Ten for a Decade
© by Russell Craig Richardson
I have now lived in the USA for ten years. here's a survey of the new musics that have coloured my days and nights, not least all those long car journeys. More than ever important. These have been the most vital to me this past decade.
2003 Hobosapiens – John Cale
After the strange and wonderful release of ‘5 Songs’, it was heartening to see Cale – now in his 60s – coming up with high energy, undeniably modern music. the first use of loops and beats which didn’t seem to be a direct lift or pastiche of bad hip-hop, with Cale’s voice sounding as on edge as ever. A reinvention that is surprisingly layered and rich. I know you can’t actually wear out CDs… but if you could, this one would have been worn out many times over.
2003 Hail To The Thief – Radiohead
more than any other successful contemporary band (as seen from an old geezer’s point of view) Radiohead have impressed me. After saturating myself with OK Computer, I fell into this record, Kid A and Amnesiac all at the same time, late 2005, so the impact was overwhelming, if out of date. I can’t find anything to complain about, and I admire their generosity, even if I think the music has lost some of its consistency through In Rainbows and King of Limbs, I have imbibed hundreds of hours of their sound. Maybe they are the Pink Floyd of modern pop. I don’t care, they convinced me. and if I throw in Thom Yorke’s The Eraser here, also convinced me that laptops and loops have the potential to be as authentic as an acoustic guitar and a voice. Always, in this context, the voice.
HAIL TO THE THIEF
2003 Tan Fiero, Tan Fragil – Fernando Garcin & M
This record, more than any other, has been the soundtrack of my American decade, I don’t think it’s only down to it being the first breakthrough of Fernando Garcin. What impressed me the most (and I have written about this elsewhere at greater length) is that TFTF represents both a valid assimilation of American idiom into a Spanish folk-rock; and it has an exuberant strength and self confidence in Fernando’s lyrics and delivery. This is very much a joyous and sincere work, but it takes off in several places, and becomes itself, rather than a sum of its influences.
The compilation Tiempo y Detalles reprises some of this, but lacks the s paces of this almost perfect album.
TAN FIERO TAN FRÁGIL
TIEMPO Y DETALLES
2004 The Milk Eyed Mender – Joanna Newsom
not cute or grating as some have insisted, but the complex result of a young musician's process, standing at the crossroads of the old, weird America, and staking a small, sincere claim to be a part of that tradition.
THE MILK-EYED MENDER
2005 Demon Days – Gorillaz
From their first album, which I actually heard on the car radio, to the multi-media splash of this, I was most impressed by the melancholy alongside the brashness. I never knew who Blur were (still don’t) but this project brought a lot of delight, and its own voice, while still reaching millions. A curious sensation, but a music which reached me entirely on its own terms, and I can’t argue with that.
2005 Come on Feel the Illinoise – Sufjan Stevens
I listened to this first via a recommendation from Green Gartside (of Scritti Politti) as an example of unalloyed optimistic music. It’s simple in intent and execution, and has some kind of tension between optimism, naivety and wistfulness… but also a series of gorgeous melodies, a pure pop dynamic which goes back to late Beach Boys or Paul Simon. Hardly fashionable, I would have suspected, but ultimately completely persuasive.
COME ON FEEL THE ILLINOISE
2006 White Bread, Black Beer – Scritti Politti
a collection of bedsit pop songs from a musician in the wilderness? Or a set of perfectly crafted quiet songs to cut against all the artifice Green had been guilty of ever since the early structuralist days. Self-aware, self-critical, but with a sense of melodic and harmonic invention that builds its own world. After immersing myself in this, I looked up Scritti Politti’s ‘lost album’ Anomie and Bonhomie, and deeply regret not having listened to that throughout the 1990s. A survivor, finally.
WHITE BREAD, BLACK BEER
2007 Comicopera – Robert Wyatt
Robert Wyatt’s ‘late output’ has in fact been stronger than his early output. From Dondestan and Shleep onward… I feel that Cuckooland and Comocopera are slightly less driven or compact, but if these had been RW’s only works, they’d still be in some kind of pantheon. So, Cuckooland… another CD which I have ‘virtually’ worn out the grooves of over the years… is still a joy, and Comicopera, as it drifts further away from rock and closer to Wyatt’s jazz roots is even better, less compliant. A critical nod from an old campaigner that all is not lost, hasta siempre, Commandante.
2010 Ragged Atlas – Cosa Brava
another ‘catch up’ saturation, driven by the Henry Cow boxed set, was to dig into the solo work of Fred Frith, of which I was almost entirely ignorant. Some 15 albums later, I latched onto this side project, and have actually seen them live in NYC. somehow the recording lacks the punch of the live band, though the delicacies come across better. Anyway, as a nod to this kind of deep folk, intelligent music, still rooted in the dance (from an abstract improviser??) this is the business.
2011 Let England Shake – P J Harvey
step back, leap forwards. from the first sneak internet preview I realized this was one of those rare works which stamps its integrity and never diminishes. if there has been a masterpiece in the last decade (to vie with Rock Bottom and Horses, or Blood on the Tracks and After the Goldrush, or Trout Mask Replica and OK Computer… this is it). It bears all the characteristics of a personal peak – a totally surprising progression in her own evolution, yet made to seem completely inevitable. As good as Dry, but farther reaching.
LET ENGLAND SHAKE
& older music, but...
2009 40th Anniversary Box – Henry Cow
though this was all recorded in the 60s 70s and early 80s, it’s unavailability until recently, plus the near saturation coverage (heavy rotation) I have been giving it, means I have to include its 14 hours of music as the main soundtrack of the past 3 years. It’s also been a painful listen to me, as I think this is what I should have been doing for the last 30 years: playing music derived from this template. That I stepped back from this tradition is probably one of my biggest regrets. Still, just the Bremen and Hamburg CDs here have influenced my editing and writing as much as any film or author, so perhaps it’s just the same. Structure, composition, craft and emotion?
40th ANNIVERSARY BOX
JOHN CALE. MAGRITTE
FERNANDO GARCIN. BELA MONTE
JOANNA NEWSOM. 'EN GALLOP'
SCRITTI POLITTI. NO FINE LINES'
COSA BRAVA. POUR ALBERT'
GORILLAZ. EL MAÑANA'
© Russell Craig Richardson