by Jim Eaton-Terry
One of the few certainties with Mostly Records is that, whatever date we schedule it, something absolutely fascinating will be released either the day before or the day after. That’s my excuse for not having more than a cursory “sounds great, more next time” about Jack White’s solo debut. He’s the single best rock star working today, though, and if you’ve not heard Sixteen Saltines, it could be the single of the year:
First, though, because this is somehow the first MR of the year, I wanted to rattle through some of the records I’ve missed in the first quarter of the year.
Django Django – Django Django
Much of what I’ve enjoyed this year has either been old buffers polishing their legend or detailed facsimiles of old styles, so I thought I’d start with a totally modern-sounding record. Django Django combine motorik rhythms, twangy guitars, and washes of keyboards with some really great songwriting to produce a sound which doesn’t really echo anyone else. It’s a wonderful summer pop album.
Lana Del Ray – Born to Die
Mostly Records has been a Lana del Ray fan since Video Games first started appearing on the Web last summer . I’m only going to expend one sentence on the unutterable tediousness of the Lana Del Ray Debate that raged last autumn – judging a pop star on her consistency and authenticity is a category error on a par with awarding Michelin stars based on for how long the meal filled you up* – before actually discussing the record.
There’s little to surprise you sonically in the album – it’s a collection of moody, hooky torch songs tied together by the vague lyrical gangsta Nancy Sinatra concept, sung in del Ray’s oddly detached voice. The peaks of the album – Video Games, obviously, but also Dark Paradise and Diet Mountain Dew – are instantly memorable pop songs. Some of the lesser tracks get a bit tedious, but even they have enough personality and attitude to carry it over. I’m not convinced that Lana del Ray is going to be able to squeeze any more juice out of this particular lemon, but right now she’s the most interesting pop star around (I love Azaelia Banks as much as the next man, but she’s not quite there yet.)
Or possibly she’s just Dido for the kind of thirty-something wanker who lists Wild at Heart as their favourite Lynch film.
Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas
Dr John – Locked Down
Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball
Old buffers, doing their thing. In each case the album reminds me of why I loved them in the first place.
Old Ideas starts with an epitaph (“I love to speak with Leonard, he’s a sportsman and a shepherd, he’s a lazy bastard living in a suit”) and goes on to cover loss, loneliness, depression, death and old age with the same level of wit and insight. It might not be the album I listen to most this year but I bet it’ll be the one that stays with me the longest.
Dr John’s party never stops, and the edgy production really suits his voice and his songwriting. I really struggled to pick one track from the album because they’re all great.
Springsteen’s return to tubthumping agitpop, though, was pretty easy to choose from. The whole album is the kind of magisterial, widescreen protest record that Joe Strummer never quite managed to pull off, but “We Take Care Of Our Own” is – as I admit basically everyone has pointed out but it’s still true – the nearest thing to a new “Born in the USA” anyone’s yet come up with.
Graham Coxon – A&E
Slightly younger buffers doing their thing, with wildly variable results. There seems to be a degree of controversy about Spiritualized, with different views on when, precisely, they stopped being even remotely interesting. After 1997s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space appears to be the consensus. Listening to this utterly generic and pedestrian set of musical and lyrical clichés, I’m inclined to argue that the last time Spiritualized were genuinely worth a listen was their debut single. Which is why that’s in the clip above, to spare anyone’s time.
Graham Coxon, on the other hand, is going from strength to strength. If Damon Albarn has taken the expansive, eclectic, ambitious side of Blur to all sorts of exciting new places – since the last Mostly Records there’s been the astounding DRC music, the slightly less astounding Rocket Juice and the Moon, probably a couple of Gorillaz albums I’ve missed, and next week his opera about Dr Dee gets released – Coxon has whittled down the locked groove at the heart of the band. A&E is a great, great record, halfway between the best of Blur’s album tracks and mid-period Fall. I loathed Blur, for no good reason, at the time, and I’m kind of glad that Alex James, at least, is still justifying that irrational hate all these years later.
Crybaby – Crybaby
Alabama Shakes – Boys and Girls
Oddly meticulous reconstructions of music of the past. Both acts would be utterly forgettable were it not for unbelievably great singers. I’ve never heard anyone genuinely sound like The Smiths to the degree to which Crybaby do, while Alabama Shakes are pretty great on record and must absolutely tear the roof off live. I would have included Civil Wars here, but they haven’t left even the slightest trace on my memory.
Futureheads – Rant
When the Futureheads first appeared with their cover of Hounds of Love, they appeared to be a brilliant novelty act, halfway between Snuff and Showaddywaddy. I was a little disappointed that the album was mostly meat and potatoes indie rock, with the doo-wop vocals only occasionally livening things up. After that first album I more or less ignored them, though the Hounds of Love always makes me grin when it appears
Everyone else seems to have completely ignored Rant, an acappella album of covers and retreads of their back catalogue, presumably writing it off as another novelty record. For me, though, it’s the most infectious and thrilling pop record of the year so far, from their gorgeous cover of Richard Thompson’s Beeswing to Somerset drinking song The Old Dun Cow, which my children have been singing non-stop for a fortnight:
*OK, I lied. This is as good a place as any to point out that anyone who uses the ghastly word “hipster” in any context other than a discussion of Norman Mailer is, for that reason alone, an arsehole. Except Simon Reynolds, though he should know better.