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An almost completely random collection of things I’ve loved so far in 2011

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BRAIDSNative Speaker

Braids are great. Even better to see them live, to know how young and dorky they are, how all four (two boys, two girls) are brow-furrowedly engaged in constructing the sound. Which is math-boy clever but has a big pop heart, filled with loops and samples and uneasy noises and twin delayed guitars rippling through it all.

“ … and what I, and what I found is that we
we’re all just sleeping around.
All we really want to do is love.”

(This version isn’t quite as punchy as the recorded one but it’s worth it to see them. Watch the keyboard player making the noises at the beginning and the singer trying – failing – not to swear. God, they’re adorable.)

ORCA TEAM – I’m Waiting

Here’s a perfect 2’11” of icy pop. “The sound of a surf made of tears crashing on the glacier shores of Antarctica” says Mike whose record label, HHBTM, releases Orca Team (excellent name). It’s haunting, removed, in the sense that it comes at us through walls of chill fog or from the past or from the darkness outside the party. Being cynical, pale and definitely no California Girl I quite like the idea of cold surf music. It’s rather a startling video, too.

EVERYTHING EVERYTHING – Man Alive

This could be it. This could be it. Doom on you, as my kids are fond of saying, doom on you, all those who insist that pop music now is only endless rehashes of the past, that there’s nothing new, that the olden days were the best and kids today, eh, kids today, Simon Cowell, Simon Cowell, BeiberBeiberBeiber. Fuck that and nyah nyah nyah to you: if this could have been released at any time other than NOW (2008 at a push, given that the magnificent single, ‘Suffragette Suffragette’, came out at the end of that year) then I challenge you to name it. (Yep, this is a round-up of 2011 and I am making a point about modernity, so what if the album came out last year? These are my ears, all right?) ‘Suffragette Suffragette’ is key, of course: it has growlingly macho basslines that periodically come crashing in between the verses’ perky stabs of synths like a hot drunk, shirtless man sweeping glasses from a table and swings from swagger to fey in a breath, while the remarkable Jonathan Higgs sings in the shrill, lust-raw tones of a man totally overwhelmed by the rules of sexual connection.

My death throes, this – indefinite pose, her flesh codes – inconceivable – oh suffragette, suffragette I wanna be outlawed and AWOL – no alphabet can be used yet no cassette is available – oh, I dunno how, I dunno how I’m going to reset my whole radar – forget, forget … Who’s going to sit on your face when I’m gone? Who’s going to sit on your face when I’m not there? ( … And the ball’s in your court; in the court, your balls)

Oh the words! So many words. I don’t know when I last pored over the lyrics on a sleeve like I have with those on this clever, brilliant album. Self-aware po-mo bunnies that they are, Everything Everything know the mechanics of a pop song and are happy to turn it in on itself and unlock the cogs when necessary. Man Alive is spiky enough to unsettle and delight, whether in the chill/cool manner of their fellow-silverspacesuited-travellers Metronomy, the jerky XTC-isms of Field Music or the muscular restlessness of Wild Beasts (Two Dancers and its sexed-up dynamics rather than the newie, mind), but there are enough moments of absolute, glorious beauty (yeah and yer actual TUNES) to allow it a seat in the category of swoonsome rather than simply sorted. Cos they know what’s what. They have a political canniness that so many fêted bands don’t at the moment, apparently not being able to pull their self-satisfied heads from their sunkissed Brooklyn arses long enough to notice the world collapsing. Everything Everything know that it’s all about the collapse and the horror, but it’s also all about the sex, because humans keep on with that even as the walls fall in on them. Witness the bombsite jitters of ‘MY KZ YR BF’:

And you’ve got to keep on at it with them. Keep yer ears peeled. It gets better the deeper your go; you’ll get your nightvision soon enough and then the subterranean depths will glitter for you. Promise.

And, let’s not forget, they performed at Glastonbury wearing taupe boiler suits and bright yellow wellies. Good work, lads.

The final 75 seconds of BRIGHT EYES’ final song on The People’s Key. No, scrub that, make it the final 10 seconds. Just them. ‘Course you have to listen to the rest of it too, otherwise it’s meaningless; instead of being a floodgates-opening epiphanic distillation of Conor Oberst’s latest project it’s just a word. But, whoa, that word. It gets me. That deep grainy old man voice. The world-weariness, the rolling of the ages, the peace. “Mercy,” he says. “Mercy.” This album might sound like a big jaunty potluck pop feast but it’s actually an elegy for the awful, fallible, wondrous humanity. How fucking sad it all is, how random and disastrous, the broken hearts, the broken world, the staring into the abyss, but how beautiful that humans carry on. Hold hands. Fight. Carry their love with them.

Mercy.

“One for the righteous, one for the ruling class,
One for the tyrant, one for the slaughtered lamb.
One for the struggle, one for the lasting peace,
One for you
And one for me.”

(continues overleaf)

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