Category Archives: lists & playlists

Favourite albums of 2013

colleen-weighing-cover

The Weighing of the Heart by Colleen

From the first hummed note of ‘Push the Boat Onto the Sand’ to the final echoing cello plucks of the title track, Cécile Schott’s latest is an exercise in swooning beauty. Lullaby-like rhymes and melodies appear and overlap, choral vocals become lost under layers of delicate rhythms. The sampling trickery is subtle and disarming, ‘Ursa Major Find’ and the single-phrase ‘Break Away’ feel at times like sweeter takes on Laurie Anderson’s ‘O Superman’. But the outstanding moments are instrumental: ‘Geometría del Universo’ and particularly ‘Breaking Up the Earth’ channel Arthur Russell’s World of Echo. Colleen succeeds at fusing the sweet and genuinely, unnervingly progressive. Each time I listen to The Weighing of the Heart I fall in love with it all over again.

 

Drifters & water park

Drifters / Love is the Devil and Water Park OST by Dirty Beaches

There’s an obscene generosity to the amount of music that Alex Zhang Hungtai has provided in 2013. The Water Park soundtrack is beguiling at first, little more than a hum heard from another room. But I’ve listened to this 28-minute EP countless times and now playing it is like hearing the sound of something remembered from childhood. It’s simple and beautiful.

The double album Drifters / Love is the Devil is another beast, at least at first. The first half represents more familiar Dirty Beaches territory – Suicide casio thumps and rockabilly-from-hell vocals swamped in reverb. This reaches a peak with the compellingly riffy Casino Lisboa, my personal song of 2013.  The second half of the CD revisits the same aural soundscapes as Water Park. Less essential, certainly, but packaging Drifters and Love is the Devil together is a throwaway gesture that most artists wouldn’t dare contemplate.

 

Dozzy

Plays Bee Mask by Donato Dozzy

Bee Mask’s Vaporware EP is pretty great. But this album, in which Italian techno producer Donato Dozzy, remixes the title track again and again over seven tracks, is outstanding. I’ve listened to a lot of ambient music this year, but there are few albums that manage to be both moodily evocative and also lodge themselves in your mind. I get the feeling that the circumstances of this piece couldn’t be replicated.

 

UR055_COVER_F

Collected Works Vol. 1 – The Moog Years by M. Geddes Gengras

More ambient perfection. Sun Araw, Akron/Family and LA Vampires collaborator Gengras fiddles about with Moog Rogue and MG-1 synths and creates something divine. The track ‘10.17.2009 (for CCG)’ is an aural swoon.

 

Other albums in the mix

Albums 2013 rack

Shaking the Habitual by The Knife, for its bloodymindedness, magnificent bloat and a handful of thumping pop hits. The entire Mallet Guitars series by Ex-Easter Island Head, culminating in this year’s Mallet Guitars Three, all EPs together forming an essential album. Exit! By Fire! Orchestra, some of the most terrific free jazz, despite being tricky to schedule into a working day. And finally, The Space Lady’s Greatest Hits, long-awaited and wonderful.

 

EPs

EPs

Live at Skymall by Groupshow –  like many of my favourite albums this year, a listen that merges with whatever activity you’re doing. P.A./Hard Love by Marina Rosenfeld, a surprising favourite given its abrasive unpredictability, but totally compelling. No More War by Wareika Hill Sounds for chilled, alien trombone tunes.

 

Favourite record labels

Thrill Jockey (new releases from Matmos, People of the North, Mouse on Mars’ Jan St. Werner, Sidi Touré). Room 40 (Bee Mask, Marina Rosenfeld), Touch (Chris Watson, Rosy Parlane, Mika Vainio, Bruce Gilbert & BAW) Hospital Productions (Vatican Shadow, Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement, Alberich).

 

Favourite albums overall, new to me, from any year

Suicide (Suicide, 1977), an album that made me furious that nobody had introduced the band to me before. Womblife (John Fahey, 1997), produced by Jim O’Rourke and featuring some of the wonkiest sounds imaginable. Moondog & His Friends (Moondog, 1953) , an eye-opening account of the Viking of Sixth Avenue. I Am Sitting in a Room (Alvin Lucier, 1981), a simple sonic experiment that morphs into something intangible and ethereal. Illuminations (Buffy Sainte-Marie, 1969), apparently abandoned by the artist but superb and alien. Strumming Music (Charlemagne Palestine, 1974), another experiment with warmth and humour. We’re Only In It For the Money (Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention, 1968) – batshit insane. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (Neil Young & Crazy Horse, 1969)  – everybody else loves this album already, evidently, and it was mostly familiar to me, but hearing the tracks together was a revelation. And, already mentioned above, The Weighing of the Heart (Colleen, 2013) and Drifters / Love is the Devil (Dirty Beaches, 2013) are the two albums that stand out this year.

Favourite films watched in 2013

Warning to the Curious

Other than Alfonso Cuarón’s essentially perfect Gravity (see my review), the only other 2013 film I saw that was worth a damn was Stoker (Chan-wook Park), a terrific and seedily terrifying reimagining of Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt.

As for the rest of my film viewing, A Warning to the Curious (Lawrence Gordon Clark, 1972) was one of the most unsettling film experiences I can remember, up there with Jerzy Skolimowski’s The Shout (1978). Night of the Demon (Jacques Tourneur, 1957) was an expected pleasure. Whether or not the demon should have been omitted, as per Tourneur’s original intentions, is moot. With or without it, this is a peculiar masterpiece. I found Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966) striking and shocking – pop-culture familiarity still doesn’t prepare you for the experience. Sunrise (F. W. Murnau, 1927) was another absolute surprise – far more melodramatic than I’d imagined, but also far more dry and blunt, too. And it was a vast relief to see a (relatively) modern film with as much time to pay to its characters as Together (Lukas Moodysson, 2000), an unflinching and strangely warm account of communal living.

The things I most enjoyed in 2012

End-of-year lists are always self-indulgent, but this is more self-indulgent still. I wanted to capture all the things that were new to me this year that summed up what I most enjoyed in 2012. I realise that this is only really of interest to me.

Albums

Feelies

Transverse (Carter Tutti Void, 2012) was the single album of 2012 that stands alongside my favourites from other years. I missed New History Warfare Vol 2: Judges (Colin Stetson, 2011) and An Empty Bliss Beyond this World (The Caretaker, 2011) in 2011 but they became firm favourites this year – Colin Stetson for Tube journeys and The Caretaker as a background to writing. Biokinetics (Porter Ricks, 1996) became my soundtrack on countless rainy train journeys, a heartbeat layered on top of the hum of travel. World of Echo (Arthur Russell, 2001) gradually became less an album heard than an album felt. My go-to album for relaxation this year was the reissued UFO (Jim Sullivan, 1969). And Crazy Rhythms (The Feelies, 1980) and Midnight Cleaners (The Cleaners From Venus, 1982) were the two albums that made me upset at time wasted before having heard about them – my favourite pop albums of 2012.

Live music

Boredoms

The American Contemporary Music Ensemble’s performance of Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet (Gavin Bryars) at All Tomorrow’s Parties was one of the most perfect things I’ve ever experienced. Boredoms at the same ATP festival was one of the bravest and maddest, featuring five drummers and a tree of guitar necks hit with a stick.

Films

Shout

I loved working through Les Vampires (Louis Feuillade, 1915), influential in technical respects but with its own weirdly dreamy qualities. The imagery has stayed in my mind longer than any other film. The Shout (Jerzy Skolimowski, 1978) was my hidden treasure of 2012, perfectly tailored to everything I like about films, and a great companion piece to Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strickland, 2012). The latter was perhaps not the best-crafted film released in 2012 (surely The Master), but the one I responded to the most enthusiastically. I thought my high expectations for F for Fake (Orson Welles, 1973) would make it a disappointment, but it was totally surprising despite the fact I expected surprises. The same applies to That Obscure Object of Desire (Luis Bunuel, 1977), especially the first 15 minutes or so, with a remarkable story structure. The Silence (Ingmar Bergman, 1963) was an epiphany, the first Bergman film that I’ve had an emotional reaction towards and predating David Lynch by 20 years. The Bespoke Overcoat (Jack Clayton, 1956) and Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami, 1990) featured the most sympathetic performances, within beautifully humanist films. And Vampyr (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1932), performed with a live soundtrack by Steven Severin, was the trippiest film experience, with Rose and I half-awake with woozy colds.

 

Books

LovedOne

I’m pickier with books than films, perhaps due to time investment. I’ve liked and/or appreciated lots of books this year. Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Collins’s The Moonstone and Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther come close, but the only book that made me bubble over with enthusiasm was The Loved One (Evelyn Waugh, 1948), a perfect and perfectly concise novel.

TV

Carlos

Carlos (Olivier Assayas, 2010) was the most compelling thing I saw on TV this year, making a case for longer treatments of complex events than films can offer. It also had the best soundtrack. The Olympics opening ceremony (Danny Boyle, 2012) was the broadcast that made me happiest, possibly due to watching it with a hangover and letting the spectacle wash over me. Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia (2012) felt like the best kind of ‘event’ TV fiction, and among the best scripts that Steven Moffat has yet produced. Black Mirror: The Entire History of You (2012) was the TV episode most tailored to my interests – fingers crossed for more Twilight Zone for the C21st. Breaking Bad Season 4-5a (2011-2012) was the most moreish TV experience once the show broadened out in scale, having earned our sympathy for the characters. The Thick of It Season 4 Episode 7 (2012) was the most surprising TV episode, using comedy characters to hint at something huge and dreadful just off-screen.

 

Theatre

SergeyBoris

The puppet show Boris and Sergey’s Vaudevillian Adventure (Flabbergast Theatre) at the Edinburgh Fringe made me feel like a child and made my face hurt from smiling and laughing.

Art

Saville

It’s rare for visual arts to get me in the guts. The Jenny Saville retrospective at Modern Art Oxford did just that. And the Speed of Light night-hiking/neon joggers/sound art performance at the Edinburgh International Festival was an event that was at once hilarious and baffling.

Favourite tracks of 2012

Sometimes I Forget You’ve Gone by Dirty Three (my favourite track of the year and more beautiful every time) / 5 by Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland (piped direct from my childhood, filtered through all the tape decks I ever owned) / Only in My Dreams by Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti (hauntology without irony) / Ghost Hamlet by Daphne Oram, Daz Quayle and Andrea Parker (quietly invasive) / Too Tough to Die by Neneh Cherry & The Thing (accumulating towards superb frenzy) / Wisteria of Albion by Time Attendant (1980s CBBC nostalgia with undertones of Zarch on the Acorn A3000) / Ungirthed by Purity Ring (silences overwhelming melodies) / V2 by Carter Tutti Void (thuk thuk thuk thuk thuk thuk thuk thuk) / Epic by Au & Colin Stetson (Steve Reich-style minimalism, maximised) / Stupid Things (EYE remix) by Yo La Tengo (YLT eclipsed by EYE, like Paul Simon’s ‘The Obvious Child’ played on a ZX Spectrum) / Radar (Michael Mayer remix) by Hauschka (fragile, tiny techno) / Genesis by Grimes (how modern, commercial  synthpop should sound, IMHO) / Brats by Liars (dirty dancefloor) / Christian Rocks by Fenn O’Berg (Fennesz, O’Rourke and Rehberg transform Boston’s ‘More Than a Feeling’ into disorienting, doom-laden drone)

Click below for the Spotify playlist.

Favourite albums of 2012

2012 has been dark. Weather and hobbies have kept me indoors far more than usual. Music has performed a different function this year, too. I’ve preferred albums to hover somewhere below the conscious, as a backdrop to plotting and writing stories.

While there are albums that have proved most effective at blocking out the outside world, they haven’t all become favourites in the normal sense. The three albums that I’ve loved most this year have one thing in common: collaboration. They all take simple forms which become convoluted and unpredictable through introducing chaotic elements.


The big three

CarterTuttiVoidAlbumFront5001Since April I’ve had Carter Tutti Void’s album Transverse on constant rotation. There’s something beguiling about it, with an appearance of little going on but actually serving as a template for the listener to imagine all sorts of hidden melodies. That it’s a live performance is staggering. I wish I’d been there.

PP&F-CordophonyPhilippe Petit’s Cordophony is either an album that went under the radar for most music publications, or it’s one that just appeals specifically to me. In 45 minutes it covers a vast spectrum, short soundtracks to all sorts of imagined scenes. According to the press release, Petit plays ‘processed acoustics/field recordings/foundsounds + electronics + turntables & glass manipulations + percussions + synths/piano + balloons’ and there are 17 other musicians involved, including Nils Frahm. The album is a swirling mix of cello, electric harp, vibraphone, tibetan bowls, flutes, gongs and prepared piano, but sounds like something from another world.

BLACK-IS-BEAUTIFUL-575x575Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland’s ‘Black is Beautiful’ is another shimmering oddity. More a collection of sketches than songs, it gives the impression of flicking through radio stations. This is my understanding of what hauntology should be – I could convince myself that I’d heard any number of these pieces in my childhood, complicated by the inclusion of an unlabelled cover of Donnie and Joe Emerson’s 1979 track, ‘Baby’. Totally alien and totally familiar.

The rest of the top ten

Ariel PinkMature Themes, by Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, didn’t capture the attention of the music press in the same way as 2010’s Before Today. But it’s a really strong record and the move to less a lo-fi production might make it endure longer. It’s a terrific mix of styles, sounding like Beefheart, Zappa and Gong. The title track and ‘Only In My Dreams’ are perfect pop, ‘Early Birds of Babylon’ surprises me each time I hear it, and there’s another cover of Donnie and Joe Emerson’s ‘Baby’, making a nice link to Blunt and Copeland’s album.

Purity ringI’m not sure what kind of status Purity Ring’s Shrines has by popular consensus, but it’s the electropop album I’ve been waiting for for a long time. Megan James’s vocals are sharp, memorable melodies but it’s Corin Roddick’s backing work that makes it. The pitchshifted, choppy samples remind me of a more clubby take on The Knife’s Silent Shout. His synths saturate the album, often overwhelming the vocals. The effect is like examining intricate artworks with the low summer sun blinding your eyes.

HildurCellist Hildur Gudnadottir’s album Leyfdu Ljosinu is a single 40-minute track, recorded live with no post-production. It’s staggeringly beautiful.

Dance classics 1&2The best albums often don’t fit neatly into particular genres. Dance Classics Vols I & II from NHK’Koyxen don’t match my normal tastes, and yet I’ve listened to them both endlessly in the second half of 2012. Something about these short, skittery bursts really puts me in some kind of flow state.

Liars-WIXIW1On its release, I fully expected Liars’ WIXIW to top my list of 2012 favourites. Seeing them perform live in Berlin cemented my love for the band’s new direction. The standout track, ‘Brats’, is still the most anarchic, infectious thing imaginable.

actress_RIP_1329831774_crop_500x500Unlike the immersive Splazsh, Actress’s R.I.P is a weird collection of vignettes. On some listens they can seem insubstantial, on others they seem to stretch out, hinting at something far broader. A really eccentric but compelling album.

seerThe Seer by Swans is a late entry to my top ten. I’d struggled for a long time to get around to devoting full attention to the 2-hour opus, in the knowledge that it would be demanding and no kind of background to any other activity. It’s an amazing album, huge in ambition, and it’s hard to believe it’s an album release and not a retrospective of a lifetime’s work. I suspect I’ll love it more and more with time.

Honorable mentions

  • Tim Hecker and Daniel Lopatin – Instrumental Tourist
    Beautiful drones. This is what I write to.
  • Au – Both Lights
    Colin Stetson’s addition to the lineup makes a great band greater. At it’s best, it sounds like Animal Collective playing Steve Reich.
  • Fieldhead – A Correction
    Not as firm a favourite as 2009’s They Shook Hands for Hours, but still sublime.
  • Andy Stott – Luxury Problems
    Hypnotic and overwhelming.
  • Fenn O’Berg – In Hell
    Another terrific collaboration. ‘Christian Rocks’ and ‘Omuta Elegy’ are outstanding.
  • Mouse On Mars – Parastrophics
    The most fun, and funniest, album of the year.

Favourite tracks of the first half of 2012

The new music I’ve been listening to this year has been pretty dark. I’ve been spending more of my free time writing over the last few months and have tended towards music that seems to provide a good backdrop. Here’s a Spotify playlist featuring almost all of these tracks.

Dirty Three – Sometimes I Forget You’ve Gone
My favourite track of the year by a good distance. Almost unbearably beautiful.

Halls – Lifeblood
No Radiohead album this year, no problem.

Bullion – Say Arr Ee
Arthur Russell for C21st.

Au – Epic
With the addition of Colin Stetson on sax, Au mine territory more usually occupied by Steve Reich.

Grimes – Genesis
Every time I’m told about electro-pop artists in the charts, I want them to sound like this.

Burial – Kindred
Perhaps undeserving of the internet meltdown, but still as good as Burial gets.

Sven Kacirek – Cars & Nightingales
‘Scarlet Pitch Dreams’ continues Kacirek’s explorations into weirdy muted percussion.

Mirrorring – Silent From Above
Far from the most immediate track on the Tiny Vipers / Grouper collaboration, but it really sneaks up on you.

Daphne Oram, Daz Quayle, Andrea Parker – Ghost Hamlet
I’m not sure where the work of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s Oram ends and Quayle and Parker’s tinkerings begin, but this is heavy, beautiful stuff.

Julia Holter – In the Same Room
Refreshingly straightforward shimmering pop.

Double Helix – Voyages
All tracks can be improved with the addition of samples from ‘Jason and the Argonauts’.

Carter Tutti Void – V2
Unbelievable chunky thumps – completely hypnotic.

Slant Azymuth – Helical Scan
The clear standout track from Demdike Stare’s and Andy Votel’s collaboration.

Fenn O’Berg – Christian Rocks
Christian Fennesz, Jim O’Rourke and Peter Rehberg spend ten minutes summoning the devil and then remix Boston’s ‘More Than a Feeling’.

The Notwist – Blank Air
Really looking forward to hearing this in context on the upcoming album.

SP-X – The Escape
Terrific minimalist techno taken from the excellent EP, ‘Stalker’.

Les Marquises – Sound and Fury (Fieldhead remix)
The only new Fieldhead track so far this year, but excited for the new album.

Liars – Brats
It’s difficult to pick a single track from WIXIW, but this wins for getting the best reception when I saw them live in Berlin.

Spotify playlist

Favourite albums of the first half of 2012

Favourite albums released between January and end of June 2012:

  • Philippe Petit & Friends – Cordophony
  • Liars – WIXIW
  • Au – Both Lights
  • Carter Tutti Void – Transverse
  • Actress – R.I.P
  • Hildur Gudnadottir – Leyfdu ljosinu
  • Sven Kacirek – Scarlet Pitch Dreams

Closely followed by:

  • Grass Widow – Internal Logic
  • Belbury Poly – The Belbury Tales
  • Mirrorring – Foreign Body
  • Grimes – Visions
  • Dirty Three – Toward the Low Sun

Favourite EPs:

  • Burial – Kindred
  • Grouper – Violet Replacement Pt. I: Rolling Gate
  • Grouper – Violet Replacement Pt. II: SLEEP
  • SP-X – Stalker

Amazing older albums, new to me this year:

  • Gavin Bryars – The Sinking Of The Titanic / Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet
  • The Feelies – Crazy Rhythms
  • Make Up – In Mass Mind  /  Sound Verite
  • Exuma – Exuma, the Obeah Man  /  Exuma II
  • Jim Sullivan – U.F.O.
  • Porter Ricks – Biokinetics
  • James Brown & The Famous Flames – James Brown Live At The Apollo, 1962
  • Kim Jung Mi – Now
  • Paul McCartney – RAM
  • Thelonious Monk – Underground