Retrospective Musings on Music

So about a month ago everyone compiled their best of 2009 and best of the 'noughties' lists - and, don't worry, I'm not going to do that now - which had the effect of making me go back and listen to some of my favourite albums of the past few years, and download a few classic songs I didn't realise that I didn't have. Though in some ways it maybe started off a bit shakily, the noughties was a great decade for music: the rise and fall of 'indie' from Is This It and Up the Bracket to the teenyboppers-with-guitars that are now inflicted upon our ears; the proliferation of electronica and its many forms; the rise of dubstep; folk revival; and just some really great artists, albums and songs. But looking back, which artists will really be remembered in years to come as driving music forward, pushing the limits, innovating, being the vanguard and not the zeitgeist?

I offer three suggestions amongst many possibilities:
1. M.I.A.: If we live now in a truly post- (or post-post-) modern world, then M.I.A. is one of the first artists to truly capture it in such dazzling style: the fragments of cultures, lives, technologies, worlds, all colliding is right here in her samples, ultra-modern electronic sounds alongside ancient rhythms and sharp, witty and sometimes damning lyrics sung with the confident swagger of a decade that saw no limits, for both better and worse. 'Paper Planes' become one of the defining anthems of the decade, with its combination of a Clash sample, gunshots, and biting satirical lyrics that made you think politics whilst joyfully singing your heart out.
2. The Knife: The present and the foreseeable future are electronic, and The Knife have not just embraced this but used electronica in previously un-thought ways. Not simple dance or pop music, on Silent Shout, the swedish act found away to capture mood, atmosphere, weather, and the world in epic yet intimate, grand yet subtle ways. Just as classical symphonies and programme music used 'traditional' instruments to evoke everything from claps of thunder to hidden sorrow, so The Knife harness the possibilities of new, electronic technology to do the same thing. Hauntingly beautiful soundscapes of rain and wind, desparation, loss and sorrow stretch the boundaries of electronic music to startling effect. And it doesn't stop there: their new electronic opera recently premiered in Copenhagen, and from the youtube trailer promises to be a spectacular new take on an old form.
3. Animal Collective: Taking something from a huge range of genres and constantly evolving, this is innovation itself, and surely the sound of the future. Dispensing with traditional popular music styles, the Collective manage to create music that is catchy, listenable and of great beauty, evoking mood and emotion in an entirely new, unique and original way. Challenging on first listen, you come to realise that this is only because our ears are thus far untrained to their sounds, and on repeat listening they are an utter revelation. Not for nothing was last year's Merriweather Post Pavillion one of the most feted album releases in years.


How to cause minimal environmental harm when travelling...

...check out www.greentraveller.co.uk - a website that I have been working for recently, which is a really clear, clean, useful and non-preachy source of information and inspiration for amazing holidays and journeys across Europe and beyond. It tells you step by step how to travel without flying, as well as giving some great holiday ideas and linking to accommodation en route. The blog section gives you all the latest green and ethical travel news as well as further trip ideas and entertaining stories from top travel writers. Enjoy!


Causers of Amazement

Download the debut album from Toro y Moi, Causers of This, now. South Carolina's Chazwick Bundick creates warped, tripped-out lo-fi psychadelic electronica to sooth every soul into a state of bliss. Like watching city lights flash by in a languorous state of half-sleep, this is a new kind of trance music: a sweet anaesthetic that gets under your skin, not a flashback to '90 Ibiza. And it's just what you need when it's below freezing outside and daylight lasts for only about seven hours.



The bleak mid-winter and beyond

So we're in the grips, or depending on who you hear it from, death throes, of the coldest, snowiest winter that Britain has seen during my lifetime. I sway between gazing adoringly at the flakes of snow and relishing the squeak of fresh snow beneath my shoes and ranting to anyone who will listen about how much I wish I lived somewhere with permanent heat and sunshine, with none of this irritating ice and sole-destroying slush. Either way, this bleak winter isn't going to get me down. Because when you live in one of the world's great cities, there is always something to do.

So, spurred on by a visit from friends from California, I have seen the dubiously-acquired treasures of the British Museum and learnt about rocks in South Kensington, taken High Tea and seen as much of the interior of St. Paul's as one can without paying the steep entry fee. And, of course, I have partied. New Year's at Scrutton Street warehouse saw the wonderful Boy 8 Bit and many others spin dazzling electro to East London's finest... and softening cement coated our shoes. The bars of Shoreditch don't seem to suffer from people's alcohol-renouncing resolutions, and Dalston Superstore's glorious sense of camp fun was in full swing as ever last wednesday as we quaffed wine and played, er, ping pong. When the snow falls, we just make sure not to fall down. Literally, figuratively, or otherwise.