Monday, December 20, 2010

Albums of the Year, 2010

Bonnie Prince B and his funny folk.
The following are in no particular order, a glance at previous years’ lists having confirmed that allocating a number next to any one album results in an arbitrary ranking of no long term significance. Fewer ‘reviews’ this year too, as finding fresh rhetorical ways to convey a pleasure in what are often the same bands (reflecting an increasingly static taste) becomes an annual challenge I’m losing the will to confront. Also, when I read a year-end list at a worthy, knowledgeable website like The Quietus, I get the feeling that, in any case, I’ve probably been listening in all the wrong places. Or maybe there really is nothing much of note released nowadays that can impress a mid-life indie-pop. After all, my favourite release of the year isn’t on this list because it was the boxed set re-issue of the entire Orange Juice back catalogue from the early 1980s, Coals To Newcastle. So it’s a rough Top 11, followed by a list of secondary choices.

Bonnie “Prince” Billy & The Cairo Gang - The Wonder Show Of The World (Drag City)
Another year, and another wonderfully realised record of melodic narratives cloaked in raw, emotive beauty. Track to try: Troublesome Houses.

Sun Kil Moon - Admiral Fell Promises (Caldo Verde)
Shhhhhh... Soothing gorgeousness now comes with sporadic flamenco guitar riffs. But they work wondrously, as do most things created by a man in a perennial audition to play the soundtrack to Eternity. Track to try: Third and Seneca

Gayngs – Related (Jagjaguwar)
A gift box of styles and surprises built on a glowing fire-bed of compelling hooks. Track to try: The Gaudy Side of Town

Phosphorescent - Here’s To Taking It Easy (Dead Oceans)
Wins the award for least agit-prop album title since Black Lace’s last party LP. This record also more than makes up for the absence of any Jason Molina/Magnolia Electric Co. output this year, though it’s inspired enough by the latter to stand alone as an Americana landmark. Track to try: Los Angeles

Laura Veirs - July Flame (Bella Union)
Seventh album of fluttering, quirky brilliance could even be her best yet. Track to try: Life Is Good Blues

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Books of the Year, Part 2 - Non-fiction

Some books,
 earlier today.
I used to read nothing but novels. Then I veered in the other direction, until I realised that much as I enjoyed biographies and history books, I could never remember much about them once I’d finished. So now I mostly read fiction again, and the non-fiction I pick up is only stuff that I really, really want to read. And that’s why this list is shorter than the Fiction list. And why I don’t know as much as I should do about important historical events, but I can tell you the names of all the albums that The Raincoats released on Rough Trade records.

Document and Eyewitness – An Intimate History of Rough Trade by Neil Taylor (Orion Books)

Clearly you’d have to be more than interested in British indie-pop in the late 70s and 1980s to get much out of this. But the anecdotal rewards are deep if The History of Rough Trade would be your chosen specialised subject on the fading leather jacketed saddo’s version of Mastermind. Once you’re past the ponderous intro (and I’d rather have had an index than the footnotes), the stories and their characters take you right back to a time when you didn’t have to give a shit about anything besides drinking, music, and appearing to know what you were on about (I gave up on that one in the end).

Books of the Year, Part 1 - Fiction

Not yet a Kindle convert
I’m usually about three years behind current releases, but due to a more conscious effort to read The New York Times Book Review (rather than putting it in a pile to be ‘read later’ - another phrase for ‘recycling’), and a couple of nice presents, I somehow managed to read a lot of novels this year that actually were published in 2010. Before this thrilling news completely overwhelms you, let me get on with recommending them, in approximate order, and adding a sample quote from each book that may lure you to further exploration:

Salvation City by Sigrid Nunez (Riverhead Books)

I like post-apocalyptic books, if they’re not too apocalyptic. This book takes place in a tiny southern Indiana town after a flu pandemic has wiped out millions worldwide, and follows Cole Vining, a 13-year-old orphan of liberal, urban parents, in his new life with ex-alcoholic, self-appointed Pastor Wyatt and his kind but ill-educated wife. Despite all the anguish of death, separation and relocation, the likeable but complex kid still has the hots for an unattainable 16 year old, and that keeps him as mentally busy as multiple other conundrums of faith and fate. Beautifully written.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Comics, Tuck And Cricket

Boys are easily pleased.
Can you ever take the little boy out of the middle-aged man? Would you ever want to? Last night, with the kids in bed and Mrs. Pop out on the lash with her mates (at least that’s what she told me), I did what I always do when left to my own devices and reverted to a much younger version of myself. I found a live stream online of the second test match from Adelaide, and sat down to watch several hours of uninterrupted cricket. But that wasn’t all. I had my comics too – the latest issues of Private Eye and the wonderful Groundtastic magazine. And my tuck – a health-defying combination of cheese and onion crisps, Lindt milk chocolate, and Tyrconnell Irish single malt whiskey. Oh, and some indie-pop as well, of course. The latest Sufjan Stevens album provided the soundtrack. Only deep fatigue finally forced me away from my amusements and up to bed.

Today, Mrs. Pop headed abroad on business travel. The kids are back at school tomorrow, so they will need an early night. With two days of the test match left, I wonder what I’ll do this evening? Maybe contemplate further the fact that, after three and a half decades of generic life experience, there’s not much difference between myself aged ten, and myself aged 45. We men are really not all that difficult to please.