Category Archives: Uncategorized

Favourite albums of 2020

Drone / modern composition

Anna HauswolffSarah Davachi

 

 

 

After last year’s stunning album The Sacrificial Code by Kali Malone, it’s now becoming clear – and I realise how unlikely this may sound to some – that there’s something unexpectedly interesting going on in the realm of modern organ music. My two favourite albums of 2020 are performed almost exclusively on instrument. On All Thoughts Fly, Anna von Hausswolff abandons her gothic pop sensibilities and produces incredible textures using pipe organs that seem to rear above you like the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Cantus, Descant by Sarah Davachi is a less terrifying affair, but no less overwhelming. It features six different organs in the US and Europe from reed to pipe organ, and despite running at 80 minutes, doesn’t outstay its welcome even considering the accompanying live release Figures In Open Air, with its two central hour-long performances in Chicago and Berlin. Galya Bisengalieva of the London Contemporary Orchestra manages to fulfil the promise of her 2019 Eps while also being utterly surprising with Aralkum, an instrumental concept album apparently concerning the shrinking Aral Sea, and evoking her textures for Actress. There’s a similar tone on Oliver Coates’ performance of John Luther Adams’ Canticles of the Sky / Three High Places, the patient, accumulating layers on Harbors by Ellen Fullman and Theresa Wong, and in the outstanding analogue drones of Music for Cello and Humming by Judith Hamann, which also features Sarah Hennies.

In terms of less readily identifiable drones, Finnish techno prodigy Vladislav Delay comes up with the annual goods with Rakka, and also a wonderful, doomy dub collaboration with Sly & Robbie entitled 500 Push-Up. My final two favourite drone albums are Double Bind by Geneva Skeen, and the surprisingly organic Oehoe by Machinefabriek, featuring Anne Bakker on (wordless) vocals and violin.

Folk / primitive / field

Gwenifer RaymondLaura CannellGwenifer Raymond’s take on Fahey-esque primitive Americana is heightened by the knowledge that her melodies in Strange Lights Over Garth Mountain are inspired by the Welsh valleys and folklore. Laura Cannell continues a terrific run of form with the distinctly folk-horror collection The Earth With Her Crowns. Beholder by Julia Reidy offers dizzying, ringing guitar textures in which I can lose myself for hours, and similarly the more fragile improvisations on Welsh harp on Telyn Rawn by Rhodri Davies. Dirty Three drummer Jim White, along with Marisa Anderson, provides more immediately digestible melodies in The Quickening, though still as complex as his best work. Kate Carr proves herself to be one of the most interesting current field recordings artists with no less than three releases this year, the pick of which are the stunning Fabulations and The Thing Itself and Not the Myth.

Weird / psychedelic / hip hop

The TotemistOlan MonkThis year, all of my psychedelia needs unrelated to Sun Ra were catered for The Totemist by Ak’chamel, The Giver Of Illness, which sounds like Sunburned Hand of the Man with heatstroke. Love/Dead by Olan Monk defies easy categorisation, though I suppose it’s much minimal techno as anything, though so dark and strange that it’s as if all the lights go out as soon as it begins, and equally so with Metal Preyers by Metal Preyers, which Boomkat describes as ‘chopped & screwed gristle meets ballistic singeli and mutant electro-acholi’, which, though baffling, is presumably accurate. Visions of Bodies Being Burned by clipping. is as hallucinatory as hip hop gets. Finally, Scis by Oval is a more enjoyable album than the new Autechre, for me, and certainly more frantic.

Vocal / pop / indie

Baxter DuryHunteressThe Night Chancers by Baxter Dury may not make me as deliriously happy as his earlier Happy Soup, but it’s still chock-full of his self-deprecating wit, and contains some of my favourite lyrics of the year: Carla’s got a boyfriend / He’s got horrible trousers / And a small car … Carla’s got a boyfriend / I might take care of him, to be honest. Similarly, Pillowland by Jam City doesn’t quite hit the heights of their earlier Dream a Garden, but prods the same hauntological parts of the mind, so that you could convince yourself not only that you’ve heard each track before, but also that each was in fact a key part of the soundtrack to your childhood. Set My Heart On Fire Immediately by Perfume Genius features soaring melodies and straightforwardly brilliant songwriting. Shades by Good Sad Happy Bad is rough and enthusiastic, and a useful reminder that Mica Levi was already excellent within Micachu and the Stripes before she became Britain’s best composer of film scores. Magic Oneohtrix Point Never by Oneohtrix Point Never is surprisingly direct, melodic and memorable, featuring plenty of guest artists and vocals. Finally, Laura Cannell makes another (very different) appearance in this list under the name Hunteress, playing around with synth pop on The Unshackling, and succeeding wildly.

Compilations

Beverly Glenn-CopelandField WorksThe artist I’m most grateful to have discovered this year is Beverly Glenn-Copeland, whose compilation Transmissions: The Music Of Beverly Glenn-Copeland I found staggering – a bizarre array of styles, equal parts inspirational and mawkish, and an odd sort of forward-hauntology in which e.g. Massive Attack tracks are evoked ahead of time, and a sense that the songs alter each time I listen to them. Other than that, I loved Temporary Residence’s anthology Field Works: Ultrasonic featuring Felicia Atkinson, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma and Machinefabriek.

MACHINERIES OF MERCY now available

Machineries of Mercy by Tim Major

My YA SF novel MACHINERIES OF MERCY is published by Luna Press today! It’s a bit Westworld, a touch Battle Royale, a smidgen Existenz… but set in a tranquil English village that’s really a virtual-reality prison.

You can buy it direct from the publisher here, or from Amazon UK here, or from Amazon USA here, or even better, you could order it from your favourite independent bookshop.

You can also find more information about the novel on this site here, including a video introduction, a video of me reading an extract, and even a Spotify playlist soundtrack to the story.

New Year roundup

The Pea by Tim MajorIt’s been a good start to 2020. I’ve read a lot, watched good films, Hope Island is done and dusted and ready for May 2020 publication, and I’ve finished the first draft of my Victorian novel and now I’m into the second pass. A few random nice writer things have cropped up recently, so I thought I’d gather them all here, mainly so I don’t forget any of them myself:

  • I wrote a short Victorian-era coda to ‘The Princess and the Pea’ for Fudoki Magazine, which specialises in myth, folklore and fairytales. You can read it here.
  • Snakeskins has been longlisted in the Best Novel category of the BSFA Awards,  and also my short story ‘A Crest of a Wave’ (published in Shoreline of Infinity #15) in Best Shorter Fiction. Julia Lloyd is longlisted in Best Artwork for her wonderful Snakeskins cover, too.
  • On the Ginger Nuts of Horror site, Jim McLeod picked And the House Lights Dim as one of his favourite collections of 2019.
  • Des Lewis reviewed the Pareidolia anthology on his Gestalt Real-Time Reviews site. Among other things, he said of my story, ‘What Can You Do About a Man Like That?’ that ‘Reading this story was like experiencing a classic Ingmar Bergman film.’
  • There’s a lovely teaser write-up of Hope Island in the Titan Books ‘Looking ahead to 2020’ article.

My Writing Year 2019

Snakeskins Titan bauble

I’m happy to say that this year I’ve written more words than in any previous year – 182,000 words, which is a great deal more than my previous record of 133k last year. However, I only spent 30-odd more hours writing this year (282 hours in total), so in fact the high word count is probably more reflective of the fact that I’ve done a lot of drafting and little editing in 2019.

I wrote:

  • Universal Language – Martian mystery novella (45,000 words), currently out with publishers for consideration
  • Four short stories, one of which was commissioned for an as-yet unannounced anthology
  • 85,000 words of my work-in-progress novel, a Victorian fantasy
  • 16,000 words and synopsis as a sample of a meta SF novel

Other achievements this year included:

  • delivering my first academic paper: ‘Aspects of the Gothic and the Uncanny in Les Vampires (1915–16)’ at the Tales of Terror conference on Gothic, horror and weird short fiction at the University of Warwick
  • running workshop sessions at Edge-Lit, FantasyCon and at York Library
  • not freaking out during a joint event with Claire North at Cymera Festival in Edinburgh

And some of my work was published:

  • Snakeskins – my SF thriller novel about clones and identity was published by Titan in May, and had a lovely reception among the UK genre writing community, plus it was positively reviewed in e.g. Interzone and SciFiNow and was picked by the Financial Times as one of their books of the summer
  • And the House Lights Dim – my first collection of weird short stories, themed around homes and families, which received positive reviews e.g. in Storgy and Black Static
  • The collection featured three previously unpublished stories:
    • ‘O Cul-de-Sac!’ – weird horror short story about the fears of a sentient house for its occupants
    • ‘The Forge’ – weird short story about a man who overlays his rival’s brain patterns onto his own, with unwanted results
    • ‘Honey spurge’ – SF short story about the devastation caused by household plants
  • ‘The Bath House’ – weird horror short story about a peculiar cleansing ritual with a shady purpose, in Twice-Told anthology (ed. C.M. Muller) themed around doppelgängers
  • ‘What Are We Going To Do With You?’ – YA horror short story about Capgras syndrome, in Subliminal Reality anthology
  • ‘Hangers-on’ – weird horror short story about fears of parenthood and plastic limbs in a holdall, in The Shadow Booth Vol 3 (ed. Dan Coxon)
  • ‘Concerning the Deprivation of Sleep’ – SF short story about the purchase of sleep credits on the black market, in Synth #2 (ed. C.M. Muller)
  • ‘A Crest of a Wave’ – SF short story about a married couple celebrating their anniversary on the Martian coast, in Shoreline of Infinity, Issue 15
  • ‘What Can You Do About A Man Like That?’ – weird horror short story about toxic masculinity and aural hauntings, Pareidolia anthology (ed. James Everington & Dan Howarth)
  • Also, five of my older stories were reprinted (as well as 12 reprints in my collection), including one, ‘Throw Caution’, selected for Best of British Science Fiction 2018 (NewCon Press)

One other milestone this year – I finally passed the 1 million words mark. It was always an arbitrary target, but when I started out in 2012 it seemed unimaginable that I’d stick at writing fiction for this long and this consistently, and I’m proud that I have. Right now, there seems no danger of me slowing down, so I don’t feel the need for a second million words-ometer.

This year it’s been a little unnerving writing a novel that doesn’t yet have a home and therefore may never be published, after the pleasant experience of writing Hope Island in 2018 as part of a two-book deal. Added to this, my current work-in-progress is knottier than any of my previous novels, mainly because it’s required a lot of historical research in several different areas. But I think it’s good, and I hope it’ll find a home next year.

Looking ahead to more certain aspects of 2020, I have three new short stories already lined up for publication, plus a reprint. Three of these are important publications to me for different reasons – more about those in the new year…

…and my second Titan Books novel, Hope Island, will be published in May 2020, which is something for me to look forward to and dread at the same time. It’s about parenthood, creepy island kids and strange aural phenomena, and it gets quite weird.

Hope you all had productive and happy years too, and here’s to the next year and decade!

*Thanks to the Titan marketing team for the photo of the Snakeskins-inspired bauble.

The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church (Daniel Kitson)

I saw Daniel Kitson a couple of years ago, when he hosted a charitable comedy gig in aid of orangutans. He’d arrived late and then seemed unsure how to tackle his duties, interpreting them variously as exploring the confines of the orchestra pit, lying down, staying on stage for far too long and eventually hurling chocolate bars into the crowd at nose-bruising altitudes. He was a shambles, but gloriously so.

His new performance, The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church, shows Kitson in his element. I use the word ‘performance’ because I can’t think of a neater term – it has all the trappings of a stand-up gig, but the structure of a one-act shaggy dog story. Wandering onto the stage before attaching his microphone, Kitson begins his tale by stating ‘The rest of this isn’t true, I made it up. But this bit is absolutely true.’ Then follows his story of discovering 25-years’-worth of correspondence between an irascible old man and the people that irk him.

Kitson’s summarisation of the 30,000-plus letters takes the form of considered research: he refers to a notebook for exact quotes and describes the limitations of his knowledge about Gregory Church. He also weaves in his (Daniel Kitson’s) own life, as he claims to have read the letters over a two-year period – many of the contained revelations are framed by the circumstances in which he read them.

He’s a unique performer. Kitson’s delivery is at breakneck speed, punctuated only by freezes caused by his stammer, or by his getting distracted by people in the audience. He portrays himself as a shambling amateur, yet the sheer volume of content that he’s memorised suggests otherwise. And his story, although seeming aimless at first, becomes coherent, plausible and sweet. Once his tale is told, he removes his microphone and delivers a heartfelt and moral summary, barely audible, forcing the audience to lean in towards him.

It’s the most affecting performance I’ve seen in ages. The structure reminded me of Jorge Luis Borges’ trick of conjuring whole lives and works from imaginary references and scholarly debate about fictional fictions. With Daniel Kitson’s affable and shambolic delivery, smuggled under the pretext of being stand-up comedy, this technique is incredible and, by the end, it barely matters whether the letters existed or not.