Category Archives: music

Favourite albums of 2019

Drones

 

 

 

 

 

Goodness, what a lot of good drone albums there were this year! The Sacrificial Code by Kali Malone is a towering achievement – almost two hours of austere, subtly shifting pipe organ drones that slip me into a liminal space the moment they begin. I’ve listened to Genera – Live at AB Salon, Brussels by Bana Haffar more than any other album this year and still I understand it very little, but find it totally absorbing, strange and inspiring. The Gaelic smallpipe drones of The Reeling by Brighde Chaimbeul are utterly stunning – it’s an album that I’ve returned to far more than I’d expected on first listen. Bioluminescence by Shorelights is a far more manufactured confection, but there’s an organic element to the pulses, bird calls and wind beneath the surface. I can’t get enough of it. The field recordings of Vegetal Negatives by Marja Ahti are far more comprehensible, but conjure a soundscape that’s no less weird and no less hypnotic. Kimberlin (Original Soundtrack) by Abul Mogard continues Mogard’s incredible run of form, no less crucial and enveloping than any of his non-soundtrack work. Futuro (Music for the Waldorf Project) by Not Waving is an arresting soundtrack for literally anything you might be doing, and which sounds utterly different on each listen, as if the recording might respond to one’s mood. The title track of Epistasis by Maria w Horn, with its live string quartet and brooding – is it a harmonium? – is the standout track of a standout album. Traveller on the Road by Skin Crime recalls the most dread-filled moments of David Lynch movies, and sits well alongside other Hospital Productions artists such as Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement. Industry / Water by Michael Gordon / Jonny Greenwood  is the best release so far from Greenwood’s Octatonic label, as much a drone record as modern classical, and bodes well for future releases. Pyroclasts by Sunn O))) is awesome in the most awe-filled sense of the word. Pale Bloom by Sarah Davachi is another wonderful album from the Californian artist – particularly the 21-minute final track, which brings us all the way back to the organ dirge of Kali Malone.

Propulsive weird jazz and minimal techno

 

 

 

 

 

That’s a valid category, isn’t it? Atto IV by Vladimir Tarasov is an astounding album of jazz riffs and pulses that recall one of my favourite Oren Ambarchi albums, Quixotism. The man himself is present on Oglon Day by Oren Ambarchi, Mark Fell, Will Guthrie, Sam Shalabi, which delivers dizzying overlapping rhythms and a sense of huge regret at not seeing the performance live. Pink Nothing by Tom Richards, performed on an emulation of Daphne Oram’s unfinished ‘Mini Oramics’ machine, is maddeningly hypnotic. Triumvirate by Carter Tutti Void isn’t quite up to the level of majesty as their Transverse release, but it’s still ace. I by Föllakzoid is an unremitting forward march into the alien unknown.

Voices

 

 

 

 

 

All My People by Maria Somerville is comfortably my favourite vocal album of the year, neatly stepping in for the lack of new Grouper. 2020 by Richard Dawson retains Dawson’s lyrical precision and his wonderful voice, but lacks the lunacy of his previous releases. Arrival by Fire! Orchestra is more accessible than the band’s recent releases and features a surprising amount of vocals. ANIMA by Thom Yorke is assured and full of earworms. The Age of Immunology by Vanishing Twin is joyous and undemanding despite its complexity. Look Up Sharp by Carla dal Forno is strikingly familiar hauntology, an album half-remembered from childhood. The Envoy by Gavilán Rayna Russom is majestic and deeply weird, and features Cosey Fanni Tutti on vocals and arrangements by Peter Zummo.

Compilations and reissues

 

 

 

 

Three Highlife albums provided me with lots of happiness – the first being Hitsville Re-Visited by Ebo Taylor, Pat Thomas, Uhuru Yenzu, also from 1982, the most joyous recording I’ve heard all year. However, the more overly funky Control by Gyedu-Blay Ambolley & Zantoda Mark III, from 1980, and Grupo Pilon: Leite Quente Funaná de Cabo Verde by Grupo Pilon, a collection of 1980s recordings of Electro-Funaná from West Africa’s Cabo Verde Islands, give Ebo a run for his money. Oren Ambarchi rears his head again, curating a vast selection of experimental, drone and unclassifiable recordings from his own record label for the compilation Black Truffle At 10. The rerelease of Michael O’Shea by Michael O’Shea from 1982 is a revelation – Indo-European voodoo played on, according to Boomkat: a hybrid of a zelochord and a sitar, made on a wooden door salvaged in Munich, and with the crucial addition of electric pick-ups and the ‘Black Hole Space Box’. Hissing Theatricals by Tapes, a rerelease of the 2009 dub album, is wonderful, as are the 1980s synth post-punk experiments contained on Beside Herself by Michele Mercure.

Favourite albums of 2018

My favourite album of 2018 is Double Negative by Low. Low are a fine band with a discography built up over 25 years that, while unshowy, must surely make any other band weep. Like the songs of, for example, Leonard Cohen, beneath what may appear like superficial gloominess has always been a beating heart of optimism and beauty. Double Negative is a departure, and my favourite Low album since Secret Name. Alan Sparhawk’s and Mimi Parker’s ordinarily ice-clear harmonies are buried within fuzz and distortion, often squeezed out as a Sparky’s Magic Piano-esque squelch. I’m a fan of deteriorated sound, that’s for sure, but amidst all this degradation the occasional surfacing of untampered-with vocals feel like glimpses of something divine. It’s the most wonderful album, and ‘Tempest’ is my favourite song of the year.

Modern soul isn’t usually my thing, but Childqueen by Kadhja Bonet absolutely is, filled as it is with gorgeous melodies and lush orchestration. For the most part, the best aural (as opposed to vocal) comparison I can think of is Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, though there are shades of Kamasi Washington’s The Epic and Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life, and the slick production of ‘Mother Maybe’ reminds me strongly of one of my 80s guilty pleasures, Sade’s ‘Smooth Operator’. I can’t think of another 2018 album that feels so pleasurable throughout its running time. In addition, Kadhja Bonet was responsible for the entirety of the album; everything written, sung and played, and she produced and mixed it too, which I find incredible.

The drone album I’ve enjoyed most this year is Rausch by GAS. It’s difficult to describe why one lengthy drone is preferable to another, but there’s a depth to these seven tracks that just, I don’t know, takes me away… It’s only now, listening carefully and attempting to analyse it, that I’m able to identify particular elements: tapping hi-hats, bass thrums, reversed cymbals. Previously, I wouldn’t have been able to describe what produced the effect, only that’s the whole is absorbing and hypnotic. For me, this album is up there with Biokinetics by Porter Ricks and What?? by Folke Rabe.

Click ‘Continue reading’ for lots more picks and a playlist.

Continue reading Favourite albums of 2018

Musical milestones

I’m pretty sure that by now everybody’s seen the recent Facebook meme of showing the 10 albums that you find important, right? Now that I’ve finished my 10-album, 10-day list I thought I’d post it here for posterity. I’m afraid I wasn’t able to stick to the rule of omitting any explanation of my choices…

#1 Victor Borge – Phonetic punctuation / A Mozart opera
I’ve chosen this album to represent my parents’ record collection, and the fact that when I was a kid I was more likely to listen to comedy than music. But also, I still think it’s hysterically funny, and the album cover is still one of my all-time favourites, and also matches my writing/editing occupation. I have the LP version framed and ready to hang once I get my attic office in order.

#2 The Beatles – 1967–1970
It’d be disingenuous to pretend that this album wasn’t the keystone of my discovering music when I was a kid. I’d heard ‘Penny Lane’ via a compilation tape (chosen because I liked fire engines) and ‘Let It Be’ on a French campsite (as close to a musical epiphany as a seven-year-old can have). I listened to the ‘Blue Album’ endlessly while I was growing up; it’s part of me.

 

 

 

 

 

#3 Tortoise – TNT   /   Gastr Del Sol – Camoufleur
TNT by Tortoise was responsible for shifting my listening from rock to post-rock and experimental music. And that self-effacing album cover! Tortoise were an important band to me, partly because they had so many side projects that would lead me into other areas. In fact, two members of Tortoise were in the original lineup of Gastr Del Sol, though by the time of CAMOUFLEUR the lineup was David Grubbs and Jim O’Rourke (with contributions from Markus Popp of Oval). Jim O’Rourke would lead me into new areas – via his indie stuff and then into far stranger listening territory. Gastr Del Sol’s CAMOUFLEUR came a little later, but is probably my favourite post-rock album.

 #4 Nick Cave – And No More Shall We Part
I know that many people would argue for other Nick Cave albums being more immediate, more visceral, plain better than this, but I adore it unconditionally. It’s one of the most literate and darkly funny albums I can think of, and it inspired my early attempts to write short stories as much as, say, John Updike’s RABBIT series of books did.

#5 Herman Düne – Not On Top
For the longest time, I considered Herman Düne my favourite band. They were charming, witty and, unlike most of the music I listened to, they were alive and there were lots of opportunities to see them play live – which I did, perhaps five or six times in total. I listened to a lot of ‘anti-folk’ at the beginning of this century, though few of the performers still have the same resonance for me as Herman Düne, who have soundtracked some of the happiest moments of my life.

 

 

 

 

 

#6 The Modern Lovers  – The Modern Lovers   /   Jonathan Richman – Jonathan Goes Country
Around 2005 I listened to little other than Jonathan Richman’s vast back catalogue, from his snotty Velvet-Underground-ish origins to his latter-day embarrassing-dad persona – both equally loveable. THE MODERN LOVERS and JONATHAN GOES COUNTRY were on constant rotation when I was working alone for long stretches in California. The former is one of the great proto-punk albums, and a tantalising suggestion of a path that Richman would decide not to take; the latter is a goofy experiment that shouldn’t work, but succeeds through its wholehearted charm. It’s my favourite music to drive to.
(My favourite detail about the change in direction after the release of The Modern Lovers in 1976: David Robinson left the group ‘due to frustration with Richman’s quest for lower volume levels’.)

#7 Lonnie Donegan – Rock Island Line: The Singles Anthology 1955–1967
Lonnie Donegan’s early singles are some of the most thrilling songs I know of: catchy, funny, utterly wild. When I discovered this fantastic compilation set in 2006 I described it as follows in a blog post:
“I can’t get enough of Lonnie’s rasping, distorted, chuckling voice. I love that he addresses his songs to ‘the boys’. I love his rambling introductions to the simplest of songs. I love the way that his songs feel spontaneous, and that when the band cuts loose it doesn’t even sound like they’re playing musical instruments. They’re beating on the walls and stamping on the floor and Lonnie is wailing through the white noise…”

#8 Steve Reich – Music for 18 Musicians
This was a total revelation to me when I first heard it around fifteen years ago, and set me off listening to modern composition and minimalist pieces. I think it’s utterly perfect.

#9 Gavin Bryars – Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet
One of the most emotional musical experiences I’ve had was the American Contemporary Music Ensemble’s performance of ‘Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet’ at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival curated by Jeff Mangum in 2012. Rose and I had recently decided to start a family, and for whatever reason the repeated words of Bryars’ piece struck me as advice from a parent to a child. By the end I was in pieces.

#10 Oren Ambarchi – Grapes from the Estate
If any artist sums up my current listening preferences, it’s Oren Ambarchi. (Jim O’Rourke’s experimental work would come close second.) These days I most often listen to music while working, so it’s almost all instrumental. Aside from being absurdly beautiful, GRAPES FROM THE ESTATE is the most wonderful background to achieving a trance-like mindset.

Favourite albums of 2017

RICHARD DAWSON – Peasant (Domino). A departure from his previous work, in that he’s accompanied by a band, but Dawson’s ramshackle weirdness and Beefheartian tendencies are intact. ‘Soldier’ is my favourite song of the year, and includes my favourite lyric too: ‘Let’s betroth without delay / Pack the horse and ride away / Find some better place / Where we might raise a family / My heart is full of hope / I am tired, I am afraid / My heart is full of hope’.

BILL ORCUTT – Bill Orcutt (Palillia). Orcutt goes electric! Shimmering and abstract covers album with melodies I can never quite fathom. ‘Christmas on Earth’ is my favourite.

ROB NOYES – The Feudal Spirit (Poon Village). A traditional Fahey-style fingerpicking counterpart to Orcutt’s out-there album.

DEAN HURLEY – Anthology Resource Vol. 1 (Sacred Bones). Not only do they recall the happy, woozy weeks of David Lynch’s mind trip masterpiece, these soundscapes from Twin Peaks: The Return are incredible in their own right.

DEDEKIND CUT – American Zen (Ninja Tune). Wonderful washes of noise and hints of techno.

F INGERS – Awkwardly Blissing Out (Blackest Ever Black). Barely-there dark dreams.

BLUE IVERSON – Hotep (World Music). Twenty minutes of Dean Blunt’s soul and R&B doodlings. Far more compelling than that might sound.

HANNAH PEEL – Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia (self-published). Is it my imagination, or has there been a glut of albums featuring synths and colliery brass bands this year? This was the best.

VESSEL – Nyt Alfabet (DME). Shakily soporific in the best possible way. And that voice! I’m melting.

ALDOUS HARDING – Party (4AD). Speaking of voices… I predict that next year Aldous Harding will conquer the world.

Book soundtrack: You Don’t Belong Here

I’ve created book soundtracks for all of my longer fiction (novels and novellas, both published and as-yet-unpublished), partly as a way of consolidating the tone, partly as an indulgence and a pat on the back and partly, typically, as a distraction activity during the final draft. The idea is to provide a musical teaser before reading the novel, or a soundtrack of a theoretical film adaptation, but not simply a background playlist.

Today Ginger Nuts of Horror published my article about book soundtracks, including the rules of my nerdy game (yes, there are rules and no, I don’t always stick to them. I won’t repeat the rules here (because you can read the full article instead), or the stories behind some of the track choices, but I don’t think it’s bad form to repost the Spotify playlist:

Favourite albums of 2016

oren-ambarchi-villalobos-hubris

I know, I know. It’s too late for roundup lists. But a) the end of 2016 was crazy busy, and b) I love lists. So here are the albums I most enjoyed listening to in 2016, in no order:

  • KLARA LEWIS – Too
  • KAITLIN AURELIA SMITH – EARS
  • SARAH DAVACHI – Vergers
  • B/B/S – Palace
  • OREN AMBARCHI – Hubris
  • FENNESZ – It’s Hard for Me to Say I’m Sorry
  • LAMBCHOP – Flotus
  • DRONE – Reversing into the Future
  • JAN ST WERNER – Felder
  • GEORGIA – All Kind Music
  • MICA LEVI & OLIVER COATES – Remain Calm
  • KATIE GATELY – Color
  • NURSE WITH WOUND – Dark Fat

And my favourite 2016 reissues:

  • ANNA HOMLER – Breadwoman & Other Tales
  • LOW – The Exit Papers
  • THURSTON MOORE & TOM SURGAL – Not Me
  • ENNIO MORRICONE – Veruschka OST

Favourite tracks of 2015

  • Chorus by Holly Herndon – the catchiest pop tune that emerges only in glimpses, sung by a group of otters
  • A Walk Down Chapel by Jam City – woozy 1986ish tune from a BP garage compilation tape, half-heard from the back seat of my dad’s VW Polo
  • Price Tag by Sleater-Kinney – effortless, focussed, cool and cynical as fuck
  • Era of Manifestations by People of the North – seven and a half minutes of Kid Millions’ manic drumming, culminating in a squelchy frenzy that can only end with an abrupt—
  • Letter by Blood Warrior – sometimes just being lovely is OK and the ‘Oh Lord we were naked’ transition is wonderful
  • Against Archives by Felicia Atkinson – Carter Tutti Void laptop thumps from the next room along and wise whispering in this one
  • The Rest of Us by Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld – the album track that allows Stetson the freest rein, but Neufeld is vital to keeping the momentum
  • Shatter You Through by Daughn Gibson – his ‘Take on Me’, but better
  • In Service by David Thomas Broughton & Juice Vocal Ensemble – my favourite lyric of the year: “I deeply regret all events that did pass / I killed a man wi’ a broken glass”
  • My Love, My Love by Julia Holter – Julia Holter singing Karen Dalton’s lost lyrics is much as you’d expect until the oboe or an organ comes in and is that a train and it builds and builds and now there’s feedback and birdsong and maybe someone making a cup of tea and that was bloody beautiful
  • no.harm.do.no.wrong.Do.No.Harm.Do.No.Wrong.DO.NO.HARM.DO.NO.WRONG by Big Brave – simply enormous
  • Venus Fly by Grimes & Janelle Monáe – you should see my son dance to the bassy parts
  • Brickfielder by Mind Over Mirrors – best drone of the year; it’s so calm and still that you can hear what you like in there

Favourite albums of 2015

Jam_City_Dream_A_Garden_Cover_Art

Dream a Garden by Jam City (Night Slugs)
A few years ago my friend Charley and I did a series of Spotify mix swaps, with each one based on an agreed theme. It was good fun, but the theme that killed off the game for good was titled ‘Found a c90 on the floor of my dad’s VW Polo’ – that is, recent songs that sounded like they could have been released circa 1986 and therefore have been part of our childhoods. Every song on Dream a Garden could have been included in that mix. On first listen, I could have sworn I’d heard these songs before, or versions of them. They’re dated without being self-consciously retro, sweet enough to have been plausible FM hits, filtered through analogue tech and the sound of windscreen wipers.

 

Platform

Platform by Holly Herndon (Rvng Intl.)
It’s easy to imagine looking back at this album in ten years and saying, “That’s where it all first came together.” We’ve heard fractured laptop-pop before, but Holly Herndon manages to fuse pop melodies, techno washout bliss and still have room for moments of Laurie Anderson weird vocal tricks and art-gallery-installation introspection, all without losing momentum. That an album of this weight has standout songs is remarkable, but ‘Chorus’ and ‘Home’ are absolute earworms.

 

Other albums fan 1

Art Angel by Grimes (4AD) for its joyousness and for demonstrating a savvy, self-sufficient alternative to manufactured pop. No Cities to Love by Sleater-Kinney (Sub Pop), for its immediacy and for shitting on all other rock albums this year, apart from Olimpia Spendid by Olimpia Spendid (Fonal). Au De La by Big Brave (Southern Lord), for call-and-response guitars that The Quietus described as ‘like two steel mills groaning to each other’.

 

Other albums fan 2

Sintetizzatrice by Anna Caragnano & Donato Dozzy (Spectrum Spools) for Berberian Sound Studio-style wooziness and melodies that float just above head height. Simple Songs by Jim O’Rourke for its effortless evocation of Harry Nilsson at his best. f(x) by Carter Tutti Void (Industrial) for providing a worthy studio successor to 2012’s Transverse. Never Were the Way She Was by Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld (Constellation) for its cold, precise beauty.

 

Other albums fan 3

Letter Ghost by Blood Warrior (Immune), for Baptist General-esque fragile indie-folk that felt immediately familiar, in the best possible way. Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens (Asthmatic Kitty), Apocalypse, Girl by Jenny Hval (Sacred Bones) and Sliding the Same Way by David Thomas Broughton & Juice Vocal Ensemble (Song, by Toad) for their honesty and frankness.

Compilations

Highlife

My favourite compilation released this year is Soundway’s Highlife on the Move: Selected Nigerian & Ghanaian Recordings from London & Lagos 1954-66. Everything else can basically go to hell, but the Earthly 6 mix by Jam City is good and the Late Night Tales mix by Nils Frahm is lovely.

2015 reissues

Reissues

Finally, Domino’s Weird World imprint rereleased The Magic Bridge (2011) and The Glass Trunk (2013) by Richard Dawson and you know what? They’re incredible. For me, the only reissues that come close are the I Crudeli OST by Ennio Morricone (Cherry Red) and 1971 Revolutionary Spiritual Afro Jazz Sounds From Exile by Ndikho Xaba and the Natives (Matsuli).

Favourite albums overall, new to me, from any year

Other than 2015 titles, my first big discovery this year was The Ascension by Glenn Branca (1981). The Adding Machine by Arnold Dreyblatt (2002) scratched a similar itch. And I can’t believe I’d never heard Watusi by The Wedding Present (1994), but I’ve now more than made up for the omission.

Book soundtrack: Carus & Mitch

I listen to music while I write. It’s usually drone, industrial or minimal techno. I could wax lyrical about the state of mind induced by Biokinetics by Porter Ricks, Grapes from the Estate by Oren Ambarchi or Water Park by Dirty Beaches. Each story I write is usually accompanied by a particular few albums on rotation.

But that’s by the by. That’s not the kind of soundtrack I want to write about here.

I’ve started creating playlists for each of the longer pieces of fiction I’ve written. You could think of them as soundtracks to imaginary film adaptations, I suppose. But who says that books shouldn’t have soundtracks in their own right? In fact, creating a soundtrack playlist has helped me pin down the tone of stories while I’m still editing them.

I like to make the process convoluted. I’ve come up with a fairly strict set of rules:

  1. The first and last tracks ought to work as an accompaniment to the story’s ‘opening and closing credits’.
  2. The playlist should include diagetic (i.e. in-world) and non-diagetic (i.e. conventional overlaid soundtrack) music. Generally, that means not much vocal content.
  3. Broadly, the tracks should reflect the mindset of the central character. My stories are mostly 1st-person or close 3rd-person POV, so by the editing stage I should have a pretty good idea what makes them tick.
  4. The ordering of the tracks should reflect the changing mood or plot events.
  5. Despite rule 4, the playlist should remain listenable in its own right, without sounding jarring. Unless jarring sounds good.

Carus & Mitch

My novella, Carus & Mitch, is published by Omnium Gatherum on Monday (23rd Feb 2015). It’s about two girls who live entirely alone in a remote house, afraid of the dangers outside. It’s kind of creepy.

Here’s a Spotify soundtrack to accompany Carus & Mitch. Hopefully, it ought to work either as a teaser to reading the story, or a kind of epilogue if you’ve already read it.

It’d probably be counterproductive to explain the reasoning behind each of the track choices. But perhaps it’s worth noting that the 1940s tracks and the ‘Autumn’ educational record are the diagetic (in-world) ones. I like the image of Carus and Mitch investigating a vinyl record collection they’ve discovered in the house.

Mild spoilers: The playlist reflects the book in that it transitions from cosy to queasy to a little bit terrifying. Enjoy.

Favourite tracks of 2014

Firstly, it’s been more a year for albums rather than individual songs. Even though my longlist is 41 tracks and 4.5 hours, I’m being strict with myself for this list by not including tracks to represent albums I love, if the track doesn’t stand alone. So nothing from Oren Ambarchi’s Quixotism (Part 3 came close, but is far more glorious in the context of the album). I’m also disallowing tracks from compilations and rereleased albums, therefore it’s a no-show for the Soul Jazz Gipsy Rumba or Strut Haiti Direct compilations, Finders Keepers’ Lewis album, or the rerelease of Aby Ngana Diop’s Liital.

So it’s a pretty pared-down list. Only eight tracks remain, though two of them are well over the 10-minute mark:

  • I Have Walked This Body by Jenny Hval & Susanna
  • Advice to Young Girls by Copeland ft. Actress
  • CIRCLONT6A[141.98][syrobonkus mix] by Aphex Twin
  • Hidden Thieves by Eyes & No Eyes
  • Nothing Important by Richard Dawson
  • Body Sound by Holly Herndon
  • Pretending by Mice Parade
  • Speech Spirits by FIS (The Nagger remix by Oren Ambarchi)

Here’s a Spotify playlist:

The numbers

OK, so I keep a log of all the new stuff I listen to. Doesn’t everyone do that? Up until today I’ve listened to 589 unique albums, 98 EPs and 41 singles this year – that’s 728 releases in total.

354 of these titles were released in 2014. This chart shows the release years, ordered by listening date:

Listening years
254 releases were by artists from the USA, 204 from the UK. Germany’s next in the list with 37 releases, then Australia with 23, then Sweden with 18. I listened to artists from 55 different countries in total.

But that’s just the releases that were new to me. I don’t log everything I listen to. That would be crazy.

Most of my listening was via Spotify. The site’s ‘Year in Music’ tells me that my most-listened genres were experimental, drone, glitch, warm drone, post-rock. Sounds about right.
Apparently I’ve listened to 38,739 minutes of music on Spotify this year, which certainly justifies the £10/month payment.
That’s 645 hours. That’s 27 whole days.

Finally, Last.fm tells me my most-listened artists this year. Given that many Oren Ambarchi tracks are longer than 10 minutes, he’s even more of a clear winner:Last.fm 2014 listening

Favourite albums of 2014

meshes_of_voice-27626501-frntl_1408276585Meshes of Voice by Jenny Hval & Susanna
Plotting a course between pretension and striking beauty, this album features more exquisite moments than any other this year. Jenny Hval’s impossibly high falsetto weaves in and out of Susanna’s warmer tones. Contrasting hummable melodies, the most unexpected elements are the unsettling drones, reaching a pinnacle in ‘I Have Walked This Body.’

 Richard-Dawson-Nothing-Important-300dpi

Nothing Important by Richard Dawson
The title track is the single most exciting song I’ve heard all year. It’s folk music for this century. It’s punk music without the posturing. It’s the short story I wish I’d written.

 Quixotism

Quixotism by Oren Ambarchi
Every so often I revisit a location important to me during my childhood. Each time, when I arrive, I worry that the magic won’t remain. Each time, I’m surprised all over again. Quixotism works in just the same way. Its simplicity seems mundane at first, until you begin to notice all of the irregular elements. Then it becomes hypnotic, even when the thump segues into jerky techno. It’s my favourite 2014 album for driving in the dark, occupying a similar place to Carter Tutti Void’s 2012 album Transverse.

 Other albums fan

Everybody Down by Kate Tempest, for its genre-busting storytelling. Pipes by Katie Gately, an artist who’ll no doubt produce something even more astounding in the near future. La Isla Bonita by Deerhoof – an unexpectedly direct and fun return to form. Wilderness of Mirrors by Lawrence English, for soundtracking my writing in 2014. And possibly, although it’s a bit soon to tell, Shadow of the Monolith by Lawrence English and Werner Dafeldecker.

Compilations

Compilations

My absolute favourite is Gipsy Rhumba: The Original Rhythm of Gipsy Rhumba in Spain 1965-1974 from Soul Jazz, strange and diverse and loved by my son. Marshall Allen presents Sun Ra And His Arkestra: In The Orbit Of Ra on Strut is outstanding. The French Avant-Garde in the 20th Century on LTM is terrific, too.

2014 reissues

ReissuesAnthology of Interplanetary Folk Music Vol. 1 by Craig Leon – astounding proto-techno from early-80s Takoma label. Money by Nath & Martin Brothers, the funkiest ride of the year. Furia by The Fates, a weird folk/post-rock diversion from 1985.

Favourite record labels

Thrill Jockey (new releases by Skull Defekts, Man Forever, OOIOO), Hospital Productions (Vatican Shadow), Exotic Pylon (Time Attendant, Isobel Ccircle), Editions Mego (Oren Ambarchi).

Favourite albums overall, new to me, from any year

Even before the release of Quixotism, 2014 was, for me, the year of Oren Ambarchi. I heard 14 of his albums for the first time, five of which I adore (Connected, Grapes from the Estate, Intermission 2000-2008, In the Pendulum’s Embrace, Quixotism). The combination of The Glass Trunk and Nothing Important puts Richard Dawson in close second place. Free jazz was another predominant theme – I love Karma by Pharoah Sanders and World Galaxy by Alice Coltrane. Hillbilly Tape Music by Henry Flynt is an eye-opener. What?? by Folke Rabe was on constant rotation for a while, during writing stints. Material by Emptyset is terrifying and exhilarating. Inspiration Information by Shuggie Otis features killer tunes. I felt embarrassed I’d never before heard Slates by The Fall. And Go Bo Diddley by Bo Diddley is another of my son’s favourites and therefore mine too.

Favourite tracks of 2013

Hungry Face by Mogwai – the most perfect theme imaginable to my favourite TV show of the last few years. / Casino Lisboa by Dirty Beaches – my most-listened new track of the year. I love the moment about a minute in, when the drums kick in and knock the bass riff upside-down. / New York / It’s All About… by Marina Rosenfeld – NY performance artist Rosenfeld is joined by Warrior Queen for a sparse, echoing shoutout. / Fall Back by Factory Floor – endless and hypnotic. Can’t shake the disappointment that the eventual album didn’t contain more like this. / Ludwig’s Children by Roj – a bedtime treat from the former Broadcast member’s early tape work EP, The Amateur’s Attic. / The Weighing of the Heart by Colleen – the aural equivalent of finding yourself dozing off beneath a tree on a sunny autumn day. / Major Tom by The Space Lady – recorded in 1990 and reissued on her Greatest Hits album, predates Julia Holter and Grouper with only a Casio and a winged hat. I’ve had this track on constant rotation since its release. / Low Light Buddy of Mine by Iron & Wine – Sam Beam moves even closer to a MOR sound, but this track’s an absolute earworm. / Water Park Theme – Take 2 by Dirty Beaches – the other side of Alex Zhang Hungtai’s 2013 output, as serene as ‘Casino Lisboa’ is frantic. / Brennisteinn by Sigur Ros – spluttering amps, synths and guitars, this is a tweaked sound for Sigur Ros, but the sense of bewildered glory is still present and correct. / LDWGWTT by SHXCXCHCXSH – unrelenting techno from the unpronounceable Swedish duo. / Full of Fire by The Knife – the rotten heart of Shaking the Habitual. / Breaking up the Earth by Colleen – frankly, I could include most of The Weighing of the Heart here, but I’m limiting myself to two tracks. This one’s more Arthur Russell than Grouper. / Willow by Rosy Parlane – one of a number of great Touch ambient tracks I might have included, and difficult to pinpoint what’s special about it. It just is. / Where Are We Now? by David Bowie – as wonderful as it was to have Bowie reappear out of nowhere, this track has only improved with each listen. / So Far So Clean by  Inga Copeland – a nice match with Marina Rosenfeld’s EP, the female half of Hype Williams finally strikes out on her own, hinting at excellence to come. / Waayey: The Butcher by Sidi TouréAlafia is an excellent, uplifting album. This track in particular does it for my three-month-old son. / Iyongwe by John Wizards – avoiding the Vampire Weekend-isms of the rest of the album, this track straddles genres perfectly. / Universe in Crisis by Wareika Hill Sounds – former Skatalite Calvin ‘Bubbles’ Cameron plays trombone in a fudgy, late-night haze. / Not Your Ordinary Blanket (live) by Groupshow – a track that I can only grasp onto for a few minutes before it merges into whatever daydream I’m in. / Hello Stranger by Julia Holter – a match made in heaven as Holter performs a stunning cover of Barbara Lewis’s song, one of my favourite ever pop tunes. / 10.17.2009 (for CCG) by M. Geddes Gengras – formless, pulsating, overwhelming.

Here’s a Spotify playlist containing all the tracks, just shy of 2 hours:

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.

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

Favourite tracks of 2011

Click the image above for a Spotify playlist featuring all of these songs.

Isabel – Baxter Dury
I love Baxter Dury’s album, ‘Happy Soup’ as much as I did last year’s ‘Things To Do and Make’ by Ergo Phizmiz. Dury’s vocals have a sloppy, sub-rehearsal quality, he mutters, he’s cynical and he sounds wonderful. ‘Isabel’ is probably my favourite song of the year, mainly for the chorus: Isabel’s sleeping / Isabel’s sleeping / I think my mate slept with you when you were in Portugal. There are at least three other tracks on the album that are standouts, too.

Lonely In Your Arms – Deep Sea Arcade
Excellent jangly surf pop.

Satellite – The Kills
I first listened to ‘Blood Pressures’ in my now-deceased Ford Ka. The speakers were barely operational and the music was being fed from my iphone to the radio via FM transmitter. The door kept vibrating with the farting motion of the ragged speakers and it sounded like nothing on Earth. One of my favourite moments in any track this year is one minute and twenty-three seconds into ‘Satellite’, where the thumping guitar winds down to an abrupt silence – for just a moment it feels that the track ends, making the remaining three minutes a joyous lap of honour.

Future Crimes – WILD FLAG
This will keep me going until the reformed Electrelane finally record some new material. WILD FLAG’s self-titled album is rock-solid and raw.

If I Keep On Loving You – Let’s Wrestle
Straightforward indie pop and all the better for it.

Shark Ridden Waters – Gruff Rhys
Andy Votel’s sampling adds a kitsch, comic element that, in retrospect, seems to have been missing from the majority of Gruff Rhys’ solo work. I only wish that the final sampled chorus had been used more throughout the track – other than that, it’s blissful pop.

FFunny FFrends – Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s music sounds like it’s been recorded on C-90 cassette and then retrieved from a puddle. A bizarre slice of grungy funk through destroyed speakers.

Midnight Wave – Two Wounded Birds
More surf pop, this time even more indebted to Dick Dale.

Waveforms – Django Django
Oh, I love this. Beta Band vocals against DIY, skittery beats and 303 mayhem.

Mindkilla – Gang Gang Dance
Another of my absolute favourites this year. More than any other track on this list, this is the one that’s been drawing me back again and again. And surprisingly, I found that ‘Eye Contact’ was the perfect album to use as a backdrop for November’s novel-writing frenzy. Who’d have thought it?

Hipster – Monky
I love the chiptune vibe here. If I was a DJ, you’d all be dancing to this.

Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win – Beastie Boys featuring Santigold
It was a bit of a surprise to find this catchy dub pop buried in the Beasties’ ‘Hot Sauce Committee Part 2’. It definitely benefits from pushing the Boys down in the mix and the bassline is infectious.

Please Don’t Take Him Back – Bearsuit
Bearsuit straddle the line between catchiness and annoyingness throughout ‘The Phantom Forest’. This song is one of the more conventional but still catches them at their best.

Be a Doll and Take My Heart – Herman Dune
I still haven’t really got over the disappointment of ‘Strange Moosic’, in which David Herman Dune’s freewheeling lyricism is cut back to endlessly looping choruses. ‘Be a Doll and Take My Heart’ is lovely, albeit far less special than the brothers are capable of being.

There’s Nothing in the Water We Can’t Fight – Cloud Control
Is this great or awful? Last.fm tells me that this is one of the tracks I’ve listened to the most over the last six months, so it’d be hypocritical not to include it, even though Cloud Control is the worst band name ever.

Now the Smile Comes Over In Your Voice – The Wave Pictures
In an opposite trajectory to Herman Dune, The Wave Pictures have upped their game this year. Now that they’re signed to Moshi Moshi they’ve achieved a cleaner studio sound that befits them and sounds far closer to their live shows, but Dave Tattersall’s focus on British mundaneness remains intact.

Lotus Flower – Radiohead
‘The King of Limbs’ is the Radiohead album I’ve been hoping for since ‘Kid A’. I may be in the minority here, but with this release, Jonny Greenwood’s soundtracks and Thom Yorke’s coming out as a dubstep DJ, I think that Radiohead have never been in better shape.

Death Major – 13 & God
This track is more heavily weighted towards Anticon’s Doseone than the Notwist’s sweet choruses and features one of the best raps I’ve heard this year.

The Merry Barracks – Deerhoof
This appeared on last year’s list as a pre-release single, but is worth including here now that ‘Deerhoof vs. Evil’ is on Spotify. It’s a shame the rest of the album couldn’t live up to this glorious mess.

A Candle’s Fire – Beirut
This song does little to further Beirut’s sound and even sounds familiar on first listen. But it’s absolutely joyous, all the same.

Teenagers in Heat – Caged Animals
Childlike and wonderful, with a chorus that endears itself to me by sounding a little like ‘Tim Major’s in heat’.

Ping – Hauschka
More than any other Hauschka album, this captures the excitement of one of Volker Bertelmann’s live performances. It’s a rush of staccato rhythms and rattling, often achieved by placing a bundle of ping pong balls into the grand piano to be bounced up and down on the strings. Like Battles’ ‘Mirrored’, the effect is of machine-like intricacy, but ‘Salon des Amateurs’ somehow manages to remain soothing throughout. ‘Ping’ is one of my top tracks of the year.

It’s Choade My Dear – Connan Mockasin
Is this as lovely as it seems? I just looked up the word ‘choade’ and now I feel queasy.

Balance Her in Between Your Eyes – Nicholas Jaar
Chosen as a representative of the excellent album, ‘Space is Only Noise’. Once again, this woozy, hypnotic album turned out to be an excellent writing aid.

Abu Dhabi – Rough Fields
In its own odd way, this is probably the most beautiful song on this list. The listening conditions need to be perfect, but if you get it right this can be transcendent.

by this river – Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto
‘summvs’ is another of my favourite albums this year, even though I still don’t have much of a handle on it after many listens. This cover of Brian Eno’s song is the most accessible track on the album. I really love the high-pitched tone that’s used as a kind of punctuation mark.

Spotify playlist: Tim’s favourites of 2011

NaNo November 11: That went quickly

It all went in a blur. I’ll take stock about what went right and what went wrong (likely to weigh heavily on the latter), but for now I’ll take a break from writing. In the meantime, these are the albums that accompanied my 23-day flurry of novelling:

Actress – Splazsh
Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto – summvs
Animal Collective – Fall Be Kind
Animal Collective – Feels
Atlas Sound – Parallax
Burial – Burial
Burial – Street Halo EP
Ellen Allien & Apparat – Orchestra of Bubbles
Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact
Gang Gang Dance – God’s Money
Hauschka – Foreign Landscapes
Little Wings – Black Grass
Magnetic Fields – 69 Love Songs
Mark Hollis – Mark Hollis
Mazzy Star – Among My Swan
Mazzy Star – She Hangs Brightly
Mose Allison – The Collection
Nicholas Jaar – Space Is Only Noise
Serge Gainsbourg – Vu de l’Exterieur
Studio 54, May 2, 1977 playlist
The Boats – Sleepy Insect Music
The Boats – Words Are Something Else
Thom Yorke – The Eraser

By far the most often-played album was Nicholas Jaar’s ‘Space Is Only Noise’, followed by Gang Gang Dance’s ‘Eye Contact’. It was a real surprise that Gang Gang Dance proved so conducive to writing and now the album feels rather hard-wired into my mind.

My year of needless data

About five years ago I asked my friend Charley a question: If it were available to buy, how much would you pay for all of the quantifiable data about your life up to this point?

The data would (presumably) include such numerical data as number of hours spent on the toilet, number of times spoken the word ‘shoe’ out loud, but also magically-derived but still quantifiable data like number of minutes spent thinking about sex, and so on.

At the time we both agreed that a Microsoft Excel document containing this information would be worth around £10,000. While I don’t have this sort of money, nowadays I think that £20,000 sounds more like it. Sometimes I think that if only I had access to more data about myself, I’d be able to understand myself, second-guess myself, and become the person I’d like to be. Writing a diary, blogging, logging books read and listing films watched are all ways of building up some kind of data picture about myself.

Anyway, on to more readily available data…

Books

In 2010 I kept a log of all the books I read. I like to think that I read bits and bobs from different eras and styles, but on closer inspection I’m far more conservative than I’d expected.

I’ve always thought that it’s crazy to assume that the best literature (or music, or whatever) is that produced in the last few years – but still, exactly half of the books I read this year were from the 2000s (17 of a total of 34). Similarly, 18 of the books I read were from the USA and 14 were from the UK.

I’m more comfortable with my selection of book genres. In 2010, I made a conscious decision to read more science fiction / speculative fiction, as it’s a genre that I love but have unconsciously pooh-poohed since I was a teen.

Like the near-obsessive that I am, I’ve been rating books in 2010, too. The books I enjoyed most were Middlesex (Jeffrey Eugenides), Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro), The Chrysalids (John Wyndham) and The Bridge of San Luis Rey (Thornton Wilder). The four books started but failed to finish were all non-fiction works.

Films

Most films that I’ve seen in the cinema this year (12) would have been made in 2009 or 2010 – but still, 48 of the 79 films I watched in 2010 were made in either the 2000s or this year.

As for films genre, it’s been drama almost all the way. Perhaps my genre tags are a bit lacking here. But still, a pleasing lack of action blockbusters last year.

This next one, I’m less proud of. I barely watched any non-English-language films in 2010.

As for ratings, there were nine films I watched in 2010 that I adored. Five of these were films that I’d seen before (The Conversation, Aguirre, There Will Be Blood, Adventureland, City of God), so the four films new to me that I loved were Adam Curtis’ documentary It Felt Like a Kiss, Kubrick’s 1956 noir The Killing, Tomas Alfredson’s Swedish vampire horror Let The Right One In, and the 2010 critics’ darling, David Fincher’s The Social Network.

I went to ATP and all I got was this lousy tinnitus

Photo by Andrew Bowman / The Liminal

All Tomorrow’s Parties’ Nightmare Before Christmas event (3-5 Dec 2010) was a terrific monster of a festival. Staying in Soviet Lynchian chalets and braving the December sleet made it all the more memorable. Growing, The Ex, Scout Niblett and Deerhoof were outstanding. Listening to the white-noise-and-wolf-howls of Keiji Haino (above), Rose and I played a game where we stood near the speakers with our eyes closed, and imagined that we had no bodies, which was surprisingly easy to achieve. Without the aid of any narcotics, I managed to convince myself that I was no more than the moisture on the end of one of my fingers. After the end of the Deerhoof gig (2am on the Sunday night), my ears rang more than usual – and the next morning then I woke up with no improvement.

The feeling was a little like postural hypertension – that is, standing up too quickly, resulting in a rush of blood to the head. I felt constantly as though I was on the brink of passing out, as though the high-pitched whine was a precursor to tunnel vision and then unconsciousness. This ringing noise lasted for exactly two weeks after the festival had ended, accompanied all this time, of course, by a thundering migraine. I’d started to become resigned to the fact that the effect may be permanent, and, while bearable, it would certainly have affected my life – not least because my patience was rather thinner than previously.

After two weeks, though, the whining subsided so that it could only be heard in silent moments, such as just before going to sleep and after waking up. The effect, lying in bed at night, is as though I’m caught in a beam of noise – as if rolling over might allow me to escape. In a way, it’s been quite a boon: for a few weeks I couldn’t sleep in past 8.30am, so have been up and about at far more productive hours than normal.

I’m still wearing my ATP wristband. I’ll cut it off when I can’t hear the music any more.

Favourite tracks of 2010

Near-constant Spotify usage has meant that 2010 has, for me, been more about songs than albums. Or perhaps it’s not been much of a year for LPs? Either way: here’s the unordered list (although, for the record, my favourites are Run Overdrive, Late and Mandrill).

Oh, and here’s a Spotify playlist for almost all of these tracks.

Run Overdrive – Civil Civic

At a bit of a stretch, I can imagine this instrumental track as the theme to a parallel-world Top of the Pops. It’s infectious, uplifting and, for those inclined, presumably quite danceable – but it’s also a little twisted, in particular the rocket-propulsion synths that remind me of Xinlisupreme’s speaker-shredding tracks.

It’s also refreshing to hear a band comfortable without a vocalist (I really hope they don’t succumb). Come to think of it, I still haven’t had the opportunity to play this track at really high volume… I bet it’s a riot live. One of my very favourite tracks of the year, for sure.

New York is Killing Me – Gil Scott Heron

Did anyone else see this coming? ‘I’m New Here’ came from nowhere for me – Gil Scott Heron sounds bruised and weary – and good grief, his voice is incredible these days. The clicking, clapping backdrop to ‘New York is Killing Me’ leaves space for Heron’s mournful complaints. The remix featuring Nas works well, but for me Nas’ contributions dilute a terrifically sparse track.

Microlite – Trophy Wife

I’m predisposed to like Microlite as they’re an Oxford-based band, and put on a good night at the newly gig-centred Modern Art Oxford. While it’s early days and they struggled to find enough material to fill their set (a limp Joanna Newsom cover almost spoiling the fun), this track, their first single, stands head and shoulders above the rest.

Late – Ergo Phizmiz
I’d previously only heard Ergo Phizmiz tracks in collaboration with People Like Us or via Ubuweb or Free Music Archive – but here it is, a genuine Phizmiz album, available in the shops. While on most of the album Ergo does a spot-on Viv Stanshall tribute, this track summons the spirit of Syd Barrett – all late-night meaderings and childish rhymes about Boris the florist.

Bright Lit Blue Skies – Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti

While ‘Before Today’ doesn’t contain a perfect track like ‘Every Night I Die at Miyagi’s’ (from ‘House Arrest’), this hits all the right notes for me. Much of 2010 has felt like the past, musically speaking, and when I hear ‘Bright Lit Blue Skies’, I’m transported to family camping holidays in France, circa 1988. Although the definition of hauntology seems to shift, I understand it as music that evokes false memories – and even on first listen I could have sworn that this had been a hit in my childhood.

On top of all of that, it’s a terrific pop song.

Ancestors – Gonjasufi

I don’t know who Gonjasufi is, but I know that his voice is ace. Over a backing similar to some recent Doom tracks, Sumach Ecks’ whispers his hesitant rhymes in a style unlike any rapper I’ve heard before. Intriguingly, Wikipedia lists his occupation as ‘rapper, singer, disc jockey and yoga teacher’.

Uncertain Memory – Grass Widow

Nothing on ‘Past Time’ quite reaches the heights of Grass Widow’s self-titled debut album. But this track, with its surf guitars and Electrelane chorus, is a winner. What on earth is the time signature here? Like Deerhoof’s ‘My Heart’ remix, ‘Uncertain Memory’ is reluctant to let the vocals die away, cutting away bars in order to preserve the flow. Add in the grandeur of the strings parts in the second half, and this is a track that keeps on giving.

Peppermint – Spectrals

Another track influenced by Phil Spector, ‘Peppermint’ filters sunny 60s pop through a grimy filter (see The Drums’ ‘Summertime!’ EP).

It’s an effortlessly hummable pop tune, just brilliant.

Bellringer Blues – Grinderman

The first Grinderman album was a mixed bag, and it was hard to shake the sense of midlife crisis from Nick Cave and co. ‘Grinderman 2’ is another story. I’ve enjoyed this album more than anything from Nick Cave since ‘No More Shall We Part’ – partly due to Cave’s ballsy confidence, but largely down to the instrumental backing. The guitars crunch and stutter and, on ‘Bellringer Blues’, reverse and slow down, creating a drunken structure that the song can only just contain.

Cave described the album as “like stoner rock meets Sly Stone via Amon Düül”, and on this album returns to his fallen prophet persona. ‘Bellringer Blues’ features Gabriel and deals swiftly with the Bible: I read that book every page / And then I put it away / Said I don’t think so / It makes slaves of all of womenkind / And corpses of the men

But it’s the looping weirdness that does it for me. Welcome back, sort-of-Bad Seeds.

Hand Covers Bruise – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

‘The Social Network’ was one of my favourite films of the year, and the classy production values were exemplified in Reznor and Ross’ soundtrack. ‘Hand Covers Bruise’ plays over the opening sequence, immediately dispelling any notion that a film about Facebook might be in any way whimsical. Sparse and haunted, ‘Hand Covers Bruise’ is a statement of intent. Surely Trent Reznor will now be the soundtrack composer of choice?

All Packed Up – Idiot Glee

Kentucky’s Idiot Glee is my pick of bands to watch. James Friley dodges Animal Collective copyism by referring directly back to Pet Sounds, but with Four Tet-like folktronica backings. Short and sweet, I’ve had ‘All Packed Up’ on more or less constant rotation for months.

Lightning Fossil – Prince Rama

This could almost be a lost Incredible String Band track. The banshee wail becomes less of an accompaniment and begins to lead the rhythm, until the point that the song threatens to become operatic prog folk. That this all happens in less than four minutes is astounding. Also, it gives me a mental image of Kate Bush singing with those head-throwing muppets from Labyrinth.

FM Tan Sexy – El Guincho

A bit of a surprise turnaround, ‘Pop Negro’ all but ditches the calypso plundering of 2008’s ‘Alegranza!’ in favour of a curious mixture of retro disco styles. I can almost imagine ‘FM Tan Sexy’ as an academic study of synthy 80s pop – as with Ariel Pink, it feels familiar on the first listen. Halting and bombastic, ‘FM Tan Sexy’ didn’t necessarily match my expectations of the return of El Guincho, but is terrific in its own right.

None an Island – Lorn

Another act that I know little to nothing about.

I can totally picture Doom rapping over this track, but there’s a certain glory in its sparse grind, carried by the tweeting high-pitched organ riff.

Tightrope – Janelle Monae feat. Big Boi

Outkast only really work for me in the context of Singstar. This track has all the same bolshy fun, but Janelle Monae’s vocals act as a convincing ‘fuck off’ to Duffy and the like. This track also features Big Boi’s Jemaine Clement-esque rhyming of ‘NASDAQ’ and ‘asscrack’.

Four – STLS

Apparently Lisa Schonberg and sts perform live facing each other, each playing a full drum kit. I have to see that. Four is buried at the end of the ‘Drumcore’ EP, but is the pick of the lot: the two drum kits intially compete, then phase together momentarily, forming one huge beat. Alternately shambolic and tight, ‘Four’ fills me with unbridled enthusiasm every time I hear it.

Hotel – Ergo Phizmiz
Another track from ‘Things to Do and Make’. Sitting somewhere between the Bonzo Dog Band and Madness, this is a track that’ll always put a smile on my face. A simple song of complaint about a seedy hotel (‘There’s spiders on the floor here’) with a refrain played on a detuned guitar, it contains some Flight of the Conchord-worthy endearing lyrics, including: And the manager is manic / And he may well be Hispanic / He’s obsessed with the Titanic / And his morals are appalling.

Midnight Boycow – The Sexual Objects

Davy Henderson has cited the Modern Lovers as a template for The Sexual Objects’ album, ‘Cucumber’, although I’d say there’s a Kinks influence in the mix too. There’s something really endearing about these slightly filthy and ramshackle pop songs, and ‘Midnight Boycow’ (closely followed by ‘Merrie England’) is my pick of the bunch.

The Young People – Belbury Poly

My favourite of Ghost Box’s ‘Study Series’ EPs, this features crude synths and that ‘Look Around You’ sense of 1980s wonder.

It really feels that Ghost Box have lived up to expectations this year. And that cover artwork – just superb.

Hey Boy – The Magic Kids

Hopelessly naive indie whimsy, with a severe Brian Wilson hangup and none of Suburban Kids With Biblical Names’ self-deprecation.

It shouldn’t work so well, but it’s just lovely.

Go Do – Jónsi

Only slightly tarnished by featuring on a Dulux advert, this is a storming track from Sigur Ros vocalist, Jón Þór Birgisson.

It’s a track that somehow, in spite of all cynicism, feels genuinely other-worldly.

Marathon – Tennis

Tennis are super-cool, is that right? I fell a bit oblivious to any hype – but this track is just beautiful, a Spector girl group turning to Jackson 5 falsetto, filtered through wobbly FM. Also, just short enough to leave you wanting, immediately ready for repeat.

The Merry Barracks – Deerhoof

I’m allowed this one, because although it’ll be on next year’s album, Deerhoof Vs Evil, the band released it as a free download this year. And on the strength of this, I’m more excited about the new album than any album for an awfully long time. The loping electronic rhythms, Satomi Matsuzaki’s absentminded childish vocals… just magic.

Let’s Go Surfing – The Drums

A borderline choice given that this first appeared on the ‘Summertime!’ EP in 2009, but given that it also appeared on The Drums’ debut album this year, I’m going to allow myself this one. I’ve written about this song before, but I still love it, not least because Rose insists that the chorus is ‘Obama, I just wanna go surfing’.

Parrot in the Pie – Ergo Phizmiz

Am I labouring the point? Ergo Phizmiz’s album ‘Things to Do and Make’ is my album of the year, and picking only four highlights from it is still doing it a disservice.

Roadtrips would be drastically improved if only I could memorise the chorus to this track.

Gold – Darkstar

I’ve had Darkstar’s ‘North’ on rotation since it was released, and while debut track ‘Aidy’s Girl is a Computer’ may still be the standout track after much reworking of the rest of the album, this cover of The Human League’s ‘You Remind Me of Gold’ is a real grower. I think I may have latched onto the album more because of the lack of new material from The Notwist: Darkstar’s skittery, spidery rhythms and two-note piano melodies scratch a similar itch – but I’m really glad that I’ve given ‘North’ the time to sink in.

Take Me Back – Aloe Blacc

Without even googling for reference, I imagine that Aloe Blacc’s similarity to Bill Withers and Al Green has been much discussed. But tracks like this are a reminder that there’s no technical reason why few artists are creating this kind of raw soul.

Too Much, Too Fast – Solex vs. Cristina Martinez & Jon Spencer

This really shouldn’t have worked. The appeal of Elisabeth Esselink’s tunes have always been the charity-shop ramshackleness, and having Jon Spencer widdling all over them ought to have been dreadful. But the album, ‘Amsterdam Throwdown, King Street Showdown!’ is just fantastic – and this track in particular is excellent fun.

Female Guitar Players Are The New Black – Marnie Stern

Marnie Stern’s awfully good at playing the guitar, isn’t she? Having said that, I’ve just looked up the lyrics to this song online, and while the track sounds like an orgiastic wrestling match, it appears to be about foxes and some wind near a bridge. So, perhaps a little disappointing, but Marnie’s ten-finger tapping and the frenetic drums still win me over, foxes or no foxes.

Sing – Four Tet

Other than his wonderful collaboration with Burial (‘Wolf Cub’ – one of my most-played tracks from last year) and the live performances with drummer Steve Reid, this is my favourite Four Tet song since ‘She Moves She’ way back in 2003. The bleeping melody gives Hebden plenty to monkey around with, and over the course of nearly seven minutes becomes hypnotic. To be frank, it could be twice as long and I it probably wouldn’t outstay its welcome.

Vietnam – Crystal Castles

Crystal Castles do not need Alice Glass, and were far better before they had a vocalist. I’m not sure if this is against the common consensus. Or do people hate Crystal Castles after the hype train for the debut album? Either way, this track reduces Glass’ contribution to a series of sampled pitches, over a ‘Downward Spiral’ synth thump. I’m a total sucker for this kind of quasi-chiptune treatment of voices.

Mount Hood – Hauschka

We saw Hauschka play in St Michael’s Church in Oxford, freezing cold sitting on the pews, even wearing our winter coats. While much of his work is composed for a 12-piece orchestra, he played solo with a grand piano prepared with card, duct tape, leather, tambourines and ping-pong balls resting on the strings. With eyes closed it was almost impossible to imagine one man making so many rattling, clattering noises all at once, with the soft piano lines interspered. The most inspiring music I’ve heard live this year.

1977 – Ana Tijoux

This track makes me question what I actually get out of hiphop – I can only understand 10% of the words, but I still get a real kick out of this.

Does anyone else out there find great pleasure listening to rap in a language you don’t understand?

My Heart (Deerhoof remix) – Wildbirds and Peacedrums

Forget my earlier comment. I’m allowing myself this one anyway.

Last.fm tells me that this is the track I’ve listened to most this year, which sounds about right as there were a few days when I listened to little else.

Silver Sands – Stereolab

Stereolab’s career distilled into just over 10 minutes.

A track of two halves, this begins with sugar-tinged Krautrock before making an about-turn into Heatwave noodling territory.

Ambre – Nils Frahm
Uncomplicated and beautiful, this track buried into my brain a long while ago.

Music like this does rather make other, fussier productions seems a bit ridiculous. ‘Props’ to Thom Yorke for recommending this via Spotify.

Mandrill – Ergo Phizmiz

This is the tune that’s been stuck in my head more than any other this year. And it features easily the best collection of words from any song this year: This mandrill / he was mauvish in the chops / and delicious / I met him down the shops one day / And he said ‘How d’you do?

When the third verse begins, Ergo’s pals pull together to make the most joyous sound I’ve heard for such a long time. Seriously, this is going to sound over-the-top, but this ‘novelty’ song makes me well up with happiness.

Listen to the Spotify playlist containing most of these tracks.

My Heart – Deerhoof remix (Wildbirds & Peacedrums, 2009)

This track was sitting high in my list of favourite songs of 2010 (to be written up over the next month), until I realised that it was actually released late last year. I’d first heard the original Wildbirds & Peacedrums song as the soundtrack to a video at Oxford’s Modern Art Museum, in which a group of dancers formed a spontaneous dance routine in a warehouse and innercity areas. Unusually for me, I’d enjoyed the installation video so much I watched it all the way through twice.

It was only a few months ago that I heard ‘My Heart’ again, and it took me a while to place it. The original track is measured, bluesy and raw – although on further listening it seemed to take rather more time to cut to the chase than I’d remembered, and the second half seemed to lose itself a little. Enter Deerhoof’s remix, which leaves the vocal relatively untreated, emphasises guitar lines, but removes the coda and, in a pretty audacious move, actually removes whole bars in order to keep the vocal flowing with few instrumental gaps. This results in a far more poppy tune, despite the loping, woozy effect of the flexible time signatures. It’s by far the most accessible remix I’ve heard from Deerhoof, and turns a solid tune into something oddly hypnotic.

Listen to My Heart – Deerhoof remix on Soundcloud.

GetGlue is a foisting machine

In the last week or so I’ve been playing around with GetGlue, a new recommendation and social networking site that covers all media (i.e. film, TV, books, music, general topics). After my abortive research into film recommendation sites – and I really should update my earlier post, as I ended up leaving Jinni in favour of Criticker, which still has plenty of failings – this feels like it could become the site for me.

There are several main draws to GetGlue. The first seems trivial but is central – you gain virtual stickers for various activities – for example, rating 50 TV shows. These stickers show up on user profiles, working as boasts similar to Xbox achievements. There are also mentions of becoming applicable to receive ‘hard-copy’ stickers for free, but this doesn’t seem to be the big sell.

The other USP is that GetGlue distinguishes between recommendations and ‘checking in’ – i.e. letting users know what you’re currently watching, reading, listening to or thinking about. This feature’s obviously inspired heavily by Facebook updates, and indeed you can publish each comment directly on Facebook (or Twitter) – you could actually use GetGlue as a portal for social-media updates related to your likes or dislikes.

Finally, and the feature that’s got me hooked, is the ability for users to become ‘gurus’ of particular subjects, achieved through posting reviews and users voting. Guru status bestows the user with page-editing privileges and also the ability to hardwire particular recommendations to that page. The temptation to foist obscure but related books, films and music onto casual browsers is huge, I’m discovering. I’m disproportionately proud to be guru of 10 things, currently: The Last Man on Earth, The Drums’ Summertime!, Dungen, Viktor Vaughn’s Vaudeville Villain, Lonnie Donegan, The Research, Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, Electrelane’s The Power Out, The Hired Sportsmen and 13 & God.

As with my earlier comparison post, here are my thoughts about GetGlue, distilled:

Pros:

  • Impressively wide catalogue due to links with specialist websites e.g. Last.fm and imdb
  • Ability to add to index from selected sites
  • Covers music, film, books, topics
  • Clean, clear interface
  • Guru status offers Wikipedia-like editing rights, plus ability to make recommendations
  • Stickers encourage exploration and are strangely compelling
  • Distinction between ‘checking in’ and liking things
  • There’s a linked iphone app
  • Links to Facebook and Twitter

Wishlist:

  • User profiles by default show a Facebook-like ‘stream’ rather than a definitive overview of that person (favourites are more enlightening but are buried away)
  • Favourites can’t be split into media type, so can become messy and unrepresentative
  • Can’t reorder favourites or lists
  • ‘Saved’ items could be made into more useful ‘to read’/’to watch’ lists, so could become a reminder tool
  • The iphone app only allows you to ‘check in’ rather than rate favourite items
  • Recommended items are literal-minded and uninspired (e.g. if you like an album by an artist, you’ll like other albums by the same artist), and only relate to a single item rather than a combination of items
  • Inability to add extra comments to a page once you’ve reviewed – even if you’re the guru
  • ‘Check in’ seems different to ‘currently reading’ etc – it’d be nice if user profiles could show media that the user is currently immersed in…
  • Only three tiers of rating: ‘favourite’, ‘like’ and ‘don’t like’ (perhaps, though, this is a ‘pro’, as it’s much lessy fussy than, say, Cricticker)
  • Can’t embed stream or favourites in non-Javascript blog (like this one)
  • Can’t easily browse recommendations – quite limited categories (e.g. 1970s)
  • This is entirely trivial, but I’d love to see the stickers feed into a meta-game or measureable tally of ‘progress’ – probably irrelevant for most people though!

You can see my GetGlue profile here.