Not that any of you should care, but right up to the end of November I was torn between Guido's 'Anidea' (which I reviewed here) and Darkstar's 'North' (which I didn't) for album of the year. Both are brilliant, but for me neither of them summed up the disorientating character of 2010, in music as in life. Then Anika showed up with one of those classics that always seem to arrive just as the year starts fading out...
On first listen, 'Anika' pushes an unlikely combination of retro buttons - 60s 'death discs', the existential dub-noise of P.I.L, E.S.G's schoolyard funk - but soon coalesces into something greater than the sum of its parts. Co-written with Portishead's Geoff Barrow and his band Beak>>, it's a throwback to the genre splicing of the post-punk era, and stands comparison with the best of it.
A large part of that is down to Anika herself, whose restrained vocals focus attention on the words. The album's largely comprised of covers, which combine to create a picture as bleak as the post-Iraq, post-crash, Cameron Age world outside.
The singer's precise diction and no-frills performance (recalling surreal New Wave diva Gina X) put her deliciously at odds with the mainstream, not least the karaoke wailing of stage school twats beloved of record companies everywhere. In this well worth reading interview with the singer, Julian Owen called Anika "the Anti-Nico", but she's also the Anti-Duffy. Both on record and in person, her performances are intense, ambiguous, unshowy - anything but a repertoire of hackneyed songbird tics.
While she and the band treat Twinkle's tragic love song 'Terry' with respect, the other covers are twisted until you can barely remember how they sounded before. Skeeter Davis's easy listening ballad 'The End of The World' becomes the statement of deranged grief it was always meant to be, while Yoko Ono's 'Yang Yang' - filtered through sound system dub and 90s Hip Hop - is transformed into an anthem for the new #solidarity. Or maybe that's just me. Whatever it means, it's one of the year's most exciting tracks.
And that's what makes this album so fascinating. It's pieced together from such disparate sources and performed so inscrutably that you're forced to explain it yourself. It begs a whole load of questions and answers none of them. It hints at a bigger picture, but never spills its guts. It might even be a joke at the expense of people like me who are prone to talking about things they should be listening to. It's a mystery, in other words - and that's what music's all about.
Blood Red Sounds rating 9/10. Listen to the album here.
Here's a review I wrote of Anika and Beak>>'s recent Bristol show, which included a cover of Nirvana's 'Love Buzz' that was definitely a joke. Wasn't it?