At long, long last… the “We listen” chart returns.
1. Various: Eurovision Song Contest Istanbul 2004
This may not come as too much of a surprise. Mind you, it’s about to drop down the chart like a stone, as we enter the post-Eurovision refractory period…
2. Cesaria Evora: The Best of Cesaria Evora (also Cafe Atlantico and Sao Vicente Di Longe)
We have tickets to see the “barefoot diva” in Leicester on Monday, and are expecting great things. A deep, tender, honeyed voice – understated, easy-going, seemingly effortless – which takes time to work its magic, (initially I was fairly underwhelmed) but which has steadily worked its way inside me over the past few months. Friday evening in the cottage, sipping the first beer of the weekend as we unpack the food, and the chances are that one of Cesaria’s CDs will be first out of the orange shoebox.
3. Air: Talkie Walkie
Extinguishing all memories of that dreary prog effort which almost everybody hated, this ravishingly beautiful album is at least the equal of the classic Moon Safari, and quite possibly its superior. For such seemingly gentle, undemonstrative music, the spell which Talkie Walkie casts is a powerful one; it is quite simply impossible to remain pissed off while this is playing. Possibly the most played album of the year so far. Best moment: the sweet, Bach-like organ melody at the start of Mike Mills.
4. Omara Portuondo: Buena Vista Social Club Presents Omara Portuondo
We saw Omara in concert at the Royal Festival Hall last month. Bought last December, this album was our first introduction to her music; it has been played at least once a week ever since.
5. Dani Siciliano: Likes
Dani Siciliano has previously collaborated with her partner Matthew Herbert on two terrific albums: Around The House and Bodily Functions. This album marks the final break with any residual vestiges of the deep house sound from which Herbert’s music first appeared. This is cool, sophisticated, endlessly intriguing downtempo electronica with a beguiling, organic sound. Highly recommended to just about everybody.
6. Kanye West: The College Dropout
Stunningly creative and expansive hip hop of the highest order, and easily the equal of Outkast’s Speakerboxx/The Love Below. Marcello Carlin’s lengthy and enormously helpful review says it all.
7. Various: BBC Radio 3 Awards for World Music 2004
Apart from a bit of tepid “club fusion” noodling at the beginning of the first CD, this is an exemplary guide to Who’s Hot In World. Treat it as a shopping list, and it will keep you happy for months. Highlights: Oi Va Voi, Warsaw Village Band, and the beautiful Caetano Veloso song that featured in Almodovar’s Talk To Her.
8. Coldcut: Lifestyles Vol.2
There’s nothing more overrated than artist-compiled compilation albums, is there? Another Late Night, Under The Influence, Back To Mine… all that tasteful eclecticism palls so quickly, like a box of chocolates scoffed in too much of a hurry. Yet somehow, Coldcut have pulled it off, with a selection that, while stylistically diverse, flows in a way that encourages repeated listening. Highlights: Otis Clay’s original version of The Only Way Is Up, early 80s punk-funk from Nottingham’s Medium Medium, and a great piece of mid-80s hip hop from T La Rock & Jazzy Jay which has worn remarkably well. (Memo to self: when the record deck gets re-connected, raid the 12-inchers in the attic for more of same. The Roxanne Shanté revival starts HERE.)
9. Phoenix: Alphabetical
Not as good as their debut, but it has its place; as such, my initial disappointment is slowly converting itself into a creeping fondness. The sort of album that might not be up there with your favourites, but which somehow gets played more than most. Will probably sound perfect on hot summer afternoons.
10. Franz Ferdinand: Franz Ferdinand
The hype put me off; the music won me over. Spot on, boys.
11. Prince: Musicology
His most consistent and directly commercial album since Diamonds And Pearls – and therefore, his most enjoyable. Lighter on the identikit perv-funk workouts; heavier on the guitar-based soft-rock which he has always done so well.
12. Amalia Rodrigues: The Art of Amalia
1950s and 1960s recordings from the Queen Of Fado. Did I mention we’d been to Lisbon recently?
13. Ojos de Brujo: Bari
A Christmas present from K, which went on to win a Radio 3 World Music Award. He can pick ’em.
14. Tom Middleton: The Trip
Best DJ mix CD in ages, especially the downtempo CD2.
15. Omara Portuondo: Flor De Amor
She can no do wrong.
16. Stereolab: Margerine Eclipse
Finally, after all these years, I get round to buying a Stereolab album. Funkier than I was expecting. And proggier (but in a good way). And a good deal less arid. Actually, I don’t really know what I was expecting – but I certainly wasn’t expecting something as straightforwardly accessible and enjoyable as this.
17. Erlend Oye: DJ Kicks
He mixes them, then he sings over the top of them (anything from Venus to There Is A Light That Never Goes Out). Against the odds, it works.
18. Tina Santos: Fados Do Fado
Did I mention we’d been to Lisbon recently? We saw Tina Santos perform at a tiny fado venue in the Alfama; the next day, we picked her CD up from the Fado Museum. Generic, but satisfying.
19. The Gundecha Brothers: Darshan
Classical Indian Dhrupad music, recorded live. Intense, devotional, meditative vocal improvisations, mostly drone-based, which make some giggle and others swoon. Particularly effective in the car, where the proximity of the speakers gives the voices an added intimacy.
20. JC Chasez: Schizophrenic
Sussed modern pop with a twist. A couple of iffy ballads towards the end, but when it hits, it hits big. Contains the future hit All Day Long I Dream About Sex, as used on the soundtrack of my recent performance piece.
21. Loretta Lynn: Van Lear Rose
Despite some good moments, her much vaunted collaboration with Jack White doesn’t quite do it for me. It’s all a bit too harsh, too strident, and – dare I say it? – too demographically calculated. Where Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton succeeded masterfully, Loretta Lynn’s “re-invention” leaves her sounding a little bit desperate.
22. Scissor Sisters: Scissor Sisters
Former Number One! So ubiquitous right now that I am rationing my plays.
23. Rufus Wainwright: Want One
Sleeper hit of the year! Initially irritating – all that baroque ornamentation to wade through – but something made me keep playing this album until the songs stuck in my head, and it revealed itself as a thing of beauty and wonder. Even so, I would still have lopped off the last three or four tracks; the album does tail off badly towards the end, and Wainwright’s voice begins to grate after prolonged exposure.
24. Jon Boden & John Spiers: Bellow
Traditional English Folk Music Not Crap Shockah! Two personable fellas in their twenties give it welly with the fiddle and the squeeze box, alternating between Martin Carthy-esque ballads and spirited, surprisingly complex jigs & reels, immaculately played, which make you want to tumble into haystacks with lusty farmhands.
25. Lambchop: Aw C’Mon / No You C’Mon
A move away from the austerity of Is A Woman, and back towards the lush orchestrations of Nixon. Exquisitely beautiful and memorable, particularly on Aw C’Mon, which flows like a dream.
26. Rokia Traore: Bowmboi
A Christmas present from K, which went on to win a Radio 3 World Music Award. He really can pick ’em.
27. Ilya: They Died for Beauty
Blah blah Portishead blah blah John Barry blah blah early Goldfrapp blah blah cinematic trip hop blah blah three star reviews in Sunday broadsheets etc etc. But in a good way. Honest!
28. Various: Lost In Translation (soundtrack)
My December to March blogging hiatus prevented me from raving about this film at the time. Loved everything about it, including the use of music – hence love this soundtrack.
29. Fiery Furnaces: Gallowsbird’s Bark
After repeated plays, order begins to emerge from the chaos. I think this is what’s supposed to happen with Trout Mask Replica. Except that Beefheart’s alleged classic still sounds like a horrible, atonal, made-up-on-the-spot mess to me, whereas Gallowsbird’s Bark is just reaching the tipping point between chin-stroke “interesting” and genuinely enjoyable. I’m predicting a sharp climb for this one.
30. Emma – Free Me
Ex-Spice Girl In Genuinely Good Album Shockah! Oh, you may scoff. But her next single, Crickets Sing For Annamaria, might make you reconsider. And I’m a sucker for breezy, fresh-faced sixties revivalism.