Tuesday, March 16, 2010 

Theme tune.

As Jamie, Justin and Mike have all decided on what the theme tune for their blogs is, I simply have to follow suit. You can find it here.

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Thursday, December 31, 2009 

Best music of 2009 part 2 / 10 best albums.

10. Lynx and Kemo - The Raw Truth

A couple of years on from when Lynx first came to mass attention within the drum and bass scene with the sounding like nothing else did at the time Disco Dodo, the d&b producer teamed up with vocalist Kemo for an album that attempted to cover all boundaries. While Lynx provides the beats alongside a whole range of fellow producers, including Alix Perez, whose own album 1984 only narrowly missed this list, it's Kemo's effortless rhymes and compelling voice that rewards repeat listens, providing the context and texture to urban British music at very close to its finest.

Lynx and Kemo ft. Henree - Deez Breakz

9. VA - Fabriclive 44 - Mixed by Commix

If it was dBridge and Instra:mental that created the real crossover and acclaimed smashes that fused dubstep's pallete with d&b's 170 bpm tempo, it was Commix that provided the mix that properly showcased the movement's sound in 65 blissful minutes. Featuring almost all the stalwarts that have kept d&b interesting, especially Calibre, Breakage and SpectraSoul, the biggest tune we didn't know yet here was undoubtedly Instra:mental's No Future, one of the future classics of the year, and since remixed into a complete smasher by Skream.

Commix - Bear Music

8. Wild Beasts - Two Dancers

Wild Beasts are always going to be one of those bands that splits opinion, purely because of the vocals provided by Hayden Thorpe, whose falsetto will either be adored or pilloried. Perhaps to counteract that, or just for further experimentation, Tom Fleming added his voice to the mix, and the result was a sleeper hit from a band that deserve far more attention than they have so far been accorded.

Wild Beasts - The Fun Powder Plot

7. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz!

When Fever to Tell came out back in 2003, all angular riffing and screeching from Karen O, you wouldn't have exactly put money on them returning with their 3rd album in 2009 having largely abandoned the guitars which they made their name with with synths instead. The result however was astonishing, although having created one of the downtempo songs of the decade in Maps it perhaps wasn't all that unexpected. While all the attention will be on the singles Zero and Heads Will Roll, it's the album as a whole that demands listening to in full, as the giddiness of the openers gives way to the tenderness contained in Runaway. Whether they continue to exist in their current form or not, YYYs will still be one of the decade's rightfully acclaimed bands.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Skeletons

6. Fuck Buttons - Tarot Sport

After the brilliance of last year's scream and noise heavy Street Horrsing, the Buttons had a similar sort of epiphany to the YYYs and recruited veteran house producer Andrew Weatherall to somewhat redefine their sound. The result, while losing some of the sharper points of their debut, was to create an album that toed the line between post-rock and outright electronica which few have dared to breach. It's the beauty that is however as compelling as ever, as well as the ability to get lost within the layers of sound that permeate everything the band does.

Fuck Buttons - Phantom Limb

5. VA - 5 Years of Hyperdub

Inaugurated just a year after the term "dubstep" was first coined to describe the bass-heavy sound which the likes of Hatcha, Youngsta and the Digital Mystikz crew were just beginning to push, very few retrospectives come even close to the aural pleasure provided by Hyperdub's look back at last half decade. With 2 discs, the first providing new material and the second a sort of best of, it's almost impossible to pick the best the compilation has to offer, but Mala's Level Nine and the 8-bit step of Quarta330's Bleeps from Outer Space, alongside the 2000f's You Don't Know What Love Is and Joker's Digidesign will prove very difficult for the label to top.

Quarta330 - Bleeps from Outer Space

4. Manic Street Preachers - Journal for Plague Lovers

After returning to commercial success with Send Away the Tigers, it might have seemed something of an odd move for the Manics to return to the introspection and even desolation of the lyrics left behind by the now legally dead Richey Edwards, but without exaggeration almost never has there been such a worthy musical tribute to a fallen friend as that provided by the Manics' Journal. It's also surely a musical exorcism: the ghost that has accompanied the band since Edwards vanished has finally been laid to rest, and even said goodbye to the in the form of the album's final song, William's Last Words. The anger of Peeled Apples, the humour even of Me and Stephen Hawking and the strange but honest eye which Edwards had for female annihilation on She Bathed Herself in a Bath of Bleach, also seen on the Holy Bible's 4st 7lbs, all add up to easily the best Manics album since Everything Must Go.

Manic Street Preachers - Me and Stephen Hawking

3. Bat for Lashes - Two Suns

There has to be something special about someone for their records to be equally at home being lauded on the likes of Pitchfork while also simultaneously played on Radio 2, and Natasha Khan fits the bill perfectly: few other nursery school teachers go on to write concept albums with the authenticity of Two Suns. A soundscape which is just as ethereal and convincing as that on her debut, it was combined with the brilliance of the singles Daniel and Pearl's Dream, the sort of album which you discover something new in every time you listen.

Bat for Lashes - Sleep Alone

2. Silkie - City Limits Vol. 1

For every jump-up mid-range tune that debauches the name of dubstep, there's the almost classical brilliance which not just Silkie but the entire Anti-Social Entertainment crew to which he belongs infuse nearly every track they create with. Silkie, as the Anti-Social Show on Rinse on Monday nights shows, has so many tunes that many of them remain unnamed, hence almost certainly this being just the first volume in many to come from the deep/melodic master. Almost every track here can stand up on its own, but it's the final two that continue to make waves: The Horizon, as described by the genre's scribe Martin "Blackdown" Clark as "
an explosive burst of emotion that combined Joker-like synth touches with euphoric percussion" and Beauty, which to quote an advert, does exactly what it says on the tin.

Silkie - Planet X

1. The XX - XX

There's a simple reason why the XX's debut has topped so many end of year lists: it's simply something which no one else in the indie camp has tried for quite some considerable time. The open minimalism of the music, combined with the warmth of the vocals, the almost openly sexual but uncertain nature of them, created its own environment in which to exist. Indie hasn't been this heartfelt, personal and solitary in a very long time, and with the band sure to move on, it might well never be again.

The XX - Basic Space

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009 

Best music of 2009 part 1.

Best Song / Track:
dBridge - Wonder Where

Like with last year, it hasn't been an exactly stellar 12 months for the individual song, although the fact that I've become somewhat distanced from the indie scene and increasingly fascinated with dubstep and the liquid/deep/minimal side of drum and bass might somewhat account for it. Accordingly then, my choice is probably one which many normal readers (all two of you) of this blog probably haven't heard. Wonder Where by dBridge is though one of the most musical and soulful tunes to have emerged from what is ostensibly drum and bass for quite some time; originally a part of Bad Company UK, who cornered the jump up section of the genre at the turn of the decade, he became increasingly frustrated by the constraints which many within it feel they have to operate in. Alongside Instra:mental, with whom he's set up the Autonomic club night and podcast, as well as an upcoming Fabriclive mix, the break out was finally cemented totally this year, and Wonder Where is easily the finest moment which the blending of dubstep aesthetics with a drum and bass tempo has so far delivered. Other highlights in a similar mould have been from Instra:mental naturally, with their almost equally gorgeous Watching You, and from SpectraSoul, with the aptly named Melodies.

Other contenders, especially those from outside the above, were Bulletproof by La Roux, Remedy by Little Boots, Shelter by the XX, Hyph Mngo by Joy Orbison, almost anything from the Manics' Journal for Plague Lovers but Jackie Collins Existential Question Time if you had to pick one, Purple City by Joker and Ginz (and almost anything from Joker really), Technique by Kromestar, Cornerstone by Arctic Monkeys and Pearl's Dream by Bat for Lashes.

Best Remix
La Roux - In for the Kill (Skream's Lets Get Ravey Remix)

Almost certainly the most remixed artist of the year, none of the later ones came even close to equalling one of the very first, by probably the most popular and well-known dubstep artist and DJ of them all (excluding Burial). The thing about Skream's immense remix is just how deceptively simple it is: dispensing almost entirely with original's beats, using only a small part of the melody and the vocal, to which more than adequate amounts of echo are added, it's the overwhelming sub-bass that kills it, all leading up to final breakdown and drop, finishing off with that mainstay of underground music for now almost twenty years: the Amen break. While still certainly dubstep, it's so far removed from the wobble and use of mid-range which has come to wrongly define the genre that it completely crossed over, resulting in the genre's very first gold disc. The very best from Skream though is almost certainly yet to come: his second artist album promises to include Listening to the Records on My Wall, a tune so massive and euphoric, again half-way between drum and bass and dubstep (it is after all a sort of follow up to his jungle tribute tune, Burning Up) that it promises to become one of the absolute classics of the genre.

Other contenders include again almost anything remixed by Joker, but especially Cruel Intentions by Simian Mobile Disco and Trouble Is by Turboweekend, Skream's remixes of Night by Night by Chromeo and Pearl's Dream by Bat for Lashes, Brackles' Remix of Crystal Castles' I Love London, Nero's Remix of The Streets' Blinded by the Lights, James Blake's Remix of Untold's Stop What You're Doing, and although more than a little cheesy, High Contrast's remix of Calvin Harris's Ready for the Weekend.

Best Reissue
The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses (I Wanna Be Adored)

Wasn't much competition on the reissue front this year, with only the entire Beatles catalogue being remastered and rereleased (not to mention Kraftwerk's, which received similar treatment), but what is probably the greatest debut album of all time still managed to triumph, with the Stone Roses' eponymous release enjoying it's 20th anniversary with the now customary special reissue. Remastered by the producer John Leckie and Ian Brown themselves, even if it wasn't in exactly unlistenable form before, it now sounds even more thrilling than before, making it a truly essential purchase.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009 

Most overrated and worst music of 2009.

2009 was the year in which the music industry's chickens came home to roost. Convinced that it's impossible to make money from "new" music, only the surest bets and most blatant copycats of already successful discoveries have been given even the slightest chance to shine. The result has been one of the worst years for mainstream music in quite some time, and hardly a stellar one for the "indie" scene either. It's no coincidence that the round-up of best of polls featured only two debut records, one of which shouldn't have even came close to being in the list in any case.

The real soul-destroying thing about the insipid nature and monotony of most of mainstream music over the last 12 months is that it continues to be so willingly lapped up. The road to stardom no longer even seems to involve a contrived start-up on a social networking site: increasingly we're back in the late 90s when anyone and everyone seemed to be creating either an all-boy or all-girl group simply by advertising for auditions. This was how we came to be lumbered with Pixie Lott: just another of 2009's attempts to jump into the by no means over-saturated market which Amy Winehouse "created" and which was filled further in last year by Adele and Duffy. We should be perhaps grateful for small mercies: rather than just one name, Pixie has two, although the stupidity of both doesn't help. Ms Lott, like Adele and Kate Nash before her went to a performing arts school, and is just as manufactured as those unlamented late 90s groups were, yet in an age where Britain's Got Talent and The X Factor now completely dominate music almost as a whole, no one seems to care or even be cynical in the slightest. Her single, Mama Do, has to be the most overplayed and most aggravating song of the year: if the cliched lyrics about her being hurt by the ubiquitous no good boyfriend weren't bad enough, the chanted "WOH OH WOH OH" throughout makes it close to intolerable. It naturally shot straight to number one, and the only hope must be that she goes the way of Joss Stone, who had similar but thankfully short-lived success a few years back and has since sank into oblivion.

Pixie is however musical bliss personified when compared to her contemporary Paloma Faith. Like with Lott, a key to her relative success seems to be the heavy rotation which all of her material has been given on Radio 2: once the station seen as irredeemably naff until Radio 1 got its act together, it now has the blessing of those who once preferred its sister ageing and growing into its supposedly inoffensive nature. Faith's Wikipedia page introduces her as having grown into her career as a "singer" thanks to her efforts at mimicking those she admired, but has now developed her own style. She has, but probably not in the way in which either the writer or Faith herself believes: she still mimics poorly those she admires, but it's her voice which defines her style. The nasal twang with which she squawks can only be compared to that other least-likely to be singer of recent times, the thankfully vanished Macy Gray, who was best herself compared to a being strangled Marge Simpson. Gray at least though didn't sound stupid when she warbled through I Try, something which can't be said when Faith squeals through the title song from her album, which is rendered by her as "Do You Want the Trooth or Something Bootiful?", for which she presumably has to pay royalties to Bernard Matthews.

Faith can at least sing, even if it isn't the most pleasant noise to listen to. Saying that Florence, out of Florence and the Machine can't sing is however it seems one of the great unmentionables of the year. No critic has been brave enough to admit that they were greatly deceived by her Lungs album, which despite being decidedly average still managed to get to 8th place in the poll of critics' polls. The proof of the pudding has emerged, both from her execrable live shows, where she seems determined to attempt to outdo Craig Nicholls of the Vines in being a tit on stage stakes, and he has the excuse of having Asperger's syndrome, and from the truly painful attempt by Florence to cover Halo by Beyonce in the graveyard which is Radio 1's Live Lounge. Halo isn't the greatest song in the first place, it being an obvious attempt to do Umbrella all over again, but only someone with the singing talent of Florence could make it sound like she was killing a cat whilst going through the motions. This, coupled with the dirge which is her truly unnecessary cover of Candi Station's seminal You Got the Love, easily deserves her the prizes of most overrated act of the year and worst cover versions of the year.

The true musical crimes of the year were however those committed by the usual suspects, the Black Eyed Peas. In one of the very few amusing things to happen on Twitter, Perez Hilton made a desperate plea for help after allegedly questioning the musical value of the group's latest album to the face of front man will.i.am, a critique that resulted in an assault. It's mystifying as to why will.i.am responded in such a way: to write such awful music you either have to have the knack of it and know what you're doing, or get incredibly lucky. Having spent the last six years having huge success, it's pretty certain that in this case it must be the former and not the latter. In other words, will.i.am must be an intelligent man and know that his music's shit; why then respond with violence to the truth, unless the truth hurts, especially coming from someone who wouldn't normally know it even if it swam all the way up his posterior?

Shit isn't really an adequate description for the majesty of "Boom Boom Pow", nor does banal adequately describe the refrain of "I Gotta Feeling", the feeling being that tonight's gonna be a good good night. As for the album title, the inspired The E.N.D. is meant to reflect that the idea of the album itself is dead, now that you can pick away at them on iTunes like "scabs". When even you are inadvertently referring to your music as scabs, perhaps you don't need anyone else to be rude about your life's work.

Tomorrow: the best music of 2009.
Thursday (probably): Top 10 albums of the year.

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Friday, December 04, 2009 

Apologies and junk.

Have to apologise for the utterly piss-poor blogging this week, for which there's no real excuse. Will try to do better next. In the meantime, Andy Worthington has the good news that those unelected, unaccountable judges have struck a blow for freedom once again:

Yesterday, however, Lord Justice Laws and Mr Justice Owen finally addressed this lapse in the equal application of the law, ruling that it was "impossible" to conclude "that in bail cases a less stringent procedural standard is required" than in control order cases. The judges also rejected a claim by Siac that its decisions should be "immune from judicial review".

The judges' ruling came in the case of XC, a Pakistan student (and one of 10 students arrested in April), who was refused bail on the basis of secret evidence, and the case of U, an Algerian. Imprisoned without charge or trial for seven years, U had finally secured bail last summer, and lived for a short time, under a 24-hour curfew in a rented house in southern England, until, in February, then home secretary Jacqui Smith decided that he was likely to abscond, and persuaded Siac to revoke his bail and return him to prison.

And have some rather lovely dubstep while we're at it:

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009 

Mercury music prize hilarity.

Worst winner since M People.  A shame that Burial didn't release his album a yet later, as he would have surely won against the line-up this year.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009 

Hey mummy, what's a sex pistol?

I don't know a lot about art, but I know what I like. You can't help but think that's exactly what four supermarkets thought when they saw the cover art for the Manic Street Preachers' new album, Journal for Plague Lovers, above. 15 years on from the release of their opus, The Holy Bible, the vast majority of the lyrics for which were written by Richey Edwards, who went missing less than a year later, the band have finally had the courage to return to the remaining lyrics which he left behind for them. Appropriately, they decided upon using a painting by the artist Jenny Saville, who also provided a confrontational cover for the THB, a triptych of an obese woman in white underwear. The art for JFPL is undoubtedly striking; it's also quite clearly one of the best album covers in years.

Quite why the four supermarkets think that a painting of a young girl (as it is, although like with THB's art Saville has gone with both ambiguity and androgyny) that, if you don't look closely enough, has a tear rolling down her bloodied face is so potentially disturbing or challenging that it needs to be hidden behind a plain slipcase is perplexing. Presumably the defence they would rely on is that it potentially depicts an abused, bruised and frightened child, a startling image that some would find upsetting, or difficult to explain to a child and which might seem out of place staring down amidst the distinctly unchallenging covers from the CD aisle. You would imagine that would be their argument: as it is, all Asda have said is that it "wanted to be extra cautious" in case it upsets any customers, while Sainsbury's said it "felt that some customers might consider this ... to be inappropriate if it were prominently displayed". In other words, they haven't a clue how the public is likely to react; they just think that some might not like it.

In a bid to see whether they're at least being consistent, I had a look on their websites to see if they were showing the same caution online as they are in-store. To Tesco's credit, or cowardice, whichever you prefer, they aren't using Saville's painting for their main CD page link to the album, although on its actual page it's there in all its glory. Asda however, despite being "extra cautious" in store, and in fairness to them their corporate parent Wal-Mart is notoriously sensitive to which CDs and magazines it stocks in America, even when it's also the nation's biggest seller of ammunition, has the art uncensored on their main CD page. Sainsbury's and Morrisons don't seem to yet have pages up for it.

The Manics' singer quite reasonably points out that "[Y]ou can have lovely shiny buttocks and guns everywhere in the supermarket on covers of magazines and CDs, but you show a piece of art and people just freak out". Although there have been occasional campaigns to censor the front pages of "lads mags", and they're usually put on higher shelves and sometimes at least half covered, it's rare that the front pages of the likes of the Daily Star and Sport are similarly felt to be "inappropriate", despite the abundance of flesh which usually beams out from both. As for CDs, a quick browse through the current week's top 40 has some album covers which would more than benefit from being placed in a plain slipcase, and which could well offend some of the more delicate souls out there. These though are photographs of the artists themselves, although whether that word can possibly be used to describe the Pussycat Dolls should be left perhaps to the more inventive swearbloggers out there. Surely no one could possibly find inappropriate a spreadeagled P!nk, a vomit inducing horrendous photoshop disaster featuring the gorgeous pouting Dolls, or a presumably distinctly deliberately unsexy shot of Alesha Dixon in fishnets, could they? After all, these are artists which appeal directly to the supermarket demographic, where the crap is piled high and sold cheap. The Manics, who might have once been mainstream but have rather faded from their height and have followed up one of their most accessible albums with one which is the diametric opposite, are unlikely to sell by the bucketload, and so their record company and they will need every last sale. Hence they can be bossed about.

With the downfall of record shops, and the spectre of even the likes of HMV eventually falling victim to the internet, there is the danger that anything outside the vast selling stars starts to become completely ghettoised. Doubtless this will appeal to the genre nerds who already stop liking bands they formally idolised once they breakthrough, but it also threatens to greatly compromise what has always been great about music, as of everything else: the iconoclasts who genuinely do push things forward. Once, as alluded to in the song from JFPL, Jackie Collins Existential Question Time, the Sex Pistols were seen as so threatening that they were banned; it's surely a sad state of affairs that in 2009 an album cover which is simply a portrait is censored lest anyone be upset should they see it.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008 

Best music of 2008 part 1.

Best Song
Mystery Jets - Two Doors Down

In what was a poor year for singles generally, Two Doors Down by Mystery Jets just about edged out One Day Like Today by Elbow, either Geraldine or Daddy's Gone by Glasvegas or any of the singles released by Foals for the best 2008 had to offer. Having started out as an indie group with a inclination towards progression, for their second album they ditched both one of their dads and their original sound, and brought in Erol Alkan and plenty of 80s influence. The results were astounding, with not just Two Doors Down but also Half in Love with Elizabeth and Young Love featuring Laura Marling just a sample of one of the most well-judged follow-ups of the year. Surely overlooked for the Mercury prize, Mystery Jets deserve far more attention than they have received.

Best Remix
Adele - Hometown Glory (High Contrast Remix)

Having just branded Adele one of the worst artists of the year, it's nice to show just what can be done with even her brand of affection. Taking the acoustic emptiness of the original and turning it into one of the undoubted drum and bass tracks of the year, High Contrast sped up the vocals, kept the piano for the breakdown and dispensed with much of the rest. There's even an instrumental version lest Adele's warbling start to get on your tits.

Best Cover
Lightspeed Champion - Back to Black

AKA Dev Hynes, Lightspeed Champion emerged from the ashes of Test Icicles and went from one extreme to an apparent other. While his album was mainly disappointing after the strength of his demos and first couple of singles, it was his cover of the much covered Back to Black which took it back to the basics and was all the better for it. Other contenders were Mystery Jets' version of Somewhere in My Heart by Aztec Camera and Guillemots' Live Lounge version of Sam Sparro's Black and Gold.

Best Reissue
Mogwai - Young Team

Just over 10 years on from the release of the 'gwai's debut, a properly mastered version was finally issued, making Like Herod even more punishing than ever. Along with the excellent Hawk is Howling, 2008 was easily their best year since the release of Happy Songs for Happy People.

Tomorrow, or sometime - Best Albums of 2008.

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Most disappointing and worst music of 2008.

New Order - 80s Album Reissues

When CD sales are dropping off a cliff, you would expect that one of the corners of the market that record companies would be going out of their way to cater for would be the obsessive fan, the type that buys remasters and expanded reissues. When Rhino announced that New Order's five 1980s albums were to be given just that treatment, as Joy Division had been last year, those self-same fans presumed that all the stops would be pulled out, and the tracklists suggested that they had. The horrible revelation only occurred once those suckers actually purchased them: far from going back to the original masters, a good number of the tracks on the bonus discs had been sourced from vinyl, and not pristine mint vinyl, but vinyl which had decidedly seen better days. Although for the most part the albums themselves had been properly re-authored, the bonus discs were littered with errors, with some online posts suggesting that in total the set had over 300. Faced with those they had aimed to please raging at the lack of effort, Rhino has said that the reissues will be, err, reissued in 2009. How the replacements will be sent out has however still yet to be explained, and considering that your humble narrator bought some of them from Zavvi, some will doubtless have to buy them all over again. It does almost make you understand why some record companies deserve to go under.

The Courteeners - St. Jude

When the Guardian had the audacity to only award the Courteeners' debut album one star, with the reviewer Maddy Costa suggesting that singer Liam Fray's lyrics were misogynistic and that he came across as "sneering, arrogant and aggressive", Fray became the first badly reviewed personality to take to the paper's response column to right the wrong. While Costa got the wrong end of the stick over "If it Wasn't for Me", which is clearly about a male friend who only hangs around Fray to get the "average girl with bad teeth", she wasn't far wrong in her other analysis. Fray doesn't just come across as sneering, arrogant and aggressive, he also seems to be self-obsessed and, like all the best artists, to hate his own fans. The songs which aren't about him, his band and his mates are about the other damaged individuals surrounding him who he also seems to loathe. Hence "Kimberley", in which he hopes "Cocaine Kim" is treated nicely for the two remaining days she has to live.

Fray isn't to blame, incidentally, he's just hopefully one of the last sufferers of "Libertines" disease, which infects those who think they can write lyrics while playing rudimentary music which otherwise would get them absolutely nowhere. Good can come from "Libertines" disease: see the Arctic Monkeys' last album, having got self-obsession, clubbing and pubbing out of their systems with their first, as well as the misogyny of "Still Take You Home". Fray however can't even begin to hold a candle to the Monkeys' worst lyric, and neither Pete Doherty or Carl Barat at their worst had the arrogance to tell a fan out of their head to get their "hand off of my trouser leg" as Fray does on Cavorting, a whole song dedicated to him sneering at the drug-addled that had to get themselves in such a state in order to enjoy his band's show. Probably as a result of the band's outraged fan base, all two of them voted repeatedly and succeeded in winning the Grauniad's inaugural "First Album" award, even when 50% of the votes were with the paper's critics. Nothing quite like consistency, is there?

The Ting Tings - That's Not My Name

Like some of the other artists featured here, the Ting Tings are not completely irredeemable. Their song "Great DJ" for instance was pleasant enough, and succeeded in not being too grating. Apart from their dreadful moniker and their biggest hit, "That's Not My Name", what really stands them out, or rather doesn't, is just how average they are. Their album title owns up to this, called "We Started Nothing", and they sure didn't. When a band is so average, it does however make you wonder how they got "big" in the first place, and the Ting Tings were helped along by the BBC, who inexplicably at Glastonbury last year featured them as "one to watch". Probably far more influential is the fact that singer Katie White is, as Alexis Petridis described her, "so pretty that you feel like giving her a round of applause just for existing", which always helps.

However much you might want to not hate them, That's Not My Name was a song both so ubiquitous, so jarring and so completely dreadful that it's impossible not to. Shouted rather than sung, with a vacuity which would make most of our politicians blush, it informs us that Ms White doesn't like being called "bird", "darling" or "Stacey", and that they are "not her name". The one consolation is that whenever someone recognises her she probably finds herself being subjected to a even worse rendition, or at least you hope so. The other silver lining is however indirectly I was introduced to the idea of getting your rat out via them, when one of my friends who had free tickets to see them was pleased to note that a drunk guy at the end of every song ordered White to do just that.

Katy Perry - I Kissed A Girl

The music industry is a cynical business, but the cynicism and marketing behind Perry is even by their standards approaching breath-taking. Plucked from obscurity, having previously recorded a Christian gospel album, I Kissed a Girl was a song so terrible on so many separate levels that it seems incredibly fitting for 2008 as a whole. It wouldn't be so bad if Perry, or at least those who write her songs weren't so intensely hypocritical, yet one of the other songs on her album is "Ur So Gay", which denounces a boyfriend for being effeminate. Whether this is the same boyfriend which she then hopes on "I Kissed A Girl" wouldn't mind her indulging in some bottom-level lipstick lesbianism is unclear, but it seems to sum up the entire conflicted nature of much of the mainstream towards homosexuality. After all, let's face it: a song by a young man about wondering what it's like to kiss one of his peers, especially when it "felt so good, it felt so right" with him liking it seems to have been unlikely to have topped the charts in a similar fashion. Perry hardly improved matters when she said of "Ur So Gay":

"It’s not a negative connotation. It’s not, 'you're so gay,' like, 'you're so lame,' but the fact of the matter is that this boy should’ve been gay. I totally understand how it could be misconstrued or whatever...I wasn’t stereotyping anyone in particular, I was talking about ex-boyfriends."

In other words, phony lipstick lesbianism makes money, as does insulting former boyfriends by calling them gay. No contradictions there whatsoever then.

Adele / Duffy

2008 has not been an exactly stellar year for music, with a few notable exceptions. In fact, it's hard not to suggest that the musical apocalypse seems to be fast approaching. The only music that seems to sell physically is either Take That, Abba or by artists endorsed by reality television, and with it the album as we previously knew it seems to heading for demise, as do the shops that stocked them. The one bright spot for the "old" music industry is that it's hit on something that is making them some easy money: give the public what they already like in ever decreasing quality. Last year we had Kate Nash, the low-rent Lily Allen, if there could be such a thing. The biggest artist of last year though was undoubtedly Amy Winehouse, before she went completely off the rails. Hence the search was on for the new stars that sound like her but are less likely to inject crack cocaine into their eyeballs. Quickly found were Adele and Duffy, producing much the same sounding material as La Winehouse but without the key factor that made some of Winehouse's songs so successful: soul.

Rather than Back to Black and Love is a Losing Game, both veritable masterpieces of the genre by comparison, Adele and Duffy have served up Chasing Pavements and Warwick Avenue, the video for which featured Duffy in tears throughout, although not apparently at the triteness of either the song's contents or her own performance. Again, the machinations of the industry itself were obviously at play: Adele was on Later with Jools Holland before she had released a thing, supposedly because of her undeniable brilliance rather than because of bungs changing hands. It wouldn't matter if no one bought the damn things, but Duffy has unsurprisingly became the biggest seller of the year. Take the unpredictability out of Winehouse and you have nothing except music for your bourgeois dinner party, which is the niche which both Adele and Duffy have filled.

Alexandra Burke - Hallelujah

Complaining about the X Factor or Simon Cowell is utterly pointless, such is the stranglehold that both seem to have not just on the nation's psyche but on music apparently itself. The problem is that after however many series' of first Pop Stars, Pop Idol, The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent, the number of artists waiting to be discovered has almost certainly been fully mined. Last year's BGT "discovered" Paul Potts, who had despite his evident talent not got far in making himself a career as a tenor. With even him gone, this year's decided on George Sampson, a teenager who could breakdance. Badly. Likewise, this year's X Factor had a paucity of real star talent that wasn't related to someone who had already been successful or who you didn't want to strangle on sight. After the ritual humiliation of those stupid enough to imagine they can sing in tune, it was narrowed down to an Irish kid with a ridiculous name, a boy band ripping off Boyz II Men and Alexandra Burke, who just happens to be the daughter of a former member of Soul II Soul. Hardly a complete unknown then. Predictably, having won and stretched her mouth to proportions the average human can only dream of, Cowell's shit machine took to massacring Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, which his record company happens to own the rights to. Burke's version isn't just the worst cover of this year, it might well be the worst cover version of all time. Not content with changing the lyrics, destroying all the tautness, tension and heartfeltness of the original, there just has to be a choir brought in at the end to finish the job. Every cliche box was ticked, every amount of warmth rung from it, all ready to be delivered to the nation to devour as only the truly brain-dead could, selling 900,000 copies within two weeks of its release. You couldn't even escape and stick up two fingers by purchasing Jeff Buckley's cover, the rights to which were also owned by Sony BMG, as the clever dicks on Facebook thought they were doing. The message is obvious: resistance is futile.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008 

Mercury prize shenanigans.

It's time for the Mercury Prize again, the award everyone likes to pretend is slightly more democratic and not based on pure popularity and record sales like the Brits are. Before we even get to the eventual winner and doubtless yet more disappointment over the unjustified win, there's the nominations themselves:

There's the usual token jazz record and token folk record, alongside the complete crap, provided admirably by Adele and Estelle. The small mercy is that Duffy wasn't nominated as well.

Again though, it's the amount of completely overlooked albums that rankles most. Seriously, no Portishead? No Mystery Jets? No Foals? The Foals album seems to have split opinion, or at least has on Drowned in Sound, but Portishead and the MJ albums have been both critically acclaimed and have apparent mass support from fans. Then there are the records you would have liked to have been nominated, but which were never probably going to stand a chance. Future of the Left, High Contrast, with the best drum and bass artist album in years, Johnny Foreigner, Youthmovies, Los Campesinos!, Errors, iLiKETRAiNS, ¡Forward, Russia! (although their debut was better), Wild Beasts (I confess I haven't been sold on their charms yet, but many others have been), These New Puritans, all would have been welcome additions, if only because of the extra interest it would inspire in them, not to mention the sales.

Going by that methodology, the appearance of Adele, Radiohead, Robert Plant and TLSP on the list is worthy of critique. Can anyone truly say that any of those is a worthy album of the year? I doubt even the most ardent Radiohead fanboy would say that In Rainbows is either their best work or the record they should have won the Mercury for (that would have been OK Computer), and while the TLSP album isn't terrible, Alex Turner is hardly lacking publicity or cash.

As for the rest, most are decent choices. British Sea Power still haven't recreated the majesty of their debut with Do You Like Rock Music? but it's still a vast improvement on Open Season. Elbow probably deserve some sort of recognition, mainly because of their consistency, but I doubt will trouble the judges too much. I haven't heard much by her, but Laura Marling has always struck as a slightly more intelligent Kate Nash/Lily Allen hybrid, although her contribution to Young Love by the Mystery Jets helped make it the song it was. Neon Neon have hardly broken any new ground, but again Gruff Rhys perhaps deserves something simply because of his work rate, when not with either the Super Furries or doing his solo stuff, of which Candylion was probably better than Stainless Style.

Which leaves us with Burial, whom is surely the most worthy potential winner on the list. Remaining completely anonymous, he's delivered two majestic, transcendent albums of mournful downtempo dubstep, with Archangel alone deserving of a prize. His anonymity might though count against him; he's hardly likely to turn up and perform, or even collect the prize if he wins, and last year Lauren Laverne claimed that the award was decided on the night after the Klaxons' performance. Let's just hope against hope that it isn't Adele.

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