Boooooooooooooooooooooooooo-yar!! This will actually take us up to the top ten! And it’s not even Christmas yet!! Just to be clear, you should all be very impressed.
Just… gorgeous. ‘Bigness’ seems almost like it was intended as something of a wry, ironic name, as Mr Darling deals in ostensibly small scale music. His songs can initially seem so slight, polite, inoffensive and casual, all linked with a voice so hesitant and unassuming that it’s the volume and urgency that a fruit fly might adopt if it wanted to get the waiter’s attention at Costa Coffee to inquire as to what was taken its Hazelnut Praline & Cream Latte so long but didn’t want to make too much fuss. The tags that the album is identified with on Bandcamp are alternative; bedroom pop; christchurch; new zealand; pop; indie; indie pop; Christchurch, which tells you one thing… Well no, it firsts lets you know that Pickle Darling is from Christchurch, New Zealand, as he’s so keen for you to realise that that he states it twice, but the second thing that the tags tell you is that ‘Bigness’ is a bit of a cheery, unassuming and- in the words of Helltown– ‘bedroom bullshit‘ kind of record. It’ll be fine. It’ll be cheery, a little bit twee but well meaningfully pleasant. Most of all though, it’ll be small.
But ‘Bigness’ is big. Across its perfectly succinct 32 minute run time you’re treated to ten big examples of some of the most perfect pop music released in 2019. The resources used may be small, and you can’t imagine the total budget for ‘Bigness’ rivaling that of Avengers: Endgame, but in practice Pickle Darling absolutely transcends such vulgar limitations to make one of the damn biggest sounding albums of 2019 simply based on how big the quality of the songwriting is. Many albums may have been far, far bigger than ‘Bigness’ in terms of finances and support, but not a single one was able to make pop music that sounded as gloriously big as Rinse Spin Cycle/Nicholas Cage or Mouthful.
I originally thought the lyrics in 5am were saying ‘Now we look like the cast of the Last of the Samurai’, which I thought was pretty cool reference to that movie, y’know, all sliced up and shit? I then realised he was actually referring to the Last of the Summer Wine, which brings up different thoughts entirely. Then I realised that there’s no such movie as ‘The Last of the Samurai’! I had a ‘mare, basically…
I’m an embarrassingly late adopter of Spoon. I simply was in no way cool enough to be into them before all the dreaded normies started getting into them around 2014’s ‘They Want My Soul‘. I enjoyed 2017’s ‘Hot Thoughts‘ a lot, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d jumped on the gravy train far too late to appreciate their really cool stuff. i couldn’t help but worry about the next time I was in the kitchen of a really cool party, the band came up and I expressed my interest, only to be broken down and rejected by a thousand rolled eyes after I couldn’t name my favourite song from 1998’s ‘A Series of Sneaks‘. Something similar happened at the last birthday party I went to, when I expressed my admiration for the Okee Dokee Brothers but couldn’t even name a song from 2012’s ‘Can You Canoe?‘! This was a six year old girl’s birthday party, by the way. I don’t get invited to many parties. In fact, court transcripts would suggest that I wasn’t even invited to that one, but I could read what that little girl’s eyes were saying! Fuck you, Abigail, you bitch, you better fucking answer your phone next time I call, you little cunt!
Luckily, ‘Everything Hits All At Once’ was released this year, offering me the chance to take a whistle stop tour through the highlights of the band’s career to date, offering me the opportunity to catch up with the cool kids at least a little bit. I thought it would offer a similar opportunity to that was given to me by ‘The Best of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds‘ in my yoof- ‘The Boatman’s Call‘ the previous year was the first Nick Cave album I ever bought, and now a compilation was offering me a quick cheatsheet of the artist’s career so I could appreciate it all quickly before the old fucks soon retired. Or at least, release progressively duller and less exciting retreads of their former glories. I thought to myself. In 1998.
And best ofs are just great, aren’t they? I know, their significance and legitimacy was kind of forever dented by Alan Partridge saying his favourite Beatles album was ‘The Best of The Beatles‘, but they have long been important and artistically viable forms of expression. In his 2016 eulogy for greatest hits albums, Stephen Thomas Erlewine notes that Bob Marley, for example, could have been a relatively unknown oddity outside of his native Jamaica were it not for the success of Legend in 1984, and he could have mentioned how Queen and ABBA’s continued relevance is mainly due to megasuccessful best of releases. “By focusing on the hits, they crystallize the essence of each star,” wrote Erlewine, touching on compilations of work by Elton John, Billy Joel, and Tom Petty. “Over time, those greatest hits albums—purchased as a package, repeated incessantly on the radio—formalized each act’s conventionally-accepted canon and, in turn, cemented their enduring public personas”. And anyway, ‘Best of the Beatles’?? There is no ‘Best of The Beatles’! When that episode was released, you had what are now referred to as The Blue Album and The Red Album, you had ‘20 Greatest Hits‘, you had ‘The Collection‘, ‘The Mono Collection‘, some weird Australia only releases like ‘The Essential Beatles‘… But never a collection simply called ‘The Best of the Beatles’!! Jesus, Partridge, sort it out. Was the joke really funny enough to forego any historical accuracy?
The band even accepted that releasing this compilation was going to be a near certain negative decision, finance wise. They knew that in 2019 greatest hits albums aren’t going to sell two million copies and (apocryphally) be present in one in seven British households like The Beautiful South’s ‘Carry On up the Charts‘ had been in the 90s. Now, best ofs are essentially just artists asking you to pay them money to hear their personally curated Spotify playlist. You know all those songs that are available at every time on any device at a flick of a button? Well, how would you like to hear a certain number of them that we’ve decided in one specific order that we’ve decided and pay us for the privilege? No? How about some new cover art and a free t shirt? The band acknowledged that their fondness for the form outweighed the money they would lose on the project.
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand ‘Everything Hits at Once’… Is largely taken from the last two albums. Like, maybe 50% of the album is stuff I’d already heard. This is barely any help against the disapproving groans of the coolest Soy Boys at the next party I go to! Is this supposed to impress Abigail?! That fucking little whore will have a field day with my lack of cultural cache! It’s really good though, Spoon are awesome. Moving on!
Curse you, Metacritic, you’re part of the problem!!
“…a vicious and impassioned four minutes of righteous fury. The lyrics devilishly call into question whether they’re describing the life of a black person around a time more suited to the music, or in the present day”
Ugh, that quote makes me feel sick, Honestly one of the grossest things I’ve ever written. When I named the ‘Best Songs of 2019 So Far That You Might Not Have Heard‘ I gave justified and well earned praise to the opening track from the debut album from the Our Native Daughters project. Why couldn’t I just say that it’s a chuffing banfing choon, like I usually do? You could argue that Our Native Daughters are a ‘politically charged’ band- because apparently telling tales of slavery from the point of view of the slaves and concluding that the whole thing was ‘a bit of a bummer’ is now a ‘political’ statement- so I obviously wanted to make it clear that I, like, totally didn’t miss any of that, yeah? Maybe I thought that to not mention at least in passing some of the themes that Our Native Daughters (amazingly) cover on this album would be some kind of betrayal, that it would be just another example of a white man discounting the worldviews and experiences of black people. The whole project was inspired when Rhiannon Giddens– who had spent time reading slave accounts in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington- saw that a scene portraying the rape of a female slave on a plantation in the 2016 film The Birth of a Nation (not that one) focused more on the reaction of her husband than the wife. That’s me, that is. In fact, maybe I’m Nate Parker, who directed The Birth of a Nation to focus more on a man’s reaction to raping a slave woman, and also cast himself as the courageous hero out to avenge that rape, and also– and you’ll like this, I promise- actually raped somebody himself while at university! Good on you, Nate! You tick all the boxes of being a man in 2019!
Where was I? Oh yeah, Our Native Daughters:
I obviously felt I should say something weighty and important, but instead I came out with saying that it ‘devilishly’ (devilishly? devilishly?! I am the worst writer ever) calls into question whether the lyrical subject is from Olden Times or the present day, which… no. No, Alex, it really doesn’t. It’s openly and literally about the experiences of slaves, that’s kind of the whole fucking point. Yeah, sure, other songs are sure to remind us that slavery is absolutely not in the past (“I pity them greatly, but I must be mum/For what about nickel, cobalt, lithium?/The garments we wear, the electronics we own?/What? Give up our tablets, our laptops, and phones?!“), but these reminders don’t ‘devilishly’ play with the lyrics ambiguity. They are explicit and obvious in their concerns, any associations with modern life for everyday black people is entirely up to the listener to make. Jesus fucking Christ, Alex!! When you can’t think of a decent/funny statement to make, then don’t make a statement! And don’t ever use the word ‘devilishly’ ever again!!
What I’m saying is that I completely failed to pull off what Our Native Daughters do frequently and brilliantly on their debut album. I couldn’t make a worthwhile statement sound anything more than cringeworthy tedium, and absolutely not fun to read. Our Native Daughters make weighty, important and extremely well written statements, but they always managed to still make it sound rousing, stirring, inspirational and often a lot of freaking fun! Hell, if slavery was this good then maybe OK I’ll stop there.
Sigh, it was the first fucking song I wrote about. Nobody would have ever finished reading that article. It gets better, honest…
OK, serious question: who are this band? Why do I own this album?? I just went to Bandcamp to get the link for the album and I don’t even follow the band!! Yet there it is on my iPas, between Mark Mulcahy and Michael Kiwanuka. Did it get there by itself?? For much of the year, it made perfect sense to me. The band had made absolutely astonishing improvements since their 2016 album ‘2013‘ (yeah, I know, confusing. I did all these jokes three years ago) and the glorious ‘Triage’ was set to be one of the stories of the year. The band used to deal in slight, archly camp and at times irritatingly self aware chamber pop, but now they had morphed and evolved into a muscular and anthemic post-rock electropop group. I was amazed at the evolution, they honestly sounded like a different band now. Do you see where this is going?
Because, yeah, there were a different band. It was Meilyr Jones who finished 111 in 2016. They have yet to release their follow up to ‘2013’, maybe it will be an amazing at ‘Triage’. Only time will tell. However, that doesn’t take us any closer to finding out who the fuck this band are. It actually takes us further away.
How much do we need to know an artist though? I’ve already said in my Hannah Cohen post that I’m an adoring fan of her’s despite her general shittiness as a person. Ed Sheeren is still the biggest artist in the world despite:
- Saying that he would take Mein Kampf, Mussolini‘s autobiography and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion with him on Desert Island Discs.
- When asked what colour that dress was, Ed simply answered with the N word.
- He votes Tory, his whole family votes Tory, he hates the poor, the blacks and the gays
- Him making really, really, offensively bad music.
so maybe me knowing (literally!) nothing about Methyl Ethel is actually the purest way for me to appreciate their music. I bring no baggage or preconceived notions. What I’m saying is: my opinion is the only one that matters.
And, yeah, it’s really, really, really good.
Whaaaaaaaaaaaaa…? Youse are all fucking idiots.
Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeey, Chance, I can’t stay mad at you! Yeah, around the time of him releasing the dibbling, flatulent and fetid smelling ‘The Big Day‘- which I can’t stress enough is an absolute piece of fucking shit– Chance also rereleased his earlier mixtapes to various streaming services. Y’know, his good stuff?
And ‘Acid Rap’ is really good. Awash with killer hooks, catchy melodies, affecting and likeable lyrics and untouchable beats. Chance can release six dozen more clunkers on the level of ‘The Big Day’, it will never take away from the utter beauty he’s proven that he’s capable of. ‘Acid Rap’ will always be here, and it will always be worth your time.
Yeah, this is a rubbish review. Did you not hear? It’s on streaming services! Just listen to it yourself and think of your own reasons why it’s awesome. You want me to do everything?? Fucking sheeple…
We’ve sadly lost a lot of good, hard working and honourable surnames in 2019. There was Andrade Cien Almas, who despite his amazing work under his full moniker was forced to dump all of his exotic sounding and in all probability likely to radicalise surnames to become just ‘Andrade’. Cody Rhodes is now known only as ‘Cody’, likely because he’s so busy recently he simply doesn’t have time for that extra syllable. I could have sworn that Mustafa Ali had his name shortened, but it turns out he didn’t. But the fact that I thought that says it all, doesn’t it? Chad Gable lost his surname and his forename, becoming simply ‘Shorty G’. Rocky Maivia changed his name to simply ‘The Rock’. That was in 1998, granted, but I think the ramifications are still being felt.
There’s also some non-wrestling examples, such as…
Changing ‘Dawn Richard’ to ‘DAWN’ though…?
Firstly, the all capitals have to be applauded. Pop music was in real danger of losing all trust in capital letters in 2018, but DAWN’s name can be filed alongside ‘LEGACY! LEGACY!‘, ‘KIWANUKA’ and ‘CURSEBREAKER X‘ as a valiant and worthy shot fired in the crucial fight to reclaim capital letters*. Seriously, if awakebutstillinbed just come back now without even attempting to capitalise the proper nouns, no joke, I’ll lose my shit. But Dawn though? She’s now called Dawn? ‘Dawn Richard’ sounds almost stately. There’s authority in the name ‘Dawn Richard’. ‘Dawn Richard’ taught you a semester on Body Politics of the Maasai Blacksmiths, and motherfucker you listened to what she said! I mean… you failed that semester… like, really badly… But you listened! ‘Dawn Richard’ has a story to tell, and she’s a fucking expert.
(*after I wrote this paragraph, I realised that the album ‘new dawn’ and all its tracks are actually stylised to be all lower. The fuck, DAWN? Which side are you on?)
DAWN, though? DAWN? You know a Dawn, don’t you? She works in accounting. You think. Every time she explains her job to you, constantly stirring her tea like she’s trying to hypnotise you with the revolutions, you tend to black out. You think Dawn voted Brexit, but you’re never going to ask her because that’d be committing to a far longer conversation than you ever want to have with her. Be honest, have you ever cared a jot about anything Dawn has had to say? If Dawn wanted to tell you of her formative years growing up in New Orleans and how they’ve shaped her character, would you really want to hear it? What about if Dawn began a story with “It’s the weekend and I’m greedy, I’ve been a good girl all week/So I can dirty them sheets from Friday to Sunday, no breaks/I’m ready to ride you like I’m ’bout to win a prize at the Kentucky Derby/I’m your jockey, you heard me“? You don’t want to hear that, do you? Be honest, you feel a bit sick now.
I apologise to anyone reading called Dawn. But it’s important that you know that nobody likes you and they find talking to you a massive chore.
DAWN though, is incredible. ‘new breed’ is an astonishing piece of work, an entirely new take on soul music that pushes the form into borderline progressive electronica. I loved DAWN’s debut album (as Dawn Richard) in 2013, but then I just… forgot about her… ‘new breed’ is an aggressive and shaming (but still effortlessly gorgeous) blast at anyone who hasn’t been paying full attention to her. DAWN is one of the most progressive and unique musicians working today.
Seriously though? ‘DAWN’…?
TOP FUCKING TEN!!!