Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Underachievement Albums of the Year

Like any self-regarding cultural pundit worth his sodium chloride, Seanachie announces here his albums of the year, in ascending order (it's better that way - you get to scroll down in time to the drum roll):

10. Magic Potion - The Black Keys
It's not quite so good as their previous effort but Akron, Ohio's finest (possibly only?) bluesmen provided a more than adequate substitute for the White Stripes this year. The lyrics are hoary and shopworn, the riffs greasy like the change handed out in American gas stations before the advent of credit cards. In a parallel world The Black Keys would probably have been filling your tank. Download for a sample: Strange Desire.

9. Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not - Arctic Monkeys
Alex Turner has been described as a Hogarth for the SMS generation, which, the sheer pretention of that pronouncement notwithstanding, has a certain degree of accuracy about it. His lyrics are as savvy and as sharp as Mike Skinner's, and those of Paul Weller, Ray Davies, Ian Dury and others before that (perhaps going all the way back to Hogarth, Chaucer even). The music is serviceable, just as Oasis' was in the early days, but they are only 19-20 after all. They might get even better than this. Here's hoping for it; to a lifetime of rhymes such as 'Rotherham/botherin' him' and 'summat/stomach'. I bet they look good on the dancefloor too. Little bastards. Download for a sample (if you've been living on Mars this past twelve months):A Certain Romance.

8. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!
Like the Arctic Monkeys, CYHSY got big on MySpace and their conquering of the world was predicted before the year began. The album manages to sound simultaneously accessible and experimental, not terribly unlike a certain New York band led by David Byrne, to whom they bear a strong resemblance. A friend of mine (currently exiled in Brooklyn) whined that they are 'for people that haven't heard of Talking Heads'. Talking who, Damien? There are enough low-key anthems here to keep light-fingered soundtrack programmers going for decades. Catchy stuff, despite themselves. Download for a sample: Heavy Metal.

7. Mi and L'au - Mi and L'au
This low-key gem was released in the UK and Ireland last year, but did not get here until January, an appropriate time for a winterly melancholic acoustic album written in a snowbound log cabin in Finland, the same cabin that adorns the cover. A couple on and offstage, the French L'au and Finnish Mi, have crafted a string of beautiful sad ballads, using as little as possible to wrench their melodies out of the chilly air. Friends of Devendra Banhart since 'before he was famous', their homecoming gig in Paris' Café de la Danse (supporting Vashti Bunyan) was a disappointment, marred by nerves and a few bum notes. But the weather's getting colder, and their album's on the turntable again... Download for a sample: Older.

6. Pieces of the People We Love - The Rapture
There are few bands that can afford to forego production by DFA and branch out instead for the very in-vogue Dangermouse, but The Rapture could. The result is a more sprightly affair than their brilliant debut 'Echoes'. The record bounces from the off, and even if there are not a huge amount of new ideas in the mix, this is music from one of the few rock bands that can make even seasoned dancers dance. Download for a sample: Don Gon Do It

5. Return to Cookie Mountain - TV on the Radio
Their name is as stupid as ever; the album's title is as silly as that of their first album, 'Bloodthirsty Babes and Desperate Youth' but TVOTR put not a foot wrong in the songwriting department. David Bowie popped in to sing, and though we don't know who did whom the favour there, the result, 'Province' was pleasing to the Underachieving ear. Elsewhere, Cookie Mountain is a wracked mix of trash guitars, electro-spirituals and the odd attempt at coaxing their pretentious fanbase into a bit of a groove. Foot-tapping stuff (albeit in slow motion). Download for a sample: Wolf Like Me

4. Gulag Orkester - Beirut
Zac Condon is only 20 (and was a year younger when he recorded this stunner) so he really ought to be out getting drunk and joyriding with his contemporaries; he's not legally allowed to drink in his native New Mexico after all. He takes his name from a nickname given to him by schoolmates because of his passion for collecting European folk music on vinyl (he was lucky he got away with a nickname, in most places he would have got an awful hammering for that). 'Gulag Orkester' with its broad range of instrumentation (ten years Sufjan Stevens' junior, he matches him for his virtuosity) and its assured assimilation of the music of the Balkans, the Levant and Mexico, might seem cynical and manufactured were it not for the age of its creator and the beauty of the plangent chants. Great title too. Download for a sample: Postcards from Italy

3. Nervous Cabaret - Nervous Cabaret
Elyas Khan, a Yorkshire man of Pakistani descent, fronts Nervous Cabaret and thus their music has been branded 'Qawwali punk' by hacks so lazy they file copy prostrate. There is a faint strain of the Islamic devotional music in the band's sound but they are more devoted, in fairness, to the high priests Tom Waits, Nick Cave and John Spencer, and Khan's voice, a voice so gravelly that it is might better be classified as 'lapidary', combined with an outrageous Yorkshire accent and mordant lyrics (check out the anti-tribute song 'Mel Gibson') ensures that the band are so original that they have thus far managed to avoid selling any records and getting any wide critical acclaim. Only the French have really plumbed for them, and if Khan, now based with the group in Brooklyn, has to leave England while public-school dullards such as Razorlight, Kasabian, The Kooks and The Guillemots prosper, the NME-prescribed future of British rock is bleak indeed. Download for a sample: Kid (sic)

2. Silent Shout - The Knife
If this album were as good as its predecessor, Deep Cuts, it would be number one, no bother, but Seanachie receives no retainer from the Dreijer siblings and so they occupy the number two berth. Not that I can really talk, as I was inexplicably unmoved by The Knife until this year. From the brooding disquiet of 'Forest Families' and 'Marble House' to the nostalgically techno-edged singles 'Like a Pen' and 'We Share Our Mothers' Health' (a commendably subtle use of an apostrophe to shame many a native English-speaker) the album is a grower from the inside out. Melodies are where you least expect them, dance beats where you least wish them to be, and the lyrics - skewed as ever in an alternative Swinglish - bear years of scrutiny. Download for a sample: We Share Our Mothers' Health.

1. Cansei de ser Sexy - CSS
Underachievement featured these charming Brazilian shitkickers as far back as July, as an antidote, if I remember rightly, to the horrors of our first encounter with Sandi Thom. Since then they have shortened their name for the international market, gone global, provoked grown men to act like teenage girls in their presence, gigged every single night and thus far kept their sanity, and released this accidental masterpiece. Accidental because they formed two years ago effectively as a joke and made it big, first in Brazil and then abroad via the Internet. But the band's self-declared technical limitations are scarcely noticeable among the ingenious synth-loops, the tight basslines and the guitars that switch effortlessly from the funk licks of 'Music is My Hot Hot Sex' to the power riffs of 'Patins'. The lyrics are also brilliant, and draw from the same strange well of global English as The Knife's, including the disarmingly beautiful 'Music is my boyfriend/ Music is my girlfriend/Music is my dead end/Music is my imaginary friend/ Music is my brother/Music is my pregnant daughter/Music is my sister/Music is my favourite mistress/ My music is where I'd like you to touch'. The album is a must-have but there is also a trove of stuff available on Limewire and other sites, such as their fantastic double-cover of 'One Way or Another' and 'Teenage Kicks', the Portuguese-language thumper 'Bezzi' and those two amazing remixes of 'Let's Make Love and Listen to Death From Above'. Of which, more soon. Gig of the year too. We can tell our grandchildren we were there. Download for a sample: All of it.

Seanachie also liked:
  • The Greatest - Cat Power
  • Riot City Blues - Primal Scream
  • First Impressions of Earth - The Strokes
  • In My Mind - Pharrell
  • Nice and Nicely Done - The Spinto Band
  • Broken Boy Soldiers - The Raconteurs
  • #3 - Suburban Kids with Biblical Names
  • The Warning - Hot Chip
  • What the Toll Tells - Two Gallants
  • Clor - Clor
  • Jacket Full of Danger - Adam Green
  • St. Elsewhere - Gnarls Barkley
  • Ballad of the Broken Sea - Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan
  • Ys - Joanna Newsom
  • Mr Beast - Mogwai
  • Kingdom Come - Jay-Z
  • Broken Social Scene - Broken Social Scene
  • The Life Pursuit - Belle & Sebastian