Tuesday, 3 February 2009

The Blue In The Air 2008 EOY List 13-11

13. DANITY KANE: Welcome To The Dollhouse

The highest-placed girl group on this list and you know what? You can actually HEAR all five of them – in the front, on the side, behind this or that beat or moment – yes, five individual women celebrating and lamenting what girl groups always celebrate and lament; love, ecstasy, loss, desire and sass. These women are vocally in control (even if they have been reduced to a trio now – no girl group is immune to diva problems, alas) and not even Rick Ross can slow down their handclaps, harmonies and heavenly skills that are sensual, bold and ballerina-en-pointe. They drive the sleek shiny yellow car through the city, privileged and “bad,” while they wonder if these designer labels can mend their hearts. They drive into the country for fresh air, free of their bad boys…for now…

=12. BON IVER: For Emma, Forever Ago
=12. VAMPIRE WEEKEND: Vampire Weekend

As you may have noticed, this blog is now a collaborative affair, a coupling, and the most natural coupling either of us could ever have hoped for. The list you are reading was compiled by both of us; every album on the list – and many others which we weren’t able to include on the list – was carefully listened to by both of us and the final order of the list was agreed by both of us (the comments were similarly composed by both of us in tandem but we trust that readers will be able to discern who wrote what). The numbering and ordering are quite deliberate; you may recall that in the early days of the British singles chart, jointly held positions were things in themselves, independent of mathematics but thoroughly faithful to logic.

Here, therefore, is a top twelve in precise keeping with the top twelve as it stood in the week ending 14 November 1952; not two different or parallel top twelves, but a dozen couplings, sets of pairs of records which seem to fit together and advance the tale this list has been attempting to tell. It is not a list as the Village Voice or Rocktimists would know it, nor is it an attempt at establishing a new order, although its new order (not the mention the secret rivulet of New Order which flows all the way through it) would be an apt soundtrack to the new order which has been established while we have been compiling it.

First, the meeting of two seemingly opposing ways of recording music; we have the lonely stoner (likely to be a central figure in 2009’s tale, and not that distantly related to the Worried Man as Robbie Robertson and Greil Marcus would have known him), the sober jiltee – that is, if this Emma ever knew – retreating to his cabin, or somebody’s cabin, on the periphery of nowhere, structuring his life and art anew; it might even be Aidan Moffat’s worried awakener in the bus stop, considering where and how he might eventually end up. He caresses, he pierces (like John Martyn, undervalued even after life, did), and somehow he weavevs these bumps, flickers and querulous clicks into – what? A trapdoor, or an escape hatch? He is alone; his voice and instrumentation stop just temptingly short of natural but you can feel that he’s trying to escape the drawing and relocate himself. And you have no doubt that he will.

Meanwhile, in the city (Manhattan to be precise, with local colour and distraction found just to the east and north on Cape Cod) we have the basic building blocks of music – almost like the courses themselves leapt out of their curriculum – the classical Western and the even more classic African merge and take over the campus. Rock’s African roots made explicit…yes. But there is more to the Vamps than passing courses, SPY magazine typography and a general prepitude (if it’s not a word, well now it is) of language. No matter what, there is a Pavementesque air to their concerns, as if they are the sophisticated-enough former townies who see the vanity fair and cosmopolitan METROPOLITAN happenings and sure enough get hopelessly caught up in them (as if they were all Nick Carraways in this less decadent Gatsby-style university world). One day they will graduate and be truly loosed upon a city that is startlingly beautiful, for many reasons: one of them being the very transience and fragility of that golden light, those all-seeing omniscient eyes capturing and framing as much as they can.

=11. NEIL DIAMOND: Home Before Dark =11. PATTI SMITH AND KEVIN SHIELDS: The Coral Sea

“His delicate eyes saw with clarity what others did not.”

The ambition to include everything; it’s not a strictly New York thing, as anyone from Walt Whitman to Elizabeth Alexander would tell you, but it’s the truth of remembering. Like Pincher Martin, Mapplethorpe’s voyage may all have been in his mind and indeed occurred after his life, or within the final, few, ravenously resigned moments of his life, but in those seconds he saw it all, clear, and it was Patti’s duty to express and re-record them, keep recording them no matter how much it pained her to do so, alone, for the best part of twenty years.

Eventually she came to London and to her bloodier valentine – well, what kept them waiting? – and set the truth down twice, in two different years and in two separate but inviolably connected forms. The Coral Sea is a hugely significant record, so significant that it briefly seemed too huge a record for this list, that somehow it existed ABOVE this list, presiding over it, floating, praying, resolving. The placings in this list are all intended in the sense that this is the order in which they best link together to tell this tale of 2008. That this record shares eleventh position does not necessarily mean that it is not the greatest record – as a RECORD –in this list.

Its fury, its love, were unmatched in 2008; its intensity and commitment beyond question. And yet it is here to bridge the personal and the public elements of this tale, since here is an extended, rangy remembrance – those final few moments kaleidoscoped out into an elegy exceeding two hours – for the loved, the missing, the burial, the ship at sea (“Never give up on that ship!” as an old philosopher said when Patti was six), the tears, the screams but above all the exhilaration, the celebration, the refusal to drown, to die in monochrome, to get home and end that darkness. It was the Church of Patti and its resurrection was inbuilt.

It’s that hour of the day; if the sun isn’t down by now, it will be soon. A time to be wary, cautious, to make sure that what appears to be real is real and not illusion. A man drives through this light with his lady, secure in knowing that what they have is genuine, not a trompe l’oeil; they sit in comfortable silence, perhaps listening just to the approaching the night itself. They are connected to each other, in their world, in THE world. It wasn’t always like this: even two, three weeks ago he was scared – yes, scared – of opening his heart and soul up one more time to someone, because he needed them TO be opened so much; it HAD to be right, and getting it right was so rare, so important. Could he? Could he take this further than mere friendship? The golden light itself gave him the nerve, the idea, that YES this was worth it, there was no reason or need to be scared, his loneliness was unnecessary. There wasn’t any more time or energy to waste.

And so, he and she are together, her grace allowing him to give himself to her, her light showing the way, even into the darkness.