2005 – the sleevenotes

Regular readers will remember that each year, we send interested friends our best of year CD, a selection of the music we’ve enjoyed most in the previous year. This year, with twenty days to go before the end of the year, I thought I’d add some sleevenotes, a song a day (or near enough – it’s one way of getting me to post regularly). Scroll down for more literary stuff. Those of you expecting to receive the CD may wish to look away until yours arrives. I start burning today (December 11). Oh, and one update before I start. Following this site’s campaign back in February, the Maze has just reopened as a venue and the Cosmic American Music Club will resume promoting gigs there next month – which is an even better result than any Liverpool FC have had recently. OK, on with the CD…

1. Madonna – Hung Up Sue’s choice, combining her twin loves of Abba and the diva of dance, gets the cd off in party mood. I wanted to start with the Arcade Fire’s ‘Neighbourhood (tunnels)’, the opener to ‘Funeral’ but was quickly overruled. So I tried using the now second track as an opener, but Madonna sounded pale after it, so, instead, Madge gets to start, then is trumped by

2. Amerie – One Thing I buy singles on 7″ because I like them. They sound good. They look great. They used to be cheap too (still are, occasionally, but this year’s number 20 only came out on 7″, was available for a mere day, and cost £3.99). CD singles take up too much space in my CD drawers, but now and then, there’s one so good that you have to buy it, so you can just ease it into the player and freak out for four minutes. From Rich Harrison, who brought you Beyonce’s ‘Crazy For You’ comes Amerie’s ‘One Thing’, a stonking, delirious, soul funk classic that burnt up my radio when it came out. I got home with the single, played it twice, then realised I already had it on a four cd compilation of the year’s singles so far from my mucker, Mike, who also turned me on to

3. Hard-fi – Cash Machine A large posse of us went to see Hard-fi at Rock City last Thursday night and had a terrific time. This is Sue’s favourite track – she thinks they’re a cross between the Jam and Joe Jackson and I won’t argue. They’re one of several new bands I discovered this year. Or, I should say, new to me. The next lot have been around for ages, but I only just came across them, and their album ‘Gimme Fiction’ is on my Christmas list.

4. Spoon – I Turn My Camera On was the first single from it: a compulsive, twisting, one note wonder.

5. Sigur Ros – Hoppípolla is one of those pieces of music that sweeps you into its arms, lifts you up and gives you an enormous cuddle. After their somewhat dreary second album, the new one, ‘Takk’ at first seems too sweet, but repeated listens prove it to be a full, well balanced meal at a five star restaurant, albeit one where the menu is in an invented version of the Icelandic language. But I’ve been to Iceland. It’s wonderful. Everyone should go there once. Or, at least, hear this album.

6. Super Furry Animals – Atomik Lust

7. Teenage Fanclub – It’s All In My Mind These two’s respective albums, ‘Love Kraft’ and ‘Man Made’ were both hailed as returns to form and I wanted to believe it, as they’re two of my favourite bands, and this is TFC’s first on an indy, but it’s also their worst since their first. In both cases, the songwriting credits are equally shared between the members and maybe that’s part of the problem. Griff from the Super Furries’ skeletal solo album has better songs than most of ‘Love Kraft’. Ah, but ‘Atomic Lust’ is a gem – gorgeous tune, great daft, enigmatic lyrics and a proper SFA freak-out at the end. ‘It’s All In My Mind’ is simply classic, soaring harmonies, subtle sentiments Teenage Fanclub, Norman Blake at his best.

8. Laura Cantrell – 14th Street For me, Cantrell was just another of the 100 or so anonymous alt.country female singer/songwriters doing the rounds, until earlier this year, when I heard this song, probably on my favourite MP3 blog Said The Gramophone. It’s a fantastically pretty song and it was only when I saw her live, giving a knock-out set at Nottingham’s Rescue Rooms, that I realised it’s about one of my favourite subjects, stalking. Pretty creepy. The late John Peel was a huge fan of her first album ‘Not The Tremblin’ Kind’ and this year’s ‘Humming By The Flowered Vine’ runs it a good second. Get ’em both. There are loads of Cantrell MP3s at LauraCantrell.com. You can download (legitimately!) or listen to 14th St, by clicking here. The song was written by Emily Spray.

9. Richmond Fontaine – The Warehouse Life

10. Clem Snide – The Sound Of German Hip Hop Richmond Fontaine’s latest is a sparse, short series of Carveresque vignettes. For my money, it’s their best so far, one of those discs where a song can suddenly grab you and send a shiver down your spine. It’s far better than the Bruce Springsteen album that came out this year and is in a similar vein. When I spoke to lead singer/songwriter Willy Valutin after their show at the Old Vic this year, he told me he has a novel coming out with Faber and Faber in 06, called ‘Motel Life’. Figures. Clem Snide are one of my favourite bands and played a great show at the Social a couple of months ago. This is the stand out track on ‘The End Of Love’ – my mate Terry also put this song on his best of year CD. Wry and wonderful, Clem Snide are the jewish love child of Leonard Cohen and Loudon Wainwright III.

11. Maria McKee – Everyone’s Got A Story Ah, Maria McKee. Late 80’s. A number one single, the world at her feet with the voice and the great songs to follow through, and she gets less commercial with every album – reaching a thrashy, operatic peak with ‘Life Is Sweet’. The new one ‘Peddlin’ Dreams’ is on a small indy label and finds her touring the UK in one car, playing to a hundred people in the Rescue Rooms on the hottest night of the year. She was fantastic, best show I’ve seen her do, a wilful, wonderful woman. This fine song closed the main set and concludes the alt.country section of our selections.

12. Antony & The Johnsons – For Today I Am A Boy I bought this album just before we went to Cuba in March and it was the soundtrack to late nights on the Playa Ancon. Rich and intense, it more than justifies the hype.

13. Goldfrapp – Ooh La La Whereas I’m not so sure that Goldfrapp live up their hype. It’s an enjoyable album that, in stark contrast to ‘I Am A Bird Now’ has no memorable songs (the same could be said for Madonna). This track is a terrific glam electronica pastiche and live, they were fine, for a while, but Alison doesn’t connect with the audience and relies on a haughty sexual persona that leaves me cold.

14. Kelly Clarkson – Since U Been Gone There’s a video I downloaded, long before ‘Since U Been Gone”s UK release, of a young girl miming to this song with such joy and abandon that you can’t help but love her and it. But it’s only with repeated listens that the majesty of the single’s construction hits you. It’s a pop disco classic. All I know about Kelly Clarkson is that she won American Idol. The video I saw of her singing this live was so out of tune it was painful. I won’t be rushing to see her at Nottingham Arena next year, but I hope I’ll be dancing and singing along to this at a party or two in the near future.

15. Septeto Habanero – Que Hermoso Sueño Contigo I have strict rules about the compilation of best of year CDs and this breaks one of the cardinal ones, that the album should have had its first UK release in the year of the CD. In fact, I was going to put a track by the wonderful
Tinawiren here, but their album came out in 2004 and my copy of the ‘Help’ CD they’re on was missing from its case. The album ‘Celebrando Sus 80 Años’ may be from 2000 but we only discovered it in Havana this March. This was our favourite soundtrack to our Cuban holiday. And Sue insisted, so here it is.

16. Imogen Heap – Hide And Seek I know nothing about Imogen Heap, other than that she’s a in a band called Frou Frou and produced this gorgeous piece of ambient electronica that older readers might find reminiscent of Laurie Anderson’s ‘O Superman’. You can listen or get a good quality download of this song by clicking here. There’s an interview with her at the same site.

17. Neil Young – Falling Off The Face Of The Earth ‘Prairie Wind’, the album this is from, was billed as ‘Harvest III’ but this track’s Neil in his spacey, stoned mode, though lyrically it’s a pretty, soppy song about friendship. My old friend Barbara has been getting these tapes/cds for seventeen years now, and it annoys her that most years there’s a track by Neil Young, who she can’t abide. Sorry again, Barb.

18. Aimee Mann – That’s How I Knew This Story Would Break My Heart While loosely a song cycle following the story of a junky boxer, ‘The Forgotten Arm’ works fine as individual songs, while never reaching the heights of its predecessor, ‘ Lost In Space’. There’s a nice minimalist reworking of this cracking ballad available on one of those i-tunes exclusive eps – one of the handful of tunes I’ve paid cash money to download this year. That’s how I knew how much I liked this song, which begins a suite of heartbreakers to conclude the CD. The next band haven’t appeared on one of my end of year compilations since 1991, but this year, they were a shoo in.

19. U2 – Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own I lost interest in U2 around the time of ‘Achtung Baby’ and listen to them so little these days (for reasons similar to Ian Penman’s here), it’s only when a song like this comes along that I remember why I used to like them so much. A great, poignant ballad, inspired by the death of Bono’s father, this was even number one for a week.

A pause here while I reflect on the great songs that could have been on this CD, from the Sugababes to something from one of the four albums Ryan Adams released this year (‘Push The Button’ and ‘September’ are on the part 2 cd I make for personal listening, and one buddy sends out three themed cds but I reckon 79 minutes is enough of our taste to inflict on friends). There’s nothing from the most outstanding album of the year, Arcade Fire’s ‘Funeral’ (originally, they opened the cd, but Sue vetoed it) or Bruce’s ‘Devils And Dust’, or Franz Ferdinand, or… but that list could go on and on. So, finally, drum roll….

20 The Arcade Fire – Cold Wind This song isn’t from ‘Funeral’ but was a limited edition 7″ of a track from the soundtrack of one of this year’s TV highlights, the final series of ‘Six Feet Under’. I don’t know if the Arcade Fire wrote it specifically for the series. If, as I suspect, they did, it’s about Nate’s death. And, like the album, it brings back other deaths, reminding me of a 2005 summer dominated by funerals. There remains something uplifting about this song, with the wild, anthemic qualities that characterise the Arcade Fire, only in a more subdued manner, perhaps befitting a soundtrack. The CD had to end with this, or the fantastic ‘Rebellion (Lies)’, which closes my other CD.

And that’s it. For those of you who’ve read, or skimmed, through this, despite not having received the CD, an offer. Tell me your favourite new song of the year, with a few words explaining why, by the end of January 8th. I’ll send the entrant that most takes my fancy my last spare copy of the 2005 best of year CD. Offer good anywhere in the world. And a happy new year to all of my readers, wherever you are….