Yeah, you know how JPEGMAFIA’s album was just a collection of singles from the previous year? Well, Burial sees that effort and raises it by releasing a collection of singles and EPs from the better part of the last decade. Might have made sense to split the two albums up on the list. This list isn’t about aesthetics and sensible ordering though. It’s pure science. And if the science states that they should be placed next to each other, perhaps both fitted with a secret microchip so Bill Gates can track their movements, then who are we to argue?
Sigh… I’m going to have to start with an embarrassing confession. I know, many of you reading this already think all the things I write are shamefully embarrassing, but this is a distressing mark against my musical knowledge which, come on, up until now was unimpeached. In November of 2019, roughly a month before this collection came out, I wrote this:
Firstly, he still hasn’t won the Mercury Prize, so there’s one mark against me. But the fact that I so brazenly disregarded any work Burial had done since his seminal (but, y’know, flawed…) debut album as simply being a load of EPs that nobody cares about betrays an utterly unforgiveable lack of due diligence. Did I listen to these albums? No. I just assumed that because I had neither heard nor heard of them, therefore nobody had and nobody cared. Burial obviously read this- because I know for a fact he reads every single thing I post, he says it’s a perfect way to “do something with his hands” as he has my blog open on his Amazon Fire as he sits in his greenhouse and listens for sounds for aphids getting into his lettuces- and was so incensed he collected all his work and released ‘Tunes 2011-2019’ on the 6th December 2019.
And, holy shit, is my arse now showing. Mr William Emmanuel Bevan makes me look a right prick by showcasing some absolutely incredible work that he’s actually been up to during that period where ‘nobody cared’. ‘Tunes…’ is 149 minutes long, and every last second is absolutely essential (all 8’940 of them). Only one track is shorter than five minutes, while seven nonchalantly stride past nine. Because the music needs time, it’s often slow and subtle and is concerned with building worlds so utterly completely that the detail and minutia obviously take a certain duration to properly establish. Burial offers reminder after reminder after freaking reminder that he is actually one of the most important and influential musicians of the 21st century, and if you don’t believe that, then you’re just as guilty as me for not paying attention.
Fuck. Me. That might equal ‘Ghosteen‘ as the highest Metacritic score I’ve ever seen on this countdown.
An entry on the very first list on this blog, and now on the very latest. A record for longest length between entries unlikely to be broken until Les Savy Fav release the greatest album of 2021. Which might be all for nothing, considering that I’m debating whether to do a list next year.
Yeah, yeah, personal bias, blah blah, vested interests, waffle waffle… Listen, I can’t do anything to control and hopefully improve your reactions to the science I’m spitting, I can only state the facts, your pathetically overblown and overdramatic reactions are something that you need to work on, not me. I can only state the facts, that regardless of which world’s greatest rock band James Dean Bradfield fronts, ‘Even in Exile’ is one of the greatest albums of the year (and likely the greatest rock album). You can listen to it and agree, or ignore the quality entirely and instead spew hateful nonsense likely the result of some problematic agenda that you’re attempting to push. Like I say, your reaction, not my responsibility to better it.
The build up to ‘Even in Exile’ reminded me of when the release of Manic Street Preachers albums used to be an event, even within the small (then large, then small again) community of their fanbase. The band would send out reading lists to best understand the lyrics or to get yourself in he correct head space for the albums themes; there would be wider discussions about what topics they were about to tackle; they would take out full page adverts in music magazines just to explain the meaning of their albums’ lyrics; and, far less importantly, there would also occasionally be a listening list of bands they deemed essential to fully appreciating the record. It was always enthusiastically encouraged that this wasn’t simply an album release, but a new centre for you to build your lifestyle around.
It’s a touch of self-agrandising and the cultivating up of their own myths- along with a steadfast and justified belief in the freaking importance of the work they were releasing- that has often been lacking from the promotion of Manics albums in recent years. ‘Futurology‘ and ‘Journal for Plague Lovers‘ may have got a bit of press attention, but that was largely for external reasons and didn’t really extend past interviews in the broadsheets, while some albums such as ‘Rewind the Film‘, ”Postcards from a Young Man‘ and 2018’s largely forgettable ‘Resistance is Futile‘ may as well have been promoted and anticipation built by releasing special emojis of all three band members shrugging their shoulders. Ah, no, sorry, I take that back- ‘Rewind the Film’ was supported by a performance on Strictly Come Dancing. Culture, alienation, boredom and despair.
‘Even in Exile’ thrillingly harkens back to those days. James Dean Bradfield made every effort to educate the listener on the subject of the album, Victor Jara, a Chilean protest singer and political activist who was tortured and put to death under the regime of Lovely Maggie’s best friend, the hideous dictator Augustus Pinochet. Bradfield would talk at length about Jara’s life and his struggles to anyone who would listen, his broadsheet interviews would suddenly have more substance to them than simply answering questions about why his band isn’t as good as they used to be, and he even hosted a podcast series exploring Jara’s importance, influence, and legacy. I gotta be honest, even if this album was a stinker it would still finish in the top 50 this year, easy.
But even if you ignore the prerelease escalation, ‘Even in Exile’ is an astonishingly good rock album. Even if ‘rock’ is far too restricting and simplistic a term to refer to the variety of styles and the sonic ambition on show here. It’s equal parts folk, Latin, even prog rock and any other genre that might best fit the song in question. It features the kind of impassioned and vital music writing that was sadly largely missing from the Manics’ latest (I have to question your priorities, James) and the lyrics penned by Nicky Wire’s poet brother Patrick Jones ensure that the album is both a fitting tribute and a crunchingly essential rock album.
OK, deep breath…
(with the a Manic Street Preachers)
That first time you try crack cocaine, you might immediately regret your decision and wonder why on Earth anyone would ever subject themselves to doing this regularly. It hurts your head, it makes you do things you regret, there’s that burning feeling at the back of your throat, the feeling the morning after is just horrendous. No, you promise to yourself, never again. There’s nothing more for you here. Move along. Soon though, you start to experience strong cravings for that particular feeling that hit of crack gave you. You might not have liked it at the time, but you realise that whatever that was, there’s no other feeling quite like it, and instead of rolling around in bed and turning your sheets into a fleur de lis napkin fold questioning whether or not you actually liked that feeling, you eventually give in and decide to try it again. Just to make sure. That second hit proves nothing. What’s even in this dirty concoction that clouds your brain so? You’re dedicated now to pinpointing exactly what that feeling is, so perhaps you can locate it within slightly less illicit contraband. You just want to find out if this feeling is something you could possibly buy in the produce aisle at Waitrose, or the Middle of Lidl. You keep thinking that as you take your third, fourth, tenth, fiftieth, thousandth hit. Soon you realise that there’s nothing else in this world that gives you a feeling anything like crack, and you lose interest in most other things happening in the world anyway. Whatever this is, i’s all you want now.
That’s Protomartyr that is.
Protomartyr create an astonishingly singular post rock sound, that’s dark and contemptuous but at the same time incredibly mesmerising and elicits such feelings within your gut that you simply can’t live without it. ‘Ultimate Success Today’ somehow manages to build upon and improve the musical themes visited in their previous seemingly career best ‘Relatives In Descent‘, and manages to make the band somehow sound even more unique and even more essential. Yeah, yeah, we all know that singer Joe Casey often sounds uncannily like Mark E Smith, with perhaps a dollop of Ian Curtis thrown in there, but otherwise the music made by Protomartyr completely reinvents the possibility of what a four piece rock band can sound like. And I need it so much.
Kid Cudi is arguably one of the most important artists of his generation. In fact, I might even state that his work on such crucial pop/hip-hop releases such as this revolutionary 2009 solo debut and his critical influence over Kanye West’s ‘808s and Heartbreaks‘ mark him out as possibly the most influential artist of at least the tennies (that’s what we’re calling the 2010s, yeah? I’m pretty sure I invented that term, so anytime you use it I expect at least a 10% royalty cut). Sonically, his style of splitting his songs roughly 50/50 between impassioned & incisive rapping, and also pensive & sombre singing would soon become the sound of pretty much all hip-hop and even pop music from around the middle of the decade onwards. Journalist Pranav Trewn even called Cudi “Something of the God particle for contemporary hip-hop”. However, it was his lyrical themes that really marked Cudi out and had the far larger effect on the wider culture. ‘Man On The Moon’ was perhaps the first mainstream hip-hop album, and one of the biggest records of the 21st century, to properly deal with the debilitating effects of mental illness. Before ‘MOTM’, whenever mainstream rap dealt with issues of anxiety or depression, in songs by Tupac, Notorious B.I.G, DMX, Eminem and 50 Cent among others, the response to these feelings was always the same- to aggressively push it back, out against the world, out into the faces of other people. Cudi was the first to properly analyse the effects of turning it all back in on yourself. It’sno exaggeration to say, no matter how much you think it’s deserved, that Cudi was as inspiring as Kurt Cobain to a certain section of the post-millenial (?? Don’t ask me to work out what age brackets fall into which category) society in emboldening them to face up to their own mental troubles and to somehow feel comfort in their own sense of inadequacy and vulnerability.
Quick personal note- I think I drew far too prominent a line there between depression that’s turned inward, into self-hate and eternal personal penitence, and that turned outward, throwing your on personal hatred back into the face of others and the world around you is battled against as you have no other outside recipient to blame for the debilitating lack that you feel in yourself. In truth, they’re really one and the same. Your depression doesn’t only affect you, but everyone around you and everyone close to you. Even if you try your very best to not let it break out, you are always going to negatively affect other people, through the choices your depression forces you to make or just the negative and antagonistic air that cannot help but flow around you. Depression isn’t just feeling a little grumpy now and then, it’s an all encompassing cloud of misery that float all around your body at all times and impedes any positivity that might otherwise spring up in your midst. If someone decides to remove themselves from that, it is not merely a ‘selfish act’, but what someone at one time truly believed was the best decision for everyone. OK, back to the fun stuff now:
Of course, I’m a freaking idiot, so only really properly considered Cudi with the release of his astonishing 2016 album ‘Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin”. In 2009 I wasn’t bothered about the monumental debut release from perhaps the most important voice in popular music, I was too busy listening to the latest Super Furry Animals record and claiming that it “exhibits the kind of sparkle, energy and ingenuity you’d usually associate with barely pubescent bands who buy their trousers in a can“. It’s so obviously a massive gap in my mental collection, that I simply had to tie the knot and consider its charms. For a time, it looked like all the months spent living with the album might have been al in vain, as Cudi promised to release the third album in the trilogy- ‘Man on the Moon III: The Chosen‘- this year, and it would just look weird to have them both on the same list, wouldn’t it??
Thankfully, sensing my stylistic issue, Cudi held off until December to release the album, meaning it would qualify for Necessary Evil 2021 (if there is one) and leaving the road clear for me to take a shot at the trilogy’s opening album. And what an album. I may have spent much of this entry discussing the general importance of the record and how Cudi’s open discussion of issues that were once considered too ‘feminine’ for mainstream hip-hop, how without the album we’d possibly have no Drake, no Travis Scott, and maybe no pop music as we know it today. I haven’t yet spent enough time detailing just how many freaking bangers there are on this record. Pretty much every song on the record is melodically strong enough and contains a gigantic enough hook to be a hit single. Apart from that one terrible song that’s based around him changing the lyrics of Lady Gaga’s Poker Face to “I make her say ‘oh, o-oh, oh’ when I p-poke her face”, which is just revolting. And anyway, that was an actual hit single, so what do I know. When you’re hot you’re hot…
Seriously? Have a word…
(as Kids See Ghosts)
We end this post with the impossibly stirring and emotionally satisfying third record by Massachusetts PVRIS. I’m not going to say too much on this gloriously composed career best- a simple enough achievement, considering they were previously an amazing band struggling for the material that would do them justice- that, as the kids say, is freaking slap after freaking slap after freaking slap.
There is that huge, scared and emotionally threatened elephant in the room though. Just before the album was released, rather concerning allegations were made about guitarist Alex Babinski that- eesh- suddenly made that choice of album tile seem a little on the nose. Now, it’s important to keep a sense of perspective here- they are allegations and let’s not automatically assume everyone is guilty until proven innocent. The phrase ‘Believe Women‘ is a worthy cause and should absolutely stand against all allegations being silenced or simply automatically disbelieved, but, much like ‘Black Lives Matter’ really means ‘Black Lives Matter At Least As Much As All Other Lives’, perhaps the true meaning of ‘Believe Women’ is ‘Listen to Women’. People shouldn’t just assume every allegation is automatically a guilty verdict, but we should all at least take these allegations on board and consider them. In these terms, the band really couldn’t have dealt with it better, simply cutting ties with the guitarist in a move that at least made their standing on the subject clear. In truth, the whole affair actually improves the listening experience of ‘Use Me’, as you’re aware that you’re not merely listening to a band with improbable talent, but one with proper integrity.
Sorry, this one wasn’t very funny, was it?