December 31, 2006

2006 rewind


Momus argues that 'if music didn't exactly die in 2006, it certainly felt sidelined, jilted, demoted, decentred, dethroned as the exemplary creative activity, the most vibrant subculture.' That is one reason why Burial has to be the album of 2006, and hauntology the year's dominant theme.

Burial was a flashback to collective dreams - to dreams of collectivity - in the age of MySpace. The most significant changes this year were not in pop's content - whose rate of change continues to sclerotically slow - but in its distribution. Momus is right that in 2006 MySpace and YouTube eclipsed Old Media as pop's most important means of distribution. However, both remain parasitic upon Old Media (as the Sandi Thom scam demonstrates, stories about web activity have been more important than any actual web-based success) and there is no evidence yet that the net can generate pop events of its own. In part that is because Old Media - broadcast - time was simultaneous, punctual; New Media time is distributed, fragmented: the MyTime of consumer preference.

The OedIpod has displaced Pop (as) Spectacle. Two examples from Momus - Bowie's appearance on 'Extras' and the end of Top of the Pops - reinforce the impression that celebreality has subsumed pop. To this, I would add Chantelle winning Celebrity Big Brother. In each case, we see the triumph of the celebreality principle over fantasy, glamour and alterity. From playing the alien on TOTP to playing a banal yet unbelievable version of himself in 'Extras', Bowie's trajectory is emblematic. The second series of 'Extras', in fact, with its unthreatening, matey star cameos, its one-dimensional characters as unconvincing and stereotyped as those in the embedded sitcom it mocked, was horribly symptomatic of everything bad about popular culture in 2006.

Pop has achieved ubiquity at the cost of losing vibrancy and exclusivity. In the most significant modes of communication in late capitalism, pop has become a kind of semiotic glue, functioning exactly in the way that Chion argues that sound operates in film, producing a 'consistency-effect', an illusion of coherence. Advertising has so synergetically merged with pop that it is scarcely possible to imagine what it would be like without it.

In any case, I've posted below my top 10 LPs and singles of the year. There are no surprises, and since there seems little point repeating what I've already said, I've only commented on those releases about which I haven't previously written. After Burial, the order is somewhat arbitrary and mood-dependent.

Before the list proper, two albums that are unplaceable - or which I, at least, could not place - are The Caretaker's Theoretically pure anterograde amnesia and Scott Walker's The Drift. Like Simon and Momus, I found myself admiring The Drift without loving it. The obstacle here isn't its abstraction or its bleakness so much as Walker's voice, which I found unwieldy and stilted.

No less abstract or bleak, but far more subtly seductive, The Caretaker's album is in many ways the most important of the year; an intervention that was as much theoretical as sonic. In an excellent review for Grooves magazine, Alan Harrison claims that 'the only comparisons within reach are maybe the horrifying 1960s symphonies of Krzysztof Penderecki, or the sepulchral doom of Bohren Und Der Club Of Gore.' Theoretically pure anterograde amnesia is like being unplugged from the Matrix and finding oneself in a forbidding and inexplicable present. In the best possible way, the 6 CD set is no longer music; it is an atmosphere-generation kit, and perhaps there is a future for pop in this parasonic, spectral space...


1. Burial - Burial

2. So This is Goodbye – Junior Boys
Little to add to what I've previously written on these, but here's what I said in the Fact end of year round-up.

3. White Bread, Black Beer – Scritti Politti

4. Stone Cold Ohio – Little Axe

5. Fundamental - Pet Shop Boys
At times as cavernously after-the-rave melancholic as Burial, the massively underrated, Fundamental may well be not only the PSBs' best LP, but Trevor Horn's too. Fundamental has all the affective nuance that Horn's previous productions - which at their best were magnificent follies - dispensed with.

6. A Girl Like Me - Rihanna
No-one but me rates this, but it is a fine, bittersweet summer LP, full of hook-heavy pop songs (including two of the year's best singles).

7. Memories of the Future - Kode9 and Spaceape

8. Tiny Colour Movies – John Foxx

9. Dead Air – Mordant Music
Look out for my interview with Mordant Music, appearing very soon.

10. The Owl’s Map - Belbury Poly


1. SOS - Rihanna

2. Boom Boom Bap – Scritti Politti

3. Ain’t No Other Man – Christina Aguilera

4. Me & U - Cassie
A backing track like Sylvian/ Sakamoto spliced with computer error alerts, and a vocal whose catatonic flatness was a refreshing contrast to R and B's default vocal acrobatics.

5. Unfaithful - Rihanna

6. SexyBack – Justin Timberlake
Just as I had finally given up on Timbaland, he returns from the grave with the Timberlake and Furtado albums, although there was nothing on FutureSex/LoveSounds which matched the unconsummated, gibbering tension of 'SexyBack'.

7. Can’t Wait – Johnny Dark

8. Maneater – Nellie Furtado

9. London Bridge - Fergie
Fabulously sleazy, almost atones for her part in 'Where is the Love?'

10. Say I – Christina Milian
In a just world, Milian would have achieved the full spectrum dominance Beyonce enjoys. Based around a dreamy Miracles' string sample, 'Say I' effortlessly outdoes any of Ms Knowles' solo efforts, yet Beyonce is all-conquering while Milian was dropped by her record company.

Re-releases/ re-packages

Learning to Cope with Cowardice - Mark Stewart and the Maffia / Tack>>Head Soundcrash - Tack>>Head

Ike Yard 1980-82 Collected - dyschronic in a then-futuristic sense, Ike Yard sound out-of-time, like the pre-Laddish New Order stunned into an even deeper catatonia, like an unsuspected cross between Metamatic at its most impersonal and ACR's funk at its most sombre, like a terse and tense distillation of EBM's best moments before they even happened.


Scritti Politti - I stressed the uncanniness of Green's voice in my pieces on White Bread, Black Beer, and that sense of uncanniness is doubled in the live context. The discrepancy between the synthetic honey of Green's voice - so eerie, ethereal and discorporated - and an actual physical body is an odd experience indeed, perfectly making Mladen Dolar's point that no voice can ever be definitively 'traced back' to a body.


Not pop... but my disappointment of the year was Dr Who. The misgivings I had managed to surpress in the first series became too powerful to overlook, so that by the end of the second series, I was no longer watching. I did tune into the Christmas special, but it confirmed all my prejudices. A plot that was a re-run of last year's Christmas episode, the yowling Catherine Tate, Tennant all lachrymose, the appalling music which seems to be getting louder by the episode - it was all very po-mo perfunctory. Whereas the old Dr Who would plunder classical sources and pulp them, the new Dr Who takes the middlebrow route of pursuing 'psychological depth'. The single biggest indictment of the new Dr Who, though, is its lack of any memorable monsters. In two series, there is not one monster that even remotely ranks with the cybermen or the daleks... I'm glad that Dr Who is on TV, but, really, it could easily be so much better...

Next: The Fall post, part 2.... really...

Posted by mark at December 31, 2006 05:18 PM | TrackBack