Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Review of the Decade - Part 1: New names

Here I go then, jumping on the end of decade/best of articles, just like everyone else. Here is a snapshot of new bands in this decade.

The older I get the less easily I discover new music, but the early part of this decade threw up a few. Doves released their debut, Lost Souls in 2000, a welcome dose of widescreen Manchester misery, following in the downtrodden footsteps of Joy Division and the Smiths. In a similar vein, Elbow released their debut, Asleep in the Back in 2001. Though Doves’ album was the more impressive, by the end of the decade it was Elbow who had gained the plaudits, helped in no small way by their Mercury Prize win in 2008. In my view neither has surpassed their debut, indeed, Doves’ subsequent albums seemed to consciously move away from it.

On the Irish front, David Kitt emerged in 2000 with a series of low key, goose-bump inducing gigs and a wonderful mini-album, Small Moments, showcasing his soft vocals, acoustic guitar and electronic beats. Subsequent albums (and gigs) went for a bigger sound, and ultimately diminishing returns. Word is that he is playing with Tindersticks now.

Gemma Hayes’s debut album Night on my Side was an interesting blend of Nick Drake-esque acoustic folk and rougher pop with shades of My Bloody Valentine. Unfortunately the record company got hold of her and airbrushed any roughness out of her music, and her follow-up albums concentrated on smooth pop, much less endearing.

Mark Kozelek junked his Red House Painters band name and re-emerged under the name Sun Kil Moon. It wasn’t a major departure from RHP, though it did give him the freedom to be even more indulgent, with long-drawn out Crazy Horse style rockers and pretty acoustic tracks on the albums Ghost of Great Highway and April. His songwriting remained as strong as ever, which is why it was somewhat of a surprise to hear his cover album of Modest Mouse tracks, Tiny Cities. I guess it can be filed alongside his ACDC cover albums.

Mark Lanegan evolved from tortured solo artist to serial collaborator. Apart from 2 solo albums, he also found time to guest on Queens of the Stone Age albums, record 2 albums of largely folky tracks with Isobel Campbell, collaborate with Greg Dulli as the Gutter Twins, and interestingly appear as lead vocalist on 2 albums by electronica duo Soulsavers. His singing remains as strong as ever, irrespective of the backing, truly a great voice of the decade.

The National began life in 2001 with an unremarkable country-tinged self-titled album. Happily, this template was blown out of the water by 2003’s Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers. The title says everything to me about their music, describing it a lot better than I can. While they have been compared with Tindersticks, Morrissey and other ‘miserabilists’, singer Matt Berninger proved a more varied vocalist on this album, letting rip on a couple of songs. They fine-tuned this further again on the follow ups, Alligator and Boxer. In my view, best new band of the decade.

The Strokes got a lot of attention for their debut, 2001’s Is This It, which distilled a New York attitude, reminding many of Television’s Marquee Moon. And pretty damn good it was too, 11 shortish songs delivered in half an hour. Their follow up albums didn’t quite deliver on the first. It was a similar story with Interpol – Turn on the Bright Lights, their debut released in 2002 was a great collection of songs, drawing heavily on Joy Division. They also spawned a series of imitators of the imitators (Editors, Boy Division, can’t believe it’s not Ian Curtis… ok I made the last 2 up but they’ll probably mean more than the bands who did actually surface).

After the demise of alt-country band Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams launched his solo career with the critically acclaimed Heartbreaker. He spent the decade recording and releasing as many albums in as many different styles as he could, some brilliant (Love Is Hell, 29), others less so (Rock N Roll). Although he was inclined to annoy with his interviews, erratic live shows and general attention-seeking, he has proved himself above all else to be a talented songwriter.

Woven Hand sprung from the ashes of 16 Horsepower. While not a huge departure, if 16 Horsepower were fire and brimstone, Woven Hand were burning embers for the most part. It sounds like it shouldn’t work, essentially Bible bashing Goth with Americana overtones but it does. Their self-titled debut set the template for future albums, all in a similar vein.

Towards the end of the decade, Peter Broderick emerged from the shadow of Efterklang, releasing beautifully crafted albums of alternately classical and acoustic music, though I suspect the next decade will see him release something definitive.