Monday, January 23, 2006

Retrovertigo: Stuff I Dug From '05


As I mentioned in my last post, I recently started conrtibuting to Tiny Mix Tapes, a mutli-faceted music site refreshingly devoid of agenda. Of course, no working relationship is without its kinks: when TMT asked its staff for their Top 25 albums of the year, I realized I'd barely heard twenty-five albums released in 2005. After scraping the bottom of my cerebellum to complete my list (which admittedly gets rather spotty past #14), my Top 25 were cross-collated with the other TMT contributors to produce the Collective List. A brief comparison between the two lists reveals two rather telling details.

The first is that nearly everything I listed was a new release by an old favourite - the Fall, Oxes, Mu, Lake Trout, Number Girl - without a debut artist in the top 10. Secondly, there was absolutely no crossover between my list and the collective Top 25. Shit, Pitchfork went as far as a Top 50 and only held two albums in common with me.

It's official: I'm out of the loop. And though I've bitched about this before, seeing the Writing On the Web certifies this fact - and what a relief. Circumstance has stripped me of my membership to the Media-Savy Hipoisie, and I am free at last, free at last!

No more scouring file-sharing networks for advance copies of new releases! No more soul-searching about why I hate Animal Collective! No longer am I troubled by the Pop Apologist Pod People! Who cares if I can't stand Crunk? Does it matter that I still haven't heard that Wolf Parade album? Hell, I haven't even heard one single goddamned minute of "Trapped In the Closet."

And why should I? I'm a skeptic expat living in Japan; there's no reason I should feel a kinship with art students from NYU or McGill. Not that anyone was twisting my arm, demanding that I jump on board any band's wagon, of course, but I still feel divested of a certain responsibility. Now I'm free to sit in my six-tatami spiderhole, surrounded by European film scores and sloppy J-Rock, unperturbed by the chest-beating of cred hounds across the ocean.

But I digress: here are ten tunes from releases that I loved in 2005.

"Do Do Do Do" by Afrirampo
(from URURSA IN JAPAN)

"Le 65isme" by Buck 65
(from Secret House Against the World)

"April 6" by Fantomas
(from Suspended Animation)

"Ano Musume Ni 1mm Demo Chokkai Ka" by Ging Nang Boyz
(from an album whose title I won't even begin to attempt)

"Oh No" by Gogol Bordello
(from Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike)

"Now We Know" by Lake Trout
(from Not Them, You)

"Tigerbastard" by Mu
(from Out Of Breach: Manchester's Revenge)

"SoStRx" by Need New Body
(from Where's Black Ben?)

"Bem Querer" by Seu Jorge
(from Cru)

"What About Us" by the Fall
(originally released on Fall Heads Roll; this version is from the Peel Sessions box)

"Mur Mur" by Toddle
(from I Dedicate D Chord)

1 comment:

Dan said...

Having read your wind-up of 2005 in the music scene and growing more convinced of music's position in the cultural landscape being its background (as opposed to the lightning-rod intensity of the now-mythical 60's music scene, for better or worse), I felt obligated to respond with my own Best of.

There have been many retreads of earlier popular musical styles (see: Louis XIV, Goldfrapp, The Caesars), as well as more esoteric influences (see: Sufjan Stevens, Hawksley J. Workman). There have been departures from well-established artists (see: Andrew Bird, Fiona Apple, Franz Ferdinand), as well as the slow advancement of previous sounds (Gorillaz, Venetian Snares, 13 & God). And there have been guys who came out of nowhere (to me, at least), and seemingly epitomized an entire zeitgeist of timbres through their own brand of irony (Xiu Xiu).

Going through my selections, I feel as though I would imagine early Postmodernists might have felt - All genres, styles, and ideas have been fully explored, and to look (or listen, or taste) at today's offerings is to take a virtual tour throughout a large part of our history at once. From fusion cuisine to Mash-ups, from mixed media art to even modern politics, everything seems (to me) to have a little bit of the old and the new, something borrowed and something appropriated, if not downright stolen.

And the biggest fight in the music world today is not against an absolutist regime and country-wide culture war, but against its own businessmen and multi-national corporations, against all we define as original work and intellectual property. To be able to discuss and critique the middling mash-up of Queen and 50 Cent versus the vastly more accomplished Dean Gray's American Edit clearly shows that there is a large amount of work, skill (and through extension, artistic value) that goes into each brazen act of illegitimate musical copulation. But the question is not "Is it Art," but "Is it Legal?"

To assume that songs that are familiar to the entire country's population can be used, taken, warped, and distributed as easily as an editorial cartoon lampooning our nation's president is to confuse created media with created personas. Both are recognizable, and in the world of the Internet and its endlessly free method of dispersal, indistinguishable. Thus, a veritable schism is exposed; for people on the culture's outside, the question is "Is it Legal." But for the inside, it's "Does It Matter?"

To me, the mash-up, though certainly not created in this decade (see: Plunderphonics) is this decade's form of expression through music. Cheaper software, easier access to distribution, an instant connection to its listeners, and the expulsion of money from the equation of music make the mash-up singularly successful in summarizing our society's state (50 points for alliteration!). Too lazy, busy, or afraid to go in new directions. Using what's worked before again and again (and again). Self-referential to the point of solipsistic. And making something never before seen in all the world from the dust and detritus of yesterday.

There are no mash-ups in my list. No piece has captured my imagination the way The Grey album had the previous year. (Or was it in 2003?) But I believe that in 2006, we will have something that, like DJ Dangermouse had before, stands on its own as an accomplished work without having to lean on its predecessors for its prestige.

Now, without further ado, my Best of 2005. These are the songs that I found myself reaching for again and again, that hit me instantly in that place where music should hit you.

01 - Hawksley J. Workman - Jealous of your Cigarette
02 - Gorillaz - Feel Good, Inc.
03 - Louis XIV - Finding Out True Love is Blind
04 - Goldfrapp - You Never Know
05 - Andrew Bird - A Nervious Tic Motion of the Head to the Left
06 - Venetian Snares - Hajnal
07 - 13 & God - Superman on Ice
08 - Fiona Apple - Extraordinary Machine (Jon Brion)
09 - Xiu Xiu - Muppet Face
10 - The Caesars - It's Not the Fall That Hurts
11 - Franz Ferdinand - Eleanor Put Your Boots On