Music of 2006 – Part 2 -Those Difficult Second Albums

Following on from my last post here’s some albums that various acts (one in revamped form) released following up on impressive debuts.

  • The Futureheads – News & Tributes [myspace] [wikipedia] [official site] [metacritic]
    Obviously The Futureheads first album was pushed heavily thanks to their cover of The Hounds Of Love, fortunately Kate Bush liked enough to leave them a voice mail message. Unfortunately it leads a lot of folk to overlook everything else they’ve ever released (as the link shows). Which is bonkers. A bit like a lighter and more consistent version of XTC, the thing that always gets me with The Futureheads is their vocals, wordy songwriting (Excepting Yes/No maybe) and rhythm based arrangements. There’s no covers here but what you do get is a wonderful grab bag including the should-have-been-a-single Fallout which I love mainly for the echo-y fuzzed guitar, obvious and great single Skip To The End and best-sub-three-minute-love-song-of-2006 Favours For Favours which has fucking great lyrics and could also have been a single. Unfortunately they released Worry About It Later as the second single, which along with News & Tributes forms the lesser tracks of the album due to the forced nature of both songs. Still, a good record and worth it for Fallout or Skip To The End or Favours For Favours alone, and it helps me cope with the ongoing reality that XTC are unlikely to record much again.
  • Ratatat – Classics [myspace] [official site] [wikipedia] [metacritic]
    Ratatat’s début was a strange record in many ways and a bit too much of a hipster fave. On the other hand though it’s the finest keyboard/guitar electronica I’ve had stuck in my head ever since it came out so I’d been awaiting the second album with baited breath. Sustaining an album without lyrics is always tricky and there was always a risk that they’d just repeat the sound of their first album, but they’ve avoided that well whilst at the same time only just coming up with a track that could top 17 Years, the explosion of RAWK which opened their first album. The first album lay low after the opener and was quite sombre, evoking lazy afternoons spent playing 8 and 16 bit computer games with those classic warm tonal sounds pouring forth from the TV. This album isn’t and is all the better for it. Bizarrely the effect of the second album is to render the first less listenable because you get addicted to Ratatat Version 2.

    The upgrade comes with a number of key new features:
    Lex not only comes close to being named after me but also attempts to outdo 17 Years in broken up song territory.
    Wildcat has the finest sample of a wildcat committed to a song in living memory and seems like the soundtrack to some forgotten 8 bit adventure of wonder. I had a master plan of making a video for it myself (somehow) which fell apart when I realised that Golden Shower had covered that idea years ago with Video Computer System’s immensely cool video. On the plus side, Wildcat rocks.
    Nostrand is also possibly the sweetest and coolest thing they’ve ever done.

  • Islands – Return To The Sea [myspace] [official site] [wikipedia] [metacritic]
    I’m not counting this as a début cos the band is essentially a successor to The Unicorns. And I always wanted another record from them, so getting 2/3 of them to continue was good. Unfortunately now it’s 1/3 of them recording the next album! Anyway, as The Unicorns everything was about songs that changed on a whim, short and lo-fi numbers with structure thrown to the wind. The Islands sees much longer songs with longer gaps between the shifts but it’s still basically the same shtick. And I still love it. Opener Swans (Life After Death) lasts nearly ten minutes, but doesn’t out-stay it’s welcome for a second, honest. The rest of the album is a hodge-podge of tales of destruction and love with one mind-bendingly great instrumental stuck in the middle.
  • The Emperor Machine – Vertical Tones & Horizontal Noise [myspace]
    Andy Meecham is a closet pop genius. As part of Bizarre Inc he had a hand in one of the 90s greatest girl-singer-warbles-whilst-two-second-rap-samples are played over synths records, I’m Gonna Get You. Nowadays he’s part of Chicken Lips, but more importantly he’s also The Emperor Machine. I first came accross this sparse bass heavy sci-fi electronica due to the first album but it all kicked off with a couple of 12 inch releases which I acquired along with the subsequent four volumes of Vertical Tones & Horizontal Noise in vinyl form (plus a turntable) in the middle of the year. In vinyl form (for home listening anyway) each song is much more of an experience and a number of the tracks gain from the added attention they get from being a whole side of listening.
    Anyway, this meant that when the second album finally appeared I didn’t come to it fresh and feared my familiarity with certain tracks might render the whole thing dead and sterile. Fat chance. Clearly the new album was a struggle (as the credit to proves), but he succeeds in moving his sound on marvellously even sparing a track or two to experiment with vocals, which works best on No Sale No ID. My particular favourites are Monkey Overbite, which has a ludicrous opening leading to the soundtrack of a desolate post-holocaust wasteland and Fear Of Woman which combines a cool title with the kind of music Buck Rogers believed he could play.

I would say don’t ask me to pick any favourites but I think somehow the two mainly instrumental albums edge it with The Emperor Machine standing out best. Which kinda surprises me.