December 19, 2003

03'S MADELEINES (part 1)


Intermittent insomniac radio silence breaker.....

K-punk would love to provide you with one of those end of the year round-ups that everyone else is doing - but I'm just not systematic enough about remembering what came out when. And, not having yet managed to secure (sufficient) freebies, nor being a radio junkie like Luke, nor an obsessive collector like Matt, I haven't got close to hearing fifty albums this year, so choosing a top fifty would be a little difficult.

Better than choosing the best in some ways would be to choose the 03 Madeleines: those moments that will later recall twenty zero three. (Though it's almost impossible to say what they are now.)


Junior Boys - Birthday/ Last Exit ep.

The record without which no self-respecting end-of-03 round-up is complete.

So much has been said about the J-Beez, and their uniqueness lies in the fact that they can be placed next to the musics in the category below - the contemplative, uneasy listening of Sylvian and Foxx/ Budd - as much as in the company of anything more conspicuously contemporary. Their triumph is a triumph of visionary diagonals over marketing angles, doing what is so right as opposed to what is required or what is inevitable. The Junior Boys are obvious in that retropective way that everything groundbreaking always is: of course there's no reason why Daryl Hall shouldn't swoon with Sylvian and Timbaland.+ And of course that obviousness eluded all the labels who rejected them in the early days: (see the Hyperdub interview, if you doubt it).

+ Note: re-Timbaland. Be honest: Jeremy is more interesting than Tim these days. As Simon says, who can muster much more than indifference for Timbo now?


Sylvian - Blemish.

John Foxx and Harold Budd - Transluscence/ Drift Music.

Blemish - so much rawer than anything else Sylvian's done - is by far the most convincing act of divestment Sylvian has produced since Japan. Every moment in his career post-Japan has been an attempt at exorcism and unmasking, at scrubbing the make-up off. But the poses - however exquisitely they were realised - seemed just that: self-conscious postures, tasteful concoctions. The faces were still too well made-up: concealing all blemishes perhaps. Blemish's rawness is due in no small part to its re-embracing of syntheticity. Although in large part simply treated guitar and voice, we're never allowed to forget that this is a work of digital editing. You can hear the joins, and couldn't think for even a moment that this is some acoustic as-live, technologically-innocent communion.

I've not got round to saying anything about the Foxx/ Budd album on k-punk (partly in fear of turning k-punk into a Foxx fansite --- :-). But it's another side of Foxx, a side that has previously only come out in the Cathedral Oceans LPs (contirbutions to Oceanic music - I hesitate to say 'Oceanic Rock' - as lovely as anything in the genre, by the way). Foxx's reputation as a synth-pop pioneer has occluded his more contemplative side. But even on Metamatic, his most ostensibly bleakly techical effort, Foxx explored a kind of urban pastoral: a fascination with the fragile beauty and lost moments of the city, with its collonades and arcades, with its unexpected possibilities for intimacy, with its delicately-perfumed ghosts and elegantly-poised statues. On Transluscence and Drift Music, these themes are explored worldlessly, in a series of slivers of pure mood. The titles give you clues - 'Spoken Roses', 'Long Light,' 'A Change in the Weather', 'Sunlit Silhouette', 'Someone Almost There.' Like many of the main players in Art Pop, Foxx - an accomplished digital artist - has a sensibility shaped by the visual, and his collaboration with Budd allows him to create what are in effect photographs in sound: delicate, dilated presents, as insubstantial and ephemeral as autumn mist, on the edge of absence and presence.


The Rapture - Echoes

Richard X presents his X-Factor

The same malady, given different expression on either side of the Atlantic. Then dressed up as Now. As you'd expect, being British, Richard X is more upfront sarky irreverent in his disinterrals of the late 70s/ early 80s than are the po-faced Rapture, who are more Serious Artists in Denial. As I said in one of the many pieces I wrote for NY Press but which never appeared in the paper (grinds teeth), the X album has a lineage going back at least as far as The Who Sell Out, with its allusions to adverts and its knowing nods towards its own commodification. Like The Who album, the Richard X LP is Art Pop, Pop's answer to Pop Art: a collage of transvalued junk and junked-up haute couture. I found it irresistible. Is there anyone out there who didn't dig the Human League vs Chaka Khan thing? And I needn't mention the still-seductive sleaze of the Sugababes/Numan vampiric union? Check also X's reinvention of one of Spandau Ballet's greatest moments, 'Chant No1.' The use of Pop (Idol) Mannequins - Liberty X, Javine - is both an immersion in (what passes for) Pop Now and a meta-commentary on it. After all, what are the Pop Idol judges always looking for? 'That X-factor....'

The Rapture's TARDIS zeroes in on roughly the same time co-ordinates, although they don't pull X's trademark trick - splicing ultra-caucasian cold synthetics with r 'n' black Soul. The funk in Echoes comes not direct from source but from postpunk white appropriation of funk. Yes, there's something absurd about revisiting the hysterical male-odrmas of the late 70's and early 80's. Yes, it should be as verboten and pitiful as Oasis or the White Stripes. And yet, I couldn't help succumbing. A guilty pleasure, but a pleasure nonetheless. Pornography was always my favourite Cure elpee (you'll be surprised to know), and hearing it spliced with the Pop Group and Gang of Four, hearing the Rapture find that yelping abstract machine that connects Robert Smith to Mark Stewart, well, how could I not enjoy it? An attraction also (see Dizzee below) is that it severs angst from its current associations with sub-metal bombast.


Dizzee Rascal - Boy in Da Corner

So much was said so soon that there's a kind of discourse-drought and unwarranted weariness surrounding this now. Yet 'Sittin' Here' and 'Brand New Day' are some of the best songs about depression since Joy Division. With so many teenagers suffering from depression or depression-related illnesses now, DR is the voice of a generation whose spokesmen have been all-too tired, predictable and LOUD lately.

Jeez, I realise I've got a lot more to say about this year than I thought. See next time for entries on Now Pop (Timberlake et al), Girls Aloud, Dido, Christina/ Beyonce.

Posted by mark at December 19, 2003 05:34 AM | TrackBack

where's part two then?! you can't fool us marky, we know you're on holiday! entertain us

Posted by: luke at December 30, 2003 09:53 AM