5 Club 8 - Pleasure
Recently, a photograph of a young chap holding a Nevermind LP did the rounds, the supposed sucker punch being that the money chasing baby and the young man were one and the same. "Do you feel old?" it asks. Well, no, not really. I mean I do, but for entirely unrelated reasons like not being able to turn on a sixpence, or drink, sleep and work in the same 24-hour period.
Realising that Club 8 began 20 years ago, however, somehow did make me sigh for lost youth. Perhaps it's because unlike Nirvana, whose impact on my life is mostly limited to a single incident memorable for its co-incidental timing, Club 8 is more like a good friend I've known for years without ever truly noticing that we've grown old together. Recording for Sweden's wonderful Labrador Records, Karolina Komstedt and Johan Angergård have now released 9 albums. Their latest, Pleasure, serves up more of the cool slickness heard on Above The City, and doesn't waste an electropop beat or a drop of Martini over its perfectly realised 24 minutes.
Angergård said of the album -
Pleasure reflects love and sexuality, and things that are supposed to be pleasurable but come with anxiety, too-high hopes, or unmet longings. The record is about wanting things to be something that it will not be and it's very difficult for another person to live up to this.
One of the joys of growing old together without realising is the absence of that sort of anxiety - instead you get the comfort and joy of seeing someone again after, wait how long has it been?
4 Belle and Sebastian - Girls in Peacetime Want To Dance
There aren't many bands left from my first decade of musical love. Not ones that have stayed the course, anyway. But as a cavalcade of early 90s indie crests "reunion hill" preparing to charge - merchandise for lances, reissues and sold-out tour ticket stubs as a shield - Stuart Murdoch and friends just turned away and went their own way once more. But they've gone disco too late! But it's half-hearted!
But it's great fun, and I'll sing along if that's ok with you. And I'll fall in love with the unselfconsciousness of "Play For Today" and "The Party Line", and the shifting signatures of "The Everlasting Muse", before slipping into something a little more melancholic for "The Cat With The Cream" and one of the year's finest closing tracks, "Today (This Army's For Peace)".
3 Cheatahs - Mythologies
Reverse engineering the decades-old shoegazing template, with their second album Cheatahs fashioned a deconstructed noise-pop flying carpet and set off on a on a journey through a cubist cosmos to a place that's full of stars. It's a one-way ticket, but figuring out the best way to hitch back is all part of the thrill of an album that wasn't afraid to mix the strange with the straightforward or air its pretensions amid its reverb.
2 Public Service Broadcasting - The Race For Space
Public Service Broadcasting's debut album Inform - Educate - Entertain was a wonderful illustration of what can happen when you have a great idea and the determination and concentration to do it justice. The work you need to look to in order to understand the genesis of The Race For Space, however, is The War Room EP. Where the album took its library of spoken-word snippets from all over, The War Room was focused on a single theme, J Willgoose Esq and Wrigglesworth creating an auditory narrative around fragments from the BFI's archive of wartime propaganda films. Videos for the EPs tracks were taken from the same archive, and the result was a thematically coherent set of audiovisuals that were both rousing and touching, connecting word and deed, music and thought.
The Race For Space, then, is a continuation of that work on The War Room, again using the BFI archive, this time to chart the story of man's quest for the stars. It's a concept album, but one that rises above the limitations of the form. It seems a strange term to apply, rather like describing popular history and science accounts as "concept books". When you listen to it start to finish, you are taken on a magical ride into the past, to the dawn of the space age, through the highs and lows, the nervous uncertainty, the euphoria, the fear and glory. And at no point during this journey does the music feel the need to push itself at you: the musical patterns are the perfect soundtrack to the stories of the characters, who come and go, each playing their part in a tale that has been told a thousand times but rarely with this clarity or wonder.
1 Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell
Whereas The Race For Space tells a tale of humankind through great scientific achievement, grand gestures and rhetoric, Carrie & Lowell tells universal truths from the opposite end of the scale. Small gestures, discrete memories, and moments of familiarity all come together in an album of remarkable emotional openness and honesty. Leaving the experimentation of his recent work behind, and the 50 states project before that, here Stevens uses the death of his mother in 2012 as inspiration for 11 tracks so gossamer they occasionally threaten to dissipate altogether. With just his gentle vocal, the merest of instrumentation, and the occasional background thrum of gentle electronica, he recalls incidents ("When I was three, three maybe four, she left us at that video store"), places (Eugene) and people, inevitably centering on Carrie, his mother, and his step-father Lowell.
It's not an easy listen, save for the loving beauty of the melodies and Sufjan's double-tracked vocal. Fourth of July closes with the repeated refrain and gut-punch of "we're all going to die", delivered not in despair, or as melodrama, but as mere observation. On The Only Thing he considers suicide. John My Beloved, meanwhile, is the single most affecting piece of music I've heard in a long while. Over nothing much by way of instrumentation, we get the most perfectly delivered final line, where even the minimal backing falls away suddenly.
There's only a shadow of me; in a matter of speaking I'm dead
If writing about music really is like dancing about architecture, then trying to recount lives through lyric and song rather than solid paragraphs of text ought to be equally redundant. Carrie & Lowell shows that to be not the case. Whatever music is to humans, whatever it does to our brains, and no matter the painful memories it can evoke: catharsis is never far away.