Just noticed I have twenty-four longish pieces under the ‘HFN' tag, from this year, or an average of two a month - which work as a pretty good list of the new and old (or mostly old, and EMA) music I've listened to that has made me think and write over the course of 2011:
24. Elite Gymnastics, RUIN (dubstep, relationships, the Nitelink)
23. Fugazi - ‘Cashout’ (politics, emigration, the Irish presidency)
22. Void - ‘Dehumanized’ (hardcore/chaotic emo, academia, existentialism)
21. Radio Flyer - ‘R is for Rocket’ (catharsis, emo, chillwave)
20. Gowns - ‘Heaven’ (EMA London gig live review)
19. Si Schroeder - ‘The Reluctant Aviator’ (depression, shoegaze, slowcore)
18. Gowns - ‘Marked’ (EMA, Latitudes Sessions, Love 666)
17. Jawbreaker - ‘Accident Prone’ (lyrics, Zen, existentialism)
16. Swing Kids - ‘Warsaw’ (Joy Division, Ian Curtis, offensiveness)
15. EMA - ‘Red Star’ (stability/fidelity, Lungfish, the blues)
14. Jawbreaker - ‘Save Your Generation’ (Zen Buddhism)
13. Hot Water Music - ‘220 Years’ (dates, revolution, breakdowns)
12. Hot Water Music - ‘Sunday Suit’ (Hot Water Music, liberalism, religion)
11. Joy Division - ‘Decades’ (dub, gothic tones, surface treble)
10. EMA - ‘Marked’ (emotion, quiet/loud dynamics)
9. Bob Dylan and the Band - ‘The Banks of the Royal Canal’ (The Auld Triangle, Irish literature, historicism)
8. Husker Du - ‘It’s Not Funny Anymore’ (Grant Hart, murder, Odd Future)
7. Grant Hart - ‘Run Run Run to the Centre Pompidou’ (architecture, genealogy)
6. Lhasa - ‘Mother Earth, Father Sky’ (screamo, Japan, concision)
5. White Ring - ‘Roses’ (Skins, dubstep)
4. Ramones - ‘Havana Affair’, ‘Listen To My Heart’, ‘53rd & 3rd’ (punk, irony, Odd Future)
3. Ramones - ‘Beat on the Brat’ (violence, Odd Future)
2. Bouncing Souls - ‘That Song’ (punk, politics)
1. Hot Water Music - ‘True Believers’ (Bouncing Souls, anthems)
A lyrical and musical examination in 11 bursts
“Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains.”
My second favourite record of the year hasn’t inspired much writing in me before now, certainly not compared to EMA, but in its own way I’ve found it tremendously interesting and self-revealing. If there’s a theme to RUIN, it might be about being places and not being places: cities, relationships, paradises, any state which comes with a sense of expectation but also an unattainable, hard-to-grasp reality. The liminal structure of the music – on the margins of genres, sounding more often than not indistinct in its own skin, repeating itself and changing – reflects this profound human insecurity, but also revels in it.
“It’s hard to balance wit and seriousness because a lot of people have trouble taking in both at the same time.”
The track-by-track treatment below focuses more on the lyrics in the first half, and the music in the second. Something that became apparent as I worked my way haphazardly through the record (starting with one song here, and another there, as the desire to write about something in particular took me) was that what is a very pleasant-sounding work hides a rather bleak and depressing portrayal of life. What elucidated this was, of course, the lyrics booklet, which alternates between pictures of flowers (albeit in the centrepiece mixed with cigarette stubs and a partially charred dollar bill) and stark white-on-black text.
5. PJ Harvey, Let England Shake (8.8 BNM!)
I really liked the sound of this record, although I’m not sure if I have anything to say about it (UK militarism aside, which isn’t really a topic that engages me much beyond ‘should Irish people ever wear poppies?’). I rather liked White Chalk when it came out, and it was one of the first LPs I bought for my turntable. Not having anything that amounts to a parental record-collection to raid, there is something satisfyingly old-fashioned about these quite modern-sounding records. I mean, not to be ageist (or god forbid, sexist) but I am listening to a middle-aged Englishwoman, albeit performing out of an extension of a punkier past (equally I own all three Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros albums on CD).
6. Male Bonding, Endless Now (8.0)
Personally I found this a bit of a disappointment compared to their scuzzier, thrashier debut, Nothing Hurts. While Endless Now - an excellent title, matched by the frozen/fluid cover - does a nice line in recreating the poppier side of 90s punk-pop, within the artier structure of post-lo-fi, the sophomore slump definitely harshes the buzz. It just doesn’t gel together as nicely as the first record, but it is still an enjoyable enough, or at times superbly enjoyable, album to listen to. Possibly sounds better on vinyl.
7. Woods, Sun and Shade (7.9)
Another comparative disappointment this year, though not for any apparent lack of quality. Instead, it’s exactly as good as last year’s Woods record. I really like the band - another Pitchfork review called them “a bit of a litmus test … their spindly, bedhead country-folk too mellow and unfinished-sounding for some”, which is absolutely not me - but I kinda need a reason to listen to this record and not another, y’know?
8. Cian Nugent, Doubles (7.7)
This guy went to the same school as me, and now has released a two-track, full-length album of instrumental guitar, a nice evolution on his previous release of same, Childhood, Christian Lies and Slaughter. By its nature it’s not something I’d listen to that often, but it’s definitely impressive stuff.