Sunday, July 01, 2018

Fare Forward Voyagers

Here’s the thing. Between holding down a mentally exhausting day job, and working on another project that, like this blog, involves "writing in my spare time", I have (as may have been obvious) struggled to keep this blog what might even loosely be called "fresh". The time has come for me to make a choice. It seems sensible to concentrate on that other project, get it out of the way, and then revive the blog.

So, I am shuttering this joint, probably for a few months. I see no reason why it won’t be back, somewhere, somehow. Blogger hasn’t wanted to play nice with my shiny new iPad Pro, so I might even take the opportunity to experiment with a new platform. Who knows.

Now seems as good a time as any to draw a line under things, seeing as we are now halfway through another year. If it’s legit to pick a top 10 for the year, I don’t see why it’s not equally legit to pick a top five for the last six months. I can do that.

Khruangbin, “Con Todo El Mundo”. Every so often a record comes along that everybody can get behind but which practically nobody has ever heard of. I have lost count (I can’t count very well) of the number of times I have recommended this album to someone, and they have reported back that “it’s fantastic”. So, in the immortal words of Molly Meldrum, do yourself a favour. 

Nils Frahm, “All Melody”. All quality, too. The sound is excellent. The content is also excellent. Nils is still a young guy. I’m excited for the future.

Yo La Tengo, “There’s A Riot Going On”. Possibly not the ideal entry point into this band’s sprawling discography, but if, like me, some of your undyingest love is reserved for “And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out”, this one’s for you. 

Jon Hassell, “Listening To Pictures (Pentimento, Vol One)”. As Jon Hassell gets older, his music seems to get younger. He is now 81, and yet the closest reference point to this album might be someone like Daniel Lopatin (aged 35). If he lives to 100, he could turn out to be the next Wiggles. 

Ryley Walker, “Deafman Glance”. An album that requires, and strongly rewards, repeated listening. The surprise plot twist from Walker’s earlier albums is that this time around he has also been absorbing music from the Chicago school: think Tortoise, think The Sea And Cake, think Jim O’Rourke. And if you are struggling to imagine how those influences could possibly sit together with Walker’s previous nods (“Astral Weeks”; Bert Jansch; John Martyn, etc), well, that’s where the repeated listening comes in. Trust me.

Best new old music

Neil Young, “Roxy: Tonight’s The Night Live”. Or, drugs can really screw you up.

John Coltrane, “Both Directions At Once”. This sounds every bit as good as anything else I’ve heard from the Quartet, and I have listened to a lot of this stuff over the years. I am happy to leave it for the goatee-strokers to analyse how it sits within the Coltrane oeuvre. I'm more than happy just to sit back, shut my eyes, and let the music take over.

(Two other albums of old music that I have been absorbing over the first half of this year are “Relatively Clean Rivers”, by Relatively Clean Rivers, from 1976 but somehow sounding like 2018, and “1992-2001”, by Acetone, who sound just like every non-grunge American guitar band from that era that I ever knew and loved. Their obscurity is a disgrace. A disgrace, I tell you.)


Obviously, for me, “Isle of Dogs” tops the list. But there have been some other fine films this year. “Black Panther” seems to be the one Marvel movie that might survive the eventual death of that particular franchise. “The Post” sees Spielberg playing a bit closer to type than he did with “Bridge of Spies”, and is a little bit the poorer for it (I hate having my heartstrings bluntly yanked), but on the other hand I do love me a good newsroom drama. And it’s always nice to have another Aki Kaurismaki film (“The Other Side of Hope”) to be charmed by.


Who’s got time to read books these days? Hopefully me, now that I have banned myself from Twitter, after spending twelve futile months furiously retweeting other people’s disgust with every bad thing the Trump era has unleashed. Meanwhile, I have been working my way through Michael Chabon’s “Moonglow”, which is just fabulous.

Aaaaaand, that’s a wrap. See you all on the flipside.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Song of the day

"Tom", by Fennesz.

I don't really get this whole vinyl revival thing.

In my youth (he says through his dentures), we listened to records because the sound quality was better than cassettes. (Which, perhaps unsurprisingly, are also getting a revival.) But CDs, when they appeared in the mid-80s, blew records away. Sure, the initial CD onslaught brought with it some well dodgy "remastered classics", but the boffins seemed to figure that out over the following decade or so. Also, the data was supposed to physically eat through the discs within 10 years. But I have plenty of 30-year-old CDs that are still going strong.

It seems to me that if you are paying over the odds for a vinyl album with an MP3 download card you are really getting the worst of all possible worlds: an artifact that your grandkids aren't going to thank you for, and less than perfect sound quality, at an exaggerated price.

But people are quick to pick on CDs. And I just don't understand it.

For some things, you really want access to all of the frequencies. Fennesz is one of those things. If you happen to be able to listen to any of "Endless Summer", "Venice", "Black Sea" or "Becs" on compact disc through a reasonable system, you are in a good place. On record, you could never be certain whether the various pops and clicks were artistic intention or vinyl imperfection. And an MP3 is an MP3.

So it's kind of sad that this new release seems to be available only as a download. It's better than nothing. "Tom" in particular (which first appeared around the same time as "Becs") is peak Fennesz, wringing a truckload of emotion out of what seems to be, on the face of things, just guitar and noise. It's worth it, even if you only listen through tinny computer speakers.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Song of the day

"Laugh", by Tara Jane O'Neil.

Tara Jane O'Neil's self-titled album has been floating in and out of my peripheral vision since its release, early last year. Every so often, one of its songs reveals itself in clear focus.

"Laugh" sounds entirely spontaneous; it has the lightness, the looseness, the couldn't-care-lessness of someone newly exposed to the joys of making music. That Tara Jane O'Neil has, in fact, been doing this since at least the early 1990s doesn't make "Laugh" any less great as a song. But it does make it that much more surprising.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Mix of the day

"DJ-Kicks", by Forest Swords.

Speculation: if Forest Swords did a mixtape, it might sound like this.

Actualisation: he has; and it does.

The DJ-Kicks series has been one hit after another, from Kruder & Dorfmeister to Actress to The Juan Maclean to Moodymann. It's no surprise that they would pick up Forest Swords. It should also be no surprise that the choices herein are an impressive, and also useful, deconstruction of all the things that go into the Forest Swords sound, a sound which, though it is, on its face, sui generis, I have only ever been able to hear through the prism of dub reggae, but which carries a lot of other influences that, it turns out, are equally familiar to me. (I just hadn't been able to pick them out until he did it for me.)

Put it this way: when an actual Forest Swords track appears towards the middle of this mix it fits, to use an old Fish Creek saying, like a cock in a sock. (Disclaimer: though I probably used that saying myself, I didn't know what that meant then, and I don't want to know now.)

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Hypothetical mixtape 2.07

To these ears, 2018 is off to a relatively quiet start. Okay, the Khruangbin and Nils Frahm albums are definitely keepers, the new Yo La Tengo is just what I didn't know I was waiting for (although it's probably not the best entry point for neophytes), and I am intrigued by the just-released album by Minami Deutch. (Also: "Selectors 5", by Lena Willikens. Yes, that.)

So for the time being we might just plod along with these random roundups of stuff pulled off the internet.

"Could Heaven Ever Be Like This", by Idris Muhammad. As sampled on the Jamie xx album. Except that this in its original form could hardly be improved on. It's got everything you need.

"You", by Chayns. Spelling aside (at least they got the "You"), Chayns got enough right to ensure that "You" sounds as minty fresh as it did on release, fifty years ago. Originally released on (presumably) their own Chayn-Reaction Productions label. Excavated last year, not entirely surprisingly, by a Numero Group sublabel. You can't keep quality buried forever.

"Susan", by The Mauroks. Three seconds in and I'm already hooked. Further details of the interesting story of The Mauroks can be found here.

Bonus: record cover of the month. The guy in the middle front of the picture might be Dave Graney before the fact. Shirt included.

"Paradise", by AMOR. They seem to like the capital letters. They also like to hit a groove and run it out for 14 minutes. I can dig. What may not be self-evident is the involvement of the usually relatively non-linear Richard Youngs.

"Vanishing Twin Syndrome", by Vanishing Twin. First song on the first and (so far) only album by Vanishing Twin. I never find it a problem to hear new music that harks back to the ghostly beauty of Broadcast. (In this case, right down to the cover art.) Of course, Broadcast (and Stereolab, for that matter, who might as well get a mention here) themselves leant heavily on the sounds of the past, so any similarity might be purely coincidental. (But I doubt it, given that the band's bio credits "Phil MFU (Man From Uranus, Broadcast)" -- although I can find no such person connected with Broadcast, unless Phil MFU equals Phil Jenkins, listed on Wiki as drummer in 2003. Who knows? If 2018 has told us anything, it is that facts are slippery critters.)

"Rum Pum Pum Pum", by f(x).  K-pop, innit.

"Aeroplane City", by Sensorama. I would have put money on this being from Japan. I can't really say why. Maybe I was thinking of Cornelius. I was wrong. Germany. Late nineties. No matter. Some of the tastiest electric piano here.

"Coast Ghost", by The Kramford Look. Two guys who have worked for quite a lot of other people forge their own path. Could be a risky move. Seems to work. Conveys something of an aura of Air circa "Moon Safari", which can't be bad.

"Melo De Melo", by Ricardo Villalobos. Twenty minutes of unyielding minimalism from a guy who clearly has an unhealthy obsession with the minutiae of sound. What could possibly go wrong?

"I Will Make Room For You (Four Tet Remix)", by Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. Four Tet remixes Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith in such a way that it doesn't really sound a whole lot like either. Well, okay, it does sound a bit like Four Tet. But how he could conjure this out of the source material is beyond me (nb not a diss of the original song).

Saturday, March 24, 2018

History lesson

The United States of America, as well as coming up with what must be, in retrospect, one of the least Google-able band names ever, are probably best known today for their self-titled debut album, which was clearly a building block for the Broadcast sound.

Of some marginal interest, then, both to Broadcast fans and to historians of the late sixties (and in particular the narrow, sometimes one-raised-eyebrow quizzical and sometimes (not always intentionally) comedic intersection between the New Yorker magazine and the long-hairs) is this extract from the issue dated 30 March 1968, where one of the mainstays of the magazine, Lillian Ross, writes about going to see The United States of America, an "Electronic Rock Band", perform at Judson Hall.

You're welcome.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Hypothetical mixtape 2.06

Let's just.

"Lord It Over", by Dylan Golden Aycock. You are thinking you could be listening to a Ryley Walker track here. You would be wrong, but not that wrong.

Bonus: here it is, unaccompanied. And at greater length. Whatever works, I suppose.

"High Tide", by Mythic Sunship. More sun-drenched psych-tinged guitar playing here, although on this occasion it might be argued they have drenched themselves in more than just the sun. Oh look, they are from Copenhagen. Perhaps slightly less of the sun, then.

"Working Nights", by The Camberwell Now. From the mid-eighties. Formed by This Heat's drummer. Who knew?

"Born Into The Sunset (Lindstrom & Prins Thomas Remix)", by Temples. I had no idea that L&PT were still working together. Here is the proof. Do they still have that Lindstrom & Prins Thomas magic? They do.

"Hey Benji (Prins Thomas Remix)", by Hatchets. I don't know what Prins Thomas was taking in 2017, but we could all benefit from a work rate like his. Two albums; a "version" of a Dungen album; a bunch of singles; a bunch of remixes. Hey, slow down; you're making us all look bad. There are actually enough really cool ideas on this one remix for anyone else to sit back and think to themselves, not bad, I think I'll take the next decade off. But Prins Thomas is not anyone else.

"Maskindans", by Todd Terje feat Det Gylne Triangel. A kinda sorta cover of an early-eighties semi-industrial electronic pop song a la, I suppose, Depeche Mode. The plot twist here is that Todd Terje has enlisted the original artist to do a new vocal track. This was released in the middle of last year; it was supposed to be from a "forthcoming" LP. We're still waiting.

"Inkjet", by Beatrice Dillon and Call Super. I know nothing whatsoever about this. I was attracted to the seemingly infinite depths of sound. Curiously, though, Beatrice Dillon appeared on a 2013 album with, inter alia, Charles Hayward, from The Camberwell Now (see above). Spooky.

"The Beekeeper (Atella's Sand In Shoe Mix)", by Horixon feat Birsen. Everything sounds better with arpeggiated bass synth.

"Love (Is Gonna Be On Your Side)", by Firefly. If, in 1981, you had hit me up with some contemporary funk action, I would have said get outta here punk. (Actually that's not entirely true: Kid Creole And The Coconuts. Also "The Lexicon Of Love", which this track sounds not unlike at some points.) But 37 years later, this, I would be the first to admit, is precisely as fresh as.

"Come Back Clean (Kaskade's Radio Edit)", by The Crystal Method feat Emily Haines. Everything sounds better when it's sung by Emily Haines. FACT!