On the decksI've been buying a few albums, old and new, recently, mostly on account of receiving Amazon certificates for my birthday (29 again! When will I ever turn thirty?). That means a lot of listening joy for me, and dreary, ill-considered reviews for you. You can think yourself (or selves, but who am I kidding?) lucky that the Boards of Canada album is not here yet.
Among the new records is Tender Buttons, by Broadcast. They caused a minor stir a few years back when they were signed by Warp, which is best known for leftfield dance music that you can't really dance to. "Warp sign pop band" went the headlines. Except they didn't. They had actually signed an experimental electropop band who were rather tune-averse. This improved by the second album, and finally, Broadcast seem to have embraced tunes. If I say quite tuneful electropop with a woman singing rather obscure lyrics a la Francoise Hardy, you're thinking Stereolab and you're in the right place. Because Broadcast are a slightly more listenable Stereolab. More than slightly in the standout tracks, such as America's boy and Corporeal. It's that little bit more arse that makes them enjoyable. You could even sing along if you could figure out what the hell the chick's singing.
More weighty, and very much hotly awaited in my house, is Takk by Sigur Ros. A criticism of Sigur Ros's music is that they drift along, working through intricate but less than engaging melodies, making some of their songs interminable. While Agaetis Byrjun had nicer tunes, () was ultra-icy, and many did not like the challenging, math-rock feel of it. Takk is a revelation. It's still Sigur Ros, so all the vapid adjectives apply: ethereal, drifting, blah de blah. But there's a warmth and structure to the songs that lifts them a notch higher. I loved () (I don't mind challenging math rock -- another album I'm currently enjoying is The fall of math by 65daysofstatic, a slightly heavier Mogwai, which is no bad thing) but Takk is something very special. In particular, the very much tipped single Glosoli, whose thundering bass holds together a mass of intertwining melody and ideas; and Se laest, which has an oompapah section that needs to be heard to be believed, one of Sigur Ros's most ambitious (and I'd say successful) songs to date. It doesn't rock. You're not going to want to rip up the town when you've listened to it. But you might feel you've just had a warm bath. It caresses you, enfolds you, and, what is different, engages you.
Older stuff that I'm listening to includes Laurie Anderson's Big Science. Anderson is that most dreaded thing, a performance artist (a genre of being that is almost uniformly useless, who, if we lined them up and machinegunned the whole bunch, would not be mourned and the doing of it would not detract one iota from the culture and richness of our lives), but even though Big Science was culled from her "art" piece, United States, which didn't sound too enticing, it makes a very engaging set of off-the-wall electropop. Although it sounds more run of the mill today than it did 20 years ago, it is still a strikingly arty approach to pop. Anderson's clever, satirical poetry and quirky instrumentation work well together, particularly on O Superman (a hit of sorts, which I well remember my old man describing as "fucking rubbish" and threatening to expel me from the family home if I played it loud enough for him to hear) and Let X=X/It tango (a bouncy pair that I could imagine skipping along to, even if singing them would garner ridicule from my household -- you can work out for yourself what sort of household it is that would mock singing weirdo lyrics but thinks a *mumbles* years old man skipping is okay).
I like innovation and innovative musicians. Okay, sometimes it doesn't work, but when it does, it's timeless and the music remains exciting today. You can still listen to Kraftwerk or even the Beatles, and even if they have become rather familiar, there is still that spark. I recently bought Cut by the Slits. Punk and reggae should, as any fule kno, not be mixed on pain of death. Anyone who's familiar with the work of the Police knows the truth of that. But somehow Cut works. It's a strange sonic experience, because unlike the dub reggae it is clearly most influenced by, it's entirely unfunky. Punk very rarely was. Even bands such as Gang of Four, who were labelled "punk-funk", would not compel you to shake your booty, unless you were truly sad. But it does make for music that doesn't always walk in straight lines. It helps that the Slits specialised in trenchant social commentary with a sense of humour.
If I told you that I had also bought some Yellow Magic Orchestra (slightly dated protoelectronica with a Japanese flavour), XTC (quirky, folk-flavoured new wave) and Chameleons (seminal postpunk janglers), you'll be thinking that I'm living in the past. Well, okay, but what's to listen to today? The majors got their hands around the throat of music and squeezed. Now we're left with Coldplay and the Simpson sisters. Tell me that's better listening than Pink Flag and London Calling and I'll laugh in your stupid face. To the tune of Banned from the pubs (Peter and the Test Tube Babies -- comedy punk from Peacehaven -- well, if you live in Peacehaven, you have to learn to laugh at life).