That Was The Year That Was

In 2011 I was more interested in new music than I have been in a while. I don’t think I actually bought more new stuff than usual but I definitely listened to it more than oldies which just seemed, well, old, and instead I hungered for the fresh-out-of-the-box smell of young bands. Maybe after wallowing in it for so long on this blog I’m tired of the past or I’m making a final, defiant stand against the inevitable out-of-touchness that comes with becoming an old git. As a result I thought I’d do one of those best-of-year thingies, I know every Tom, Dick and Harry Blogsworth does one but what the feck, I loved these records and anything I can do to help them shift a few more copies.

1: Kaputt – Destroyer
A lot of bands have been reviving the more fashionable sounds of the 1980s but Kaputt bravely ventured into areas previously considered beyond the pale of cool taste, namely the smooth jazz and soft-rock of Kenny G and Toto overlaid with the languid penthouse sheen of Avalon. It was the sort of “luxury pop” Patrick Bateman listened to and might have been a big kitsch joke if the songs hadn’t been so damn great with the lush music sounding like an ironic commentary on Western decadence in a way that the enigmatic lyrics only hinted at. Easily the album I played more than any other this year, and they made the best video of the year too.

2: Cults – Cults
Packed with short, sharp, sugary pop tunes (and just over half an hour long the way albums used to be) Cults sounded like The Shangri-Las if they were an indie-rock band who sang deranged songs about being kidnapped and mass suicides — it was addictive, fizzy stuff like a can of Fanta. If I was twenty years younger this probably would have been number one but in the end the smoother sounds of Destroyer was slightly more appealing to my aging ears than Cults’ spiky noise.

3: Tall Hours In The Glowstream – Cotton Jones
I’m cheating a little here because this came out in 2010 but I’d never even heard of Cotton Jones until this year and I bet you hadn’t either as they seemed so far off the usual radar I feel like I’m the only person in the world who owns this album — which only makes me love it more. Their twangy, rustic Americana isn’t usually my shot of bourbon but the songs were covered in a thick layer of dusty echo that made it sound like a long-lost Roy Orbison record playing on a rusty old jukebox in an empty roadhouse bar. So gorgeously ethereal you could almost hear the tumbleweed blowing down the lonely streets outside.

4: Gravity The Seducer – Ladytron
“Slow burner” seems like the wrong way to describe an album as icy cool as this one but with Ladytron dropping their usual electro-stomp for a more atmospheric approach it took a while for me to really, um, warm to it. Eventually it’s subtle synth washes and glassy tunes seduced me (pun intended) and though I think it has one too many instrumentals its peaks more than towered over those slight troughs and with “Mirage” they produced one of my favourite singles of the year (along with “Video Games”)

5: Helplessness Blues – Fleet Foxes
I’m not sure if every member of Fleet Foxes has a beard but they sound like they do. Some of the lyrics about owning an orchard are a tad precious but they do make a lovely sound, and on their second album the arrangements and harmonies were more intricate and ambitious making them sound less like The Rocky Mountain Male Voice Choir and more like Simon & Garfunkel and The Beach Boys on a camping trip looking up at the stars in wonder. Probably my favourite album sleeve of the year too.

I’m really in no position to judge if 2011 was a good year for music or not, I wasn’t too fussed by a lot of records that excited the cool kids (and dads) like Bon Iver, PJ Harvey, The Weeknd, and James Blake so my opinion is obviously suspect. Hell, one of my picks actually came out in 2010 so what do I know? But I’m happy as long as there are even a small handful of new records I can fall in love with every year. You take what you can get at my age.


Vinyl CD Valuables

Surprisingly the most valuable record I own might not be a record at all but a CD.

A few years ago I bought a limited edition reissue of Syreeta’s first two, Stevie Wonder-produced, solo albums on a single CD which is now deleted and currently going on Amazon for $90 to a whopping $220 for a used copy. It’s not enough to retire on but, bugger me, that’s a lot of money for a CD — it would actually be cheaper to buy them both on vinyl.

God knows why both albums are so scarce and Motown hasn’t reissued them properly (especially since Syreeta died in 2004) because, apart from the fact that there’s obviously a market demand, they’re really superb albums, among the best soul records put out in the 1970s with some of Stevie Wonder’s (her husband at the time) most brilliant synth-soul production. I mean, I’m glad to have such a valuable CD but I think I’d prefer Motown to give Syreeta a bit more respect and it to be less rare and expensive. But that’s the kind of guy I am.

Download: I’m Goin’ Left – Syreeta (mp3)
Download: To Know You Is To Love You – Syreeta (mp3)
Download: Your Kiss Is Sweet – Syreeta (mp3)

Vinyl Valuables

Though I have a record collection I’m not a “collector” if you know what I mean. I’m not a completist about any artist, not interested in spending lots of money on the acquisition of rare albums, and they aren’t kept in plastic sleeves in an alarmed, temperature-controlled room patrolled by guard dogs. But while I’ve never thought of my records like rare stamps or first-edition books I do sometimes get curious about what some of them are worth and look online to see what they’re going for. Not that I would ever sell them (never again!) but the way things have been going economically the past few years they might be more reliable investments than my retirement account, and if society goes to hell and money becomes worthless maybe I’ll be able trade them for food and petrol.

I reckon the indie post-punk records I have from the late 70/early 80s are the most likely to be worth a bob or two, and — at the risk of sounding like one of those dinner-party bores smugly droning on about how much his house is worth now — these appear to be the most desirable out of what I have from that era: Joy Division-wise, Unknown Pleasures on Factory with the original textured sleeve is worth about $25 and the Fast Records 12″ EP Earcom 2 featuring two rare JD tracks goes for around $30-$40 which isn’t too shabby. Singles-wise, The Pale Fountains’ debut “(There’s Always) Something On My Mind” on the Operation Twilight label sells for over $40 now, Aztec Camera’s “Just Like Gold” on Postcard Records (with the postcard insert) is going for between $40-$70, while The Native Hipsters’ bizarro “The Goes Concorde Again” will set you back $30-$70 — a pretty good return on records that cost me less than a quid when I bought them. Maybe I shouldn’t let my daughter play with those ones anymore.

It’s depressing to discover the current value of records I used to own and sold back in the 1990s (Bugger! Shit!) and I hope I’m never that desperate for money again. Of course my records have a “value” to me beyond any mere number but it does give one a certain smug satisfaction in knowing that your frivolous teenage obsessions do have some actual worth and all the hassle of moving them from house to house (to foreign country) over the years wasn’t for naught. This Mobdro information might also come in handy when writing my will and trying to divide my assets equally between my children: “To my daughter I bequeath my original copy of Unknown Pleasures, and to my son Closer and the 12″ of She’s Lost Control…”