The Welsh Music Prize shortlist was announced a couple of weeks ago, and I immediately decided that I was rooting for Praxis Makes Perfect by Neon Neon. It's a great album with great songs and a great back story (not to mention the great gig-cum-theatre performance it spawned) - what could possibly beat it?
And then I realised that I had absolutely no idea of what could beat it, because Praxis Makes Perfect was the only album on the list that I'd actually heard. The music I listen to tends to come from the States, and considering that I used to write for a local music magazine, I am shamefully ignorant of all the great stuff that's right on my doorstep. I'm familiar with most of the nominated artists: I've seen Racehorses and Fist of the First Man play live, reviewed a single by Little Arrow, and conducted a blimmin' interview with Metabeats (albeit via email). But if anything, these experiences just destroy any excuse I might have had for not listening to these albums.
So I've decided that every Wednesday between now and Swn Festival will be dedicated to one of the albums nominated for the WMP. I'll be having a listen to each album in turn, and deciding whether or not Praxis Makes Perfect really is the best of the bunch.
I'm starting with Fist of the First Man, because they were great when I saw them live (opening for Public Service Broadcasting last December) and I figured that the album would be equally good. I had to download it from FotFM's bandcamp page, because when I asked for it in Spillers I was told that the limited pressing had sold out (maybe time for a second run, WMP-nominated band Fist of the First Man?)
Sadly, when I finally sat down and listened to Fist of the First Man, I was a little disappointed. The songs aren't nearly as dramatic as I remember, and while that restless, uncomfortable energy is still present and accounted for, the studio stuff never sounds as dramatic, or as urgent, as the live performance did. The "industrial post-rock spaghetti western bazaar" has trundled out of town, it seems.
That said, when I did go back to my PSB review (mostly seeking evidence that I was listening to the same artist), I was reminded of how good the bass work was that night, and actually, it's still pretty awesome on the album. But something has definitely changed; Mothers Against Violence in particular is worlds away from what I remember, with soulful vocal samples that sound like DJ Shadow, of all people. Cool, yes, but not what I wanted from Fist of the First Man.
So...is it better than Praxis Makes Perfect?
Nope. It will take something severely stellar to top Neon Neon's second album, and while FotFM surely know their way around a groove, this album just isn't connecting with me. A few more listens might endear it to me a little more, but to the extent that I prefer it to Praxis? Doubt it.
Come back next Wednesday to see what I make of the next nominee. I haven't decided who it will be yet, but that all adds to the suspense, don't you think?