1 Elbow – Station Approach
2 The Go! Team – Ladyflash
3 Low – Everybody’s Song
4 Doves – Black And White Town
5 The Fall – Blindness
6 Sigur Ros – Glosoli
7 Coldplay – Fix You
8 Boards Of Canada – Dayvan Cowboy
9 Tunng – Tale From Black
10 Eels – The Other Shoe
11 The Mountain Goats – Hast Thou Considered The Tetrapod
12 Yo La Tengo – Autumn Sweater
13 Joanna Newsom – Peach, Plum, Pear
14 M Ward – Oh Take Me Back
15 Arcade Fire – Headlights Look Like Diamonds
16 Hem – Half Acre
17 Tony Christie feat Peter Kay – (Is This The Way To) Amarillo
18 The Polyphonic Spree – Move Away And Shine (In A Dream version)
19 Boom Bip feat Nina Nastasia – The Matter (Of Our Discussion)
[Hidden track] The Polyphonic Spree – Acceptance (excerpt)
1 Arcade Fire – No Cars Go
2 Cass McCombs – Subtraction
3 Eels – Hey Man (Now You’re Really Living)
4 Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – The Skin Of My Yellow Country Teeth
5 M Ward – Radio Campaign
6 Joanna Newsom – Bridges And Balloons
7 Tunng – Kinky Vans
8 LCD Soundsystem – Losing My Edge
9 Half Man Half Biscuit – Joy Division Oven Gloves
10 British Sea Power – Please Stand Up
11 Sufjan Stevens – Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, IL
12 Sigur Ros – Hoppipolla
13 Radiohead – Gagging Order
14 Vitalic – Valletta Fanfares
15 Doves – Walk In Fire
16 The Fall – Wrong Place Right Time / I Can Hear The Grass Grow
17 Low – Walk Into The Sea
18 The Go! Team – Everyone’s A VIP To Someone
19 Yo La Tengo – By The Time It Gets Dark
[Hidden track] The Fall – The Chiselers (excerpt)
‘Move along / There’s nothing left to see’
Parkinson’s Law – the adage that suggests that work expands to fill the time available – has meant I’m left to cover eight more years of this soundtrack project in the next three months. But my recent slackness in posting means that I find myself listening to the 2005 soundtrack at the perfect time – the week that autumn arrives.
Hearing this all again in its entirity takes me right back to a time I hold very fondly – my final year working in summer camps after seven-and-a-half years. The summer itself was a bit of a write-off for all sorts of reasons, mainly that my heart wasn’t in working with 17-year-olds any more when I had turned 26, but the periods either side of the summer – when I worked in the outdoor education team, working with school groups instead of the pressure-cooker atmosphere of summer camp, was the perfect way to sign off. The autumn in particular, with the gorgeous fall colours of western New Jersey, was a brilliant time – a time when I finally came to peace with myself and decided to start afresh. It was a time of change – starting with leaving uni the previous year and ending up with me moving to London the following March. And listening back, I just remember the general feeling of contentment.
I hear it most of all in the first track here, Elbow’s ‘Station Approach’. Although Guy Garvey wrote it about returning home to Manchester, it took on a different meaning to me during my last couple of days in the USA. My eight-year summer camp journey virtually complete, on a drive from South Carolina to New Jersey I found myself driving through Charlotte, North Carolina, where the journey started. This song was on the stereo at the time and it fit my emotions perfectly – reflecting on the things that have changed along the journey and what remained the same.
Discovering new artists in 2005 was a bit of a struggle; with John Peel no longer with us, his replacements on Radio 1 were delivering the odd gem, but not at the hit-rate that Peel delivered. Most of my discoveries were from music magazines – not the NME or Q, which I had long given up on, but short-lived titles from the more leftfield end of musical journalism such as Loose Lips Sink Ships and Plan B magazines, which had spun off from the also short-lived Careless Talk Costs Lives (On returning home from America I’d also discover a little website called Pitchfork, but their influence on me didn’t really come until later). But in truth, with a few exceptions, I found it generally quite hard to find new artists this year – partly from having six months without untapped internet – so a lot of the bands here were established favourites of mine who happened to have new records out.
So you have The Fall, who released possibly the finest box set ever during the year, collecting all of their Peel sessions. ‘Blindness’ was one highlight from their 24th and final session, and without question (to my mind) Mark E Smith’s finest song of the 21st century, featuring that incessant, unstoppable groove. Doves feature too – although Some Cities marked a bit of a decline from the peerless first pair of albums, they could still produce a good northern soul stomp as good as ‘Black And White Town’. Talking of bands who felt moved to release a retrospective, Yo La Tengo’s is one of the finest, and it gave me an excuse to chuck on ‘Autumn Sweater’ as I just missed it the first time round – and it fits the, well, autumnal mood of the whole soundtrack, although a more wintry vibe pervades Sigur Ros’ phenomenal ‘Glosoli’ – my favourite song of the year, the lolloping bassline of which still gives me chills – and Boom Bip and Nina Nastasia’s ‘The Matter (Of Our Discussion)’, which like Khonnor the previous year, seemed designed to walk deserted streets at night during snowfall to.
And shall I make an excuse for Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’? Why yes, I shall. I was a big fan of the previous album and couldn’t wait for X&Y to come out. It had a bit of a Be Here Now effect on me – the first time I heard it, I thought it was awesome, and it was only as the weeks and months went on that I realised that it was a bit cack. But whatever I thought about the ridiculous lyrics about igniting bones and whatever, I loved ‘Fix You’ and its huge primary-colour chords. Whenever I hear that almighty crescendo used on the X Factor as a contestant is told by Gary Barlow that they’re going to be in the final 12, a part of me dies inside, even now. That said, I think I was still a bit conscious of its naffness at the time, and that’s probably why I followed it straight up with Boards Of Canada’s meaty, aggressive (by their standards) ‘Dayvan Cowboy’.
And moving seamlessly from talking about Warp stalwarts to Comic Relief singles, you’ll have noticed the black sheep on disc 1. The reason for including Tony Christie’s ‘(Is This The Way To) Amarillo’ is purely down to the fact that I hadn’t made a Camp Mason Songs Of The Summer CD for this year, and I wanted to include what was the big song round camp, as I had done with Smash Mouth’s ‘All Star’ back in 1999. You can blame one of the English campers for popularising ‘Amarillo’ at Camp Mason, and one irony would be that its all-star video was filmed in my future workplace – the doughnut at Television Centre.
This soundtrack also marked another shift in tastes – a prevailing theme across the whole two discs, admittedly not detectable in the first few tracks, is a move towards slightly more acoustic-y, folk-y stuff. Perhaps it was living out in the woods for six months that did it for me, but a lot of the music sounds purpose-written for this environment, not least M Ward, whose ‘Oh Take Me Back’ sounds like it was recorded in front of a warm fireplace during a rainstorm outside. Likewise, Eels’ ‘The Other Shoe’ and the Mountain Goats’ ‘Have Thou Discovered The Tetrapod’ seemed perfect to watch the moonlight over the Delaware to, although I wasn’t paying too much attention to the latter’s lyrics. Hem’s gorgeous ‘Half Acre’ was a fluke discovery at the start of the year – on a coach to Newark airport at the end of my Christmas/New Year trip to America, I happened to be going through Jersey City while Peel favourite Laura Cantrell was DJing her slot on Jersey City’s globally-respected independent radio station, WFMU. During the short time I was able to get reception, I heard ‘Half Acre’ – a truly beautiful song which sounds like it could have been written for a poignant romantic night-time walk of two protagonists in a Disney animation.
And there was the mystery wrapped in an enigma that was Tunng. Their first album was a real favourite of mine during my final year in America – I used to listen to it while going on hikes in the forests round camp – but they used almost all of their innovative ideas up on their first album (leaving a few for their second) before drifting into MOR blandness. But ‘Tale From Black’, their mysterious tale of a troubled woman, is their finest moment. Conversely, it’s nice to remember Joanna Newsom from a time when she kept things simple – one woman and her harp (or in the case of ‘Peach, Plum, Pear’, her harpsichord). I can admire the artistry of her sprawling later albums, but I do crave the stripped-back early days of Newsom when she sounded so naïve.
All this said, if I could distil my 2005 into just three bands, then I know which three they would be. Arcade Fire would be the first; having discovered them right at the end of the previous year, I was still absolutely besotted with the Funeral album and was desperate for any other material. They re-released their first EP in the wake of Funeral’s success, and it’s fascinating to hear a song like ‘Headlights Look Like Diamonds’ here, given the band they would later become – not least in the week they released a dark slab of disco to preview their latest album – it couldn’t sound any further removed from their early stuff, and I’m yet to decide if that’s a good thing or not. Second would be The Go! Team; given that they proved to not have too many tricks up their sleeve, it’s worth remembering how startling that first trick was. Their debut Thunder Lightning Strike was incredible – all 70s funk samples, playground chants and references to childhood memories like Junior Kickstart. And ‘Ladyflash’ was the perfect realisation of that aesthetic. But third, and most importantly, would be Low; having been nothing more than a minor interest since the Christmas EP, I bought their album The Great Destroyer off the back of a glowing review in the paper, and the album was a constant background for the entire year, leading to me seeking out their whole back catalogue and me eventually declaring Low my favourite band. If I could backdate Last.FM to then from now, I think Low would have three times as any other band in all that time, and it’s thanks to this record.
The other thing about The Great Destroyer is that it’s a record all about endings and things coming to an end – something that chimed with me a lot, unsurprisingly, as my own ‘summer camp era’ came to an end. But the songs I played on my final stroll around Camp Mason before heading to the airport and starting the rest of my life were both by The Polyphonic Spree, from the Thumbsucker OST. ‘Acceptance’ lilts away for over 30 minutes, the perfect head music while years of memories flashed by. I include a snippet of it here as a hidden track (the other 99% of it is pretty much the same), but the very final song I played was ‘Move Away And Shine’. As I sat at an empty campfire ring one last time, I’d completed my own acceptance and it was time to move on and Get A Proper Job.
Although my final six months at Camp Mason dominated my 2005, there was plenty going on either side – not least my failed attempt to try and negotiate a return to Camp Thunderbird instead at the start of the year, and ended with what I thought would be a week-long stint of temp work at some company in west London that I thought was called ‘Red B’.
My early-year listening, as I mentioned in the last post, was dominated by Arcade Fire – or ‘The’ Arcade Fire as they were known at the time, and they seemed a subtly different band from the one we know now. That’s probably best demonstrated by one of their earliest recordings, ‘No Cars Go’ – a song that I adore, but one that sounds strangely tinny now given that they decide to re-record it with a mega-budget for the later Neon Bible album. As good as both studio versions are, it’s probably best experienced live, particularly that last 90 seconds or so, which are delivered with the staggering intensity of a band playing, and singing, like their very lives depend on it. One of my most shameless brags is that I was at Arcade Fire’s first non-North American gig, at London’s King’s College. This was the highlight. It will be interesting to see how their next album will play out, with LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy at the controls. Their first single from it sounds like an LCD Soundsystem song with Arcade Fire guesting on it – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, given how good LCD were. James Murphy’s own debut single, re-released as part of his debut album, features here in all its eight-minute hipster-baiting glory, and was another favourite of mine early in the year when my job consisted of trying to organise solicitors’ lives at Ashford Borough Council rather than sleeping out in the woods, as was Cass McCombs’ ‘Subtraction’ and Doves ‘Walk In Fire’, though in hindsight, Doves would have probably been better off not trying to rewrite ‘There Goes The Fear’ so soon. I was still going to the odd Radio 1 session, including French DJ Vitalic. His two-minute drum tattoo ‘Valletta Fanfares’ is all the more impressive for not featuring a single drum on it – it was all painstaking created by computer, without a sample in sight.
Moving to the end of the year, with camp done and dusted, coming back to England gave me a chance to catch up on a ton of music that I’d missed. They included Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, who I’d heard a lot of people raving about but I put it down to just people hyping them up in an NME style. They actually turned out to be quite good; my recent discovery of Neutral Milk Hotel (who I really should have included here as a wildcard) helped here, as I thought the lead singer sounded like a spit of Jeff Mangum. People were also raving about Sufjan Stevens’ sprawling Illinois LP. This took a little longer to get into, but I loved the minimalist opening track ‘Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, IL’ enough to stick with it. And I also got round to hearing the latest Half Man Half Biscuit album Achtung Bono – including the adored ‘Joy Division Oven Gloves’, perhaps the last well-known HMHB song thanks to it being one of the last songs John Peel pushed before his death, or perhaps because it’s the best late-career demonstration of their ability to shoehorn all sorts of pop culture references into three minutes – the final verse mentions the ‘DANCE! DANCE! DANCE! DANCE!’ motif of Joy Division’s ‘Transmission’ alongside the killer line ‘Nero fiddles while Gordon Burns’.
But everything else on disc 2 dates back to those six months from May to November in New Jersey. I’ve already talked about Tunng, M Ward and Joanna Newsom’s music fitting perfectly with those wooded surroundings. Today I listened to the new Tunng album and it’s nice to find that they’ve retreated a little back to the electronic margins with this one; but they still haven’t been able to recreate something as intricate yet immediate as the instrumental ‘Kinky Vans’.
My favourite album of 2005 was Sigur Ros’ Takk. Some people missed the vast, wintry soundscapes of their early work, but to me it seemed to be the perfect middle ground between that period and the briefer, poppier songs they would embrace later. The embodiment of that was ‘Hoppipolla’, featuring everything that anyone ever liked about the band in four minutes. This was, of course, before its use on the trailers for the BBC’s Planet Earth documentaries and the subsequent open season on Sigur Ros’ music on the back of any ‘deep, meaningful’ VT for the next few years.
The closing third of disc two is mostly a collection of songs that bring back memories of my final weeks at Camp Mason, long after the summer camp kids had left. It starts with Radiohead’s ‘Gagging Order’, one of their lesser-known songs (a B-side of ‘There There’). My love of ‘Gagging Order’ came about from one of the new novelties of that time – the iPod shuffle function, something I loved taking advantage of on my many road trips across America that year – and its stripped-back nature, along with that lyric ‘Move along / there’s nothing left to see’, chimed with me as I knew that the end of my association at camp was imminent. The Fall’s splicing of old ’80s single ‘Wrong Place Right Time’ with a surprising cover of The Move’s ‘I Can Hear The Grass Grow’ was the final song that they did for a Peel session, and again seemed like a portent for changes that were afoot (the inclusion of the jarring coda of 1996 single ‘The Chiselers’ – apropos of nothing – at the end of this disc was just a reflection that I was in the midst of one of my very regular Fall phases).
The final three songs? Low’s ‘Walk Into The Sea’, the song I played after the final kid left my cabin at the end of the summer (making it in a way the anti-‘Sproston Green’), and also the final song I listened to on my journey to JFK airport before flying home. The Go! Team’s ‘Everyone’s A VIP To Someone’ invokes the feeling of ending even if it didn’t exactly mark one like ‘Walk Into The Sea’ did – the inclusion of that trumpet line (sadly removed from later versions for copyright violation) invoking the balance between happiness and deep melancholy – it always reminds me a bit at the end of the theme tune to ‘The Littlest Hobo’. And with all the reflection done, we close out with Yo La Tengo’s beautiful, gentle cover of Sandy Denny rarity ‘By The Time It Gets Dark’, a favourite of mine all year.
With that, seven-and-a-half years of camp life was all over, and it was time to make a proper living in the big smoke. And having now covered every single angle I possibly could on my time at summer camp, I think the well has run dry – I suspect that’ll be the last time I ever write about it in long-form.