My top 10 albums of the decade
I'm not deluded enough to think that this is a definitive guide to the Best Welsh Albums Of The 00s - it's a trawl through my favourites. Please tell me what your favourites have been, too, by leaving a comment at the end.
The next time NASA decide to throw a few million tax-payers' dollars into the nether regions of space, a la Voyager, they could include few albums that would better introduce the human race to our future alien overlords.
Its hyperactive amalgamation of punk, glam, Phil Spector, Japanese manga, cut 'n' paste fanzines, indie, electro, hip hop and Happyhardcore, is a love letter to popular culture. If the aliens arrived and they weren't humming Does Your Heart Go Boooooooomm? we'd know to get the vials of swine flu ready pronto. Like being snogged by a loved-up, candyfloss, Casio Tigger.
Super Furry Animals - Mwng (2000)
There were bigger budgets and bigger arrangements to come for Super Furry Animals, but the mischievous fun, the sense of liberation, and the crackling psychotropic melodies on Mwng make it the band's best. In my opinion.
MC Mabon - The Hunt For Meaning (2001)
Some might regard hip hop's influence on Welsh music as being a cultural perversion, but the genre's global reach throughout the last decade means that it would have been plain weirder if samples and breaks hadn't been assimilated by Wales' more curious musical minds.
It's made for some interesting results: Llwybr Llaethog, Tystion, Optimas Prime, the Headcase Ladz, Akira The Don, Genod Droog and (currently) Associated Minds and the multitude of Cardiff-based MC and production talents you can read about on the ChromeKids blog have all made amazing music in the last decade.
But my favourite hip-hop influenced album of the decade is this one. Gruff Meredith pulls a Welsh Odelay out the many upturned boxes in his mind. It's an album that does the unexpected with a smile on its face and a tune on its lips. Iago wooooooooooo!
Ectogram - Fluff on a Faraway Hill (2007)
I could have picked any of Ectogram's excellent albums this decade. But I'll stick to my own criteria: this is the album of theirs that I have listened to the most. An oscillating, ever-shifting exploration of the outer edges of what can be achieved by one drummer, two guitarists, a unique voice and a ruck of effects and loops.
There are sweeps of great beauty followed by hiccupping psychedelic nightmares. The whole thing driven along by a motorik beat that gives even the most out there, avant garde moments a great insistence. Uneasy listening, but utterly brilliant.
The Caves - This is the Way To... (2004)
Ask people elsewhere about Welsh guitar music and they will, no doubt, be aware of Funeral For A Friend and Lostprophets, and I know that those bands and their ilk have been incredibly successful and brought a lot of money back into Wales. But those bands don't move me. I can't connect to people who sound like they've spent more time onanistically learning widdly-widdly scales than whorishly sleeping around with as many different music styles as possible.
The Caves are filth, in that respect. They've got the smell of the MC5, Big Star and The Nerves all over them. I know that's a pretty restrictive palette in itself. But it's a better palette than the one that has Eddie Iron Maiden's zombie face stencilled on it. In my opinion, again, obviously. This album is abundant with melodies I'd climb trees to pick. High trees. In a strong wind.
Various Artists - Machine Music! The New Dance Sound of Cardiff (2008)
Wales has produced some intriguing electronic music over the last decade. Machine Records released and supported much of it. The majority of the artists contained herein haven't had the opportunity to take their music much further than this comp - but that doesn't detract from the invention and captivating atmospherics on show across these 14 tracks.
Also, most of the music on this album could only have been made in the first decade of this millennium. As a historical artefact, it's unsurpassed.
Glow - I, Yeah! (2008)
This album is also an excellent representation of what technology had enabled musicians to do in 2008. This is an astounding piece of work shaped by two of the most influential musical entities of the decade: Radiohead and Squarepusher.
It's an amalgamation of ambition, unashamed musicality, geek tendencies and questing spirits. It's progressive without ever being pompous; resolutely middle class when everyone else was deliberately scuffing their new shoes, and tremendously beautiful.
It was also a folly that nearly broke the band. It took months to record, craft and perfect, and then dropped into a world that was almost universally uninterested in its excellence. Really and truly, it's the world's loss.
Soft Hearted Scientists - Take Time To Wonder in a Whirling World (2007)
The most compelling musical visions, to me, are the ones that are shaped with a complete disregard for fashion and the holier-than-thou, suffocating zeitgeist. Soft Hearted Scientists take a grey, foreboding world and paint their own landscape over it in lysergic, folkish melodies.
This album is a sanctuary for imaginations made punchdrunk by the relentless mundanity of life. Its songs are heartbreaking modern fairytales suffused with enough yearning to be seen glowing from outer space. And Caterpillar Song is breathtaking. No one else makes music this whimsical yet this evocative. I love this album.
Martin Carr - Ye Gods (And Little Fishes) (2008)
Wallasey's Martin Carr has lived in Cardiff for the last decade. He's spent much of that time releasing experimental electronic music as bravecaptain, moving further and further away from the legacy of his years as songwriter and guitarist in the Boo Radleys.
With this album Martin appeared to have made peace with the unadorned pop song, a form he had been intent on deconstructing or ignoring for much of bravecaptain's work. Here we find verses taking our hands into magnificent choruses writ in sunset melodies. It's a beautiful swell of an album, like a fine harvest after a difficult year. Bear Lake and Orpheus Lament are the work of a master craftsman.
The sad epilogue to this is that Martin has now given up recording and performing in his own right. He's decided to write for other people instead. Thankfully this is a brilliant epilogue to a fascinating career in sound.
Future Of The Left - Travels With Myself And Another (2009)
This is the peak, as far as I am concerned. A band taut and confident in their ability to chisel new shapes out of rock's scarred edifice. There's great drama, here: like a low-rent, less Nietzschean Wagner. It's the sound of a band battling Nihilism nihilistically; a band marching stoically from battle to battle even though they're aware that the war has already been lost.
Why is this better than Mclusky's incredible releases of this decade, or Future Of The Left's debut? Because the band have learnt better how to wield their considerable power. Jack and Kelson bring so much to this bristling equation. Listen to I Am Civil Service's militaristic interplay, or the off-kilter, nightmare funk of You Need Satan and you're hearing the sound of an entirely symbiotic band: the perfect three-piece. And there is no filler, here. Even the slighter songs - That Damned Fly and Yin/Post Yin - are memorable.
Finally, this is an intriguing insight into the modern male psyche. Lyrically, Andrew Falkous seems fascinated by what it means to be a man in the modern age. It makes a welcome change from the usual lyrical chaff. Oh, and there are tunes. I keep forgetting to mention that. If I had to choose one of these albums as my favourite of the decade, it would be this one.
I also recommend: