Pull Tiger Tail

So it’s come to that dreaded time of year for every blogger – the end (or as I like to call it, Listomania, hur-hur). You’ve probably read several thousand ‘Best of 2009’ lists already, and mine will contain a lot of what everyone else has already agreed on I’m sure, but it seems important (or at least interesting) to me to really force myself to decide on my real favourite albums of the year, and make a distinct effort to see what moved me. I guess that’s why I like list posts so much, they may change, they may be based on a subjective (or worse, populist) view of the year’s albums, but the positions of albums, especially at the top levels, really interest me and I’ve already done my fair share of reading about why some have beaten others. So without further ado, here’s the first installment of my albums of the year.

15. Bombay Bicycle Club – I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose

I’d been looking forward to this record for a long time before its release. This prodigious bunch of Londoners had been charming me for over a year, constantly releasing little bits and pieces of the album, each one showing me another facet of their character as a band. When the album itself dropped I was initially a little disappointed actually, feeling that the individuality of each single was distilled by the album tracks. However, as the year went on, I would hear the album on people’s stereos all over the place and the cohesive nature of the record came through far better as background noise. For example, the expansive stomp of ‘Dust on the Ground’ may not seem to match the laidback groove of ‘Always Like This’, but they’re bridged by the beautiful ‘Ghost’ which marries the noisier guitar tone of the former with the more chilled-out feel of the latter. And it’s the same for the rest of the album – it’s a record that has somewhere to go with each track, well thought-out and beautifully realised. I can’t wait to hear more.

Bombay Bicycle Club – Evening/Morning (YSI)

14. Hockey – Mind Chaos

An album that starts with five straight tracks of effervescent, fresh, Strokes-meets-James Murphy brilliance like ‘Too Fake’, ‘3am Spanish’, ‘Learn To Lose’, ‘Work’ and ‘Song Away’ will always catch my eye. As an opening salvo, there’s not been much to rival it for sheer throat-grabbing pop magic this year, and whilst the rest of the album might not live up to this initial blast, it’s certainly never short of ideas. There are the hipster prerequisites of indie and dance all over the place, but look closer and you’ll hear flecks of country, soul, classic rock and even an entertaining, if slightly misguided, attempt at ironic hip-hop in ‘Wanna Be Black’. It can seem a bit tumultuous at times, but Ben Grubin’s hipster drawl is the through line that holds the whole affair together and makes this, if not a perfect album, at least a very good one.

Hockey – Learn To Lose (YSI)

13. Pull Tiger Tail – PAWS.

It’s a wonder that this album ever got released, not to mention that it would be such a joy to listen to. Pull Tiger Tail have been one of the saddest casualties of the music industry I’ve ever heard of, and being left legally unable to release an album you toiled over must be a horrible experience. However, with sheer determination and some seriously devoted fans, the band brought us a bouncing bomb of an album, never sitting still but hitting harder than you’d expect for indie-pop. The really excellent point of this album is just how far the band can stretch their own sound. For sheer, bubbling pop look no further than ‘Let’s Lightning’. If you want a catchy guitar anthem there’s ‘Animator’. For bubblegum-gloom balladry we have the (unsettlingly prophetic) ‘Loki’. That this album should have been released in 2007 and it still sounds this good in a completely different musical climate is testament to the band’s talent, and frankly the only real downside to the album is that we’ll never be hearing any more from them.

Pull Tiger Tail – Animator (YSI)

12. Andrew Bird – Noble Beast

I really don’t like the term freak folk, and to see it bandied about in relation to this album seems like something of a mis-step. This isn’t some freaky, psychedelic experience of an album, this is a slow-burning stream of well-considered, floating songs, full of intricate little touches and spooky, vibrato whistling. At first listen, it might seem as though Mr. Bird is just wandering around his songs, casually tossing new rhythms and tonal shifts into the mix for the hell of it, but it seems after a few listens that what he’s really doing is injecting each one with a new lease of life just as they might drag on. It’s also interesting for its content; his lyrics are sometimes unbelievably wordy, more so than almost anyone else I’ve ever heard (singing about ‘calcified arithmatists’ or ‘proto-Sanskrit Minoans’ has that effect) and his voice strays into beautiful Thom Yorke falsetto at times. This is not an album to listen to for catchy catharsis, but it certainly is lovely, and perfectly replicates the pastoral beauty of that front cover up there, letting you just wallow and waste time in it.

Andrew Bird – Effigy (YSI)

11. Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson – Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson

I should hate this man, considering he stole my idea for a really cool song sound and using it for his opening track. ‘Buriedfed’ is a dark folk lament that crescendos into a huge, beautiful Arcade Fire-style explosion of instrument noise, which I’d always wanted to do but, not being able to play an instrument, let alone a huge number of them at once, I’d had to put that idea on hold for a bit. I’ll let him off though, because this is hands-down one of my favourite songs of the year, and opens up an album full of fantastic, mournful songs. From ‘Woodfriend’s skewed take on a blues-rock stomper to shambling, drunken anthem that is ‘The Ongoing Debate Concerning Present vs Future’, it’s clear that ol’ four-names is one talented man. His wails permeate every song with a sense of the sadness he’s singing about – party music this is not, but it is unbelievably affecting; even when he’s upbeat it seems like Miles might just collapse in a heap at any moment and give up. It could easily have turned into a self-indulgent, “emotional” record, but as he whispers “Don’t care to eat, to drink makes me thirst/My second year here has been worse than the first” on closer ‘Boneindian’, it suddenly all becomes heartbreakingly true. And amazing.

Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson – Buriedfed (YSI)

Poor old Pull Tiger Tail. Formed in 2006, hyped by NME and many others, released some brilliant singles, recorded an album, got dropped by their label (B-Unique) for inscrutable financial reasons and were legally not allowed to release said album by said label. It’s a story to chill the bones of any aspiring indie musician. But now, two years later, after much fighting by the band and a lengthy campaign by their dedicated fans, Paws. has finally been released. It’s an act of catharsis by the band – they’ve played their final gig and the release of the album is just a way of getting their hard work out there as they call it a day.

But the really sad thing is that it’s a very good album. The sound is a little dated, given that it was mostly written during the indie boom that spawned The Maccabees and Klaxons, but it’s packed full of insanely catchy songs – debut single ‘Animator’ is as joyously engaging as it ever was, ‘Let’s Lightning’ is a perfect indie-pop anthem and ‘Loki’s dark musings on the fickle nature of the music industry sound eerily prophetic with the benefit of hindsight. Marcus’ vocals are consistently interesting, with yelping fervour and menacing tones both coming through, whilst the newer versions of their older singles are far louder and more active than the originals, with added synths and more complex arrangements.

The album is tinged with a sort of potential nostalgia, you can hear how the band had got better from their first singles until the album, and who knows where they could have gone from there? Of course, nothing more may have come of it, but with a prospect this good never reaching past its first album, you never know if the opposite would be true. But whilst the music is as brilliant as it ever was, Paws.’ real triumph is that it was released by three guys who were just proud of what they’d made and fought and won to let people hear it. It’s their tenacity that makes me happiest to have bought the album, they deserve the money for their work, and every fan they’ve had should give them what they deserve, they’ve been through more than most to release what they created, and deserve every penny we can give for that.

The album is only available on CD and Vinyl from their website (www.pulltigertail.net) but the MP3 Download is on Amazon and iTunes amongst others.

Pull Tiger Tail – Loki (YSI)

There comes a time in every blogger’s life when you have no inspiration whatsoever. And that’s what the shuffle function was created for. Here’s another three random cuts of my iTunes library for you to mull over.

Pull Tiger Tail – Mary Jane
As much as I loved their older stuff (see here for example), I never quite took to PTT’s newer singles, before they fell apart due to label tyranny. This was their last (and possibly last ever) release, and sums up, for me, what went wrong for them. Unlike their earliest stuff, it just lacks the punch, the energy, that made them special. The vocals seem a little laboured, and everything seems a little Athlete-y in places (not to say I don’t like Athlete, I think their first album was awesome, it just isn’t right for PTT). That being said, this is an enjoyable song, just not their best work.

Red Hot Chili Peppers – Wet Sand
Ah the Chilis. The first band I ever saw live. Of course, this wasn’t actually released at the time, the whole Stadium Arcadium period was the beginning of my slight loss of faith in them (along with the colossal damp squib that was their 2007 Reading set). I mean, a double album? Really? Not only is it lazy, it’s just too long and full of filler. However, I do like this song. Antony Kiedis’ vocals start off all “Under The Bridge” and then grow with the music to a funky crescendo of an anthem ending, and John Frusciante’s solos never fail to bring a warmth into my soul, remembering all those times I idolised them.

Friendly Fires – Photobooth
I know it’s nothing new, and it’s all been said before, but Friendly Fires really are brilliant aren’t they? I haven’t heard their album yet (annoyingly), but I just haven’t heard a song they’ve done that I haven’t liked yet. This early single is a prime example. Straddling the lines between pop, dance and indie effortlessly, it’s just perfect. There are enough lyrics for it to interest me, but there’s enough repetition and a prominent bass line to make it perfect for dancing to. Just amazing.

What could possibly be better than a song that makes you happy, embodies happiness just through its tune and is made by a band who used to have about 30 translations of their band name into different languages on their Myspace? Pull Tiger Tail have always been about rousing you, making you jump, making you smile, and when I first heard this song, it made me do just that. I couldn’t stop playing it, and I was glad of it. Who needs shuffle, when you’ve got just one thing you’d rather listen to than anything else at that time? Music for me is all about personal reaction to what you’re listening to. That might be an obvious statement, but too often it gets overlooked in the pursuit of somthing new, something to force yourself to connect to. Too often it’s me that does it.

The thing is, when you truly find that connection on the first few listens to a song, it can just bowl you over. When I first heard this, it came in waves. First the guitar riff, then the bass, then the drums and just as that’s grabbed you, the vocals emerge and throw you into a sunny paradise. Then the chorus bursts the song open, and as the singer Marcus’ breathless one-word delivery washes over you, well it’s something that I can’t help but sing along to. It’s just brilliance, nothing more, nothing less.
Pull Tiger Tail – Animator

PS. They also did a version of this song that’s exactly the same except all the lyrics were sung in French after using an online translator. Awesome.
PPS. They’ve recently been dropped by their label, have no rights to THEIR OWN ALBUM and may not be able to ever make music professionally again. How much does the music industry suck?