Continuing the countdown of my favourites from the year. These ones are good. Real good.
4. Hookworms - Pearl Mystic
“Guitar music is dead!” The frequent lament of the past couple of years at the more chinstroking end of the popular press never rang true and, in 2013, has been totally proven wrong. Exhibit one: the immediate psych classic Pearl Mystic, an album that is everything that MBV probably should have been.
Such loud feedback-laden albums have a propensity to be po-faced; Hookworms’ genius is to make this sort of music fun again. From the three minute build up on the start of the very first track, there’s an immediate sense that this is a ride down a waterfall with all the chaos and adrenaline that involves. The album blasts by in what feels like moments; it’s the shortest 45 minutes in pop of the year.
3. Parquet Courts - Light Up Gold
Exhibit two: an album that’s very easy to deride as hipster nonsense but is the most promising bit of guitar pop for years.
Take the basic idea of a guitar band and strip it back thirty or forty years and you end up with the Parquet Courts sound, a kind of easily digestible CBGB’s Talking Heads. Where Hookworms are a clever study of layering, Parquet Courts are a band of intensity and immediacy. The songs are short and sharp; some feel half finished, others blend into each other as one idea spawns another.
Easy to deride? Sure - it’s such a hastily recorded selection of songs that it could be compared to the first Strokes recordings and be dismissed as an affectation, an attempt to attract a similar audience. The artwork doesn’t help - deliberately scratchy, unfinished, and obscure, it’s an expression of a group pretending not to care but caring very much.
So why do I rate it so highly? Because, pretension or not, it’s still a great album. The movement between tracks, the demo-like feeling of it being a collection of sketched ideas, the excited bounding between one of those ideas and the next, the simplicity of the lyrics and, ultimately, the sincerity of those lyrics make it one of the most exciting albums of the year. Only the steeliest of hearts and most cynical of minds would find nothing here to enjoy.
2. Haiku Salut - Tricolore
But guitar music, such as it is, isn’t everything.
Haiku Salut’s debut appeared as if from nowhere. An all-but-dormant but much beloved label announced at the start of the year that they’d signed the band and that the album was immediately available. Knowing nothing of them in the slightest but having total faith in the label, an order was duly placed with little expectation.
If the band had been hyped for months, my expectations would have been more than surpassed.
Tricolore is an extraordinary piece of work. Part Yann Tiersen (hence, one assumes, the Gallic title), part eclectic Japanese videogame soundtrack, part classically trained string trio, it’s an album that shouldn’t exist, let alone written by three girls from Derby.
It’s a truly beautiful listen. More so than any other record on this list, it’s an album that absolutely bowls this listener away with its intimacy, beauty, intricacy, and sheer talent. You don’t expect such a classic orchestration to be occasionally accompanied by little electronic glitchy melodies, and you sure don’t expect an instrumental album to paint as vivid pictures as Tricolore does.
‘Watanabe’, listened to in the snowfall of January, moved me more than anything else this year. That the final track loops back perfectly with the first has meant that, more often than not, a single listen has been impossible. It is something which begs to be listened to over and over again and doesn’t ever fatigue or bore.
It’s such a great album. Albert Camus (famously quoted on Scott 4) said that “a man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.” I grew up with Yann Tiersen, Neil Hannon, similar orchestral pop, and the Nintendo Game Boy. Haiku Salut feel like the modern amalgam of all those loves from times past and I truly love them for it.