Not My 2005 Albums List

So yeah, it’s been pretty quiet here lately while I’m working on that year-end album list. It’s always a bit of a struggle to write about music when your music writing sucks.

But I thought I might as well throw anyone who’s bored a couple of bones in the meantime, while I agonize obsessively over the internal ordering of my top 12. (Yes, 12.)

Here are a few albums which aren’t in there. I’m fully aware that lots of other people love these albums, but for various reasons I’m unable to buy into the hype myself. No attempt has been made in the writing to spare myself any flaming – feel free to enjoy yourself in the comments if you think I’m a grumpy jaded old hatah. :)

  • Wolf Parade – Apologies To The Queen Mary: It’s not that this is a bad album – Dear Sons And Daughters Of Hungry Ghosts only narrowly missed the cut for my 2004 Songs To Thank MP3 Blogs For list, and You Are A Runner And I Am My Father’s Son is pretty good – but it simply doesn’t inflame me with enough passion to warrant a ranking on my list. Even though it’s objectively quite pleasant, I’d be hard-pressed to summon up much enthusiasm for it in a review without having to fake it. It might be something about music with the “Isaac Brock touch” that everyone else likes but I don’t – I’ve never been a Modest Mouse fan and I never understood the acclaim for The Moon And Antarctica either. Apologies To The Queen Mary is better than that album, but I still don’t feel any desire to listen to it very often, and when I do it fades into the background quite quickly.
  • Bloc Party – Silent Alarm: I bought this on the strength of She’s Hearing Voices (another close contender in my 2004 MP3 Blogs song list) but I now think that track was deceptively innovative. The first half of the album just sounds like reheated 90s Britpop and the second half a mishmash of various post-punk influences which move neither my heart, my head nor my feet. There are 2 exceptions – Price Of Gas and Luno have a touch of frenetic beautiful chaos to them – but 3 good songs isn’t what I normally buy albums to hear.
  • Magic Numbers – Magic Numbers: After a couple of listens my only abiding impression is of a lot of tweeness and winsome crooning and easy but utterly forgettable melodies. I think I’d probably have liked this when I was 16 or 17 but I guess my tastes must have moved on since then.
  • Antony And The Johnsons – I Am A Bird Now: I might well be totally alone here but this one really does absolutely nothing for me. How can something so overblown and overdramatic be so deathly dull?
  • Serena Maneesh – Serena Maneesh: I can’t disagree with the reviewers who say this is strongly influenced by MBV’s Isn’t Anything. Serena Maneesh’s self-titled does indeed remind me of that album except, that is, for one small but rather substantial difference – I don’t fall asleep after the first song of Isn’t Anything.
  • Isolee – Wearemonster: I know the omission of this (especially when you soon see which other dance music albums I did include!) is a huge admission of dance music plebness, but I just haven’t listened to it an atmosphere conducive to appreciating it yet. What I gather from the reviews is that this album’s all about the details, and I guess those must be eluding me when I listen to it on my commute. I’m not writing this album off yet – it’s very much loved by people whose taste and genre knowledge I hold in high esteem – but until I take the time to listen to it in a better context than an iPod on a bus, I just don’t think I’ll be able to see the light.

Okay, flame away! :)

Neu! Used! S$10!

Music-related activities of last weekend included microhouse at Jacob’s rathermacrohouse on Friday (Jacob and Cherry spinning, me listening, Alec reading comics), and DJ Dexter (of Avalanches fame) at DXO on Saturday, but I have to dorkily admit that despite these very enjoyable social and musical activities, my weekend’s most intense moment of musical joy was walking into Flux Us and finding a used copy of Neu! going for S$10, after having had it on my Django’s wishlist for the past four years.

“Without Neu! there may have been no Pitchfork. Neu anticipates us all,” gushed Pitchfork when the band’s first three albums, previously available only as Japanese imports in exchange for a kidney, were remastered and re-released in 2001. And you know, although my views have diverged from Pitchfork’s often enough to warrant some caution here (*cough*thearcadefire9.7myarse*cough*), this time I’m really feeling the love. Believe the hype.

This album begins with a sound Neu! made and Sonic Youth taught me to love. Hallogallo’s insistent guitars and propulsive beats are exploratory but never directionless; I can’t explain how I know from the start that it’s going to take me somewhere I want to be, I just know. By the time we reach (exquisite) meltdown it fades almost too suddenly for me to bear even after the 10 minutes of build-up, and recedes into a distant shimmering chaos I can only stagger towards.

Sonderangebot is part tense experimental soundscape, part expansive prog noodling, and it bridges the journey between the two with the sort of scary shocking sound they use in Asian horror movies when the protagonist gets a sudden flash glimpse of THE GHOST! Best workout my stereo’s had since Knifehandchop.

Weissensee doesn’t do much for me, I must admit. It’s like Pink Floyd wandering around a bit lost and ending up…still a bit lost.

I realize it sounds loopy to say this, but Im Glück feels like emerging from the Ark the morning after the great flood. Paddling slowly through devastation, accompanied by a funereal bass drone. Notes beginning to melt in, breathe, pulsate, as glimmers of hope appear on the horizon. After notes, then chords. Birdcries in the distance, as the drone fades away. Long before Boards Of Canada, long before The Books, and 3 years before Brian Eno made Another Green World.

Negativland starts off with abrasive dissonant noise and squalling guitars, and then it escalates from there. In other words, this song is Michelle Heaven.

Lieber Honig interrupts Negativland mid-screech, and teleports us somewhere totally different with sparse plucks, wheezed, abstract vocals, and the same found sounds they used in Im Glück – barely audible voices, paddles on water. We are still travelling when the album ends.

In a conversation with someone at my first Yo La Tengo gig, I bemoaned the fact that I just couldn’t seem to get my hands on a used copy of I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One. (I’m generally too poor to buy anything when it’s new.) “Well of course,” he said, “who would sell that album after hearing it?”

This is what I’m wondering now, about Neu!. Who? Why? But nevertheless – thank you!

The Incredibles / Look At Me / Shutter

Out of the last four movies I’ve watched, the one which inspired me to write a long rambling blog post was the most middle-brow one with (by far) the worst reviews. Go figure. But I thought I should just write little snippets about the other three for the record.

  • The Incredibles: Was great fun, but I couldn’t think of any new or original ways to describe what was good about it, so I didn’t bother writing about it at the time. Most of my enjoyment of it was derived from the geeky thrill of identifying every homage to Watchmen, which is why I reread it just after watching the movie, and realized that any review I wrote of The Incredibles would pretty much end up being a ravefest about how amazing Watchmen is instead. My favourite part of the movie which had nothing to do with Watchmen was probably the name of the supervillain who appeared at the end – The Underminer, which I found hilarious.
  • Look At Me (Comme Un Image): Hard to describe the plot, you’d best read the review I linked to. This is definitely not a film for the impatient – you never know where the story’s going, and a familiar storyline never emerges e.g. “It’s going to be about how Indiana Jones goes on a quest to find the Holy Grail” or “It’s going to be about how nerdy girl will blossom and eventually get hot guy to fall for her.” Lots of scenes seem pointless early in the film, but later on you realize that they were showing you little things about its characters which build the overall impression of them which you leave with at the end, and I think this was actually its greatest strength. The opinions I formed of the characters at the beginning had evolved very considerably by the end, and yet nothing in the way the film progressed ever seemed forced or unnatural. I wouldn’t recommend this film to everyone, and especially not to anyone who doesn’t like arthouse films, but I did enjoy it. Watch it if you like Paul Thomas Anderson films, maybe – it does that whole “different lives intertwining through a series of coincidences” thing quite well, although that isn’t really its focus.
  • Shutter: Asian horror movies since Ringu have all looked really formulaic, sort of like attempts to just jump on the Asian horror bandwagon while it’s still a cash cow. While Shutter sticks to a fairly simple plot, and many of its scares are predictable enough, on the strength of the ones that aren’t, and its clever ending, I’d say this is definitely a cut above the rest. Frankly, although it isn’t as terrifying as Ringu and will probably not take the world by storm quite as much, I think it’s much more coherent as a film. If you’re not in South East Asia and haven’t heard of this Thai horror movie yet, don’t worry – I’m sure you’ll be able to watch some Hollywood remake starring Jennifer Love Hewitt and Ashton Kutcher in the near future.

[Speaking of Asian horror, Bedok cinema is apparently screening a film called I Know What You Did Last Raya. Intriguing.]