Saturday, December 10, 2016

Of The Year


Whatever the hell else it might have been, 2016 was quite the year for new music. I had to limit myself to ten albums or we would be here until 2017: these are merely (or not merely) those that have spoken to me the loudest; or the most clearly; or in a language I had not heard before. 

"Blackstar", by David Bowie. Obviously.

"The Ship", by Brian Eno. It sits somewhere between an art installation (without visuals) and a collection of songs. Whatever it is, it is both compelling and fascinating.

"The Colour In Anything", by James Blake. Clocking in at 76 intense minutes, this is too big an album to take in in one sitting (or even 100 sittings). Sometimes you just have to trust your gut as to whether an album as daunting as this is going to be worth the effort that your brain knows is going to be required to fully absorb all that it might have to offer. Gut says yes. Ask me again in 10 years.

"A Moon Shaped Pool", by Radiohead. I have never listened to a Radiohead album in my life. Until this one. Does that make it the Radiohead album for people who don't like Radiohead? Well, I wouldn't know.

"Metal Resistance", by Babymetal. Don't judge.

"Skeleton Tree", by Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds. Many music critics have struggled to interpret this album as anything other than a very public outpouring of grief by (an undoubtedly grief-stricken) Nick Cave. What I hear is Nick Cave saying, "This is our new album. Deal with it."

"Lost Cities", by Ed Kuepper. This is Ed's first collection of new songs since "Jean Lee And The Yellow Dog", in 2007 (which was, in turn, his first collection of new songs since 2000's "Smile ... Pacific"). As such, there is no universe in which it wouldn't be on this list. What's surprising, though (but maybe not all that surprising, given Ed's recent stint as a part of the touring Bad Seeds), is the degree of musical affinity it has with "Skeleton Tree".
"Modern Country", by William Tyler. There's a lot of this kind of music about. (With apologies to Steve Gunn, Daniel Bachman and Chris Forsyth, any of whom might have been on this list.)

"Sirens", by Nicolas Jaar. Jaar has been such a constant presence over the last few years that it's easy to forget that this is his first solo album since "Space Is Only Noise", five years ago. You can't really say it's been worth the wait, because you haven't noticed that you have even been waiting. Its opening few minutes suggest that you have walked into the start of a particularly contemplative set by The Necks. I wouldn't exactly say it gets "better" from there, but it does get different.

"Golden Sings That Have Been Sung", by Ryley Walker. But you knew that.

Best new old music:

A toss-up between "Some Other Time", an unreleased gem by The Bill Evans Trio, and "Finale", a fine concert recording from 2008 by the original (or, at least, the gold standard) lineup of Pentangle, playing together (it says here) for the first time since 1973. (And, sadly, they won't be doing it ever again. It's nice that we have this.)


"It Means I Love You", by Jessy Lanza. The template for 21st century pop music. One can only hope.

"Kuiper", by Floating Points. Taking it to the next level. Whatever "it" is.

"Present Tense", by Radiohead. Perfect in every way.

"Hubris Variation", by Oren Ambarchi vs Ricardo Villalobos. Two names that I don't think many people would have thought to put in the one sentence. Oren sold me many excellent records during his stint behind the counter at Metropolis, but I have never really engaged with his own music until this year's "Hubris" (which this "remix" boils down to its barest essence).

"Young Death" / "Nightmarket", by Burial. A new Burial record is always an event. (Boy, there's a cliche.) Two songs don't make an album, but you can't have one of these songs without the other, so here they both sit.

Best 2015 record that I didn't hear until 2016:

"Elaenia", by Floating Points.


We saw several excellent films this year. "Spotlight". "The Big Short". "Everybody Wants Some". "Rams". "Your Name". But any film released in the same year as "Hunt For The Wilderpeople" was never going to be my film of the year.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Hypothetical mixtape: January 2016

I thought I might have been slowly getting up to date. Seems like it was a mirage.

"Fashion International (a)", by Graham De Wilde. KPM library goodness to kick things off. You can practically reach out and touch the instruments. The only thing missing is a Barry White / Isaac Hayes love-talk cameo. Oh well.

"Chica Chica Bongo", by Elli et Jacno. Staying with that early 80s vibe, we have Elli et Jacno, who (it says here) split off from French punk band The Stinky Toys to try their hand at pop. There's definitely nothing stinky here. (Also: record cover of the month. It has something of a rough-n-ready Serge Clerc vibe about it.)

"Obsession (Dance Mix)", by Animotion. And then there's this: everything you could possibly want in an early-80s synth/dance/pop single. Note, especially, the larger-than-life opening synth line. It even has a doinky-doink bass player and some shredding electric guitar (but tasteful, obv.). What could possibly go wrong?

"You Don't Know My Name (But I Know You)", by Kym Amps. The sound of 1981. This song is one of the creepiest I have ever heard; it leaves "Every Breath You Take" for dead. Possibly literally. 

"тогда было все по-другому", by Eerie Summer. This song, by a Finnish band that may now, according to their FB page, be a solo artist, may not be as haunting as the Kym Amps track but they dovetail rather well. Downloadable from hereat least for the time being.

"Birds of Prey", by MiNNETONKA. And in a yet similar vein, there's also this. Listen: I can hear my heart melting.

"Rave On You", by A.A.L. (Against All Logic). Against All Logic may or may not have anything to do with Nicolas Jaar. Either way, this semi-ambient number (with bonus Space Invader sounds) is a very pleasant way to spend ten minutes of your valuable time. It seems to have fallen off the internet, but I have put a copy on the dropbox for the time being (so long as nobody minds) for those who are interested.

"Another Bird", by Idjut Boys. Ideally, you would be listening to this on a tropical beach somewhere as the sun sinks over the horizon, mai tai in hand. Or you could play it on headphones over your laptop in your windowless office cubicle. Whatever works.

"Mr Mistake (Boards of Canada Remix)", by Nevermen. Boards of Canada remixes almost invariably break down as 90 percent Boards of Canada versus 10 percent original artist. This perhaps skews the ratio slightly in the wrong direction but you still couldn't fail to guess who was behind what's going on in the background. Stick around: it really gets going two minutes in.

"Four (Darkstar Remix)", by Olafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm. Darkstar have been an intriguing proposition ever since "Aidy's Girl Is A Computer". Here, they sink their diffuse tentacles into a fragment of a track by two of the bigger names in modern composition/production. All they ask is that you enjoy it. I'm sure you can manage that.

"Oriental Suite", by Anchorsong. Your response might be that this sounds a bit too much like "Rounds"-era Four Tet. I can't argue with that, but I'm also not going to say that it can't stand on its own two limberly (note: may not be an actual word) constructed feet.

Bonus beats: here he is, doin' it live, for a certain bovine energy drink company. This is the real deal. That a plastic box and a few knobs and wires can produce music with real heart and soul is a thing that never ceases to astound me.

"Sgoraet", by Kedr Livanskiy. Is Russian. Is good.

"There's A Star In You", by Don Gere. About which very little is known. (It shouldn't surprise anybody that Andy Votel's name is associated with its (re)discovery.) Don Gere also did a soundtrack for a movie called "Werewolves on Wheels". I wish I'd thought of that. As for this song: turn it the heck up and grow you hair long.

"August Twelve", by Khruangbin. If you were listening to this blind, I think you would struggle to know from when and where it derives. I know the answer, and I still couldn't actually tell you. Hint: Texas and Thailand are both in the mix.

Bonus beats: perhaps it will become clearer if you watch them playing it live:

"Competition Start", by Conrad Plaickner & His Orchestra. From an album called "Atlantic Crossing". Not that one.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Song of the day (2)

"Divers of the Dust", by Marissa Nadler.

Lana Del Rey without the quotation marks. From her very fine 2016 album, "Strangers".

Bonus Beats: the same song, live in Berlin, with something of a "Twin Peaks"-soundtrack vibe.

Song of the day (1)

"New Romantic", by Andy Stott.

Andy Stott's "Too Many Voices" is a difficult album to love. Many of the tracks are more in the nature of sketches than complete works, requiring time and effort to allow the listener's brain to fill in the gaps. (Ask me again in 12 months.)

But "New Romantic", that's a different beast entirely. Its pristine digital synth sounds combine with a dirty, rumbling low end and his usual vocalist to make an actual, fully fleshed-out song.

My heart does a little flutter every time it starts.

Bonus Beats: here he is, performing the same song, live, for a Resident Advisor session. One for the gear knobs.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Old New Yorker advertisement of the day

Here, from the New Yorker dated 26 November 1966, is an ad for a Parker Brothers game that hasn't stood the test of time. Was the problem, just possibly, to do with the name?

Thursday, November 17, 2016

A few words (not my own) about the next President of the United States

In the 1990s, the New Yorker, as it had in its early years, tended towards a certain ironic disposition, a lightness of tone that suited those times. After all, there was a Clinton in the White House, the budget was in balance or better, the Cold War, everyone assumed, had been consigned to history. These were the Tina Brown years. Thus, in 1997 the magazine ran what might have been the archetypal 1990s New Yorker article: a profile of one Donald Trump, by Mark Singer, a fine exponent of the slightly raised-eyebrow school of journalism.

It contains the following paragraph.

Of course, the “comeback” Trump is much the same as the Trump of the eighties; there is no “new” Trump, just as there was never a “new” Nixon. Rather, all along there have been several Trumps: the hyperbole addict who prevaricates for fun and profit; the knowledgeable builder whose associates profess awe at his attention to detail; the narcissist whose self-absorption doesn’t account for his dead-on ability to exploit other people’s weaknesses; the perpetual seventeen-year-old who lives in a zero-sum world of winners and “total losers,” loyal friends and “complete scumbags”; the insatiable publicity hound who courts the press on a daily basis and, when he doesn’t like what he reads, attacks the messengers as “human garbage”; the chairman and largest stockholder of a billion-dollar public corporation who seems unable to resist heralding overly optimistic earnings projections, which then fail to materialize, thereby eroding the value of his investment—in sum, a fellow both slippery and naïve, artfully calculating and recklessly heedless of consequences.
It may have been written 20 years ago, but it very clearly reflects the man who has been the centre of attention over the course of this past year. Perhaps you might spend a few minutes reflecting on the last four words, given the position this man has now been elected to.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Song of the day

"Kogarashi", by Kikagaku Moyo.

"House In The Tall Grass" is an album that continues to throw up unexpected surprises. A blind listen to the start of this song has the unsuspecting listener momentarily convinced that they have suddenly switched to "Meat Puppets II" or "Up On The Sun". There are worse things. I sincerely hope we haven't witnessed one of those today. (I'm not the pessimist many people seem to be. (Nor am I a fan. Quite the opposite.) Ask me in six months.)

Bonus Beats: "Silver Owl", on the other hand, or at least the first few minutes of it, puts one (well, me) wistfully in mind of 14 Iced Bears. And if that reference means anything to you, can I be your friend?

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Hypothetical mixtape: December 2015

I think this one has come out rather well. You're welcome.

"Nibiru (ft Afrika Bambaataa)", by I.F.O. This is released on Nicolas Jaar's Other People label. And it's not hard to infer that Jaar himself is behind the music, too. It has his particular style of slightly woozy synthesizer action (or whatever is the opposite of action). Of course, I could be completely wrong. Of special interest is where it goes at the seven-minute mark, but you really have to listen to the whole thing in order to get to that point. (Not available on the internets at this juncture, or so it would seem; so here is a dropbox link for a little while, as long as nobody minds.)

"Walk On Gilded Splinters", by Marsha Hunt. From the opening sitar-and-bongos one-two punch, you know you are onto something nice. Hunt was responsible for a song from my childhood, "(Oh No! Not!) The Beast Day". This has a similar swamp gumbo feel to it, which is not at all surprising given that it is a Dr John original. Get your voodoo rising. ("Produced and arranged by Tony Visconti." There. That got you sitting up.)

"Fama Allah", by (this is my best guess) Idrissa Soumaoro et l'Eclipse de l'I.J.A. So, it does something a bit similar to "A Taste Of Honey" at the outset. But that's where the similarities end. Featuring, if this YouTube clip is to be believed, a young Amadou & Mariam. Originally released, as far as I can figure out, in 1984 on an East German record label. There must be a story there.

"Adaletin Bu Mu Dunya", by Selda. Turkish freak-out is the best freak-out there is. 

"Hello Bitches", by CL. K-pop is unbeatable, but even more so when it gets, uh, "nasty". (See also "F**k You", by Ga In.) Sickest beats in Seoul.

Next, we bring you three insane slabs of dub madness, all created by Scientist: "Beaming"; "Drum Song Dub" (you know this one); and "Steppers" (the latter from the modestly titled "The Best Dub Album In The World").

"Amazing And Wonderful", by Peaking Lights. When I hear anything by these guys I am never less than impressed. Why that hasn't compelled me to listen further probably says more about me. Also, why does this remind me of "The Call-Up"? Plus, there's a bit of The Pop Group going on with the guitar line that turns up at about 3:25. Actually, you know what? Best song ever. Until the next one.

"XTC", by DJ Koze. Kids, don't do drugs.

"Feel No Pain (Nellee Hooper Remix)", by Sade. What do you get when you combine Sade with the Wild Bunch? Second-sickest beats of the month.

"I Believe In Miracles", by The Jackson Sisters. Different Jacksons. But good.

"Audience Of One", by The Peter Peter Ivers Band (sic). From out of the murkiest depths of some glam rock / RAK pop hell crawls ... um ... this. No, I don't know either.

(Bonus: album cover of the month.)
"Evangeline", by Cass McCombs. As regular as clockwork, Cass McCombs turns up with another pop earworm to destroy your brain. (Have I just been a bit slow on the uptake, or has he, on his new album, "Mangy Love", taken it to the next level?)

"Nosce Te Ipsum", by Nhor. Once upon a time, Stereolab had their own web site which, on the home page, an extremely tasty short loop of music started playing. (I think it may have turned up as part of an actual song on one of their many odds-and-sods collections but I don't have time right now.) This sounds like that.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Song of the day

"Beneath Fields", by Heron Oblivion.

Featuring members of Comets on Fire, Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound, and Espers: I guess you could call Heron Oblivion a supergroup. But that would defeat their evident purpose: to blow away some cobwebs and have a blast in the process.

It was the appearance of Meg Baird, late of Espers and owner of a couple of excellent solo albums, particularly last year's "Don't Weigh Down the Light", and maybe the finest singing drummer since Karen Carpenter (or Meg White?), that brought me along.

As you might expect, much of the album lays down some deeply heavy skronk, which is, of course, just fine by me. But even better, I think, are the moments when they dial it back a bit, creating more of an Espers-y vibe, as they do for much of "Beneath Fields".

Here it is in three (count 'em) iterations: first, the album version; then a well-recorded-and-filmed live rendition; and finally another live performance, somewhat less polite (and extremely rawly recorded), and worth sticking around for until five minutes in, at which point it goes Boom. In fact, I recommend you listen to all three: that is the best way for the song to crawl under your skin and do its business.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Song of the day

"Theme From 'Mad Flies, Mad Flies'", by Laughing Clowns.

From golden days, when giants walked the earth (to crib from the name of an excellent Laughing Clowns compilation album), comes "Theme from 'Mad Flies, Mad Flies'", released in 1982 as a single (see archetypal DIY / post-punk cover design above) and also appearing on "Mr Uddich-Schmuddich Goes To Town", an album so rare that even Ed Kuepper himself once claimed to have only ever seen one copy of it, being the one that he owns. (I also have one. I paid a small fortune for it when I was young and single. And stupid.)

This song demonstrates the democratic nature of Laughing Clowns at their best. Yes, Ed wrote the song and sings the words. Yes, his guitar chimes along in the background. But really, the song is all about everybody else. To be precise: (a) Jeffrey Wegener's quicksilver drumming; (b) the literal thwack of Biff Millar's upright bass; and c) the horns (take a bow, Louise Elliott and Peter Doyle).

The version below is not the recorded one (which I couldn't find online) but it is the same lineup, recorded live a couple of months after the album came out, and it is largely faithful (although it doesn't quite catch the physical nature of that bass).

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Song of the day

"Masters of War", by Bob Dylan.

I might call myself an amateur Dylanologist (heaviest of emphasis on the "amateur", please) but the Bob Dylan who yesterday won the Nobel Prize for literature isn't the Bob Dylan that I listen to. Largely, his lyrics, for me, sit rather flat on the page. As, I should probably add, do pretty much all song lyrics. (This is only my opinion, mind.) I grew up reading Rolling Stone album reviews in an era when half of most reviews involved analysing and/or copying out song lyrics in a search for their "meaning". I never understood this. I have always absorbed songs as singular entities, with the lyrics not being planted into the musical bed but forming an integral part of it. I have listened to hundreds of Dylan songs, some of them maybe hundreds of times. My favourite song of his, for no reason to do with lyrics, is "Masters of War". I have listened to it over and over across the years. I have listened to other people doing it. (Not including Ed Sheeran.) But I couldn't even attempt to quote you one lyric from it. If it had been sung in another language (part of the magic of Dylan being that it kind of is) it would mean just as much to me, and I would still "know" what it was "about".

Literature? I can see what the committee were getting at (I think). His songs (am I contradicting myself?) are all about words. Or the sound of words. He draws on, and frequently -- as far as I can tell -- subverts literary traditions. He mixes this up with references to popular culture, history, the personal, the political. He acknowledges musical tradition. He allegedly borrows liberally from obscure sources. It all goes into a pot and gets tossed around. Stuff comes out of that pot. He sings it. It sounds perfect every time, whatever it is and whatever it means. It often, I'd wager, means nothing more to its author than an instinctive "this sounds pretty good". (Is it heresy to throw in Mark E. Smith as possibly Dylan's only close competitor in this regard? What about giving him a Nobel? The prize money would probably come in handy.) For what little it's worth, I would hazard a guess that the title track from "Tempest", his last studio album of original material (until the next one), might be what got Dylan across the line. It really does have everything in it.

I may have mentioned this previously, but for me the perfect Dylan moment, and it is, maybe, particularly relevant here, is when, in "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright", he sings the line "if'n you don't know by now". Everything about Bob Dylan is wrapped up in that "if'n". The "n" doesn't need to be there for the line to scan. But the line wouldn't be half the line without it. The song wouldn't be half the song. And maybe Dylan wouldn't be half the Nobel Prize winner. ("Bob Dylan: he goes the extra syllable for you.")

But weren't we here for "Masters of War"? I have nothing profound to say about it. It is profound enough. (Okay, one thing: the song structure. Dylan, like -- say -- Nick Cave, knows a good song structure when he sees one. (See, for example, "The Mercy Seat". Or, more recently, "Jubilee Street".) "Masters of War" dares you to look away. You can't.)

This clip was captured in the desert, about a week ago. Dylan doesn't like his stuff to be on the internet, so don't expect it to be here for very long.

[Editor's note: it strikes me now, reading this back, that you might reasonably form the impression that what I have written is really just an excuse for boosting "Masters of War" (which needs no boosting, let alone from me). I thought at the outset that I was going somewhere, but it turns out I was headed somewhere else. Or nowhere at all. Words are tricky things. Dylan knows that. Might I suggest that you go and read Alex Ross instead. He nails it.]

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Song of the day

"Void Beat", by Cavern of Anti-Matter.

It is quite possible that, with "Void Beats / Invocation Trex", Tim Gane and his merry pranksters have come up with the perfect album for the shuffle age.

How so?

Well, the album itself is of such a length that it tends to become a bit of a chore to listen to all the way through. (This is, perhaps, not surprising. Stereolab weren't always free of that particular problem.) However, if a song from the album shuffles up to the surface during your daily commute, I can personally guarantee you (or your money back!) that it will be the freshest, and most surprising, thing you will hear during your journey. It doesn't matter which song it is, or how long your commute is. You can trust me on this.

Case in point: tonight I got "Void Beat". I can't find a link to the album version, but here they are playing it live. What a thing is this modern world, eh?

(Note, in passing, how Gane's guitar at the start of the song seems to have walked straight out of "Pictures of Matchstick Men".)

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Hypothetical mixtape: November 2015

A micro-playlist this time around. Just enough caught my ear to fit comfortably onto one side of a C-90. (Ask your parents.)

"Aeronaut", by Miaux. Around 1979 or 1980 you would not have been surprised to find something like this released as a seven-inch single. Today it seems so anachronistic as to be a masterstroke. Four minutes of the most gorgeous piano melody you could ever expect to hear. Reference points? Well, Colleen, obviously enough, but also [here he goes again -- ed] "From Gardens Where We Feel Secure", by Virginia Astley, with a dose of Cluster & Eno and maybe even the first Durutti Column album. The video is also pretty cool.

"Strade Vuote", by Daniela Casa. Some tastefully understated shredding (yes, there is such a thing) atop (I think) bottom-end Fender Rhodes. And bongos. This might be just me, but I can no longer hear bongos without thinking of Rhod Gilbert's legendary "ball bongos" from the last season of Buzzcocks.

"Dope VHS Master", by Desmond Cheese. They had me at the name of the track and artist. Lucky me, then, that the track is so chill it's practically an ice bucket. (Bonus: Australian content.) (Double bonus: album cover of the month.)

"Magnets (ft Lorde) (Jon Hopkins Remix)", by Disclosure. I never drank the Disclosure kool-aid. But I can respect Jon Hopkins, who, after many long years in the, uh, business, seems finally to have found his own sound, and it's a sound that was, clearly, worth searching for. Allow yourself to be absorbed. (Consumer advisory: there's not a whole lot of Lorde left in this remix.)

"Hearts Entwine", by Brenda Ray. I don't even have the words. (Perhaps this will help.) Just listen.

"Worship You", by Colleen Green. Methodology: turn everything up as far into the red as it will go without setting off a nuclear chain reaction, then play a gorgeous pop song. Somehow, the gorgeous pop song manages to shine through. I'm sure there's a moral there. (See also, obviously enough, "Psychocandy".)

"Marie-douceur, Marie-colère", by Marie Laforêt. French singer/actress tackles Jagger/Richards number. Nails it.

"4 Walls", by f(x). Because we all need some K-Pop in our lives.

"Calm Down", by Katy B x Four Tet x Floating Points. This is here largely because Floating Points has been my big discovery of 2016. Also, well, Four Tet, obviously. Soundcloud comment pretty much nails it: "This song got dancing. So good!"

"Paris", by Thundercat. An absolutely stunning miniature, rendered necessarily devastating by the tragic events that led to its making. Obviously enough, a piece of music is not going to remake anybody's lives, but just maybe it could be the slimmest of silver linings?