Monday, January 05, 2009

Looking Back/Looking Forward

I’m compelled to mention that I missed out a key single in my 2008 summary. Pants and Tie are a great band from Toronto, featuring my friend and fellow Hot Chip alumnus Christopher Trigg and their debut single ‘Washing Machine/You Rub Me The Wrong Way’ shows tremendous promise. Although their sound is certainly skeletal, there’s quite a lot informing it. It would probably be lazy to suggest that the drum machine and synth backings resemble Hot Chip, but there’s certainly something of that group’s impulse to dance, although little of their soulful side. The charismatic, unhinged and shrieky vocals are perhaps most reminiscent of Ian Svenonius and, whilst the themes are not schematic or political, there’s a sense of these tracks being something of a call to arms, or at least a statement of intent. There’s plenty of gritty, raw urgency to the music too. Some of the live footage on YouTube suggests the band is developing a greater sophistication and if an album follows in 2009, it will surely be a major highlight of the year.

Check them out here:

With apologies out of the way, I can get on with the main thrust of this post – which is the fairly obligatory look-ahead to 2009. I’m not even going to attempt one of those ‘new sound’ posts – I’m not in hock to any PR companies and I’m tired of reading the same names over numerous websites and magazine pages (Florence and the Machine and White Lies seem to be the big industry tips this year, in case anyone hadn’t noticed – I’m far more interested in Three Trapped Tigers, Micachu, The Invisible and Pants and Tie). I’m sure I’ll come across plenty of interesting new names during the course of the year, but it won’t be the laboured New Year posts that point me there.

January is usually a pretty slow time, but this year it sees the release of two albums I might well expect to feature pretty high up in my best of 2009 poll. Animal Collective’s ‘Merriweather Post Pavillion’ has already attracted ludicrous waves of hyperbole. It can’t possibly live up to such lofty expectations but, judging by what I’ve heard of it so far, it sounds like the group’s most coherent and entertaining album so far. Finally following up ‘I Am A Bird Now’, Antony and the Johnsons return with ‘The Crying Light’ later in the month. I really want to be bored with Antony, simply because he is so over-exposed, but as soon as I hear his voice my cynical heart melts.

Other things we can look forward to in the first three months of the year include new albums from Morrissey (‘Years of Refusal’, Feb 16th), M Ward (‘Hold Time’, Feb 16th), AC Newman, Enrico Rava (‘New York Stories’), Beirut (2 EPs on one disc), Annie (the much-delayed ‘Don’t Stop’), The Decemberists (‘Hazards of Love’, March 23rd), Neko Case (‘Middle Cyclone’, also March 23rd??), Atlas Sound (‘Logos’), Junior Boys. Some people might still be excited about the upcoming third Franz Ferdinand album but I really can’t be bothered with it.

Beyond this, we’re getting speculative with plenty of albums that lack titles or scheduled release dates. We can be pretty certain of new albums from Wilco, Doves, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Massive Attack, Camera Obscura, Grizzly Bear, The Juan Maclean, Jaga Jazzist, Midlake, Jarvis Cocker, Mew, The Handsome Family, Erin McKeown (who actually released a live album in 2008 that I missed completely) and Depeche Mode. Prince is apparently working on three albums, although one of which is from his latest ‘protégé’, which I’m sure we can all live without. Let’s at least hope that the other two are better than the pretty rubbish ‘Planet Earth’. We know that Bob Dylan is curating a Hank Williams tribute project, but will there be other material from him in 2009? I’d at least like to know if those rumoured sessions with Rick Rubin actually happened or not. I’m also wondering if there’s a new Nick Lowe album to coincide with his tour in April, or whether he’s still essentially promoting ‘At My Age’. Will Peter Gabriel finally complete ‘I/O’? He admits that he is ‘still as slow as ever’ so it’s not looking too hopeful.

Pet Shop Boys return with a new album in collaboration with pop production team Xenomania. I really liked ‘Fundamental’, but there’s no denying that it failed to return them to their rightful heights of commercial success. Can this album bring them to a new audience? I rather hope so.

Some things I’m particularly looking forward to: The prospect of a debut album from Three Trapped Tigers is mouth watering. Similarly, I hope the wonderful Micachu can fulfil the promise of her excellent singles. Although I’m uncertain about what I think of her (I think she is at least a genuine individual), I’m looking forward to the debut album from Emmy The Great, not least because Tom Rogerson from Three Trapped Tigers handles production duties. There might also be a debut album on Accidental from The Invisible (essentially a supergroup featuring Dave Okumu, Tom Herbert and drummer Leo Taylor).

I’m eagerly anticipating the comeback of Dave Longstreth’s mighty Dirty Projectors, who topped my albums list in 2007 with the extraordinary ‘Rise Above’. The underrated Canadian group Immaculate Machine have a new album scheduled for the 21st April in the States – I hope it gets a release at the same time over here. I had hoped that the second album from the sublime Cortney Tidwell, ‘Son and Moon’, would have appeared in 2008 but it now looks like a dead cert for one of the highlights of 2009. Unbelievably, it seems as if The Avalanches may have actually finished a follow-up to ‘Since I Left You’. Will the talented Khonnor finally follow-up ‘Handwriting’? If so, that’s a shoe-in for my list too. I’m also hoping for a second album from Albarn-endorsed wiry funksters Elmore Judd.

As usual, jazz is a murkier area with little advance warning. The reshaped line-ups of Empirical and Acoustic Ladyland will spearhead the British advance and I’d be surprised if there wasn’t something new from the profitable wellspring of London’s Loop Collective too. It might be too much to hope that Wayne Shorter’s innovative quartet gets a new album together. It’s also about time for new albums from Kenny Garrett, Kenny Werner, Steve Lehman and Chris Potter amongst others. There’s a Keith Jarrett trio album scheduled for release in January but I doubt it will offer much that’s new (Alex Hawkins left a powerfully argued anti-Jarrett invective on the facebook republication of this blog which I should really have posted here).

ECM are issuing a new collection of Arvo Part compositions, written between 1989 and 2005. It’s been collated with Part’s participation and therefore should be a set of good recordings, at least in theory.

In the live arena, I’m trying to restrain myself a little bit in 2009, not least because I plan to put more effort into my own musical projects and a little less into supporting those of established artists. The media is now going into overdrive about the Blur reunion. I have a ticket but I have modest expectations – as yet, there’s no hint of new material so it looks like being a nostalgia-fest. Those with long memories will remember how tepid their ‘singles in chronological order’ gig was – I fear the Hyde Park shows may be like this. I think many of Blur’s best songs still stand up to critical scrutiny, but there are also plenty that I’d rather not hear again, particularly given how tied up they are with the Britpop context. Reunions/comebacks I would be interested in: Pavement, Talk Talk (or even anything from the ever-reclusive Mark Hollis), The Boo Radleys, XTC. The latter is definitely not going to happen, but there will be some nice deluxe reissues of their back catalogue. I’m very much looking forward to finally seeing Antony and the Johnsons live at Hammersmith. Equally exciting, but for very different reasons, is the first AC/DC tour in over eight years. I’m intrigued by the prospect of seeing Late of the Pier at The Forum – I probably haven’t seen a buzz band of this nature since I saw Arcade Fire’s first UK show at King’s College. Bob Dylan is back again in April and I’m sure the festival round will offer some rich pickings. I’m as yet undecided as to whether I can cough up the cash to go back to North Sea Jazz in July. I suspect my most regular haunts will continue to be The Vortex in Dalston and The Oxford in Kentish Town.

In film – I’m looking forward to the big hits of the festival circuit finally hitting UK screens, not least Laurent Cantet’s Palme d’Or winning ‘The Class’. Cantet is among my favourite contemporary directors. Few have dared to make films about that everyday activity that most of us have little choice but to engage in (professional work), even fewer have dared to make statements as moving and provocative as those found in ‘Time Out’ (that identity is so often inextricably tied with work). Many thought ‘Heading South’ was a mis-step – if it was, it was a noble and intriguing one – but all seem agreed that this film is a major achievement in humane, realist cinema. I must admit that Darren Aronofsky’s ‘The Wrestler’, with Mickey Rourke in the lead role, looks like being something special and at least back in the real world after the gigantic blunder that was ‘The Fountain’. Gus Van Sant is back with ‘Milk’, with a possible Oscar-contending performance from Sean Penn. I’m often wary of biopics, but Van Sant needed to make something different after four of his austere, idiosyncratic works and Harvey Milk is a worthy subject. Paolo Sorrentino’s ‘Il Divo’ also looks promising, and one should never write off Pedro Almodovar, who returns with yet another vehicle for Penelope Cruz.

Plenty to look forward to, then….

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