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   Sunday, December 31, 2006  
The List...

...which will not include Beirut nor Joanna Newsom nor TV on the Radio or The Hold Steady or The Knife or or...etc etc. This blog has read about them all, of course, and is completely relaxed in not feeling the need to actually hear them. More than ever, reallyrather is trusting its instincts. Rather more regretfully there's also no place in the Top Ten for the following, though much played and enjoyed:

:: The Essex Green / Cannibal sea
:: Shelley Short / Capt Wildhorse (rides the hearts of tomorrow)
:: Scarboro Aquarium Club / Black swan days
:: Lily Allen / Alright still
:: Norfolk & Western / The unsung colony

...nor even for

:: Jenny Lewis & the Watson Twins - Rabbit fur coat
What?! As in What?! reallyrather knows this record inside out and yet and yet...for all it indubitable quality and Lewis' disarmingly fantastic gorgeousness the songs on RFC lay on the ears, not inside them...

And so, and so...

10. Pipas / Sorry, love
Give this pair a Blue Peter badge! Unheralded have-a-go pop heroes Mark and Lupe continue to wend their own sweet way dropping more bright, swish, increasingly beat-y laptop insouciance as they go. Enthusiasm we definitely don't want to curb...

9. The Tyde / Three's Co.
'Head stuck in the sand for good now'
For anyone already in possession of albums 1 and 2, Three's Co. held absolutely no surprise but plenty to delight. Namely, lashing more of that squzzling, deliciously analog surf pop, vinegary lyrics gleefully kicking the sand back in the faces of their detractors. Dive in, people...
[the tyde]

8. Benoit Pioulard / Precis
'I hope I can age that gracefully'
Swirling, dream-like bedroom recording project comfortably withstands cult label exposure; could use yet more. A gorgeous headphone trip, bristling softly, restlessly, its distinctly song-oriented approach keeping Pioulard nicely away from the ambient wallpaper of much folktronica. His mother calls him Thomas...
[benoit pioulard]

7. The Be Good Tanyas / Hello love
More of the same from Trish, Frazey and Sam - ie. a beautifully intuitive take on the folk/blues traditions and a naturalness in recording that others would do well to study. Their pared-down, understated approach still packs an emotional punch be it on gospel-y standards like What are they doing in heavan today or sublime originals like Ootischenia, all awash with heady harmonizing. Simply elemental...
[be good tanyas]

6. The Pipettes / We are The Pipettes
'What do you do when the music stops?'
Easy - press repeat. Containing the greatest pop record of the 21st century so far, the string-driven majesty that is Pull shapes, this debut collection comes on like an instant greatest hits compilation. Or a dream diner jukebox from a John Waters movie; hit any number you like, it's a winner. Tho' mostly upbeat, A winter's sky is an especially noteable slab of Shrangri-Las lachrymosity. Gives pastiche a good name...
[the pipettes]

5. Don Peris / Go when the morning shineth
Grievously little-noticed solo release from The Innocence Mission man, dominated naturally by the delicate-thru-fat twang of Peris' signature electric guitar. Wife Karen does pop up once to keep the lovely IM flag flying but it's mostly instrumentals yet no less lyrical for that. Its wistful, evocative melodicism at times out-Hawleys our own Sir Richard of Croonshire [scandalous Honours List omission!]. In the very, very best sense of the word, nice...
[don peris]

4. The Research / Breaking up
'Crack my bones/Love me tender'
Zesty charity shop heartbreak from Russell the Disaster, Georgia Bass and Sarah Drums. Bolting early '60s vocal group pop to some bish-bash-bosh Casio action, Wakefield's finest knock out hit after should've-been hit. With lashings of 'Ooh la la-las' and the unmistakably guileless thump of a girl drummer, just what's wrong with people?! Really hope they get to make record #2...
[the research]

3. The Weepies / Say I am you
'All it takes is a little faith and a lot of heart'
Quite brilliant to see The Weepies getting the big-label break and even more gratifying to see them do themselves justice so completely. Supremely sure-footed emotional folky pop wall-to-wall, Say I am you represents a further refining of the deftly dovetailed talents of Deb Talan and Steve Tannen. Hugely accessible yet still to be found by the millions who would enjoy them, these are ace technicians but warm-spirited and with a keen grasp of life's slings and arrows. Onwards and upwards, surely...
[the weepies]

2. Boy Omega / The grey rainbow
Loney, dear / Sologne
Suburban Kids With Biblical Names / #3
The keen-eyed among you will have spotted a bit of rule-bending here. The keen-eared among you will understand just why. In a word: Sweden. Each of these records are only about one song short of top5 inclusion in their own right but together they neatly encapsulate the current greatness of the Swedish indie pop scene. Boy Omega represent the 'moody magnificent' end of the spectrum, Martin Gustafsson wrenching stirring sub-orchestral pop songs from his aching soul (and AppleMac). Also drum sample-heavy but to far more playful ends, SKWBN produced a sprightly, geeky and funny jack-in-the-box delight. Peering through the steamy pizzeria window at cliques they don't really want to be part of, their true-life outsiderisms will have you bouncing. And lying somewhere between the two is the keening romanticism and lovely organic feel of Loney, dear's Sologne with a run from tracks 2 thru 7 that's simply sublime...
[boy omega]
[loney, dear]

...and while we're on the subject

1. M. Ward / Post-war
...a record which features in many Best of '06 lists but rarely at the very top. Which is strange since, if this kind of music appeals, Matt simply gives you no reason or opportunity at all across its 40mins or so to mark it down. Channelling the hottest winning streak since..somebody else's, Ward piles up yet more fabulously burnished folk/blues/pop originals, brand new yet comfortably worn in and perhaps reaching its acme in the swoonsome lope of Eyes on the prize. Modestly magnificent and attracting a head-swivelling harem of fans (Jenny Lewis, Norah Jones). You'll have what they're having, right? Right...
[m. ward]
   posted by SMc at 11:23 PM |

   Monday, December 18, 2006  
"We've paid to see you, not the other way round!", came the cries from the back. Apparently many of the near-capacity crowd at the Warwick Arts Centre auditorium weren't getting much of a view of The Be Good Tanyas due to the subdued lighting they favoured, the repostes responding to a characteristically guileless explanation by Trish Klein that if they brought the lights up they wouldn't be able to see us. And it wasn't just the lighting on their November UK tour which sparked what can only be called a heated debate in the normally serene environs of the Tanyas' website guestbook.
Now elevated to playing rather grand venues over here and increasingly attracting a mainstream audience paying handsomely for a night out, the BGTs are running up against the expectations of those attracted by the genre but not necessarily attuned to the Tanyas' no flash, no 'show' style. This blog first saw them in the back of pub in Birmingham about five years ago and in essence their performance was much the same as they're now having to project in places like the Royal Albert Hall. The inter-song pottering about and still evident self-consciousness strikes some as, at best, slightly shambolic, at worst, self-indulgent.
Their obliviousness to trends, to popular expectation and the whole business of entertainment is at once their greatest weakness and greatest strength. They follow their instincts, playing what feels right in ways that feel right ... a very female take on country/blues/folk devoid of posturing and instrumental grandstanding, majoring on subtlety, mood, 'feel'. Not that this blog goes all the way with them - their tendency towards gloom, particularly in their choice of covers (latest release Hello Love would've shaped better without Out of the wilderness, for instance) could be tempered by a sympathetic producer presence - M. Ward's your man, girls - who might also encourage them to draw more on their own evident songwriting strengths. But, hey, maybe they'll be remembered for their other talents...

"I want my grandchildren to be like, 'Grandma was a singing nun on a soft-porn lesbian show when she was young.' I hope they'll think I'm cool." Tanyas' Frazey on her extramural activities...

Records-wise, an end-of-year Top Ten list will probably be ground out here soon(ish) but actually no other acts songs have stuck in this blog's head quite like the best of those by a band with as yet no releases whatsoever. To the Windmill Christmas bash in Brixton last night for a final '06 outing for this blog's Band of the Year, My Sad Captains. Frankly, they've sounded better and the newer stuff like - I'm guessing here - Good to go(?) and the mellow Here & elsewhere don't (yet) hang together quite as well as aces like Change of scenery, Ghost song, All hat.., etc. But heck, already they're in a position to leave out crackers like Building blocks, Never miss a trick and Hide and seek. It's said they've copped that whole US indiepop archetype a bit too religiously; actually, if they were American everything would likely be down much neater, the fills more fluid, the BVs sweeter. (And, of course, for an event like yesterday's they'd have pulled out some crowd-pleasing old-school cover, Ooh La La or something.) But better? Not necessarily. In their slight wonkiness lies much of their charm, on top of leader Ed's Everygeek stylings and damned nifty way with a tune, of course...
[Hear here]

...a quality which he and the Captains will surely recognize in a song like The new rise of labor [go], a terrific mandolin-tambos-and-fuzzed-out-guitar shimmy on the new album from Portland's Norfolk & Western. Drummer Rachel Blumberg jumped ship from The (methinks rather over-rated) Decemberists to make a go of partner Adam Selzer's project and with The unsung colony you're getting to see why.
The first five out of the gate here really nail something. The longest stare's stately, ornate progress is roughed up a bit with effects-drenched electric guitar, an edge that also filters into the The shortest stare's percussive swish. Normal (or more familiar) N&W service would seem to be resumed with the deadbeat drums which usher in Barrels on fire but its bouyed by chimes and a stirring string refrain. It's instrumental swell comes on like a less ambitious Sufjan Stevens number but definitely has a power of its own, gradually commanding your full attention if not active participation.

Susie left home/at the age of fifteen
With money saved/from raking leaves definitely an opening line to reel this listener in, especially when its set to plangently pretty banjo, bells and fiddle. Apt then that the song should be called How to reel in, the arc of one woman's odyssey captured modestly, marvellously. And then boffo!, the aforementioned New rise of labor. By this point you're beginning to think 'Album of the year' contender. But, maybe inevitably, the inspired streak doesn't reach all the way to the tape. Arrangements made seems positioned as the epic centrepiece and it is good but its occasional trumpet reveilles can't disguise its debt to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Thereafter, only the charming mitteleuropa-style instrumental waltz really galvanizes and interestingly its a Blumberg composition amidst three Selzer songs where his undernourished vocal melodies don't really receive enough support. All of the The unsung colony's high points are co-compositions in one combination or another and there's no detraction from Selzer in recognizing that Norfolk & Western is finding its fullest expression with a little help from his friends. Recommended...
[n&w][on mySpace][buy the unsung colony]

Year-end lists, we love 'em:

:: Swedish indie site Its a Trap!
:: London music blog The Daily Growl
:: US indie zine Mundane Sounds

...and get 'em while you can, lots of free downloads and year-end reflections from lots of great little labels in the seasonal giveaway that is NewEarsDay...

Ah yes, the cool couple on the bus. You've seen them, I've seen them...and extrapolated idly in that moment about the casually perfect life they will go on to lead, compared to yours. Then they get off and you eventually realise: 'Who wants to be a fucking architect anyway'. Ha ha ha...and a merry Christmas to you, Salty Pirates...
[salty pirates][the couple on the bus mp3]
   posted by SMc at 5:52 PM |