I’d be lost without music, I really would. It underscores everything I do, everything I care about. It makes the highs higher, the lows lower, and the mundane bearable. If you said that I had to spend the rest of my life on a deserted island and could take my book library or my CD/LP library but definitely not both, I’d take neither and rely on my memory. On this little blog-shaped pamphlet with the silliest title you’ve ever come across, I’ve written about albums so terrible that I’ve felt bruised for weeks, and albums so extraordinary that I’ve needed to sit with the chooks for half an hour, sometimes longer. But here are three records that have snuck up on me until I’ve realised that I haven’t been playing anything else.
I’ve been following CocoRosie ever since I saw their videos on Rage about five years ago – Antony from Antony and the Johnsons had guest-programmed the show, which is a clue to where this is going. There’s no doubt that the music these two sisters make isn’t for everyone. For a start, one of them sings like a little girl, the other like an opera singer, which makes sense because that’s how she was trained. They’re also fond of chucking everything into the mix, including…erm…toys, so that a song can sound like they’re cleaning their teeth while strangling a cat, all the while a carpenter’s in the background fixing the shelving. And that’s in the first sixty seconds. But when they get it right, which is more often than not, it’s an intoxicating concoction. I take my music – my art in general – with a generous dose of risk-taking, bravery and heart, and you get all three on Grey Oceans (2010). This is the sisters’ best record, and they’ve not compromised one bit. In a more adventurous – and just – world, CocoRosie would be royalty. Shit cover art though.
As you may know, I’m more than a little fond of melancholia. Which means that Icelandic minimalist composer Johan Johannsson spins my nipples big-time. His latest record, The Miners’ Hymns (2011), is the soundtrack to the movie of the same name by Bill Morrison. The music reflects North-East England’s strong tradition of brass band music and its association with the mining unions. Recorded in Durham Cathedral, these six pieces are slow, breathy, mournful and you can’t help feeling damp and pessimistic and that human beings really can treat each other apallingly. However, this collection contains some of the most climactic music this side of Arvo Part, particularly ‘The Cause of Labour Is the Hope of the World’, which does nothing less than give me goose-bumps every time I hear it. PS. This is definitely not marching band stuff. It’s more like the sort of music you might listen to in a coffin as you say to yourself, Well, I had a crack at life but in the end I was a bit rubbish at it.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is the completely delightfully The Go! Team. I’ve been following this Brighton-based collective (though really it’s just one person, the pop-music genius that is Ian Parton) since Thunder, Lightening, Strike (2004). This is the Spice Girls crossed with Sonic Youth crossed with advertising jingles crossed with surf songs crossed with school-yard rap, all of it recorded on a boom-box from the 80s, but it’s ridiculously infectious. On the first couple of listens, I wasn’t taken with Rolling Blackouts, because Parton and his cohorts seem to be treading old ground. But then I realised that this ground is just so god-damn good; it’s as if the band is saying, Look, we know we can only do one thing, but we’re kinda good at it, plus it makes us smile, and that’s what matters huh? In every one of these thirteen songs is so much tune and craft and sheer love that it’s difficult not to conclude that, actually, everything might be okay with the world. If you’re anything at all like me, The Go! Team is the best drug imaginable. Go buy it, slip it into your car stereo, and go for a drive in the country – you might end up never being happier.