music is rotted one note, soiled despoiled and sullied by chancers and charlatans, played by grinning poseurs, curated by an uneasy alliance of sunday supplement bores, fickle fanboys and youtube spivs, consumed as an afterthought via supermarket queues, reviewed in thrown-away throwaway thirty word pieces. it aspires to be being played in kfc, or to soundtracking a supremely meaningless "aspirational" advert for some unnecessary consumable... an idiot joy showland that perfectly captures, and unendingly celebrates, the blandest excesses of capitalism rather than fighting them to the messy death. a smarmy guardian piece in the spring mocked sarah's manifesto to be part of "the great jigsaw of feminist and socialist revolution", no doubt in stark contrast with the nobler aspirations of a newspaper that backed the new-rightist lib dems, that lavished its 16 front pages and a whole supplement upon the year's ultimate frippery, that devotes its sports section to about five football clubs and lazily drapes its music pages with the usual broadsheet second-guessing of what its shallower readers might imagine is "cool" this week.
"fanzines, mixtapes, word of mouth and trading demos was soon phased out / for downloading albums in their scores, reducing music to ones and noughts... corporate sponsorship on venue walls"
surely music doesn't *have* to mirror, in its creation, execution and marketing, every single failure of these unenlightening, quickfix times: there are plenty of glorious realities out there aside from the quotidien drinking and violence that we co-opt as a society to escape the endless swathes of beige being daubed across popular culture by battalions of eager-to-please marketing graduates. why *can't* art reflect those early year greys, sheens of snug cold, fresh air dancing about yr face... or hazy mid-eve flickering darkness, shot through with the carousel of headlights circling the roundabout, shining whites in the evening air, a glow of shopfront neon, the moon casting its decorous shadow down over the lone high-rise ?
"this is it / i can find no words to describe our love / it's priceless"
and so "clang of the concrete swans" comes on and i find myself teary - whether with sadness, joy or relief they can still do this, i'm not sure - but it's their own "english electric lightning" for the new decade, and we must hold on to these moments, these songs, these celebrations of our confused times and mixed-up heads. i cue up "the boy who loved brighter" and it exudes warmth: so sweetly and beautifully done, it's both a tribute and a triumph. i put on "battle hype" and am blown away by the whole thing - the execution, the conceit, the confidence, the skill, the swagger - it's dazzlingly audacious, dizzyingly epic.
"vowels as clear as church bells" peals out, the remote viewer gone belle epoque, and i swear it would light up the union chapel: yet it's also as warm and intimate as grandma's front room. i dig out "summer promised me too much" (from a jiffy knitwear creation, ha) and it sweeps me away, like early hood doing "byron", or the edsel auctioneer at their prettiest and fuzziest. i unleash the on fell singles 'pon unsuspecting, lucky *lucky* turntable and they're extraordinary, blissfully dancefloor-hugging yet undeniably affecting: the sound of modern glossy pop high-fiving unassuming downbeat indie, of the funky lovingly nuzzling the lo-fi. i immerse myself in "broken" and glow as bristol and london's finest dubsteppers combine, and wow myself with the realisation that sometimes you can listen to what you thought were soundless moments; to a backlog of fuzzy cityscape memories; to the headlights of those passing cars as they light the raindrops on the nightbus window.
"you never told me, simon / about the 40-carat scum / at newquay train station"
i unsheath "ersatz gb" from its unkempt sleeve with no little trepidation, but as the record revolves and magick happens, i entertain the thought - not without a certain sadness - that barely a handful of new bands can muster the itinerant energy and rumbunctious panache of this fiftysomething man on his thirtysomethingth album. (and what a track record: even now, i still fantasise about raiding the ashmolean and christening the messiah stradivarius by playing the m.e.s. violin part from "papal visit"). i listen to the unvarnished, anger-strewn stomp of "rock and roll is full of bad wools", and it strikes me that it's the most scholarly commentary on our riot-hit isle that i've encountered all year.
i glory in the mere existence of jakarta's individual distortion, who deliver a messy breakcore beast which diffidently melds grindcore, hip-hop beats and jungle called "your band doesn't sound like sarah records", but then spit out, from nowhere, "farewell": a song that begins as chaotic cybergrind but suddenly switches down and before you know it, has enveloped you in in warm, soapy suds that channel blueboy, alcest and ted maul into the most gorgeous, touching, instrumental pattern. as long as this can happen, the x-factor will never win.
"a sleeping bag and a ten man tent / i send dem man hiking"
i hold to my heart the other records this year that bucked the trend. the new wave of grime that appeared from nowhere just when i had given up on the genre (although of its progenitors, it's probably only the disarmingly genial kwam mc who i'd be feel comfy sharing a quick san miguel with). or the resurgence in *positive, political* and - in that way - old-fashioned cobweb-despatching hardcore that was summed up by straightedge bands making some of the singles of the year and a boston h.c. outfit delivering one of its standout albums.
"10,000 lawyers dead on robertson / it felt good to just kick back and look at them / and we were fucking laughing at them"
thus i bask in the sure knowledge that - as none other than hoary black metal grizzlers venom observed this very year - punk's not dead and that though it's evolved into different styles, each with labels that try to mark themselves out as untainted sovereign territory (grindcore, hardcore, crust, deathgrind, powerviolence), the best of each genre coalesce in a haze of beautiful energy on my stereo, creating music that is just thrilling and urgent, proving that the label doesn't matter, it's the sounds they make... all else is redundant, like debating whether a beautiful poem is a sonnet or mere quatorzain... witness the finnish grind classicists who distil a six-part, 16 track concept album about human weakness into well under half an hour; witness the supergroup from japan, new jersey and texas (!) who summon up, rather than merely play, a shrieking record which spanned twelve tunes in as many minutes, each hanging on grimly for dear life, like haikus in a hailstorm; witness (and cower before) the remarkable musical *event* that was wormrot's "dirge"...
these are the moments that our little fanzine is (was ?) for.
as for singling out individual chansons from this merry miasma of heady noise, and to name but several doozies plucked from a fecund wider field, i would certainly entreat you to investigate the magnificent cannonades that were scapegoat's "no release", death toll 80k's "no escape", looking for an answer's "no compasion", weekend nachos' "you could exist tomorrow", noisear's "the last spark of resistance" (noisear are all the ron johnson bands. all at once), despise you's "bankrupt social code", coke bust's "degradation", hatred surge's "brutal tyranny", sss's "the kill floor", lock-up's "accelerated mutation", beartrap's "nailed shut", ampere's "bullshit sloganeering", the rotted's "surrounded by skulls" and sidetracked's "full circle": those should give you some tantalising insight into the sonic carnage being justly wreaked by plectrum-chafed electric guitar strings across this earth right now.
"sarandon will never be unreasonable... we expect everyone to have an equal billing / except for us"
i love the way that cultural references linger in the ether and then knowingly rain down the years: how the flats single, merely by dint of being a scenester-friendly remake of thrilled skinny's "it's a good doss", is still better than anything dan devine's dad's label released after about 1989. i smile and wince alternately through violent arrest's "fuck off", for while barely up with their greatest moments, i treasure the irony in it somehow sharing both a studio and a producer with brighter's indelible "christmas", surely its polar opposite.
"you could have been a grime saviour / but all you saw was the paper, and became a grime hater"
hell, i savour so many musical moments provided in 2011, all the biiig tunes, from d-beat to d-step, the sonorous peal of eski bars, of serious low frequencies, of new adventures in minimalism, of invigorating japanese indie-pop, of earnest norwegian hardcore, of bilious colombian grind, of dark, darting guetta-baiting techno from italy, belgium, japan, bosnia, ukraine... of export-quality premium swedish jangle, of boombastic lurchstep, of the obligatory manic jump-up, of bubbling cauldrons of blippering intrigue from the london 'burbs. i salute some fine scouse thrash, some urgent and rattling powerv., some wonderful indie-pop, some searing notts hip-hop, some glowing new york new-wu and a resurgent mobb. i roll out a carpet of respect to a black techno master who sprinkled gold dust on his remixes, and to a fellow german who continues to lead the way both with his own productions and with his minimal-tech label. and how i wish with all of my brittle, not-so hollow heart that every single one of these people and bands could play the upcoming popular music festival of london (plus, in wormrot's case, take up a residency at the hangover lounge).
"i'm back, i'm a criminal / 28 weeks inside, it's minimal"
i relish the reality that most of the great singles and albums of the year were available on vinyl, thus yielding both to stylus crackle and to sensuous human caress.
and i revel in the fact that wu-tang are on the same label as peppa pig.
ahem. i hope you had a great year. i had a great year, despite having had once again to embrace my inner 4th division. for me, 2011 was "the year of enjoying music", for that's what you can really do when you're not writing about it. fwiw, as we can't shake the habit, our (strictly unannotated) lists of the best singles and albums of the year are where you might expect to find them.
anyway. happy new year. and remember: life's not about the haters, the fakers, what's trending or what's selling. it's all about stolen kisses, and other little victories.