[sic] Magazine

The noughties – a decade in music – part one

The noughties – a silly word. I don’t like it much. Bet you don’t either. All the music magazines have featured some kind of list or piece on the last decade. So how can [sic] Magazine be [sic] Magazine and buck the trend? Certainly it seems churlish simply not to bother. So, I’ve done a list of albums. (Yes I’m a dinosaur who still values the long-player. More on that later) The difference, the freshness, the [sic]ness if you wish, is that the list isn’t the usual know-it-all, industry generic. It’s my personal list.

The trouble with writer or journalist listings is the inevitable herd mentality. Most of the same albums keep re-surfacing – Sufjan, Bon Iver, Strokes etc. Professional writers prefer to run as closely to the pack as possible only striving for individuality by making the subtlest changes to the ordering or by throwing in the occasional left-field pick. There are plenty of good reasons of course. By engaging with the generic, they serve, in a way, to prove themselves right. They also serve the industry’s purpose who in turn serve the magazines purpose. After all, the magazines want that exclusive interview with, say, Animal Collective, so they are bound to include them. The result? We end up discussing pretty much the same things, only debating the finer detail.

“Arcade Fire ABOVE Radiohead? Madness!”

(Speaking of Madness, I saw them in a ‘Best of 2009’ list recently!) So we sweat the small stuff and of course the favourite trick of the magazines is the ‘outrage’ tactic.

“Lily Allen in, but no Joanna Newsom????” How can we take seriously….” etc etc . Stir up an argument. Fill up those letter pages. Swell those comments. Get people coming back. It’s a trick and it’s one of the oldest ones in the book. We don’t do it here. That’s why we’re not rich but possibly why you like us.

Some antics

We’ll come back to the list. But first, what the hell was that last decade all about? 2000 kinda started with a whimper. All that angst of the Nineties. (Remember ‘pre-millennium tension’?) After all the fireworks we collectively woke up, rubbed bleary eyes and thought ‘what happens next?” One of the first trends I noticed was the return of post-punk. (I would notice this because I was all over it first time around.) I will stress that there is nothing wrong with a revival or even soundalikes providing the bands are a) good and b) don’t copy the old material. Doves, I think gave us something fresh and new with Lost Souls even if it sounded as though it was bathed in Mancunian street lighting bottled since 1983. N’owt wrong with that. Of course it took a bunch of New Yorkers to nail it down. Sorry people, you can keep your Strokes records. Is This It? No Sir, it isn’t, wasn’t and never will be as thrilling as Interpols majestic Turn On The Bright Lights. Personally I hadn’t heard anything that brooding since Puressence’s dazzling debut half a decade previously.

So post-punk came back and we’d probably soon find that virtually everything at least tried to make a comeback. (Shame there wasn’t a lot of Dub, reggae or Ska actually, now I think about it) We could even make a case for the White Stripes taking skiffle and giving it a 21st century slant. Whatever. The industrys reaction to the post-punk revival and indeed the continuation of the angst rock started by The Bends was to soften it up and water it down for mass consumption. Gentle, diet melancholy for the masses. Travis, Coldplay, Starsailor, Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, Keane – all these groups benefited from the public need to have some safe sadness in their lives and on their coffee tables.

The bowery electrifying Sigur Ros

As post-punk waxed so post-rock waned. Yes there were some lovely moments along the way but post-rock never lent itself to the long-play format in the first place. The one band who truly broke free of the genre limitation had to be Sigur Ros. It helps when you have vocals, it really does. The voice gives so much more personality than any other instrument. I don’t recall too many wonderful, start to finish, instrumental guitar albums. When you rely on instrumentals, you have to be rather good to keep it going.

So to my big find of the decade – electronica. Everyone probably knows the WARP end of things. This started well before the decade. In fact, Kid A, many peoples pick as album of the noughties, is really a homage to the likes of Autechre, Aphex Twin and Squarepusher. When I speak of electronica then, I guess I’m focusing more on the downtempo, ambient, nu-gaze, indietronica side of matters. Think Ulrich. Think m83. The noughties were obviously a decade where the technology caught up with the ideas. This has happened throughout history. Changes in recording tape…..voila, ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’. FX pedals…voila, shoegazing. In the 00’s we had pro-tools. Anyone could make an album. Everyone did. The good ones…well…the good ones were very good indeed. You just had to find them. Of course I’m doing a lot of artists a disservice. The technology was only part of the story. Those who were musicians already, who augmented their software efforts with acoustics, field recordings, vocals and/or good old fashioned amplified guitars, were often the ones who really hit gold.

Cabinescence forever

You may have noticed how much of my stuff leans towards the darker or more melancholic side of things. Yet one trend that left me a little bit cold was the folk revival. Take one heartbroken bloke, lock him in a cabin for a year with a broke-string banjo for company and what do you get? Half a beard and a lauded album.
I can take or leave that stuff if I’m honest But it was there – the winsome folk-singer. So it merits mention. Doubtless there was plenty of alt-country and Americana too. Just isn’t my bag. With some exceptions of course. I guess I just see it as music’s equivalent of over acting. Sometimes there’s a thin line between masterful performance and mugging.

Then there was the ensemble band. Remember? Thirty or forty people in the group. All cousins. Maybe even dressed in robes. And of course no ‘leader’. Sometimes there were more people on stage than off it. I say gimmick. It’s been done before. (Scritti Politti had that same communal set-up and then suddenly it was paired down to a select few in a Green Gartside dictatorship. Some muddled ideology there. Thompson Twins did the same.

Of course, for every action there is a reaction. With such liberal doses of melancholy in evidence there was bound to be a resurgent optimism at some stage. I think this manifested in a number of ways. You firstly have the talent shows. (THE biggest movement in popular music has to be the return of Saturday Night, family entertainment. The cult of personality taken to the n’th degree. ‘We’ll MAKE our own pop-stars and have a reality show as vehicle.’ How very now.)
Secondly, and moving closer to our preferred spheres of music, we also had a kind of glam rock (glam pop) reprise. I’m thinking of The Klaxons brightly burning year or MGMT’s wonderful hit singles. And of course there are a whole slew of bands who, after kneeling at the alter of Brian Wilson, then offered all manner of quirky re-takes on West coast harmonics. Strange how often an animal would feature in the name. Fleet Foxes, Hawk and a Hacksaw, various Bears (Grizzly, Panda) plus of course, Animal Collective. I like harmonies, but they always speak to me of sunshine and ‘can-do’, optimism. A new gospel maybe? It’s a far cry from my gloomy, rain-swept cities of choice and therefore doesn’t float my boat quite as much as it probably does yours.

Summed up like that it would appear that very little has happened in the music scene of any real consequence. Certainly there was no noughties equivilent to Punk, Rap or Drum and Bass. Yet there were real sea-changes culturally. Did you notice how the monthlies began to feature more and more re-issues until these pages came to rival the new releases? If we’re honest, we could go further and say, the re-issue pages were more interesting. Everything got re-mastered, re-released and therefore (crucially) re-bought by us the ever-compliant consumer. I do it too. I have bought some records on almost every format known to mankind. But it is a trap to beware of. So when you see those shiny new Beatles and Kraftwerk versions, be sure in a while they’ll be ‘bargain bucket’ and shortly afterwards you won’t find CD’s on sale anywhere, for love nor money. It’s all downloads these days. Nothing new about that but things have certainly moved at pace since the days we were all discussing the download threat to the industry. While the labels fretted about Napster and Soulseek. Apple stepped into the war, late, and won the damn thing. The walkman (sorry, iPod) became the de rigueur fashion accessory. I mean this. Fashion. This is key to understanding it. In a way Apple has saved music. It was on its dying legs before but now the in-crowd have fallen back in love with songs. Not only that, they love to post, tweet, share, blue-tooth, discuss, pass-around. Music is bringing people together again. On networking websites and at gigs. Festivals are rising. Shared music is the new movement.

Walk on the wildlife side

My only fear for the future is the death of the album. There was a time, say, before Rubber Soul, when albums were little more than bundles of ‘hits and bits’ – the singles, b-sides and cover versions on one cheap package for everyone who hadn’t already taken the plunge and purchased. (It’s all about parting you from your money. Don’t forget that and don’t be foolish enough to dream it might be anything else). In a future of server-based streaming or out and out downloads we can be sure a toll will be involved but where’s the incentive for bands to create a ‘body of work’ album? Or a gem of a b-side even? This is a concern because from around 1965 onwards music entered a kind of golden period and I for one believe the album format aided this. Two sides of 20-25 minutes each just seemed to work perfectly. When CD’s displaced vinyl and people started making 70 min albums (with no ‘sides’) this seemed to stretch both the creativity of the artist AND the patience of the listener beyond normal tolerances. I’m just not convinced single mp3’s are the answer. It is from one extreme to the other. We may be headed back to the early Sixties days of over-reliance on singles, with albums as mere bundles etc But I will say this, I believe that formats and cultural phenomena like Facebook, iPhone (and associated applications) will have more baring on the future of music than any new band/new sound. Music listeners these days are not looking for a rallying socio-political statement any more. We used to have ‘Born In The USA’, ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ and ‘What’s Goin’ On?’ Now we have ‘Chasing Cars’.

‘Have you heard this, its really nice? Hang on, I’ll Bluetooth it you’

Interactivity has usurped political activity. Inclusion is the new revolution. “All you need is love”. And love, seemingly is all you need.

Then again, maybe something will come along and blow it all away.

As mentioned at the start, my list is my own personal listening of preference from the last ten years. I’m not trying to position myself with the critics, nor deliberately trying to be obtuse about it. It’s just a ‘me’ list. Rob Gannon will do a more professional job, certainly and we’ll await his picks in part two. There are only a few self-imposed rules to tell you about. No ‘best of’s, no re-releases and I decided not to include any artist more than once. Yes, it’s a bit of an odd one that. In many ways the list is greatly devalued or at least a little dishonest. Why I did it was simply this – I thought, ‘what is the value of having a top ten with three Sigur Ros albums?’ (might easily have been the case) How does that help any reader? Three from the Icelanders and at least two from The National? That would make half my top ten provided by two bands! It might be truthful. It might be even be beautiful. But is it functional?

Thanks for reading.

Fifty albums then and here come thirty of em;

21. Idlewild – 100 broken windows
22. Outkast – Speakerboxxx/love below
23. The Knife – Silent Shout
24. The Divine Comedy – Regeneration
25. Bjork – Vespertine
26. Mogwai – Rock Action
27. epic 45 – Against the pull of Autumn
28. I Am Kloot – Natural History
29. Sol Seppy – The Bells of 1 2
30. Bitcrush – Epilogue in waves
31. Yo La Tengo – Then nothing turned itself inside out
32. Trespassers William – Different Stars
33. The Streets – original pirate material
34. Massive Attack – 100th window
35. GY!BE – Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven
36. I love you but I’ve chosen darkness – Fear is on our side
37. British Sea Power – Do you like rock music?
38. Film School – Hideout
39. Ulrich Schnaus – A Strangely Isolated Place
40. The Veils – Nux Vomica
41. Spoon – Ga ga ga ga ga
42. Black Tie Dynasty – Movements
43. Catherine Wheel – Wishville
44. Githead – Art Pop
45. Magnetic Fields – 69 love songs
46. Sophia – Technology won’t save us
47. Rob Dickinson – Fresh wine for the horses
48. The Search –The Search
49. Grammatics – Grammatics
49½. The Killers – Hot Fuss (side one thereof)

The top twenty:

20. The Cure – Bloodflowers

Surprised? So was I. The Cure’s last great album was this, a kind of sequel to their absolute best, Disintegration. They played it in full on their ‘Trilogy’ tour. Smith, who’d always swung wildly between his Goth, daymare stuff and daft, jaunty pop, suddenly got all weary and reflective on us. The first grown up Cure record. A lovely record.

19. The Arcade Fire – Funeral

Not much to add. For me, Neon Bible has the better tracks, but Funeral is well-rounded and consistent.



18. Editors – The Back Room

Get the double disc version with the extra ‘Cuttings’ and you’ll see a band who had it all. If your outtakes include tracks of the majesty of ‘Release’ or ‘Let Your Good Heart Lead You Home’ you must be onto something. They were. They’re not anymore.


17. Bark Psychosis – Codename: Dustsucker

What’s cooler than cool? Okay not as good as Hex but what is? Dustsucker was a wonderful, modern return to the Bark Psychosis guise for Sutton. And a damn excellent record in its own right.


16. Elbow – Asleep in the back

They took the Mercury with their fourth album. I liked the Seldom Seen Kid well enough but Asleep In The Back is the one for me. ‘Any Day Now’ booms in like something from Trojan. (Lee Perry), ‘Red’, ‘Newborn’….’Scattered Black and Whites’ for fucks sake! Giving the Mercury to Seldom was like giving Scorsese his Oscar for The Departed.

15. Last Days – The Safety of the North

Don’t chew yourself up if you don’t know Last Days. Just begin correcting your error without further delay. He has made three albums already. You are so going to love me when you hear them.


14. Death Cab For Cutie – Transatlanticism

“I need you so much closer”

By far their best record and a real choker. As heartbreaker albums go, you can keep your Bon Iver’s. I’m sticking with Gibbard. Just don’t rummage around the glove compartment without Kleenex. You have been warned. Beautiful.

13. The Appleseed Cast – Low Level Owl Volume One

Big surprise this. The Appleseed Cast straddle post-rock and I guess you might say a kind of emo-kid, indie? Lovely tracks here and wonderful little segues. They were rarely as good again. But Vol 2 and Peregrine are worth picking up.


12. TVOTR – Return to Cookie Mountain

TV On The Radio are in every list…..with (oh) Dear Science! Why? I wonder sometimes, I really do. This was the one. The dark preachers. The laying on of hands. The sheer weirdness of ‘Playhouses’ and the imperial ‘Wolf Like Me’.


11. Doves – Lost Souls

Doves probably started what I call the ‘one and a half albums band’ trend. This loosely translates as having a wonderful debut, but never being able to back it up. Last Broadcast isn’t a bad record but it is a bit bloated and bombastic at times. Diminishing returns had certainly set in. No, I favour Lost Souls. It has real atmosphere and personality. I like the way the running order seems almost backwards as it wrestles itself away from ambience and grows ever more steadily pop until we reach the climactic anthem ‘The Cedar Room’.

10. Snowden – Anti-Anti

One of the genuine originals of the post-punk revival. I love what Jordan Jeffares is doing with tonality. Anti Anti is both solid AND spectacular. I’m hoping for a follow-up this year. Jordan promises it’ll be like comparing OK Computer to The Bends.


9. port-royal – Flares

My preferred electronic act will probably be scratching their heads why I told them, (and the world), Dying In Time was their best album and here I am opting for Flares. In truth Genoa’s port-royal could have eaten up a large portion of my decade list by themselves. I have to keep coming back to Flares because Flares is where it all started for me. Not heard this? I think a little searching might allow a free download. I’m so good to you lot.

8. KENT – Du och jag döden

They say Kent are the biggest selling act in Sweden, out placing even U2 and Radiohead. These are neat comparisons because they have something of both bands. Also a dash of New Order and Depeche Mode. The problem is not them. It’s us. You see, Kent are the kings of the hook-laden chorus but it takes a few plays to get it. Since they operate in their native language, on first play they can seem a bit europop. They aren’t. They’ll snag you if you listen twice. Du & Jag Doden is their darkest album and my own personal favourite. “Why won’t you listen?” Indeed.

7. The Boxer Rebellion – Union

I’m in danger of going on and on about this. Put simply, Union is my album of the year and my story of the year too. Exits would easily have made the fifty too. I love this band.


6. The Twilight Singers play Blackberry Belle

When Afghan Whigs ended, Greg Dulli formed Twilight Singers and it all seemed a bit watered down at first. Then he dropped Blackberry Belle on us. Stunning. Possibly his best record since Black Love. Pick it up if you can but the really smart people should ensure they grab any opportunity to see Dulli live. It doesn’t matter which guise. The Whigs (if only), Twilight Singers, Gutter Twins – if any of these bands pass through your town, go buy a ticket. I swear if you don’t enjoy it, I’ll refund you myself.

5. Jeniferever – Choose a bright morning

This was one of the first records I ever reviewed and I thought then, ‘I like this job’. Not unlike Appleseed Cast, Sweden’s Jeniferever are a little bit post-rock and a little bit prog with emo leanings. This is a classy record because it manages to be a good listen from start to finish but boy does it have highlights. ‘Ghost in the corner of your eye’, ‘Winter Nights’, ‘Opposites Attract’ and the ‘Sound of Beating Wings’ all bear comparison to the best around. Lead man Kristofer Jönson has also established himself as a deft producer. Touched by genius, this lot.

4. Radiohead – Kid A

You know it of course. To think that Amnesiac came from the same sessions. They could have had the greatest double album of all time.



3. The National – Alligator

I had a tough time deciding the order of my top three. Yeah, The National. I just love them. Good to see Boxer make quite a few Decade lists. No argument here. I just have a slightest leaning for Alligator. Even Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers would have made my fifty. The National are one of those bands where every track is worth getting. Try, if you can, to get the double disc version with ‘Driver Surprise Me’ and ‘The thrilling of Claire’ You can’t argue with ‘All The Wine’, ‘Secret Meeting’, ‘Mr November’ etc. Theirs is a strange, tender, literate world and I’m drawn in every time. Matt Berninger is heroic.
New material due this year.

2. Interpol – Turn On the Bright Lights

This is almost 100% unoriginal. Yet every time I play it, it electrifies me. They get the ‘Joy Division’ thing thrown their way more than anybody, including Editors, but me, I hear Television, The Chameleons and Kitchens Of Distinction. Pity, one or two tracks aside, they could never quite match TOTBL.

1. Sigur Rós– Takk

The band of the decade for me and my favourite band since Cocteau Twins so I gave them top spot. Purists will be outraged at the choice of Takk. Yes ( ) is a melancholic masterwork, and yes Ágætis byrjun is probably their greatest album from a skill and range point of view. They would all be in my lifetime list, nevermind the just previous decade. Takk though, is so playable. So joyful. I can’t help wondering if their best work is behind them now? The new record this year promises to be more ambient. We wait. We hope.

Part two

Expecting to fly