Thursday, December 19, 2019

Of the year 2019

You have been holding out all year for the official Farmer In The City year-end list. (You just didn't know it.) So here is that thing.

Consider this as a list of records I want you to hear. They are not necessarily the "best" of the year. They are certainly not the "biggest". They may not even end up being the ones I listen to the most (Beck, as usual, is likely to gain that crown, given the high vehicular rotation his albums generally receive). The only criterion is that the number of entries in the list adds up to ten.

"Look Up Sharp", by Carla dal Forno.

"Agora", by Fennesz.

"Inferno", by Robert Forster. Forster has done some of his best work in Berlin. This album was made in Berlin.

"Bobbie's A Girl", by David Kilgour and the Heavy Eights. David Kilgour records don't come around all that often. You have to grab them as they float past.

"Delphine", by Mega Bog. Irrespective of how many times I listen to this record, I always feel that I am hearing it for the first time. Of course, that might just be a symptom of my rapidly collapsing attention span. Um, what were we talking about again?

"Drift Code", by Rustin Man.

"The Ground Our Sky", by Saariselka.

"Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery", by The Comet Is Coming.

"The Age of Immunology", by Vanishing Twin.

"Ode to Joy", by Wilco. Wait. Where are the cymbals?

Category killer

"Drift", by Underworld. This doesn't really fit into the above list; it is not so much an album as a project. "Drift: Series 1", as a box set, is probably more than you need. And the curated "Sampler" doesn't tell enough of the story. Plus, the "Drift: Series 1" version of "Appleshine Continuum" (a tag team between Underworld and The Necks) is a solid 12 minutes shorter than the stand-alone version, and, as you know, when it comes to The Necks bigger is always better. I also feel that "Drift" deserves special mention on account of the element of surprise: who would have thought that in 2019 Underworld would be making music as good as any they have made over their long career? Can they keep it up? I wouldn't bet on it, but I have been wrong before. (Sit down, you at the back.)

Best new old music

"Kankyo Ongaku (Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990)".

"Peel Session", by Boards of Canada.

"Tunes 2011-2019", by Burial. As someone whose preferred mode of listening remains the humble Compact Digital Audio Disc, I am grateful to be able to, finally, put Burial's magisterial run of EPs into the machine. I don't know that I wouldn't have preferred a rigid chronological sequence, but evidently Burial chose the order and I will, of course, defer to him. Maybe it will have the same effect as the regular rehanging of the collection at the National Gallery of Australia: each time a favourite painting moves to a new place, something new is revealed by the change in context.

"Iowa Dream", by Arthur Russell.

"Wichita Lineman", by The Dick Slessig Combo. A year or two ago I first became aware of Acetone, a sadly short-lived nineties LA group, thanks to (as is so often the case) a Light In The Attic compilation. They sounded like everything I ever wanted in a band. Anyway, fast forward to this year, when I found myself smitten by this 42-minute deconstruction of Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman". Turns out that it features Acetone's guitarist, Mark Lightcap. Turns out, too, that Jimmy Webb's genius for songwriting easily holds up under such intense, if loving, scrutiny. (File under, or at least next to, Isaac Hayes's takes on Webb's "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" and, from the pen of an at least equally good tunesmith, "Walk On By".) As Molly would have said, do yourself a favour:

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Of the year 2018

We interrupt this break in transmission to list the ten albums that most captured our attention this year. Normal scheduling will not be resumed for quite some time.

Nils Frahm - All Melody
The Necks - Body
Jon Hopkins - Singularity
Jon Hassell - Listening to Pictures (Pentimento, Volume One)
The Aints! - The Church Of Simultaneous Existence
Ryley Walker - Deafman Glance
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever - Hope Downs
Low - Double Negative
Khruangbin - Con Todo El Mundo
John Coltrane - Both Directions At Once

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).