Friday, 22 July 2011

MUSIC: Lost albums of the 2000s

Lost albums of the 2000s

[a short survey of the not-very-obscure for, anticipating the present project]

As the sharks circle, it becomes apparent we’re going to need a bigger caveat for what constitutes a Great Lost Album… The 2000s was the decade when every serious music fan went online, and the idea of “Lost Music” changed radically – there’s always a troll out there ready to denounce you as a shameless bandwagon-jumper for buying Jandek CDs from Amazon (“…compact discs! I bought the first LP when Sterling was recording as The Units, back in 1978!”). Speaking of Jandek (famously touted by ubergeek Kurt Cobain, along with The Raincoats and Daniel Johnston), it’s likely he came out of hiding, and played his first live set of groaning, crashing freeform noise rock, precisely because of his Internet fanbase. So, maybe Glasgow Sunday (2004) is the first great “found album”? His metaphysical quest narrative, Manhattan Tuesday: Afternoon of Insensitivity (2007), replete with classical piano and minimal drones is also kinda stunning, establishing him as the one of the greatest improvisers around.

Going back a bit, into the mists of time, the first dedicated fansite I ever saw was at university, in 1997, when green-on-black computers were dying out. That was for Slint, who reformed early in the decade, having made THEE cult album of the 1990s with the prog-metal reviving, post-rock foreshadowing Spiderland (1991). There’s a reason Slint fans were some of the first to exploit the internet: it’s smart, erudite, nocturnal music. Mainman Brian MacMahon broke silence with The For Carnation (2000), which superfan Stuart Braithwaite described as sounding “like Leonard Cohen in the jungle” – yeah, it’s that good. Thinking of slowcore / mathrock / the roots of postrock, check out The New Years: the Kadane Brothers’ post-Bedhead band, for the 2000s. Similarly, Early Day Miners are a great lost band; that’s to say, they’ve had a great career at the intersection of slowcore and post-rock, with very few people listening. Their best records are: Let Us Garlands Bring (2002), All Harm Ends Here (2004), and Offshore (2006), which extends their epic set-closer, originally on Garlands, into a 37 minute album.

In a sense, the early years of many a fine band will be peppered with “lost albums”. Okkervil’s Will Sheff rudely claimed to “pay the rent” for Shearwater (his mate Jonathan Meiberg’s band) by indirectly advertising their existence. Check out Winged Life (2004), for an even-split between Meiberg and Sheff’s most accessible and upbeat alt-folk compositions, although it’s the Talk Talk-tinged Palo Santo (2006) and Rook (2008) that have taken Shearwater out of complete obscurity, and The Golden Archipelago (2010) already has some of the most beautiful songs of the NEXT decade on it, no matter how it’s produced. Assuming you HAVE heard of alt country poet laureate Jason Molina, the man behind Songs:Ohia / Magnolia Electric Co, it’s worth pointing out that J-Mo makes great limited edition albums in his sleep. Mi Sei Apparso Come Un Fantasmo (2001), a Neil Young meets Codeine reworking of some S:O classics, plus four unreleased songs, is worth tracking down, as are Pyramid Electric Co (2004), and Let Me Go Let Me Go Let Me Go (2007), the latter written and recorded in one day.

Moving over to hiphop, it was startling to see the absence of Anticon / Big Dada artists in Pitchfork’s recent rundown of the decade. Where was cLOUDDEAD’s astonishing debut, described at the time as “Cypress Hill play Kid A”? (I’d say Digable Planets meet the Marx Brothers.) Surreal, experimental hiphop was taken to another level by the collective, led by Sole, himself responsible for the superb Selling Live Water (2002). Only in the last few years has Why? (one-third of The ’DEAD) become a minor indie star for US college students, who probably mistake him for a Silver Jews fan. With Subtle, DoseOne (another third of cLOUDDEAD) made a bizarre This Heat-does-hiphop concept trilogy something like The Neverending Story meets (Pink Floyd’s) The Wall. Sadly, it’s not great-great, but it’s part of an unparalleled career that continues with Themselves. More racially mixed, the Def Jux label arose in the 2000s, centred on CoFlow mainman El Producto, a corpulent ginger guy. His production for Cannibal Ox made The Cold Vein an instant classic, but his two solo albums to date have earned him the tag “the Trent Reznor of hiphop”.

Assuming you’re all Pitchfork’d up, you probably do know about Meadowlands (2004) by The Wrens, which could easily have been a sad mid-life crisis of a record, nostalgicized by US college-rock fans turned journalists, and was narrowly pipped to album of the year by… oh some Nucks with strings. In fact, the Wrens had an even more despairing story of divorce, despair, debt that they managed to make sound engaging, if not emotionally generous – their twin-guitar and piano-attack probably helped, too. Thinking of bands fuelled by romantic misery, check out (Australian Red House Painters & Low fans) Art of Fighting. Centred on one of the more sickeningly gorgeous couples, it’s as if Jeff Buckley stopped showing off (oh, and hadn’t died; that too). Their first full-length, Wires (2002), is their best, although there IS a lost mini-album for obscurists: Empty Nights (1999).

Hohum. What else? There’s a guy who works in a mental hospital, who keeps putting out records as Super XX Man. There Will Be Diamonds (2008) combines the charming naivety of Half Japanese and Daniel Johnston, with the gut-wrenching beauty of Galaxie 500 and Yo La Tengo in their prime. Nadja have started re-recording their CD-Rs of ambient-doom-metal (or extreme shoegaze); These Are Powers show there’s life-after-Liars for the sacked rhythm section who made They Threw Us in a Trench; Marnie Stern’s outstanding guitarisms (Sleater Who?) mean that her yet-more-obscure influences Ocrilim and Hella won’t remain lost forever… and so on. Here’s to a decade where no-one gets lost… they just take the time to develop without so much pressure.

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