Nick Cave album number two!
Ah, fuck, am I including B-Side collections now?? I guess that shouldn’t be much of an issue, considering that there’s only a tiny, Jeremy Beadle handful of artists I would even considering purchasing a B-Side collection of. Just so you know, Manic Street Preachers‘ last B-Side collection was back in 2003. The Bad Seeds released ‘B-Sides and Rarities’ part one in 2005, so the Manics are already embarrassingly behind schedule. Sort it out, Wire. Although, to be honest, I was all ready to announce that the inherent importance of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have lead to them releasing the first B-Sides collection to be featured on Necessary Evil, until I remembered that Carly Rae Jepsen’s 2016 B-Side collection made #31 that year, so there really is no rhyme nor reason to it. Also, the featured image to that blog post is Al Pacino shoving cocaine into his face in Scarface, so let’s not pretend any of us has any idea what’s going on around here.
What a collection though, aye? Ammi right? Ammi right? I’m right. ‘B-Sides and Rarities’ part one was no slouch at all, containing a smattering of wonder that showed how harsh the band’s quality control had been during the first two decades of their existence considering the excellence of some of their cast-offs. It was clear that the bar to entry onto a Bad Seeds album was more stringent and difficult to pass than the best American colleges even if your mother used to be in Desperate Housewives. There were also other bits and bobs that settled debates such as whether Shane MacGowan did the best version of Lucy. He did. Debate over.
‘Part II’ is something else entirely though. That first 20 year collection covered a period where the band’s music had only changed in relatively slight ways, with the three discs roughly corresponding to the screamy goth era, the heroin fuelled rock success of the mid-to-late 90s, and the slightly more piano based laments of the post-smack days. But these evolutions were so subtle in places that the record could be sequenced slightly more randomly across eras with little incongruity, with an acoustic version of 1990’s City of Refuge happily leading into 1984 B-Side The Moon is in the Gutter, or 1996’s Opium Tea (“Siri, tell me a random tile that you assume is a Nick Cave song”) Can sit next to 2001’s Grief Came Riding and not betray five years of difference. And the beginning quarter of ‘Part II’ could happily squeeze on part one, with lovely little ditties like Free to Walk and Hey Little Firing Squad (recorded during the first decade of the 21st century) being lovely little standard Bad Seeds songs, that were perhaps obviously not album worthy. But the importance of the chronological sequencing becomes clear after we enter 2013 with Needle Boy. From then on, the musical evolution and experimentation is mindblowing, as the band entered perhaps the most artistically challenging and rewarding era of their career. That era’s trilogy of albums (‘Push the Sky Away‘, ‘Skeleton Tree‘ and the all conquering ‘Ghosteen‘) obviously represented (represent?) an astonishing creative purple patch, with 21 of the 27 songs here gleamed from that era (christened ‘Bad Seeds Phase Four’ by musical art theorists), and ‘Part II’ represents an important part of the canon and contains work that is in no way inferior to the ones included on that hat trick of masterpieces. Oh, and there’s a song called Opium Eyes this time, so that Nick Cave Song Title Generator is in full working order.
Alright, I’ll put my hands up, I’ll put my cards on the table, I’ll… line up… all my ducks…? Whatever, here goes: I’m not sure that Rhode Island’s premier purveyors of avant garde death metal, the world’s chief administrators of doom rock as a treacherously volumed traumatic event, will ever finish much higher than #49 on this list. There music is far too often an uncomfortable and distressing experience to listen to, there are so few parts of their relentless and unforgiving suites of music are in any way enjoyable to spend much time with. I feel that I would be lying to myself and the millions (and millions) of readers off this blog were I ever to claim that the band’s latest hostile art installation were anywhere close to my favourite album of any year (maybe 2012. The fuck was wrong with that year?).
But, mercy me, is this stuff amazing? I believe The Body justify again and again how they should be near the absolute top of any list of the most expansive minded and artistically valid musical artists of at least the last decade. ‘I’ve Seen All I Need to See’ sees them evolve and contribute to their sound further, creating soundscapes and work quite unlike anything else being produced now or, seriously, has ever been produced before. Yes, there is a lot of noise, but the ability the band has to inject real beauty underneath and within the musical carpet bombing is astonishing. Seth Manchester might have sent me to some abrasive and demanding places this year with some of the albums he’s produced, but for the band that he’s by now considered the third member of his genius at production is front, centre, and inarguable. I predict that sometime around, ooooooooooooooooh, 2031 The Body will become the go-to influence to claim when an artist wants to make it sound like their latest record isn’t just more of the same old dull pish that they asked us to buy three years before. Remember, you liked them before they were cool.
OK, so this might be confusing. This wonderful album features the New York percussion quartet Sō Percussion, the Tennessee soprano Dawn Upshaw, and the New York pianist Gilbert Kalish, playing a suite of songs arranged by the Pulitzer Prize winning composer Caroline Shaw. So this album is ‘Narrow Sea’ by Caroline Shaw – yeah? – but it’s actually performed by those aforementioned three musical artists, ya got me? Hence, this album is ‘Caroline Shaw: Narrow Sea’ by Sō Percussion, Dawn Upshaw and Gilbert Kalish, alright? Christ, this is so complicated, no wonder all the classical music stans are big brained academics.
Forget all that though, ‘Narrow Sea’… ‘Caroline Shaw: Narrow Sea’ is an astonishing piece of work, a nomadic and always mobile musical interpretation of the beautiful but also violent and scary flow of the ocean. Sō Percussion’s layered and complex rhythms meld gorgeously with the obviously powerful voice of Dawn Shaw, which forms the melodies that these pieces hang upon and forms the stitching that holds the songs together. Gilbert Kalish? Meh, there’s like three or four short piano pieces across the whole album. Guy’s nicking a living.
Wow, number seventy eight last time?! I know that I had to put Billie’s and Marina’s albums together for a bit I was doing, but Eilish really was punished for how dreadful that Marina album was. I compared the two because the similarities between the gazillion selling debut album from the inspiring for girls, terrifying to boys, teenage icon Billie Eilish and the early work of the (admitted influence) pittance selling Marina and the Diamonds was clear. And pretty funny. Because Marina’s perfect, comparable and far superior debut came along at a time when pop music was still in the iron grips of industry ‘experts’. There was no Soundcloud, no YouTube, no xHamster, no SnapChat, nothing for an artist to advertise themselves outside the tightly controlled machine. And, let’s be honest, Marina would have almost definitely been sexually abused by record executives on numerous occasions. That’s just how it worked. All for 27,618 first week sales (4,000 in the US).
On ‘Happier Than Ever’ (d’yer think that’s ironic?? Do yer??? Do yer????) though, Eilish achieves something that Marina so miserably failed on that aforementioned ‘Love + Fear’ record – she records an album in a completely different tone, with a massively reduced tempo, and even a (spit) mature record, that manages to properly present vulnerability and emotional honesty without ever sounding whiny or self-obsessed. We’re all aware of the ‘second album’ tropes – your previous record has elevated you to both riches and fame that your listeners can no longer imagine, and you’re suddenly so out of touch that you’re asking your listeners to relate to songs about the lack of quality dehumidifiers in first class plane departments, or how stressful it is to marry your Vogue cover shoot commitments to invitations to Prince Andrew’s sixty first birthday party. Eilish’s talent is to manage to communicate her experiences in ways that remain relatable. Not many people (specifically women) of any age and socioeconomic status are going to listen to stories about being judged on her body image and unwanted attention and find nothing at all relatable. And, come on, don’t we all wish we could have partners sign an NDA? Like, every partner. And everyone we’ve ever met. My ex-wife might soon wish I’d signed one. Eilish knows that, while her tales of paparazzi photos and crazed stalkers might not be directly relatable, there are simply extreme versions of things that so many of the listeners will instantly understand.
Eilish and her brother never planned to release a follow up album so soon – things being cancelled by coronavirus suddenly opened up a lot of gaps in their respective schedules – and that can occasionally sound evident. Some of the songs are weak and forgettable mood pieces, and the general mood and tone of the album can sometimes drag, leading me to never really being able to consider this her proper second album. It’s still a wonderful piece of work though, and Eilish is only making herself more and more artistically interesting.
Nick Cave album number two and a half!
‘L.I.T.A.N.I.E.S’ is not only the odd one out among Nick Cave’s grab bag of Necessary Evil 2021 entries – all the others contain at least one other Bad Seed, and are, despite there admirable experimentation, a little more recognisable as, y’know, actual songs – it might be the odd one out on a list already pregnant with oddities. Pregnant with. Like, has all these oddities gestating in its womb and will soon push them out through its vagina. Fucking hell, Alex, what kind of writing is that??
The album began back when everyone was bored mad during the height of the pandemic when the Belgian composer Nicholas Lens phoned Nick Cave, whom he had previously worked with on 2014’s ‘Shell Shock’, and asked him to write some litanies. What’s a ‘litany’? Apparently, that was the first thing Cave asked himself as he furiously Googled after putting down the phone to Lens. Of course, I know what a litany is, I’ve been litanising my whole life, mate, I pop off a couple off litanies before I have my breakfast, so I didn’t have to Google it. Off the top of my head, a litany is a series of petitions for use in church services or processions, usually recited by the clergy and responded to in a recurring formula by the people. Got that? Cave wrote a bunch of those.
The ultra stripped back and reticent opera that’s come out of that partnership ends up being a maybe sad, maybe grateful, maybe damning, maybe celebratory mirror of the strange experience of the world shutting down. This is an opera by the way. Yeah, I know, operas don’t necessarily have to include large bosomed ladies screaming while wearing a Viking helmet only to later be kidnapped by a phantom. The relatively modest cast of contributors (eleven, which, apparently, in classical music terms is like if the only contributions to a rock album were by the bassist’s pet iguana) is both a result of the COVID constrictions and leads to the record having a sparse and near empty feel, with the gaps between sounds becoming more affecting than the sounds themselves. An extremely strange record, but it’s strangeness contributes to its absolute essentialism.
I know, two classical albums in this entry. Stay in your lane, Alex.
Ah, balls, maybe this album is stranger than ‘L.I.T.A.N.I.E.S’? All these albums are strange, they all stick out on this list because no two amazing albums are alike. No two people are alike, you are are all wonderfully obtuse individuals and it’s your strangeness that makes you interesting. It doesn’t make you special though, we’re all unique and bizarre creatures, so don’t act like you deserve constant fascination because you wear cabassa hand shakers as earrings. Yes, Gavin, I’m talking to you. Nobody wants to say it to your face, but you’re really starting to piss people off with that shit.
What is special though, is the debut album by Lost Girls, a band that Jenny Hval has been dicking about in with Håvard Volden for about a decade now. You’ve heard Hval’s solo stuff, right? Of course you have, you wouldn’t be able to read at this level if you were dumb enough to not be a fan of her. Then you would have heard how challenging, how experimental and how far outside the box the Norwegian genius’s thinking is. She is so avant garde that she gets so far avant that she circles back round and becomes retard garde before catching up to the front again and becoming supplémentaire avant garde. Well, imagine if Hval wasn’t so concerned with pandering to commercial interests, and decided to do some work that was a little more loose and improvised.
The album to which I am referring, which you may have noticed I am avoiding trying to spell (it means ‘human nature’ in Norwegian), is absolutely fucking bang up the elephant. Your assumptions around ‘improvisational’ probably call to mind jerky and unfocused rhythms, nonsense lyrics, melodic impossibility and – if you’re being honest – really, really hairy beards. But Lost Girls’ debut betrays nothing of this, the songs may be unconventional and occasionally challenging, but they are built around recognisable core concepts and songs that are never less than gorgeous even as they spiral over 15 minutes, as Love, Lovers does.
Phwooooooaaaaar! Ammi right? Ammi right? I’m right. That’s all we men want, right? Medusa with wings emerging from the water with her scaly baps out while licking a butterfly? That’s tick, tick, tick, tick, tick for me, and I know for a fact that I’m not weird, so I’m going to assume this is universal. If you have a boyfriend or husband out there and you’re concerned that he doesn’t open up enough about his sexual desires and fantasies, it’s because it’s this, and you’re to blame for spending so much time castigating him whenever he even tried to awkwardly and politely bring up even wearing those snakes in your hair next time you were being intimate. No! Don’t change the subject by asking where he got all those snakes from, you’re the problem here! It’s twenty fucking twenty fucking one, stop kink shaming and start drawing on those scales.
Sufjan, Sufjan, Sufjan, you release it, I’ll love it, I’ll stick it on this list. This collection, with longtime opening act Angelo de Augustine – whom I honestly assumed was a woman literally up until I just Googled him – is one of his less experimental efforts, happy enough to be just another example of the peerless acoustic songwriting for which he is probably best known. Or they are best known, maybe this is 100% a De Augustine album, but Sufjan’s name was attached to increase its interest to the wider public and to the most influential journalists. Yes. Like me. Well, it worked, you’re a star, Mr Augustine, and should ditch that parasitic layabout Mr Stevens as soon as you can, less the dopey motherfucker takes all your credit. Seriously, nicking a fucking living, that guy…
New le FLEUR* season, summer time, look like private school
Keep it low, don’t want that shit to blow like Osama shoeSir Baudelaire
“Blow up like Osama shoe”?? Excuse me?? All due respect, but what the actual Kentucky Fried Fuck?! Osama bin Laden, whom I assume you are referring, never had a shoe that blew up! Is that what you think happened at 9/11?? That’s one super sized shoe there, Mr. Creator. What, you think those two planes were just a left and right shoe piling on the Twin Towers? Like, really long shoes, like what clowns wear? Christ, Tyler, I wish you could hear how fucking stupid you sound right now. Osama bin Laden flew a pair of clown shoes into the Twin Towers. Sure. You’ve not been smoking too much recently at all, have you? Osama wasn’t into blowing up shoes! He was working on a much larger scale! The guy’s not cold in the grave and you’re disrespecting him like this.
You’re obviously thinking of the shoe bomber. Firstly, he has a name (and that name is not Osama bin Laden!): Richard Reid. Yeah, I know, bit of a disappointingly dull name, but that doesn’t mean he should be lost to history! What’s the point in putting in all the work and all the planning to pull off an inventive terrorist attack, only for some guy in 20 years to get you mixed up with Osama?? I feel like we’re in danger of just forgetting all the other terrorists who inspired the War on Terror, and it’ll be like all their work was for naught. Listen, obviously Osama is the biggest name in terrorism, which is probably deserved, but that’s no excuse. When I next score a hole in one at my local golf club (which, fittingly, wouldn’t allow Osama or Tyler the Creator to become members), I’m going to be pretty pissed if the commemorative board in the clubhouse twenty years from now refers to me as ‘Tiger Woods’ simply because he’s the more famous. Arguably. Arguably more famous. Anyway, Richard Reid’s shoe bombs famously didn’t blow up, because it was a laughably cockbrained attempt that failed for numerous hilarious reasons, including that Sweaty Ricky’s feet had perspired so much that the fuse was too damp to light. So, you’re saying Osama had exploding shoes, by mixing him up with the shoe bomber, who also, famously, did not have exploding shoes (just, like, special customisations). Tyler, mate, you’re having an absolute fucking mare.
OK, so that’s maybe 86% of my problems with this album.
It’s an extremely good album. Go back and see how much I rate the albums I’ve listed so far. Right? Yeah? Well this album is better.
OK, so now the complaints. As great an album as ‘Call Me…’ is, it is vastly inferior to Tyler’s two previous albums, both of which are notable artistic high points in recent hip-hop (and I would say to call ‘Igor’ at least ‘hip-hop’ would be somewhat digressive). So, y’know, difficult albums to even come close to, and the last artist to release three truly outstanding albums in a row was Billy Idol between ‘Cyberpunk’ in 1993 and 2015’s ‘Kings and Queens of the Underground’. I said ‘outstanding’. I didn’t say ‘good’. ‘Call Me…’ falls short for me largely for the artistic choices, which are absolutely well worked and completely valid, makes for an album that simply doesn’t work anywhere near as well as his two career peaks. Tyler pays homage to rap mixtapes, especially the sort that were Popular during the early years of the 20th century. So, songs blur into each other, random vocal snippets and DJ shout outs intertwine with the relentless stream of music, and the tone is hyped and the party is constant. It’s an extraordinarily faithful recreation, but I feel Tyler is best when predicting how music will sound in the future rather that nostalgically referencing what was in the past.
Granty, baby! So good to have you back!
Well, kinda back. Grant managed two albums either side of #5 in the middle of the last decade, two works of utter majesty that ‘Boy from Michigan’ doesn’t quite suggest he is close to equalling quite yet. But, by God, is this several furlongs better than 2018’s messy and confused ‘Love is Magic’, where Grant was leaning way too far into comedy, when his obvious wit works far better when he isn’t musically surrounding it with broad stabs usually more associated with Mr Blobby. There were still some great songs on ‘Love is Magic’, because Grant can pull a great song out of his tangled bum hair and his music is only ever not good when he doesn’t want it to be, but frustratingly Grant had seemed to decide that he wasn’t that arsed about good songs this time around,
He’s largely pulled his finger out for ‘Michigan’. Or maybe… put his finger back in…? Y’know, because of the songs being tangled in his bum hairs…? Jesus, Alex, never revisit old metaphors, they’re like last night’s meal in that they’re never as appetising after they’ve been regurgitated all over your keyboard. ‘Michigan’ is far closer to Grant being on his absolutely best form – the songs soar, the humour is splenetic, and the whole thing is just epic after epic after epic after epic.
Only… maybe too many epics? The album runs to 75 minutes, and if Grant would just unblock me on WhatsApp I’d have happily helped him shave 20 minutes off no problem. Also, the songs, despite them being gloriously produced and composed, and soaring/dumping in all the correct places, are too often just not quite there melodically, and often don’t quite justify their epic presentation. These are nitpicks though, and considering the eleven place leap from his last album, I’m looking forward to seeing Grant back in the top ten in maybe three or four albums time.
Rico Nasty is everything to me. Her look is never less than sensational, she raps in the voice of Spike from Gremlins if you gave him a ketamine enema then made him angry by refusing to do it again, her disregard for genre and appropriate tropes sees her often bashing down the walls in front of musical styles like heavy metal with bloodied hands while screaming. Like Spike from Gremlin. With a ketamine enema. This is all canon, by the way, you really need to read that movie’s novelisation. ‘Nightmare Vacations’ biggest selling points – its lunacy, its unhinged logic, its disregard for conventional structuring and tropes – are also probably its biggest weaknesses, as the album never quites hangs together with any connecting philosophy and the fact that it’s more a random collection of (really) great songs prevent such an amazing work from finishing much higher. Oh, and then there’s the fact that I’ve actually got a lot of things to say about the next album so wanted to ensure it had it’s own separate entry. Maybe. Nobody can prove that.
Seriously though, why the fuck are you even listening to me?? Who am I next o Rico freking Nasty?? Nobody! She is everything, only ever listen to what she says
OK! The first half is done, now let’s dive into each top forty entry individually as I desperately try to think of something to say!