|Ones that got away 2004|
[The Mail On Sunday, 2004]
WHILE 2004 wasn't a vintage year for albums, it's worth mentioning a few that slipped through the reviews net. In alternative rock, post-punk/new wave retro still held sway. The question wasn't whether to copy, but how well. Sacramento's !!! (pronounced chk chk chk) did a creditable job with Cabaret Voltaire and A Certain Ratio on Louden Up Now (Warp, ***): foul mouthed insurrectionist electro-funk jams for white punks to shake their bony butts to.
With their second album, Interpol set out to demonstrate that they're more than American Joy Division buffs. They failed - but still turned out an admirable record. The sweep and drone of Antics (Matador, ***) mimics not only their heroes' style, but also that capacity to at once unsettle and exhilarate the listener.
So strong was their soupy debut, Youth and Young Manhood, that grizzled-before-their-time backwoods rockers Kings of Leon had even more to prove with the follow-up. Although it contains a clutch of fine songs, Aha Shake Heartbreak (HandMeDown, ***) has the air of an afterthought or a stopgap. Oddly, after being mistakenly compared to The Strokes first time around, KoL have now started to sound like them. Only better. Much better.
Gruff Glasgow outfit Biffy Clyro merit a doff of the cap both for what they're not (derivative) and what they are (fierce and imposing.) Anyone who fancies the idea of a less obvious Muse would do well to give Infinity Land (Beggars Banquet, ****) a play. It mixes raw, visceral force with surprising complexity and intermittent melodic sweetness.
Much the same could be said of a quite different band, Washington DC bred The Walkmen. The enthralling, intense Bows and Arrows (Record Collection, ****) suggests Bob Dylan and U2 hobnobbing with the post-rock avant-garde, and is very good indeed.
Kanye West, like OutKast last year, showed that commercial hip hop need not equal leaden inanity. The College Dropout (Roc-a-Fella, ****) is an album and a half - specifically, a brilliant album, and half of a rather dull one, as the gospel-driven fluidity peters out towards the end.
A sameness has inevitably spread across the ever-swelling alt.country/Americana movement. Among the honourable exceptions: Richmond Fontaine. Post to Wire (El Cortez, ****) is a sad, subtle, richly textured evocation of small-town life which sinks its roots deeper with each listen.
Country Got Soul Volume Two (Casual, *****) is a second sublime overview of the territory once shared in the US South by the cowboy-hat and chitlin circuits. The races may have been segregated, but music was not so easily divided. A superb compilation.
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