Monday, December 13, 2004

MC MC'S TOP 50 NEW ALBUMS OF 2004: PART II

Nos 40-31

40. WILLIAM PARKER & THE LITTLE HUEY CREATIVE MUSIC ORCHESTRA Mass For The Healing Of The World
Written in 1997, premiered live in Verona in 1998 (from whence this CD is taken) but not released until now, this is the best recorded evidence of the slowly-building power of the veteran improv bassist’s 16-piece big band. Of a similar emotional bent to Shepp’s Attica Blues, but wisely avoiding the populism trap, Parker’s work, based on the structure of a black mass, unwinds patiently but with unstoppable cumulative momentum. The band is largely starless; though there are some well-known names such as Rob Brown, Roy Campbell, Cooper Moore and the great drummer Susie Ibarra among the line-up, the collective impact is given prominence; witness, for example, "First Reading (Dawn Song)" which builds up steadily from Dave Hofstra’s tuba intro via dense Michael Mantler-esque chordalities (as with Mantler’s Communications series, you can never quite tell what’s written and what’s improvised, which is a good thing). The storm gathers, only to be dispelled by Aleta Hayes’ pure voice – "God in you, love the world, I see the rain, I see the rain."

39. THE EARLIES Those Were The Earlies
Despite my getting the title wrong (or, more strictly speaking, being given the wrong title) in my Uncut review, this remains one of the best American guitar debut album of the year, and even that description is inadequate given the inexorable strength of songs like "One Of Us Is Dead," "25 Easy Pieces" and "The Devil’s Country," all of which point towards a welcome modification of the Lips/Rev/Grandaddy/Spree template, only with a singer who can actually sing.

38. THE CZARS Goodbye
Representing Bella Union in this list, over and above the Dears, whose album sadly didn’t live up to its blinding first single, Goodbye has to be one of the most wrenching albums about a relationship break-up that side of Blood On The Tracks. Singer John Grant has the same heart-catching tremble in his voice as Danny McNamara, and their curious but bewitching brew of indie, electronica and Wilson is best displayed on the gorgeous "Hymn" which comes across as Embrace doing "Our Prayer" remixed by m -ziq.

37. PJ HARVEY Uh Huh Her
Harvey’s discography is like a pendulum, alternating fairly evenly between bland, dull, record company-pleasing ventures (To Bring You My Love, Stories From The City) and infinitely more captivating leftfield meditations – Rid Of Me, Is This Desire? (which latter album may still count as her unrecognised masterpiece) and now Uh Huh Her. Harvey always sounds more alive when she sounds hungrier, and commendably raw performances like "The Letter" and "Who The Fuck?" get her blood flowing to places they haven’t visited in quite a while.

Uh Huh Her is also included in this list as the firmest of rebukes to the Luvvies of Rock who clogged up the arteries of music in 2004 with their incessant diarrhoea. I’m talking about Nick Cave (two more versions of the same album he’s been making for the last 20 years), Tom Waits (whose current album brings to mind Steve Wright in the Afternoon taking the piss out of Tom Waits), Elvis Costello (two more unlistenable, over-dictionarified globules of privileged phlegm), Björk (her current album being the safest album she could possibly have made, or rather the safest possible musical backdrop to her three vocal tricks)…all fattening up the racks unnecessarily with more wanton product than any market could absorb, and making one feel nostalgic for the days when you were given 40 minutes to state your case and that was it and you wore a proper suit and tie in the recording studio and it were all fields around Abbey Road, if not ones containing strawberries.

36. METALUX Waiting For Armadillo
If Polly Harvey were to take that one crucial step further towards the murkier depths of semi-comprehensibility, she could make an album like Waiting For Armadillo. An American duo comprising one M V Carbon and another J Gräf, they seem to specialise in de-composed electronica, noises sharply veering towards you from an unanticipated curve or decelerating into the darkest corners of a Rephlex world. The vocals are audible but the words just slip out of our brains, like the Cocteau Twins re-sculpted by Kid 606 and subjected to grinding gravel paths of worm-like synth/drum machine curlicues. Guitarist James T Harper joins in to make the Harvey analogy even more pertinent on almost-rocking tracks like "Cold-Tar Porch Thing."

35. NIKOLA KODJABASHIA Reveries Of The Solitary Walker
The first Macedonian artist to appear in any of my lists, Kodjabashia is a composer and sound sculptor who here presents a musical cycle based on variations on a traditional Byzantine chant as collected and arranged by St Joan Harmosin-Ohridski some 200 years ago. Kodjabashia uses samples as well as a small string and woodwind ensemble to create quite magical and implicitly religious musical worlds. Key track: "Searching For Young Godot" which is based around a ghostly sample of James Joyce – reading from Anna Livia Plurabelle, by the sound of it – around which is built a slowly emerging lament which recalls Cuban music as well as the expected Eastern Orthodox harmonies. It is heartbreaking, and best listened to while wandering around the Guildhall area of the City of London on a cold and deserted Sunday morning.

34. THE GO! TEAM Thunder Lightning Strike
Given the continued absence of new Avalanches product, this concise 35-minute album should fill a gap or several. In fact it has been growing slowly on me over the last six months – it’s a quite extraordinary fusion of live band and exuberant samples. Though lacking the Cubism which takes the Avalanches into a different dimension, something like "The Power Is On," which comes across as a fusion of Roxanne Shante, "Double Dutch," Tony Hatch, the Polyphonic Spree and Bocca Juniors, is amazingly repeatable – and indeed, Memphis Industries Ltd., "The Power Is On" is a number one single waiting to happen.

33. DAVID CROSS It’s Not Funny
Live in Washington DC, this Cross between early (i.e. funny) Woody Allen and Bill Hicks minus the mushroom proselytising amiably demolishes barriers of taste ("I would rather listen to the death rattle of my only child than listen to Evanescence!") but thankfully isn’t a rabid right-wing bore, as several well-aimed blows at Bush and Co demonstrate.

32. DJANGO BATES You Live And Learn… (apparently)
The sleeve still betrays a penchant for the type of Colin Hunt-style "wackiness" which has rendered Carla Bley’s music unlistenable for the best part of 30 years, but thankfully the music here is more substantial. Singer Josefine Lindstrand is a good if vulnerable foil for Bates’ adventures, abetted by his group Human Chain and the Smith String Quartet. In "Interval Song" we have the second schoolchildren singalong to occur in this list, but the highlights are a tremendous take on Bowie’s "Life On Mars" which cries out to be a single, and an impressively solemn voice-and-string-quartet turn on "Alone Again (Naturally)" arranged in the style of Webern, but better than that sounds.

31. ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE AND THE MELTING PARAISO UFO The Penultimate Galactic Bordello Also The World You Made
Their titles do tend to sound like the contents of those random spam emails one sometimes gets, and they do lend themselves to quite severe over-prolificity. The argument that everyone should have one Acid Mothers Temple album, but only the one, holds a substantial amount of water (New Geocentric World is the best bet), and one can easily question the need for a 4CD box set to appear, amongst other CDs, this year alone. Nevertheless this package displays ATM as something near their best, in particular CD1, which comprises (as they all do) one 60-minute track (although it’s really several tracks sequentially mixed) entitled "The Beautiful Blue Extacy (Have You Seen The Blue Sky?)" which in itself is powerful enough for me to suggest that you forego the Can reissues for now and spend the cash on this instead, for this is the ethos of Tago Mago brought up to date and happening (more or less) now. As with the Boredoms’ Vision Creation Newsun, ATM somehow appear to have rescued post-rock from its ignoble and premature demise, and the final 17 minutes of this track are especially moving.