Best of 2010 (part 2)

Regular readers of this blog may remember that earlier in the year a severe virus destroyed both my computer as well as my laptop in just under ten hours. At that point the Democratische 99, my annual “best of” for music, was nearly finished.
It took over four months to get my computers working again (on Linux) and there was a non-official list (compiled by the songs that were played on Radio Kurtodrome), so this site decided that compiling a list based on all the rough material would be too much work. This makes 2010 the second year without a definite D99. Given that the first list was compiled in 1994, that’s saying something.

Anyway, had there been a list, who would have made it to the top? This weekend we look at the five tracks that would have made it to the top…

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New Marina for the Diamonds

(oh… drafts don’t get published, do they? Well, excuse me for not noticing I’d put my next post down as a draft, rather than an actual article… it’s been, like, only my 350th post on the Avenue, you can’t expect us newbies to know that sort of stuff – anyway, as one of the pictures for my 25 August post has appeared to gone missing between the day I wrote it and now, I’ll go and look for another picture. This means this article will now be postponed for the second time and in the meantime, here’s a replacement post.)

Marina in a car

A couple of weeks ago Marina (of Marina and the Diamonds) posted a comment on her site that fans shouldn’t comment on or ask about the leaked demo tracks. Because they were only demo versions and, if anything, the comments would slow down any new releases. And because of that, it was rather unexpected that suddenly, out of the blue, there appeared two new tracks, a part one and two.

Marina’s love-and-hate relationship with Hollywood has been widely documented (not in the least in her single Hollywood – see also this post) and for her new single (EP?) the obsession seems to continue. Marina has put on a silver wig and is no longer Marina, but Electra Heart. The two-parter release exists of “Fear and Loathing” and ‘Radioactive” and the first song explains itself in the liner notes:

Electra Heart embodies the lies, illusions and death of an American Dream.

The second part, “Radioactive”, sounds and looks quite different from the first one: the text rages like the beats it’s been produced with (in stark contrast to the acoustic version that’ll be one of the extra tracks on the single – which will be released in the UK on 3 October).

As for the wig, this is explained on Marina’s site where you can find a picture with part of a poem

We must

We must bring
our own light
to the
darkness.

and underneath just two simple words:

silver wig

Oh No! Marina’s back!

A year ago we had to explain time and again who Marina was. Fast forward ten months and you’ll find most of her concerts are sold out. Looks like this year we don’t have to travel to Oxford to see her perform (but thanks to Marina we now love Oxford).

Next month “Oh No!”, Marina’s latest single will be out, but the video is already finished. It’s quite cartoonish and it looks like this:

And, as a bonus treat, here’s the making of:

Marina goes to Hollywood

And the plugging continues… just about a year ago we discovered “Mowgli’s Road” and were instantly blown away by Marina Diamandis (a.k.a. Marina and the Diamonds). At the time you could only buy two EPs on an American label, but those who knew her had a gut feeling greater things had to lie ahead… more demo versions were thrown on the internet, the tours took her to bigger venues (including the NME Radar Tour  – also the first time I got my ass to another country, just to see a concert) and now it’s 2010. In just over a week (a.k.a. Monday 22) Marina’s debut album The Family Jewels (an in-joke reference to the EP title The Crown Jewels) will hit the record stores, a collection of the two EPs, some songs you may have known from the internet demos (there is a fat chance “Girls” or “The Outsider” will end up high on our Best of 2010 list – mark my words). And just a few weeks ago Marina and the Diamonds played her brand new single, Hollywood, on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross. What’s next, Marina: global domination?

Here’s the video for Hollywood, the single that was released on February 1 to announce the album. I honestly have to say it took me two or three times before I opened up to this track, so feel free to repeat it a couple of times.

Democratische 99 (2009)

We interrupt the regular programming to alert you to the Democratische 99, the annual music list by the Kurtodrome site. The 99 best songs of 2009 aren’t just posted, links have been found for all the songs in the list. That’s one download and 98 links to YouTube. And as you can see from this glorious picture, it’s Marina and the Diamonds who reigns supremely.

All there is for me to say is: here’s the list!

Marina and the Diamonds (NME Radar Tour 2009)

It’s not a good idea to travel when you’re depressed: so many miles from home, you find yourself on strange territory, which more often than not leads to more introspection, just about the last thing you need at the moment. However, staying home is not an option either, as this gives you (in your already depressed state) only more fodder to get sucked further into the downward spiral. Which is why Dr. Kurtodrome advises you to go and have a good time.

It took me a train, a Eurostar, a Tube connection and a luxury bus to get there, but by Jove, I managed to end up in Oxford, more than ready for the first night of NME’s Radar Tour 2009. The NME Radar Tour, for those who haven’t heard of it, is a UK tour with a handful of vaguely known bands. This translates as: you’ll probably have heard of one or two prior to the concert. Give them one year and some of them will found a much bigger audience. La Roux, Crystal Castles, Friendly Fires, White Lies and Blood Red Shoes are just some of the names from previous editions. This edition features four bands: Yes Giantess, Local Natives, Marina and the Diamonds and Golden Silvers.

My visit to Oxford is easily explained: early this year, I already announced my top track of 2009. More than six months later, I still haven’t changed my mind: Mowgli’s Road by Marina and the Diamonds is still my favourite track of the year and, good news ahead, on November 2 2009 it’ll finally be released. Though you can already listen to the Welsh-Greek Marina Diamondis (in her words, she’s Marina and we, the audience, are the diamonds) thanks to a limited vinyl release (by a US company – this is quite global, no?).

What makes Marina so special is that her songs are quite diverse. From the nutty “Mowgli’s Road” to the melancholic “Obsessions”, Marina’s music manages to blend a poppy sound with introspective lyrics. “Sunday, wake up, give me a cigarette./Last night’s love affair is looking vulnerable in my bed” is how “Obsessions” opens, a song where Marina explores good and bad feelings. The girl in “Seventeen” can’t say what happened to her the day she turned 17 (“The rise of a king and the fall of a queen”). Not that this necessarily means Marina’s lyrics are autobiographical (and even if): “Just because you know my name/Doesn’t mean you know my game” she sings in “The Outsider” (which sadly wasn’t played last night, grrr).

So her songs are alternatively sweet, nasty, happy, sad, melancholic and extravert, but what about the concert? Well, it’s always hard to listen to tracks that haven’t been properly released but which already float around on the internet in demo form. Not only are there several versions of the songs, some even have alternative titles (is it “Girls” or “Girls Girls Girls”, is it “Shampain Sleeper” or “Champagne”?). It is therefore weird to hear these in a different version than you’re used to, even if the concert will probably have a more final version of the track.

Marina was a bit more vibrant than the band before her, which is why the sound wasn’t always crystal clear, but at least Marina gave enough evidence to blame the sound engineers and not the singer. She has quite a voice and definitely deserves a giant breakthrough. And she was quite talkative in between the songs too: she told the crowd that she probably should be more quiet and cooler on stage but that this probably wouldn’t happen with a personality like hers. She may have been a little overwhelmed by the crowd which included a group of hyperactive girls (of which one turned 16 that very same night), another person with the same birthday (18 this time) and quite a large group which was able to sing along to songs that – we’ll repeat once more – haven’t even been released.

Marina’s album is allegedly released early next year. By this time, all the songs will have found their final form. I’m trying here not to use the word ‘diamond’ given it’s part of her name, but of any other artist I would’ve said that we here have an artist who’s been cutting diamonds for quite some time now and some of them are already in their jewel box and some are just in need of a final cut. The NME Radar Tour and “Mowgli’s Road” on cd are happening right now, a full album and a global breakthrough are next (if not, we will have failed miserably as a human race).

But Marina wasn’t the only one. Here’s a quick look at the other artists.

Yes Giantess are from Boston and are four well-behaved boys. There’s a drummer and three people on keyboards. They’re funny too, if the ad libs in Oxford were any proof. So far the good news, now for the bad. Some of their songs are excellent and it’s great fun to see them play them live, but after fifteen minutes a feeling of déjà-vu creeps up. A bit more variation in their songs wouldn’t be bad. It is, certainly if you didn’t know the band (I confess), to distinguish between the songs. Still, nice sound, so it’s not the end of the world. (Also, the band sounds better live than on record.)

“Please tell me this is a novelty band,” was my gut reaction when I left the toilets (by the way, some form of light would be an asset near toilet cubicles) and noticed the people on stage. Two band members of Local Natives sported the sort of mustashes you generally only see in bad cop movies from the 70s. Sometimes they sang together in harmony (the Fleet Foxes school released its first alumni), but the Natives chose a more rocking sound. I have to confess it took me a while before I could start liking them and some of their songs only reach your ears but not your soul.

Because of a lack of official promotional material I’ve decided to choose a live recording (from January 2009).

The line-up meant that Yes Giantess and Local Natives had to open for Marina and the Diamonds and Golden Silvers. Lo and behold, someone went to the music meeting where the upper-lip decoration for 70s cops was deemed cool. And it looked as if more people had gone to the Fleet Foxes school of harmony. The singer’s voice sometimes reminded me of Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine and sometimes of Blur. At least it shows the band doesn’t have a set of songs which all sound the same. More diverse and quite good, but overclassed by Marina. Still, how good they were, they proved just after the concert when the band was the only one allowed to do an encore: the singer took place behind his keyboard, the rest cuddled up around one microphone. The final song of the first night of the NME Radar Tour was almost completely sung a capella and it wasn’t out of tune. Golden Silvers, remember the name.

P.S. The NME Radar Tour has just started and will travel around the UK for the next three weeks. Check the site to see if the bands are also performing somewhere near you.
P.P.S. As we can’t end a review on the words “near you”, here’s an extra song by Marina and the Diamonds.