantastic - versions interspersed throughout the album; (ii) All the Pretty Little Horses is one of my favourite albums of all time and Thunder Perfect Mind ain't bad either. In fact, Black Ships... is an astonishing, devastating piece of work that ranks with the best of C93's output.


charlie m. said...

Black Ships and the Drift are both amazing, I haven't heard the other ones.

Samuel said...

Well, knowing Charlie - as I do - I'd say he'd like the Ekkehard Ehler's and the Burial but he should avoid the Scritti like the plague. Actually, I've yet to meet someone else who likes that album, even though I've read tonnes of positive reaction to it. I guess that makes it a critics album. And I've always been very critical.