Friday, December 29, 2006

The Music of Our Year

Usually, on driving into work, The Wife is bombarded by random and weird musical pleasures. Always at around ten kilometres from home, the reception of her (and our) favourite station becomes fuzzy, and she begins to fiddle around with the radio.

Inevitably, she ends up listening to ‘Rockland’, a station entirely dedicated to playing what they call ‘Classic Rrrrawk’, better known to the rest of us as classic rock.

Sometimes fate smiles, and it’s not Bon Jovi that she has to listen to. There have been those good moments when ‘Mrs. Robinson’ was followed by ‘Like a Rolling Stone’; I don’t know what you think, but I find that combination quite a nice accompaniment to the morning drive-in (but what it has to do with ‘Classic Rrrrawk’ remains mysterious).

‘Centrefold’ (by the J. Geils Band for those of you too young to remember) is nice song for an aging academic to blurt along to in a traffic jam, recalling, as it does, the bittersweet memory of early puberty. (Something which I can confirm from my side as well…which is odd, since back when we were both listening to that song the first time there were about four thousand kilometres between us.)

It being the Christmas season recently, they’ve been playing 70s and 80s seasonal pop up and down the dial and, lo and behold, there it was: Slade’s ‘Merry Christmas’, the ultimate knicker-dropping, table dancing, office party favourite – at least in Britain. You don’t get to hear it that much here in Germany. Actually, I can’t tell you what is the favourite this side of the Channel, though Wham's ‘Last Christmas’ (yuk!) might be a safe bet.

Speaking of music and our relentless march across the calendar to a new year (which might finally see the much delayed bird-flu apocalypse finally victorious), it is also the season for year-end best-ofs in all the glossy music mags to which we eagerly subscribe.

Our problem, though, is this, and the realisation was as unpleasant as it was sudden. As late as last year, we could still count ourselves as reasonably cool. Of the groups represented in the top fifty ‘albums of the year’ in something like Musikexpress or Spex, we recognised, appreciated and had, possibly, financially supported a good quarter of them.

This year: it’s a different story. Not only have we not heard many of the most recent bands around, we haven’t even heard of them. (And what’s more, to be honest, were not all that bothered to change that.)

Nonetheless, we can both say with great certainty that music has remained an important (indeed a central) aspect of our lives. And, as much as we enjoyed finding some things which were new (at least to us) there we also had plenty of opportunity in the last 12 months to rediscover some old favourites (or things we had previously missed). So, rather than offering up a ‘top ten’ of the last year’s important music – in the sense of what was important and new – we offer a more truthful, if meandering, list of the music which we found important to us in the last year, regardless of when it originated.

So, without further ado, the Obscene Desserts Important Music To Us Awards for 2006. (In no particular order.)

Oye Como Va

The monsters of our unconscious are bizarre and bothersome things indeed. We can’t remember what sparked this vague memory, but it manifested itself in a question.

(The Husband, with inquisitive and hopeful expression.) ‘You know, Schatz, that song…Duh duh duh duh duh duh duh…duh duh duh…duh duh…UUrgh! Badda baappa bah. Dah DAH dah...’.

This partially coherent fragment of some dimly remembered melody (well, rhythm more than anything) had been haunting me for a week at least. The Wife knew it too, but couldn’t immediately place it. However, it quickly turned out that she has the better sense of rhythm. At, after several of my own failed attempts, she successfully found the source of my obsession. Santana’s 'Oye Coma Va'.

This led to an immediate shift to and the purchase of a cheap, used copy of Santana’s Greatest Hits. Which, as it turned out, became one of the most listened-to albums of the autumn in our household and, more importantly, in the car, especially on our September trip to Normandy. (A particularly memorable moment: listening to this album 4 times in a row while on the return journey from visiting the Normandy beaches.)

The Voice of John Watts (and others)

[A guest contribution from The Wife]

Another “now what is that?” story. Delving into the pile of CD-cases on the floor of the car during a boring moment at a red light, I stumbled across one a home-burnt CDs that could contain anything from Counterstrike to Mystical Chants. Fortunately, in this case, it was neither, though I must say I wish my brother were a more diligent labeller of CD cases. What I heard on courageously sliding the shiny disk into the narrow slot to the right of the steering wheel was a rather distinct voice, which I recognised from my younger days.

Think: nights spent partying. Think: driving around in the morning mists with a carload of sleeping friends. Think: a dim, haunting background fear of nuclear annihilation.

Think: tapes.

Anyway: the CD contained a relatively recent album by John Watts, to whose voice I had listened for a whole summer back in the eighties. Already then I liked the voice – as distinct almost as that of Joe Strummer, bless ‘im – more than the songs, though the album somebody had taped me then (Red Skies over Paradise, with the Rocky Horror Picture Show on Side B) has a few good tracks. The Husband and I agree that his albums are overproduced and he should just stick to a guitar and micro (much like Jill Sobule and Elvis Costello). And I have a nagging feeling that if he’s not careful he might become another of those whining pop-do-gooders who I have ranted about in the past.

But: the line: “I think I’ll stick a Luger down my dress” from the excellent ‘Walking the Doberman’ (on BigBeatPoetry) can’t be beat. Or maybe it can: “What’s wrong with a little destruction” from Franz Ferdinand's 'The Fallen' comes a close second.

The issue of voice reminds me of another highly recommendable band: the Notwist, from darkest Bavaria. The fragile beauty of 2002's Neon Golden (and the eerie but somehow consoling voice of Markus Acher) came back to us recently while watching Jörg Adolph's excellent making-of documentary On/Off the Record.

The Flaming Lips

Although I first discovered the Flaming Lips in 2004 with their album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, it wasn’t till this year that I managed to pay attention to the releases which preceded and followed that one. And I am certainly happy I did. At War with the Mystics is full of all those elements which The Wife dismisses as ‘Prog rock’ and which I…well, which I celebrate as ‘Prog rock’.

But it's an amazing album about…well, mainly about sex, death and science as I can tell. Then I bought 1999’s The Soft Bulletin, which is also about…well, sex, death and science.

But this is a far more musical mix than you might think. As I described them on my website once: ‘If aliens were to land in the Midwest and make music, this is something what it would sound like.’

Sufjan Stevens

Stevens is apparently interested in releasing one album for each American state. So far, he’s managed Michigan and Illinois. So, as far as I’m concerned, he’s just about done. (Michigan’s not so important, but Illinois, for obvious personal reasons, is. He just needs to do Maryland, and then he’ll have crossed off the states-that-are-important-to-me list. And then he can retire.) Come on feel the Illinoise is very listenable, especially on quiet, moody autumnal days. Particular highlights: ‘Casimir Pulaski Day’, ‘Chicago’, ‘John Wayne Gacy, Jr.’


Console is a project by the Notwist member Martin Gretschmann. I quite enjoyed Console’s 2002 album Reset the Preset. This year’s Mono was something else. Icy, spare, relaxed…but compelling. It sounds like background music and, then again, it's something much, much more. With more than a nod to Eno’s Music for Airports.

Here's a video from Reset the Preset, 'Suck and Run':

Grateful Dead: Anthem of the Sun

Um, yeah, what can I say about this. I used to be quite a Dead fan in my youth. Like the rediscovery of Hunter S. Thompson (and perhaps related to it), I've been finding a lot of other things recently which I once loved but, somehow, in the meantime lost track of. I ordered Anthem of the Sun, since it was one of the albums which I wasn't so familiar with and I wanted to discover them anew. quite an extraordinary album. Even without used to accompany my love of the Dead back in the day.


I was a bit worried about Jarvis Cocker. I loved Pulp, and seeing them live in Washington, D.C. after the release of Different Class is one of those concerts I'll never forget.

But...then Pulp broke up. And then..., well, then Jarvis got…kind of depressive and strange.

So, it’s good to see, just in time for this list, that he’s gotten his act together. ‘Fat Children’ is not only an anthem for the lost (fat, lazy and fucking useless) youth of our times (and the not so youthful that they torment)…it also…rocks.

The Mountain Goats

Not only was 'Woke up New' a great song…but the album turned out to be excellent as well. Though…not for the faint of heart or temperamentally suicidal.

Just as a reminder:

And the rest of the best:

Belle & Sebastian
I haven't yet bought The Life Pursuit, but as part of some kind of sampler, I got to enjoy the excellent song, 'Another Sunny Day'

Death Cab for Cutie
The album Plans, especially 'What Sarah Said' and 'I will Follow You Into the Dark'

The Books
Lost and Safe

Lieder vom Ende des Kapitalismus

Sportfreunde Stiller

Who can forget this? The real anthem of the 2006 World Cup. I mentioned it here.

Texas Lightning

Germany's entry for this year's Eurovision Song Contest was...from a country band. With a drummer who is a well-known comedian in Germany. And...the song was...excellent. So excellent it makes me weep.

And it was unjustly treated in the contest. I blame the new eastern block.

For those of you who missed it:

Warren Zevon

2006 also marked my rediscovery of the much-missed Warren Zevon.

I think this says it all.

Robocop Kraus

Long before British bands rediscovered the music of the late 1970s, some Franconians were already at it with a vengeance. The Wife had been planning to write a longer piece on the mystery of English-language lyrics by German rock bands (which, you never know, she might still find the time to write). For now, let it suffice to mention a beautiful one-liner from by The Kraus (not, Krauts), from 'In Fact You're Just Fiction': 'You are alone to the greatest extent'. (Now if someone didn't consult a thesaurus before writing this one...)

Mind you, the Park are good at this sort of thing too: 'You react to my riposte' comes damned close to Fränglisch all on its own....

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