2008 has – like most years – been full of ups and downs. I’m suspicious of the end of year critics who proclaim it to have been either a vintage or meagre year for music. The tunes are always out there, it’s just a question of whether you’re lucky enough to stumble upon them at the right moments. The following seven songs may not have been the most popular or most prominent songs of the year, but I chanced upon them at the right moment to hear their magic.
This will, perhaps, be the song that stays most with me. For ever put off by the band’s name, this was the year I put my defences down and realised that I had missed one of the most innovative and important bands of the last ten years. In common with the rest of the album alligator (2005), this song pulls out all the tools at this gifted band’s disposal – from vocal lines through to the drums (how many bands can you name where the drums are used as an instrument rather than a fancy metronome?) – and employs them effortlessly to create a searing epic full of ambiguity and space. A band not afraid to aim high.
How do you make a song brave, ballsy, and fragile at the same time? Well, you could do worse than listen to Ryan Mintz’s Open Relationship to take your cue. Everything here rests on Mintz’s voice – similar to Cat Stevens in some respects – which rather than being perfect is beautifully human. My chief complaint about soul-searching singer-songwriters is that most rarely manage that elusive alchemy that changes navel-gazing into art that can move someone else, or to put it another way, from a whine into a solid song. Mintz does just that here.
There’s nothing more satisfying – for a music fan – than watching a band progress, perfecting their art. For me, Scottish band Biffy Clyro had always been full of potential, but never quite lived up to their promise. The album Puzzle (2007), though announced itself as that moment when their intelligence, melody, and passion all gelled together in equal meaure – balanced, and yet rocking on the edge. It was superb, and this was one of the best moments. A song facing death and loss, transforming the pain into a poetic, poignant, and huge love song.
Andy White, I reasoned to myself back in the ’90s in Dublin, is an acquired taste and won which I don’t have. His voice too distinctive, his northern roots too apparent to make sense to me. It might be age or wisdom that lead me to re-evaluate this year, as I spent muchpleasant time in the company of his songs – or perhaps it was simply that this song would win over the harshest of critics. It’s crafted, light of heart, and full of the joys of life. Rave on. Can’t find a decent video from youtube, so head straight over to Andy’s MySpace page to hear the song.
This year saw the welcome return to form of Belgian band dEUS, after the relative dissapointment of their last album Pocket Revolution (and relative is the key word there – even when they’re not 100% on form they’re more interesting than most others). In an upcoming interview with TMO Tom Barman apparently* voiced dissapointment with how this track, a duet with Elbow’s Guy Barlow, turned out, but to my ears it’s just perfect. Lush, romantic, and experimental the song takes as its pivot the image of Maria Schneider, the star of Bertolucci’s classic Last Tango in Paris and becomes a grand meditation on ageing, fame, and the passing of time. The video is a live performance, from the studio (but it’s missing Barlow and the lush sound)
This is an old song, but one that suddenly found a new audience this year thanks to the huge success of the Irish film Once. While the film centres on the songs of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, there is a magical moment when, at a party, Fergus O’Farrel of the Interference sings this, one of his signature tunes. It’s apt because the song is, it seems to me, very much about being amongst friends – about the opposite of isolation. It opens with an acoustic guitar setting the tone, shortly followed by the other instruments joining in – and joining in is the key phrase here. Then O’Farrell’s unmistakeable voice, perfectly complimented by Hansard’s backing vocals, takes over – with the musicians playing around and in response. As his voice swoops, moulding the song to its climax, the various elements of the song unite into something positively thrilling.Beautiful is an over-used adjective when talking about songs, but there’s no more appropriate description here. This song is a thing of rare beauty.
*TMO editor Andy Lawless did the interview recently, and let me see a draft.