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.