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   Friday, December 31, 2004  
Looking back, looking ahead, sometimes doing both at the same time (there's clever)...

Lost or losing:
-quite appallingly, Nadine, who topped this blog's '03 year-end list, called it a day. Obviously it's the kiss of death since
-fourth-placed Wheat also teeter on the brink of oblivion. (Of that list, Per second, per second.. has endured as strongly as any.. Big pop missed by too many)
-the verbose but valuable crit of The War Against Silence
-and the soon-to-be no more Bandoppler. Shame...

Here's a Top 50 from cokemachineglow...

..and see/hear staff & listeners picks over at NPR's All Songs Considered

Some personal lists from the bods over at UK folk/twang label Loose Music...

...and likewise from French indie imprint Hinah's family & friends, one of whom - Nathan Amundson aka Rivulets - will be doing his hushed acoustic thing at the 12Bar in London on Jan 16 between two sets from NY's The Last Town Chorus, drowsy urban twang dominated by Megan's impressionistic lap slide guitar and cool vocalising...

Some Top 10s from the contributors to UK indie zine Dosomethingpretty...

...and It's a trap tell us what was what Scandinavia-wise

And reallyrather's own favourites? Well..'s the ones that got plenty of play but for reasons which or may not be explained just missed out on Top 10 inclusion:
Aberfeldy / Young forever
Oooh, so close to making the list. Lots to like about this debut from charming Scottish debutantes. Stiff with twee-pop goodness but slightly undone by undernourished mono-style production
Mascott / Dreamer's book
Aah, Mascott. Wist-and-then-some from Kendall & co. but this listener always, always, always steps off after track 8
Tracker / Blankets
It's not impossible for an instrumental concept album to chart round here but it's got to be something superspecial; Blankets is merely really good
V/A / The late great Daniel Johnston - discovered covered
Excellently curated compilation inc. great contributions from Clem Snide, Bright Eyes, Eels and pick of the bunch, M. Ward's touching Story of an artist
Gingersol - Eastern
CocoRosie - La Maison de Mon Reve
Scraping and drilling and sisters a-trilling. Slightly too much of a good thing
The Go! Team - Thunder lightning strike
Deliberately rubbish-sounding but nevertheless energizing mash-up of samples, shouty soul and blasting TV theme rock. Warning: makes you drive way, way too fast...

Some albums rr has missed completely or should maybe give another chance to:
Animal Collective - Tung Songs
Candidate - Under the skylon
Bearsuit - Cat atmosphere
The Mendoza Line - Fortune
The Language of Flowers - Songs about you
The Elected - Me first

Cool songs from ho-hum albums:
Mushaboom from Let it die by Feist and - just about rr's single favourite track of the year - Don't you from Micah P. Hinson & the gospel of progress. How can one song be so great and all the others be.. not?

Strong tunes, a convincing and singular vocabulary, a bit of humility.. that's all this blog is looking for really. And so, a bit ragged round the edges but firming up nicely as it goes along, it's reallyrather's favourite 10 of 2004:

10. The Weepies / Happiness; Deb Talan / A bird flies out
OK, this is totally cheating but hey!, who writes the rules here?! A homemade (purely for personal consumption, of course) compilation of two records which strictly speaking were '03 releases. Five tracks from Happiness plus seven from ABFO equals a collection this blog has simply never tired of. Mainstream and supremely accessible, Deb solo does a classy line in sensitive singer-songwriter pop-rock; paired with partner-in-everything Steve Tannen as The Weepies there's a lightness in their folk-pop arrangements and (sentimental) sentiments that's just spot-on. Turn off the car/breathe the air/let's stay here: welcome to Weepies country... [see rr Feb 1]
[Look, here they are - ooh Deb, great look, great voice]

9. The Legends / Up against the legends
David Darling & the Wulu Bunun / Mudanin kata
Absolutely nothing in common except purity of melody. The Legends may or may not be a real (Swedish) band but this is one dense record. Dense with fuzzy, ringing guitars, tambos and compressed vocals. Dense with sugar-tastic handclap-heavy Scando-pop. Contains at least two contenders for rr Track of the Year. Has Alan McGee heard this? [See May 18] Meanwhile, thousands of miles away in the uplands of Taiwan it's hill tribe worksongs meets Western cello improv. Result? Knee-buckling charm, for the most part. The Wulu Bunun plough a narrow but deep Maori-esque harmonic furrow; Darling draws out the unconcious elements - chord progressions, rhythms - which play to the Western ear. A respectful, sweetly moving culture clash [See Oct 17]

8. Chad King / Love your engine
First of two entries from rather inspiring cottage industry label Keep Recordings. A limited edition typically rendered in superior demo style, the key notes here are wistful, winding lapsteel and a smokey country-folk sound. There's serious strength-in-depth; in fact no filler at all. Every damn track scores in one way or another. The bad news: it's completely sold out. The good news: there's a new one due in the summer... [See Feb 24]
(It rocks a bit more but try also: Narrowcasting)

7. Hem / Eveningland
2002's Rabbit songs was like finding an old book of photos in a junk shop. Faded domestic destinies freshly seen and wondered about. There was a clarity in the chamber Americana and a studied but convincing nostalgia for imagined experience. And - marvellously - it's all there again on Eveningland. Not that they've merely tried to repeat the trick. There's a greater sophistication and luxuriant swell to the sound. But it remains totally distinctive as do their song titles: Redwing, Hollow, Strays.. mmm, Eveningland. You really should visit sometime... [See Nov 28]

6. Gentleman Reg / Darby & Joan
What was I thinking?
It's just not like me
Gentleman Reg Vermue throws off the shy folk-popster woolly scarf and steps up the plate. Bold but soft-centred guitar pop, D&J reveals a string of confidently realised crackers. Snappy and savvy but equally at ease with vulnerability. Strong throughout but worth it for the first four sparklers alone. Nice one, Reg... [See Nov 8]

5. Shelley Short / Oh' say little dogies, why?
Throwing snowballs, standing at bus-stops, buying fish.. oh yes, personal reflections & uncertainties wrapped up in the kind of small-scale detail which goes down perfectly round here. The second entry from Keep Recordings, 15 tracks of plinking plonking brokedown folk/twang sweetness from debutante Short. Like the Chad King, fidelity's on the lo side; perfectly imperfect, you might say. There's a disarming simplicity here and a beguilingly modest personality which never steps outside the song. With sympathetic cohorts (from Norfolk&Western, The Decemberists) Dogies is a sweet charmer with ticks in all the right boxes [See July 21]

4. Rilo Kiley / More adventurous
Eleven tracks, two of which this blog never plays equals a year-end Top 5 disc? Yes, and easily, when the other nine feature so upfrontedly the most cuttingly cute presence in alternative pop, Ms Jenny Lewis. Great, unpredictable lyrics, their jaundice repeatedly offset by monster melodies. 'A distinctly lesser thing than the preceding Execution of..' has been the common tag; 'rubbish', says reallyrather. I'm loving this, particularly for the brighter, cleaned-up sound and more pronounced country side. It's a distinctive hybrid sound which doesn't always translate live but on disc, three albums in, the curve on the pleasure chart maintains it's climb skywards [See Sept 28]

3. Sufjan Stevens / Seven swans
With bucketloads of solemn banjo plucking and an opening line like 'If I'm alive this time next year', it's not your obvious recipe for soaraway success. But, within a certain sphere, that's just what Sufjan's achieved whilst all the time remaining not 'your obvious' anything. Less overtly ambitious than Greetings from Michigan there remains a weightiness in theme and delivery. Avowedly Christian and reverential, the 'message' comes coated - not with sugar, maybe some kind of mossy stuff - for general consumption. Rigourously wrought, soft-sounding but avoiding the pat cosiness of others, Seven swans approaches a kind of greatness. Quite literally, inspired... [See April 25]

2. matt pond PA / Emblems
Before the impact you smiled
Before the impact you said
"What a great Summer night"

Whoa, Matt Pond! Newly-transplanted from PA to NY, straight from the gate it's evident he's taken his cool, clear string-driven indie-pop thing to the next level. New producer Louie Lino - Andy Wallace of Nirvana, Everclear, etc is on hand, too - locks MPPA into a tighter, harder but still shimmering production, pushes the buttons, pulls the lever and hey!, three bells! Textured, twinkling, kicking, the band's sound is filled in and rounded out on one great tune after another. Pond's lyrical north-of-the-(US)-border precoccupations remain; Emblems is in fact as crisp and consistent as a Canadian forest. Can something so modulated, so even sustain interest? Emblems being reallyrather's most played record of '04, the answer is emphatically 'yes'. A supremely satisfying pop record [see June 11]

1. Joanna Newsom / The milk-eyed mender
"Hands-downs", no contest said Laura Veirs in the Independent just before Christmas. Laura, your Carbon glacier left this blog, er, cold but I'm totally with you here. Where to start? Well, the maps have been checked and no, this place - Newsomland - definitely didn't exist before. Totally out of nowhere (no offence Nevada City) comes a harp-wielding, word-juggling waif and promptly renders all defences entirely useless. Commonly tagged an acquired taste - avast, ye signified buttheads! - back in January it took this blog all of about 20 seconds to fall for the only (homemade) samples then available. The debut album only confounded expectations, a daisy chain of delirously pretty, wondrously transporting and thrillingly literate compositions. Within the confines of popular song, at just 22, borderline genius wouldn't be overstating it. The milk-eyed mender is a rare wonder: funny, fascinating, affecting, unique. Beat that, 2005... [See April 3]
   posted by SMc at 3:13 PM |

   Monday, December 20, 2004  
A few year-end lists worth grazing:

Junkmedia's Top 10

The Rough Trade shop's Top 100

Stylus Magazine counts down their Top 40

And 50quidbloke recently hosted a reallyrather guest list of 04 found sounds...

It's Christmas, maybe you've noticed. Not really in the mood yet? That's OK, me neither. Maybe these one-off mp3s will help:

Minneapolis' Basement Apartment say it jangly style [site]

..while Rickie Lee Jones sticks to the tried & trusted - so.. Have a Merry Christmas...
   posted by SMc at 4:32 AM |

   Monday, December 13, 2004  
Ooh baby, baby...
The Magic Numbers pushed the swoon factor to the max last week at The Borderline, the last night of their 3-date residency. Lashings of those boy/girl harmonies and call & response arrangements swept another full house clean off it's feet. Setting something of a personal record, this was the fourth time reallyrather has caught the band this year, as much because it's been the only way of getting to hear these tunes, there being no records around just yet. And it really is all about the songs. There's no gimmicks, no haircuts (definitely no haircuts), no attitude, just a classic four-piece dealing in finely-tooled heartwarming pop. "This one's really just hours old," bandleader Romeo had us believe by way of introducing yet another gorgeous (fiddle-enhanced) folky pop number (Love is here??). Too good, really...
[Guardian review][show pics] was Kendall Meade, aka Mascott last Friday at the Chickfactor gala at Bush Hall. Certainly too good for the rest of a bill which majored on amiable Brit sloppiness: Belle & Seb's Stevie Jackson busking a set with Bill Wells; Pipas' game-as-ever electro-twee, saved from the abyss once again by Lupe's Amelie-esque cuteness; and a re-emergent Television Personalities, Dan Treacy at least hitting the back of the net once with a stonking Salvador Dali's Garden Party ("Richard & Judy were there..."). But Meade was a thing apart and not merely by dint of being able to sing in tune. The shimmering Mascott sound was here reduced to Meade's guitar/piano and gliding vocal and Magaret White's harmonies and fiddle [pics via unpopular]. Plucking all of this blog's favourites from the most recent Dreamer's book album, the light, lucid music sparkled like the chandeliers hanging overhead. Going on early, she was well-enough received tho' the scenesters at this event (geek-boy glasses and Gola bags) would probably have been non-plussed to learn that Mascott's Turn on/turn off had featured only the night before on the soundtrack of The OC...

Thanks, Chickfactor, and here's a few for next time:
From Brighton, The Pipettes [site][sound]
From Ulster, Language of Flowers [site][sound]
From Finland, Treeball [site][sound]

'Darby & Joan..a stunning collection of songs.. sure–footed songwriter and performer, etc, etc'. It's Gentleman Reg, oh yes, cover interviewed recently in Ontario's Echo Weekly...

A pair of albums for which reallyrather's trusty telescope has been scanning the horizon pretty much all year without joy finally hove into view. No sound samples yet but rr has discovered the artwork for:

Bosque Brown plays Mara Lee Miller
Anamude's Pentimento.

Now they could both turn out to be total clunkers but if you can judge a record by it's cover, mm-mmm...

'On CBC Radio Dec 11 a very special in studio session featuring the gorgeous moody pop songs of Julie Doiron, [backed by] acclaimed ambient folk, alt. pop, chamber country band Radiogram.' Thanks for the tip, Endearing; no thanks for no archive, Canadian Broadcasting Co...

More end-of-year list shockers. A dismal offering from Virgin Radio's Pete Mitchell, presenter of a cred-by-numbers show called Razor Cuts on Sunday nights. Pete is from Manchester and he let's you know it week after week with the same playlist (Buzzcocks, Smiths, New Order, Joy Division), interspersed with textbook-approved, predictable 'classics' from Velvet Underground, The Doors, etc and similarly approved Beatles songs (ie the acid-y, Lennon-y ones, not the pure pop). In a shock development, this list includes Morrissey, Ian Brown, even that very Badly Drawn Boy album...

It's also got The Dears on there. They're one of a batch of orch-folk-rock outfits to surface this year to inexplicable acclaim. Ella Guru, anyone? The Czars? What about the The Earlies? 'Elegant and dreamy..the slow-burning triumph of the year,' said yesterday's Observer Music Monthly of These were The Earlies, ranking it at 8 for the year [Top50]. For 'elegant' and 'dreamy' read 'punch-pulling' and 'inconsequential'. And The Observer agreed with the Daily Telegraph [list] in nominating The Streets album as record of the year. Ah yes, Mike Skinner, he really speaks to your average 30- 40-year-old broadsheet rock critic with his tales of "pay-as-you-go mobiles, PlayStations, cheap pills, strong lager, fights, kebab shops..." And as for their high-fiving Dizzee Rascal, well...
   posted by SMc at 7:18 AM |