50 years of tunes…2000-09…


And so…the third member of a somewhat unholyx cosmic trinity…I think, with a fair following wind, my favourite of the three…Grandaddy’s ‘The Sophtware Slump’.

The album is an epic work, conceptually and musically harmonious…addressing an uneasy world in which technology rules and is apparently necessary.  Indeed innovative instrumentation adds greatly to the songs, while lyrically and melodically they retain a warm emotional and nostalgic feel – Jason Lytle’s personal outlook very much at the fore of the songwriting.  Look no further than opener ‘He’s simple, he’s dumb, he’s the pilot’ for evidence of such.

As with ‘Deserter’s Songs’ and ‘The Soft Bulletin’, ‘The Sophtware Slump’ is perfectly of its time, yet timeless and will endure.  The sophomore pun in the title is entirely erroneous and it must stand as one of the greatest ever second albums.

And ‘The Crystal Lake’ is one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard…

Also of note in 2000…At the Drive-in’s commercially (successful) suicidal ‘Relationship of Command’,  Tom McRae’s brilliant and stark eponymous debut and Idlewild’s wonderful ‘100 Broken Windows’.


System of a Down exist uniquely somewhere in the middle of a Venn diagram that somehow overlaps metal, emo, punk, protest, jazz, dance and folk.  ‘Toxicity’ was to a degree the band’s breakthrough album commercially and remains their most successful in sales terms.

The record for me is far ahead of many of its contemporaries in the emo and metal stakes, in terms of both musicality and songwriting.  It is overall a political beast – addressing many of the ills in today’s society, but retains a sense of fun and self-deprecation at times too.  Musically it is complex and varied – with elements of all of the genres noted above blended brilliantly beneath the strength of Serj Tankian’s expansive vocal.

The humour is highlighted nowhere better than in ‘Bounce’, a song which I don’t think will ever be beaten in terms of the effect I witnessed it have upon the entire stalls standing area of Brixton Academy some years ago…

Another strong year as well with The White Stripes’ ‘White Blood Cells’, The Strokes’ ‘Is This It?’, Ryan Adams’ ‘Gold’ and the perfectly brilliant, bonkers, Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players ‘Vintage Slide Collections from Seattle, Vol.1’.


Guided by Voices stand side-by-side with The Fall in terms of prolific releases over the last thirty or so years.  The parallels continue by way of the presence of a very singular frontman – Robert Pollard – and a regularly revolving roster of musicians around him.  I discovered the band via a good friend in his record shop maybe ten years ago via the brilliant best-of ‘Human Amusement at Hourly Rates’ – which is an excellent introduction for anyone tempted to delve into a vast back catalogue which varies enormously (and necessarily?) in terms of style and quality.  I fell in love with the band almost immediately and in a fairly short time had secured pretty much everything they’d released, and I think I am still up-to-date – a few Pollard solo pieces aside.

‘Universal Truths and Cycles’, released relatively late on in the band’s lifetime, is my favourite GBV album.  As with so much of the band’s output, it is supreme lo-fi indie-pop…full of jangly guitars, discordant noise, nonsensical lyrics and wonderful tunes.  I love it.

I’ve never seen Guided by Voices, and am unlikely ever to get the chance – the maudlin story of which is elsewhere in this blog.  Let’s not dwell on that though, and instead rejoice in the glorious rise and fall of the keys on ‘Back to the lake’…

It says a great deal for UT&C that it beat the Flaming Lips’ utterly wonderful ‘Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots’ to the 2002 choice and also Queens of the Stone Age’ ‘Songs for the Deaf’ – which secures a solid third place as the height of their recorded work.


I can’t remember how I stumbled across The Distillers.  For certain my attraction (aurally and otherwise) to girls and guitars persisted in 2003 and remains to this day.  So somehow or other I fell, hard, for Brody Dalle upon the release of ‘Coral Fang’.  Dalle’s voice, along with contemporary Cinder Block from Tilt, exists within an exclusive club dating back to the likes of Grace Slick and Shocking Blue’s Mariska Veres – with richness and depth that is often pushed to breaking point – that bewitches me.

The album’s title track is a great example of how the album, certainly musically, pushed the band a level above the world of West Coast punk (maybe in part symbolic of Dalle’s break-up with Rancid’s Tim Armstrong and subsequent relationship with QOTSA’s Josh Homme)…with lovely touches, rises and falls of baselines and melodies throughout – albeit retaining a drive, strength and aggression.  In many respects it moved away from the band’s earlier, much harder, harsher, records and would ultimately pre-empt the break-up of the group in spite of reaching a commercial peak.

Hon. 2003 mentions go to British Sea Power’s wonderful debut ‘The Decline of British Sea Power’, Mark Lanegan’s ‘Here Comes That Weird Chill’ and The Mars Volta’s ‘Deloused in the Comatorium’

Also released in 2003, and I think, along with a related BBC effort (see 1968), one of the greatest ever live releases – Jeff Buckley’s ‘Live at Sin-e’.  I think as well the greatest example of Buckley Jr’s undoubted genius – a double album comprising his own work, covers and fabulous between-song dialogue – recorded with just him and guitar in the coffee shop at which he worked in Greenwich Village in the early nineties.  The album was preceded by a four track ep released while Buckley was still with us, which I stumbled across while travelling in Australia as a teenager.  I can honestly say that this Van Morrison cover changed my appreciation of music forever…


The Go! Team are very definitely the most underrated band of the noughties, and if you don’t believe me then go and ask Stuart Maconie – he’ll tell you…

‘Thunder, Lightning, Strike’ is an explosion of playground soul, samples, rap, electronica and pop from start to finish, all delivered with an infectious level of enthusiasm all too lacking from many of today’s staid and apparently uptight artists.

Check out the album’s Wikipedia entry for a list of the samples used throughout…and then go and find all of the originals and buy them too, for it’s a sterling selection.

There’s not much more than that to say really…other than that I defy anyone to listen to it and not end up with a smile on their face which, let’s face it, is surely what life is all about.  If the likes of Pharrell and Andre 3000 have released some of the best pop songs this century, then The Go! Team have definitely released the best pop album.  It was with no small amount of delight I learned earlier this year of the band’s return.  Herewith my favourite song…replete with some Holland-Dozier-Holland magic…the joyous ‘Ladyflash’…

Finishing in the places for 2004: Comets on Fire’s ‘Blue Cathedral’, Morrissey’s ‘You Are The Quarry’, Rufus Wainwright’s ‘Want One/Two’ double and Nick Cave’s ‘Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus’ – home to one of the best songs ever…


A tie for 2005.  I cannot separate Bright Eyes’ ‘I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning’ and Sufjan Stevens’ ‘Come On Feel The Illinoise’.  Both records are supreme examples of modern Americana – with very definite nods to the past but bursting with relevance, originality and poignancy…

Conor Oberst is an artist I have slowly grown to adore over the last ten years.  Both artist and output are challenging to access at times and certainly to love but I discovered him properly with this album and I am now smitten.  ‘I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning’ is a beautiful record – brilliantly written, perfectly sequenced, balancing humour, love and sadness, and even a sprinkling of HRH Emmylou Harris.  I don’t think there is a more perfect pair of opening and closing tracks on an album in ‘At the bottom of everything’ and the barnstorming ‘Road to joy’.  Indeed Conor…let’s fuck it up and make some noise…

Whereas with Sufjan it has been a more immediate infatuation.  I’d been aware of him for a while but was persuaded to investigate properly upon seeing ‘Little Miss Sunshine’, the soundtrack for which makes use of ‘Chicago’.  There are few words really to describe what he is, or what he does, but the product is beautiful ethereal thing in all senses.  Evidence of this presented very well by the song named after said state capital.  I cannot wait to experience it live at EOTR 2015…

More Americana from both sides of the Atlantic in 2005’s special mentions with Langhorne Slim’s ‘When The Sun’s Gone Down’ and Richard Hawley’s ‘Coles Corner’ (a would-be winner in many other years…).


Another very definite tie…

Howlin Rain should be massive, but they’re not, which selfishly is often preferable as I get to experience the force of nature that is their live show in rather more intimate surroundings than I might.

The band is in essence a side project for Ethan Miller of Comets on Fire (sort of) fame…an outlet for his love of the best of 70s US rock and roll and lighter in tone and content than the deeper, darker psychedelia of his work with Ben Chasny in CoF.

The band’s wonderful self-titled debut is best, and also lazily, conveniently, described as a ‘more psychedelic Creedence’ – which is exactly what it is.  A thundering groove-ridden, soulful rock and roll trip around the west coast of America.  For the desert leg of said adventure, see ‘Roll on the rusted days’…

Midlake’s ‘The Trials of Van Occupanther’ pays very great respects to the 70s as well…albeit in somewhat more gentle fashion with echoes of Laurel Canyon, Fleetwood Mac and English prog/folk.  The harmonies alone stand the album over and above the competition, before one considers the beautiful arrangements and perfect songwriting presenting rustic, pastoral stories of life amongst forests and mountains.

I have said for some time that ‘Roscoe’ is the best song so far this century and nothing has appeared yet to change my mind in that respect…

Shout outs too for The Grates’ ‘Gravity Won’t Get You High’, Manchester Orchestra’s ‘I’m Like A Virgin Losing A Child’ and The Hold Steady’s ‘Boys and Girls in America’.


For a long time I mistakenly (and now not unashamedly) pigeon-holed Maximo Park with the likes of Hard-fi and other dreary laddish indie of the time.

How wrong I was, and how immediately I was corrected upon the release of ‘Our Earthly Pleasures’, which from start to finish is the definition of wonderful indie-pop.  The record is as full of energy and enthusiasm as the band’s live shows.  There is a strong emotive and evocative feel to the songs as well – reflecting the charm and challenges of everyday relationships in today’s world.

I really could have gone with any track from the record, but have settled for ‘By the monument’…

Taking nothing away from Maximo Park, not an enormous amount else stood out (for me) in album terms in 2007…although little-known beat groups Radiohead, Bon Iver and The National all released some reasonable fare.


Howlin’ Rain.  Again.

‘Magnificent Fiend’, the band’s second album, sees a progression from the raw, dusty brilliance of their debut to a more polished, sort of soulful sound but remaining (I think) firmly rooted in the very best of 70s rock.  Picking up from where the debut left off in guitar terms, the record introduces itself with dramatic piano pieces, more Hammond organ and the occasional dash of mariachi trumpet – all of which blends together wonderfully.  Ethan Miller remains very much front and centre as well, as the greatest rock and roll frontman I have ever seen…with an increasingly wide vocal range from bluesy soul to roaring R & B.

The first album immediately planted the band in my top five favourites ever, the second cemented them for good.  And I honestly can’t describe how good this band is live.

Showcasing the above elements perfectly, all in the space of a glorious six and half or so minutes is ‘Lord have mercy’…which builds and builds to a break and choral crescendo (c.4m 38s) that fills my entire being with joy.

Elsewhere in 2008, ‘Fleet Foxes’ eponymous debut was up there with Midlake in beautiful Americana terms, The Last Shadow Puppets’ ‘The Age of the Understatement’ would better anything Alex Turner has done before or since and ‘Mono in VCF I’ contained the sublime ‘Spider Rotation’ – presented here for your enjoyment because I don’t think enough folks have ever heard it…

Lastly, a third song for 2008, for the brilliant sake of it.  The Raconteurs’ ‘Carolina Drama’ is a supreme example of storytelling within song, very much descended from Dylan’s ‘Lily…’ (see 1975).  This live BBC version is wonderful as well…


Closing the noughties, Brakes’ ‘Touchdown’…

I was four years late to Brakes, picking up a promo copy of this record on the understanding the band had something or other to do with British Sea Power (hello Eamon) and Electric Soft Parade (hello boys).

I discovered soon after that albums one (Give Blood) and two (Beatific Visions) are equally as good and well worth checking out.  Brakes deliver brilliant, raw indie pop that focuses first and foremost upon fun but is cunningly threaded throughout with very clever songwriting and complex musicality with lovely nuggets of country and post-punk sprinkled around…to be expected I suppose when one considers the links the members have to other projects.

My favourite track is the first Brakes song I heard (the promo skips track one)…’Don’t take me to space man’…

Do also check out Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ ‘It’s Blitz’, ‘Pains Of Being Pure At Heart’ eponymous release, Manchester Orchestra’s muscular sophomore ‘Mean Everything To Nothing’ and Yellow Moon Band’s ‘Travels Into Several Remote Nations Of The World’.

Anyways…nearly there now, five more years to go, thanks for staying with me this far, if indeed you have…


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