Albums of the Year 2018

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Somehow, 2018 managed to be an even more execrable 12 months than 2017. It was also a slightly odd period for music, insofar as a few (though certainly not all) of the most exciting releases seemed to come from artists who appeared way past their best—having by all accounts produced little of note for years… decades, even.

Take that assessment with a pinch of salt, as it comes from a distinctly middle-aged perspective. Nevertheless, it’s hard to deny that 2018 witnessed some quite astonishing returns to form, not to mention many veteran artists continuing to produce exceptional work. But why? One theory: frantic pre-apocalyptic bursts of creativity.

See, the dark times don’t seem to have impacted musical aesthetics quite as much as you might have expected—at least if what you were expecting was an upsurge in didactic protest music. Arguably though, the times they have a-manifested musically in all sorts of subtle ways. Are previously long-complacent artists rushing to create something of worth… while they still can?

This isn’t really the place for substantive analysis, much less depressing political commentary. This is the place for LIST. This is the place where you learn what one person with a distinctly middle-aged perspective thinks were the best albums of the year. How all this ties in to that individual’s relationship with geopolitical bedlam and environmental meltdown…

Well, if you had an opinion about that, you could always post a comment in the comment box, like people did in ye olde blogge dayes. In the meantime, please enjoy the following list, which—as usual—was written in one bleary-eyed sitting with far less thought than it deserved and absolutely no proofreading.

Top Ten Albums of the Year

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1. Low — Double Negative (Sub Pop) LP
Back in 2004, Low released The Great Destroyer, on which a set of extremely catchy indie pop songs were pulverized by Dave Fridmann’s airless, overly-compressed production. You’d have been forgiven for giving up on the band at that point. It certainly seemed like the work of a previously strong-willed act giving in to the commercial and technical trends of the era.

Fast forward almost 15 years and Low makes an album on which the tunes are much more relentlessly bombarded with 21st-century production gimmicks… and some of us tin-eared listeners finally understand that pulverization was the point all along because beauty threatened is more keenly felt. The results are bracingly extreme and consistently beautiful throughout. Album of the year.

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2. Jóhann Jóhannsson — Mandy (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (Invada) LP
The problem with Panos Cosmatos’s psychedelic horror film is that the central presence of Nicolas Cage pushes the mood from sublimely ridiculous to merely camp. Jóhann Jóhannsson’s soundtrack plays things much straighter and is therefore significantly more intense—if not funnier—than the movie (which is, to be fair, hilariously intense and intensely hilarious).

Mandy was the last thing Jóhann Jóhannsson composed before his tragic death—and it ranks alongside the Arrival and I am Here soundtracks as one of his finest works. Jóhannsson wrote a decent amount of pleasant orchestral music but was at his best when things got weird. For Mandy, he went absolutely hog wild with John Carpenter synths and very metal guitars. His ultimate work in every sense.

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3. Yves Tumor — Safe in the Hands of Love (Warp) 2LP
Yves Tumor’s hard-to-classify 2016 debut—Serpent Music, on Pan—showed a great deal of promise. His move to a bigger label unsurprisingly led to a more conventionally song-based approach. What is surprising is that this change actually empowered Tumor to deliver on the promise of his debut.

The songs are great and the disturbing, violent undercurrent is still firmly in place. The overall sound mixes the cinematic digital electronica of Roly Porter with the soulful noise-pop of A.R. Kane. But Yves Tumor is a unique talent and it’s a great relief to report that he has a vision which would surely pierce through the sonic murk as clear as day, no matter what odd combination of influences he was playing with.

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4. Heather Leigh — Throne (Editions Mego) LP
If the Yves Tumor album is very nearly like a weird-dream-come-true conglomeration of awesome but non-obvious influences, Throne could be described as a more straightforward cross between early Kate Bush and recent Scott Walker. Clearly, that’s not straightforward at all and it could (should) be a disaster. But Heather Leigh has the talent and charisma to pull it off.

What Throne shares with Safe in the Hands of Love is its ability to simultaneously enchant and disturb. Where 2015’s I Abused Animal was stark and addictive, this new album is lush and seductive. As such, it’s both more approachable and more sustainable—something you’ll come back to time after time, despite its sometimes-alarming content.

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5. Autechre — NTS Sessions (Warp) 12LP
Even for the person who very deliberately typed it, “12LP” still looks like a typo. But NTS Sessions really is 12 albums-worth of algorithmically-generated, next-level IDM. It makes previous Autechre epics like Exai and Elseq seem like mere whimsical fancies. This is a truly massive, imposing and audacious release.

Naturally, it’s also as uneven as all hell. Perhaps NTS Sessions could have been edited down into a relatively punchy double CD but then it would have lost its aura of monolithic otherness. The long stretches of alien machine-noodling are as relevant to the overall effect as the moments where everything coheres into something simply gorgeous.

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6. Eartheater — IRISIRI (Pan) LP
Now that Pan has lost Yves Tumor to Warp, the Berlin label will be needing another young artist mixing abstract electronics, oblique song-writing and disquieting intensity. Not to fear—Eartheater is here and she’s very odd indeed. Definitely an extremely promising artist to watch over the next few years.

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7. Hermit and the Recluse — Orpheus vs. The Sirens (Obol for Charon) LP
Veteran underground emcee Ka comes through with another conceptually-dense album that favours mood over drums. This collaboration with producer Animoss is similar in sound to Ka’s career-best Days with Dr. Yen Lo, if not quite as effective. In any case, this dude is a true individual who should be a massive inspiration to all musical artists working in all musical genres.

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8. Leslie Winer & Jay Glass Dubs — YMFEES (Bokeh Versions) LP
Talking of true individuals, there’s nobody quite like Leslie Winer—supermodel, poet, trip-hop pioneer… And she’s on stellar form here, with her dry, bitter drawl taking pot-shots at all comers over Jay Glass Dubs’ bass-heavy beats. Honestly, the fact that the title is an acronym of “your mom’s favourite Eazy-E song” should be enough to convince you this is essential.

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9. Alva Noto — Unieqav (Noton) 2LP
Perhaps Leslie Winer’s finest moment to date was her vocal on “This Blank Action” by Diamond Version, a group featuring Carsten Nicolai aka Alva Noto. Nicolai’s latest album is absolutely packed with juddering electro-glitch bangers in a very similar vein to that particular classic. Uniequav may even be his finest moment, at least when working in this full-on mode.

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10. Cypress Hill — Elephants on Acid (BMG) 2LP
Of all the unexpected returns to form that 2018 threw at us, this has to be the most perplexing. But Cypress Hill’s DJ Muggs had an astonishing run of production form this year and emcees B-Real and Sen Dog sound as hungry as they did in the early 90s. Elephants on Acid has the doomy, smoked-out vibe of stoner metal but musically it’s 100% hip-hop (at least if you can ignore a couple of dud tracks towards the end).

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The Next 10

  1. The Third Eye Foundation — Wake the Dead (Ici D’Ailleurs) LP
  2. Gas — Rausch (Kompakt) 2LP
  3. Westside Gunn — Supreme Blientele (Daupe!) 2LP
  4. Fever Ray — Plunge (Mute) 2LP (technically 2017 but the physical formats dropped this year, so…)
  5. DJ Muggs & Roc Marciano ‎— KAOS (Soul Assassins) LP
  6. The Breeders — All Nerve (4AD) LP
  7. Jonathan Richman — SA (Blue Arrow) CD
  8. Sarah Davachi — Let Night Come on Bells End the Day (Recital) LP
  9. Trembling Bells ‎— Dungeness (Tin Angel) LP
  10. Kellarissa ‎— Ocean Electro (Mint) LP

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Highly Recommended

Stephan Mathieu – Radiance box set
Kelly Moran — Ultraviolet (this might deserve to be a lot higher but it has not yet been sufficiently absorbed)
Roc Marciano — RR2: The Bitter Dose, Behold a Dark Horse and Pimpstrumentals
Sarah Davachi — Gave in Rest
Mary Jane Leach — (f)lute songs
Pram — Across the Meridian

Also Worth Hearing

Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto — Glass
Thomas Ankersmit — Homage to Dick Raaijmakers
Brix & The Extricated — Breaking State
Peter Brötzmann & Heather Leigh — Sparrow Nights
Capri-Batterie & Stewart Lee — Bristol Fashion
Charalambides — Charalambides: Tom and Christina Carter
Ian William Craig — Thresholder
Yves de Mey — Bleak Comfort
Jon Hassell — Listening to Pictures (Pentimento Volume One)
Jlin — Autobiography (Music from Wayne McGregor’s Autobiography)
John Paul — No Filter
Knife Knights — 1 Time Mirage
Nicolas Krgovich — Ouch
Mary Lattimore — Hundreds of Days
Miss Red — K.O.
Steve Reich — Pulse/Quartet
Nadja — Sonnborner
Ty Segall — Fudge Sandwich and Orange Rainbow
Ty Segall, White Fence — Joy
Sleeparchive/Shigeko Akakabe — Tokyo Sessions
Suuns — Felt
Various Artists — Scale

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Reissues, Rediscoveries etc.

  1. Disco Inferno — DI Go Pop and Technicolour (One Little Indian) LPs
  2. My Bloody Valentine — Loveless and Isn’t Anything (no label) LPs
  3. Carl Stone ‎— Electronic Music from the Eighties and Nineties (Unseen Worlds) 2LP
  4. Derek Bailey — Lot 74: Solo Improvisations and Aida (Honest Jon’s) LPs and Derek Bailey/Evan Parker — The London Concert (Otoroku) LP
  5. Hiroshi Yoshimura — Music for Nine Post Cards (Empire of Signs) and Pier & Loft (17853) LPs
  6. Francois Bayle — Tremblements… (Recollection GRM) LP
  7. Butterfly Child — Onomatopoeia (Dell’Orso) 2LP
  8. Akira Rabelais ‎— Eisoptrophobia (Boomkat Editions) 2LP
  9. SunnO))) — White 1 and White 2 (Southern Lord) 2LPs
  10. Robert Rental — Different Voices for You. Different Colours for Me. Demos 1980. (Optimo Music) LP

Also, reissues of albums by David Behrman, John Bender, Biosphere, The Breeders, Kate Bush, Ché-Shizu, Cocteau Twins, Coil, Shirley Collins, Alice Coltrane, De La Soul, The Durutti Column, Brian Eno, The Fall, Felt, High Rise, Jon Hassell, Haruomi Hosono, Loscil, Mobb Deep, Randall McClellan, Roberto Musci, Bernard Parmegiani, Steve Roach, Swervedriver, This Heat, Rafael Toral, Iannis Xenakis, Yellow Magic Orchestra, Christian Zanesi and many more…

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Singles, EPs, Tapes etc.

  1. Second Woman — Instant/Apart (Tresor) 12″
  2. Brian Eno with Kevin Shields — The Weight of History/Only Once Away My Son (Opal) 12”
  3. Flame 1 — Fog/Shrine (Pressure) 12”
  4. Fennesz — Station 1 (Touch) download
  5. Westside Gunn — ‎FLYGOD is Good​.​.​. All the Time (Nature Sounds) 12″
  6. Sleaford Mods — Sleaford Mods (Rough Trade) 12”
  7. Event Cloak — Vague Definition (Never Anything) cassette
  8. Darto — Fundamental Slime (Aagoo) 12”
  9. Dopplereffekt — Athanatos (Leisure System) 12”
  10. Mount Maxwell ‎— Blue Highways Vol. 2 (Hotham Sound) cassette

And more, more, more, always more. Goodness knows what’s been forgotten… and what hasn’t even been heard yet. The sad truth of these lists is that you inevitably make them before you’ve discovered many of what will turn out to be your favourite records of the year. So, while it’s hard not to approach 2019 with a sense of dread, there will at least be plenty of the best parts of 2018 to catch up on. There’s always more.

Maybe too much? Add that to your sense of dread then, if you must. In the meantime, try to do something positive; try to make a difference. And if you really can’t get that together in the “real world”, maybe just get like Low, Cypress Hill, Jonathan Richman etc. and quite unexpectedly put something shockingly beautiful and inspiring into the oh-so ethereal realm of the sonic arts.

Music matters, even in dark, urgent times.

December 15, 2018 at 12:15 am Leave a comment

Albums of the Year 2017

Clearly, the less said about 2017, the better. The world is falling apart and it’s hard to remember a time when music seemed less central to the culture in general. And yet, music—though marginal—remained something precious and wonderful that you could cling to. It did! There was even some new music that achieved at least a claim to greatness. There was!

All is not lost. Not quite yet, anyway.

Top Ten Albums of the Year

Crescent - Resin Pockets 500

1. Crescent — Resin Pockets (Domino) LP
This lo-fi ensemble hails from Bristol and is closely related to Movietone and Flying Saucer Attack. Crescent’s discography is diverse and mostly excellent but nothing could have prepared anyone for this.

Probably the band’s most conventionally song-based outing to date, it sounds not unlike a parallel-universe Belle & Sebastian having an early-career “Kid A moment”. In a good way. A great way!

The songs are quite breathtakingly poignant but it’s the grainy, wheezing textures that give the whole affair a W.G. Sebald level of gravitas. A totally unexpected, utterly bewitching album of the year.

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith — The Kid 500

2. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith — The Kid (Western Vinyl) 2LP
Smith is renowned as an expert modular synth manipulator but she’s also an excellent songwriter. On stage, she resembles a starship navigator absent-mindedly doing yoga. She’s almost certainly not joking. If she’s faking the sincerity then she’s an even better manipulator than she’s given credit for. In any case, there’s a great deal to be gained from going along with whatever the devil is going on here.

M.E.S.H. — Hesaitix 500

3. M.E.S.H. — Hesaitix (PAN) LP
A downright explosive volley of neo-IDM beats and cinematically-vivid sound design. In theory, this could all be a little played-out. But it’s delivered with such conviction as to be near-irresistible.

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4. Visible Cloaks — Reassemblage (Rvng Intl) LP
The new age/fourth world revival meets cutting-edge DSP magic. This travels far beyond the barren lands of mere pastiche and—as with K.A. Smith—the hype is actually worth believing.

Sleaford Mods — English Tapas 500

5. Sleaford Mods — English Tapas (Rough Trade) LP
Another year, another Sleaford Mods album. This is certainly a move towards being more accessible and conventionally musical. But it works. You can’t just keep ranting over a one-note bassline. English Tapas is the duo’s best-realised work since the career-topping Austerity Dogs.

Roc Marciano — Rosebudd_s Revenge 500

6. Roc Marciano — Rosebudd’s Revenge (Fat Beats) 2LP
Down-and-dirty 90s throwback hip-hop from a true East Coast underground veteran. A deeply unpleasant listen on many levels but with some of the best beatcraft and emceeing available in recent years.

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7. Second Woman — S/W (Spectrum Spools) LP
There was a decent amount of Autechre worship going on this year. And sure, it’s basically shoegaze to the real thing’s MBV. But if you’re not quite up to delving into five-odd hours of Elseq on any given day, this is a most superior light alternative, which delivers the requisite depth on its own terms.

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8. Piano Magic — Closure (Second Language) LP
Coming from a very similar place to that Crescent album, this is the swansong from Glen Johnson’s long-running indie/post-rock collective. Like the Crescent, it’s a collection of heart-breakingly evocative songs that have more going on under the hood than you might expect.

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9. Mdou Moctar — Sousoume Tamachek (Sahel Sounds) LP
Niger’s Mdou Moctar is effectively the punk alternative to the slick, widescreen desert rock of Tinariwen. That said, this is an intimate, mostly acoustic collection, which reveals its subtle grit and beauty gradually over repeated listens.

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10. Secret Pyramid — Two Shadows Collide (Ba Da Bing) LP
Deeply tasty chord cycles, leavened with hypnagogic melodies and seasoned with cinematic dissonance. No big surprises for Secret Pyramid fans, then. The rest of you need to get onboard.    

The Bug vs Earth — Concrete Desert 500

The Next 10

  1. The Bug vs Earth — Concrete Desert (Ninja Tune) 2LP+12”
  2. Crys Cole & Oren Ambarchi — Hotel Record (Black Truffle) 2LP
  3. GAS — Narkopop (Kompakt) 3LP
  4. No UFO’s — NU LP for RS (Root Strata) LP
  5. Oneohtrix Point Never — Good Time (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (Warp) 2LP
  6. Shabazz Palaces — Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines (Sub Pop) LP
  7. Arto Lindsay — Cuidado Madame (Northern Spy) LP
  8. Oto Hiax — Oto Hiax (Editions Mego) 2×12”
  9. Jacaszek — Kwiaty (Ghostly) LP
  10. Actress — AZD (NIna Tune) 2LP

Jefre Cantu-Ledesma — On the Echoing Green 500

Highly Recommended

Biosphere — The Petrified Forest
Brix & The Extricated — Part 2
Jefre Cantu-Ledesma — On the Echoing Green
Fieldhead — We’ve All Been Swimming
Les Filles de Illighadad — Eghass Malan
Lee Gamble — Mnestic Pressure
Godflesh — Post-Self
Hype Williams — Rainbow Edition
Madlib — Bad Neighbor Beats
Stephan Mathieu — Radiance VII: Process, Radiance X: Her Dark Gaze Drowned in Light and Radiance XII: Music with Magnetic Strings
Thurston Moore — Rock’n’Roll Consciousness
Max Richter — Three Worlds: Music from Woolf Works
Tinariwen — Elwan
Yorkston/Thorne/Khan — Neuk Wight Delhi All-Stars

Félicia Atkinson — Hand in Hand 500

Other Albums Worth Hearing

Amadou & Mariam — La Confusion
Siavash Amini — TAR
Félicia Atkinson — Hand in Hand
Shinichi Atobe — From the Heart, it’s a Start, a Work of Art
William Basinski — A Shadow in Time
Sylvain Chauveau — Echoes of Harmony: Early Music Reworked
Cold Beat — Chaos by Invitation
Sarah Davachi — All My Circles Run
Dopplereffekt — Cellular Automata
Errorsmith — Superlative Fatigue
Equiknoxx — Colón Man
The Fall — New Facts Emerge
Forest Swords — Compassion
Hauschka — What If
Hecker — A Script for Machine Synthesis
High Plains — Cinderland
Island People — Island People
Jaylib — Champion Sound: The Remix
Jlin — Black Origami
Nicholas Krgovich — In an Open Field 
Lankum — Between the Earth & the Sky
LCC — Bastet
Robert AA Lowe — Two-Orb Reel
Kelly Moran — Bloodroot
Naomi Punk — Yellow
The Necks — Unfold
Moritz von Oswald & Ordo Sakhna —Moritz von Oswald & Ordo Sakhna
Ariel Pink — Dedicated to Bobby Jameson
Loke Rahbek — City of Women
Porter Ricks — Anguilla Electrica
The Remote Viewer — Us. In Happier Times
Ryuichi Sakamoto — async
Shabazz Palaces — Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star
Sote — Sacred Horror in Design
Tamikrest — Kidal
Mark Templeton — Gentle Heart
Yasunao Tone — AI Deviation
Umfang — Symbolic Use of Light

Malcolm Neon — 1980-1985 500

Top 5 Reissues & Compilations

  1. Malcolm Neon — 1980-1985 (Vinyl on Demand) 2LP+7”
    Totally bonkers Welsh-language minimal synth psychedelia. Don’t sleep on this admittedly obscure gem.
  2. Disco Inferno — In Debt (Rocket Girl) 2LP
  3. Alice Coltrane — The Ecstatic Music Of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda (Luaka Bop) 2LP
  4. Lal & Mike Waterson – Bright Phoebus (Domino) LP
  5. Yoko Ono – Fly (Secretly Canadian) 2LP
  6. Luc Ferrari — Heterozygote and Presque Rien (Recollection GRM) LPs
  7. Akira Rabelais —Spellewauerynsherde (Boomkat Editions) LP
  8. Jaap Vink — Jaap Vink (Recollection GRM) 2LP
  9. Aine O’Dwyer — Gengenschein (Penultimate Press) LP
  10. Neil Young — Hitchhiker (Reprise) LP

And ongoing reissue series of John Bender, Deathprod, J Dilla, The Fall, Flying Saucer Attack, Keiji Haino, Hüsker Dü, Bert Jansch, Loscil, Yoko Ono, Bernard Parmegiani, Popol Vuh, Recollection GRM, Max Richter, Pharoah Sanders…

No UFO_s — MPC Tracks III 500

Top Singles, EPs, Tapes etc.

  1. No UFO’s — MPC Tracks III (cassette)
  2. Brian Eno & Kevin Shields — Only Once Away My Son (download)
  3. Horsetail — Under Heaven (download)
  4. Fovea Hex — The Salt Garden II (10”)
  5. Westside Gunn & MF Doom — WESTSIDEDOOM (12”)
  6. Farmers Manual — fmoto and szwong (downloads)
  7. Burial — Rodent and Subtemple (10”s)
  8. Secret Pyramid — A Pulse in Your Shadow (cassette)
  9. Echo Beach — Where Were You at Night (cassette)
  10. Ian William Craig— Slow Vessels (12″)

Also, lots of releases I forgot to mention and tons and tons that I simply haven’t heard yet. One big oversight is Karl Fousek’s 2017 output. Gotta get on that. There was a Ramzi 12″ too. That was pretty good…

Oh and there were two connect_icut releases this year—a full-length free download album called Rage Coma and a triple-cassette EP called Music for Granular Synthesizer. Go get ‘em and add ‘em to your end-of-year list.

Peace.

December 15, 2017 at 5:15 pm 1 comment

Albums of the Year 2016

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Well, 2016 was a right pile of shit, wasn’t it? Luckily, there was some fucking great music released, to relieve the pain just a little. Some of it might even be… important?

This here blog has long been a once-annual affair. Just an albums-of-the-year post every December, banged out in an hour or two. The writing may well be pretentious gobbledegook; the grammar and punctuation almost certainly aren’t 100% correct; you can pretty much guarantee a few serious factual errors…

But the music is fantastic and that’s what matters.

Right now, the current state of the world has to make you wonder if there will be an internet – or even a planet – upon which to publish this sort of list, come December 2017. And even if we’re left with anything more than a smouldering pile of ashes, won’t such things nevertheless appear appallingly trivial?

For now though, the question for list compilers everywhere has to be: What sort of album could possibly top an AotY chart in such an unceasingly bleak and unsettling context?

Top 10 Albums of the Year

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1. Shirley Collins – Lodestar (Domino) LP
An album like this, it turns out. One of the most distinctive voices in English folk music makes her first album in over three decades and it has just the right mixture of brutality and compassion to divine some kind of sense from the world around us. That voice is even more distinctive now, sounding like creaking oak timbers on one of the many ships featured throughout this nautically-obsessed collection. Aside from boats, the main theme of the album is death – and the chillingly sparse, beautifully recorded arrangements are more than appropriate for this subject matter. But at 81, Shirley Collins certainly doesn’t seem ready to slip from this here mortal coil. On Lodestar, she sounds invincibly stoic – like she could quite happily sit out another three decades; like she could wait out a nuclear winter.

Trim - 1-800 Dinosaur

2. Trim – 1-800 Dinosaur Presents Trim (1-800 Dinosaur) 2LP
Grime’s finest emcee finally makes the experimental album he’s always had in him. The lyrics are as hilarious and bizarre as ever and the slooow beats – by a bunch of James Blake-associate nerds – push the plastic presets and clipped drums associated with classic grime right to brink of entropy. This is a landmark release both inside and outside the genre, so those of you with a prejudice against all things grimy in the 2010s need to knock it of a just listen

Autechre - Elseq

3. Autechre – Elseq 1-5 (Warp) 5xDL
Massive, ridiculous, unmanageable and utterly singular in its alien brilliance. A five-hour stream of brain-scrambling digital abstraction that seems insurmountable at first – it opens with a barrage of percussive insanity and features several tracks that push well past the 20-minute mark. Still, there’s enough simple beauty lurking on Elseq‘s 3 and in particular to lure fans of the Manchester duo’s early work (which itself got a welcome vinyl reissue this year).

Biosphere - Departed Glories

4. Biosphere – Departed Glories (Smalltown Supersound) 2LP
An unusually sparse collection of highly-processed ambience makes for Biosphere’s best LP. In the past, there’s always been something a bit corny about Biosphere – all that film dialogue, for starters! But that’s generally been a big part of the appeal, to be honest. Here, the sound is austere and any hint of corn is scrubbed right out. But nothing is missing. The panoramic scope and awestruck wonder are broader and deeper than ever.  

Trembling Bells - Wide Majestic Aire

5. Trembling Bells – Wide Majestic Aire (Tin Angel) LP
Folk-rock throwback business that is more than redeemed by its consistently excellent tunes. You can’t underestimate the power of a good tune, really. In recent years Jim O’Rourke and Mark Van Hoen have managed to elevate albums that should have sounded insufferably cheesy or played-out, simply by loading them with gorgeous, unforgettable melodies. Aside from being inherently hard-to-resist when done well, this approach creates a context for the continued exploration of styles that might normally lead you to wonder if people are really still doing that. On “Swallows of Carbeth”, Trembling Bells sound almost laughably like classic-era Fairport Convention. But oh what a tune!   

Mark Ernestus Ndagga Rhythm Force - Yermande

6. Mark Ernestus’ Ndagga Rhythm Force – Yermande (Ndagga) LP
The Basic Channel guy successfully fuses his dub-techno genius with Senegalese funk. It’s astonishingly well realized, with Ernestus stripping the sound back to reveal its perplexing rhythmic intricacies and make ample room for its haunting melodic beauty to become all-encompassingly cinematic. ME has been absolutely on fire recently. In particular, his remixes of Nigeria’s Obadikah are essential listening for those of you craving something in the vein of classic Rhythm & Sound.  

Westside Gunn - Flygod

7. Westside Gunn – Flygod (Daupe!) 2LP
A harshly thrilling update of the 90s golden age hip-hop sound, straight outta Buffalo. In a sense, this seems to be about as far away from the Shirley Collins album as you could get. And yet both deal with violence in a way that is as horrifically surreal and dispiritingly mundane as it is when you’re unfortunate enough to encounter it IRL. Bottom line: both albums are truly great folk art that make deep-rooted traditions sound fresh and vital. 

Oren Ambarchi - Hubris

8. Oren Ambarchi – Hubris (Editions Mego) LP
Combining 80s film soundtracks and afrobeat rhythms to audaciously brilliant effect.

Paul Jebanasam - Continuum

9. Paul Jebanasam – Continuum (Subtext) LP
A galaxy-shattering wedge of cinematic electronica.

Pita - Get In

10. Pita – Get In (Editions Mego) LP
The Mego boss is back with a typically confrontational collection of electronic abstractions.

And here’s a bunch more stuff…

Matt Elliott - The Calm Before

The Next 10

11. Matt Elliott – The Calm Before (Ici d’Ailleurs) LP

12. Scott Walker – The Childhood of a Leader (4AD) LP

13. Roly Porter – Third Law (Tri Angle) 2×12”

14. Ryuichi Sakamoto, Alva Noto & Bryce Dessner ‎- The Revenant (New Regency Music) 2LP

15. Ka – Honor Killed the Samurai (self-released) LP

16. Juan Atkins & Moritz Von Oswald – Borderland: Transport (Tresor) 2LP

17. Loscil – Monument Builders (Kranky) 2LP

18. Monolake – VLSI (Imbalance Computer Music) 2LP

19.Oval – Popp (Uovooo) LP

20. Ty Segall – Emotional Mugger (Drag City) LP

Yves Tumor - Serpent Music

Also Recommended

If you think Elseq is hard to handle, try messing with Stephan Mathieu’s monumental 12CD work-in-progress Radiance. There’s every reason to suspect that the six volumes of Radiance to emerge so far might constitute one (or six) of the albums of the year. But it’s all a bit much to take in. Maybe the holiday season will provide some time for more in-depth investigations into the nature of this particular monolith. In the meantime, here’s a handful of other really excellent albums to which you should lend your ears…

  • Yves Tumor – Serpent Music
  • 3/4hadbeeneliminated – Speak to Me
  • Sarah Davachi – Dominions
  • Demdike Stare – Wonderland
  • Christian Fennesz & Jim O’Rourke – It’s Hard for Me to Say I’m Sorry
  • Fis – From Patterns to Details
  • Fatou Seidi Ghali & Alamnou Akrouni – Les Filles de Illighadad
  • Tim Hecker – Love Streams
  • Hieroglyphic Being – The Discos of Imhotep
  • Jóhann Jóhannsson – Orphée
  • Kiki Hitomi – Karma No Kusari
  • Eric Holm – Barotrauma
  • Ian William Craig – Centres
  • Jem Circs – s/t
  • Kel Assouf – Tikounen
  • Nicolas Krgovich – The Hills
  • Klara Lewis – Too
  • Ramzi – Phobiza Dia: Vol. 1
  • Seekrs International – Lovers Dedication Station
  • Tumastin – Amanar
  • Valerio Tricoli – Clonic Earth
  • Zomby – Ultra

Secret Pyramid - Distant Works II

Singles, EPs, Tapes etc.

  • Secret Pyramid – Distant Works II tape
    This one is unmissable. A pretty under-the-radar release by Vancouver’s true king of emotive drone-scapes, which you should not allow to pass under your own personal radar because it’s the best thing he’s ever done. Plenty of people are doing the crybaby drone thing right now and most of them fall into the same generic traps, time and time again. This release avoids those traps very deftly indeed. It’s as smart at is sad but track five will, nevertheless, leave you in absolute tatters. 
  • Mark Ernestus vs. Obadikah – April 10″
  • Fovea Hex – The Salt Garden I 10″
  • Burial – Young Death/Nightmarket 12″
  • Sleaford Mods – TCR 12”
  • Horsetail – Hollow Sea DL
  • Farmers Manual – glague general gen DL
  • Loscil – Sine Studies 2 7”
  • Karl Fousek – Pattern Variation tape
  • Fousek/Hansen/Tellier-Craig – No Sound Without a Misunderstanding tape
  • Kyoka – SH 12”
  • The Fall – Wise Ol’ Man 12″

Painkiller - Execution Ground

Reissues etc.

It’s been a great year for reissues, with a whole bunch of favourite artists getting long-overdue represses – notably, the Autechre albums mentioned near the top of this page. Let’s hope the vinyl bubble lasts long enough that this trend continues for at least another year or two. Maybe someone will finally do the Disco Inferno albums.

  • Coil – The New Backwards
  • Painkiller – Execution Ground
  • Guy Reibel – Douze Inventions en Six Modes de Jeu
  • Locust – Morning Light
  • Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – Songs of Forgiveness
  • Iannis Xenakis – La Legende D’Eer
  • MF Doom – Unexpected Guests
  • William Basinski – 92982
  • Zabaya – Azna de L’Ader
  • Carl Stone – Electronic Music from the 70s & 80s
  • J Dilla – The Diary
  • Autechre albums
  • Yoko Ono albums
  • Flying Saucer Attack albums
  • Godflesh albums
  • Sonic Youth albums
  • Pram albums
  • Melvins albums

Datblygu

Live

The live highlight, on a personal note, was obviously the Stewart Lee-curated edition of All Tommorow’s Parties in North Wales. Amazing sets from Datblygu and Sleaford Mods plus The Bevis Frond, Trembling Bells, Richard Youngs, The Fall, Stew himself and many, many more. This event had a distinctly weird vibe, probably caused by the ATP organization’s in-progress implosion but the convergence of so many favourite artists in one place was absolutely sublime. Had some nice walks on the beach too.

Also memorable was Brix Smith’s appearance at Rough Trade East in London, reading from her excellent autobiography, The Rise, The Fall & The Rise, as well as playing some acoustic songs and answering questions. Kris looked after her pug, while she sound checked. And speaking of blondes with pugs…

Maria Bamford - 20%

Other Obsessions

  • Maria Bamford – the only comedian even nearly as funny as Stewart Lee
  • Stewart Lee – the only comedian funnier than Maria Bamford
  • Joni Mitchell! Joni Mitchell! Joni Mitchell!
  • Recollection GRM and 70s/80s electro-acoustic music, generally
  • Curits Roads, Barry Truax and early granular synthesis, generally
  • Datblygu, Llwybr Llaethog and Welsh-language music, generally
  • Tinariwen, Mdou Moctar and crazy Saharan rock, generally
  • The Bevis Frond
  • Leslie Winer
  • Digital Eurorack modules

Let-Downs

Let’s be frank: the whole year was a serious let-down. Part of the reason that Shirley Collins had to top this here list was that 2016 ended up simply marinated in the stench of death. So many legendary musicians died that it seemed like barely a week went by without some new round of RIPs on Twitter. On a personal level, the passings of Prince, Dale Griffin and Jean-Claude Risset were particularly significant (not to mention those of some beloved animal pals – don’t worry, Sneefler’s fine!) Then you had Bowie, Cohen, Pauline Oliveros, Alan Vega, Geneviève Castrée, Bernie Worrell, Dave Swarbrick, Phife Dawg… The list goes on.

But at least some of these folks were elderly and had clearly made peace with the world. The point is, death is expected, sooner or later – so it’s not exactly a let down. What is far more disappointing is the aforementioned state of world affairs: Brexit, the international rise of fascism and the collapse of American democracy. Without wishing to lapse into poor taste, you have to wonder if those dearly departed musicians might have gotten out at just the right time. At least they didn’t have to suffer through Kate Bush voicing her support of the UK’s crypto-fascist Prime Minister.

So, right now, musical disappointments like Katie Gately’s frankly unlistenable debut full-length seem decidedly meh.

Wish it was possible to say that 2017 will be better but it’s more than likely to make 2016 look like a walk in the park. In the meantime, you might want to make sure you really get as much joy out of this holiday season as you can. Seriously.

festive-sneefler

(P.S. As mentioned before, this post was created with reckless haste. If you spot anything glaringly missing or false, please post a comment to that effect and I will make the required additions/corrections ASAP.)

Sendai - Ground and Figure

Edit: Late Additions

Normally, this section might be used to add recent discoveries found via other albums-of-the-year lists. But in this case, most of the following albums were actually released after this post initially went online. The big discovery was Sendai – a dream-come-true cross between Autechre and Roly Porter. All three of the Belgian duo’s albums are (it turns out) excellent but the new one might be the best yet. Oh and the new Rashad Becker is phenomenal too.

Anyway, the following list  may get added to as and when new discoveries are made:

  • Sendai – Ground & Figure
  • Rashad Becker – Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. II
  • Cindytalk – The Labyrinth of the Straight Line
  • Sarah Davachi – Vergers
  • Blessed Initiative – s/t
  • Terminal Cheesecake – Dandelion Sauce of the Ancients
  • Jóhann Jóhannsson – Arrival

Pretty sure there’s at least one Seekers International album that remains unheard too. Who can keep up?

December 4, 2016 at 9:30 pm 8 comments

Albums of the Year 2015

IMG_4408

A year of surprises and a year of puzzles. Where did that Dr. Yen Lo album come from? Why didn’t the Holly Herndon and King Midas Sound albums deliver on their promise? How to explain the appeal of that Datblygu album?

Top 10 Albums

  1. Dr. Yen Lo – Days with Dr. Yen Lo
    Underground rap veterans make a mostly-drumless concept album based around The Manchurian Candidate and it’s an improbably beautiful album of the year.
  1. Theo Burt – Gloss
    Beyond any theoretical obfuscation the Automatics Group dude may run, this clearly sounds like a chip tune cover of an early Oval album. Mind-bogglingly lovely.
  1. Datblygu – Porwr Trallod
    After two decades out of the game “The Welsh Fall” returns with an album that is more inventive and certainly more moving than anything Mark E. Smith has done in many years.
  1. Jim O’Rourke – Simple Songs
    Ludicrous 70s soft-rock schmaltz wedded to horrifyingly misanthropic lyrics. And yet everything is so pitch perfect that the whole is utterly seductive.
  1. Stephan Mathieu – Before Nostromo
    This drone/ambient tribute to the first Alien movie yields one of Mathieu’s darkest and complex albums – and also one of his best.
  1. Sleaford Mods – Key Markets
    A confident return to form after the extremely disappointing Divide & Exit. Still patchy but the best moments are as vividly righteous as they are deliriously vitriolic.
  1. Max Richter – From Sleep
    Perhaps the eight-hour full version of Sleep is the real deal but this condensed version is in itself a real high point among the recent history of post-minimalist composition.
  1. Heather Leigh – I Abused Animal
    Like the Datbygu album, this reduces song form to its bare essentials in order to deliver something incredibly courageous and emotionally raw.
  1. M.E.S.H. – Piteous Gate
    An abstract electronic debut that has the kind of energy and inventiveness you only get when reach exceeds grasp.
  1. Dasha Rush – Sleepstep
    Lovely nocturnal electronica which probably manages to be the lushest album ever released on Raster-Noton, without sacrificing the formal elegance associated with that label.

The Next 10

  1. Joanna Newsom – Divers
  2. Alva Noto – Xerrox Vol. 3
  3. Oneohtrix Point Never – Garden of Delete
  4. Moritz Von Oswald Trio – Sounding Lines
  5. Duane Pitre – Bayou Electric
  6. Holly Herndon – Platform
  7. King Midas Sound & Fennesz – Edition 1 Instrumentals
  8. Flying Saucer Attack – Instrumentals 2015
  9. Rabit – Communion
  10. Sunn O))) – Kannon

Bubbling Under

Aine O’Dwyer – Music for Church Cleaners Vol. I & II
Seekers International – Her Imperial Majesty
Mark Van Hoen – Nightvision

Other Great Albums

Tim Catlin & Machinefabriek – Whorls
Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – A Year with 13 Moons
Crys Cole – Sand/Layna
Colleen – Captain of None
Ian William Craig – Cradle for Wanting
Sarah Davachi – Baron’s Court
The Fall – Sub-Lingual Tablet
Robin Fox – A Small Prometheus
Yair Elazar Glotman – Etudes
Chihei Hatakeyama – Moonlight Reflecting Over Mountains
Helm – Olympic Mess
Kid606 – Recollected Ambient Works Vol. 1: Bored of Excitement
King Midas Sound & Fennesz – Edition 1
Nicholas Krgovich ‎– On Cahuenga
MED, Blu & Madlib – Bad Neighbor
Neu Balance – Rubber Sole
Vincent Parker – Purge
Philippe Petit – Multicoloured Shadows
Ramzi – Houti Kush
Run the Jewels – Meow the Jewels
Senking – Closing Ice
Wand – 1000 Days

Reissues etc.

Automatics Group – Summer Mix
General Magic & Pita – Fridge Trax Plus
Arthur Russell – Corn
Loscil – Plume
J Dilla – Dillatronic
Broadcast discography
Sun City Girls – Torch of the Mystics

Singles, EPs etc.

Kuma – Mine
Loop – Array 1
Loscil – For Greta
Sleaford Mods – Talk Bollocks
Anna Zaradny feat. Christian Fennesz – RE:EM
Oval – Retina Score

Live

The Autechre show in Vancouver was so next-level that it seems reckless to list anything else beside it.

And of Course
There’s loads of stuff I still haven’t heard and probably a few things I’ve forgotten about. Still listening, still learning.

December 19, 2015 at 7:12 pm 4 comments

Albums of the Year 2014

2014

If you’re at all concerned about the place of music in our culture, 2014 was a terrible year. If you’re just looking for some awesome shit to listen to, it was a fantastic year. Who can keep up? This is, inevitably, an incomplete list. Still listening, still catching up.

Top 10 Albums


1.    Scott Walker + Sunn O))) – Soused (4AD)
Hard to pick between this and the Fennesz but – really – Soused is some next-level shit

2.    Fennesz – Bécs (Editions Mego)

A partial return to his Endless Summer sound and well worth the wait

3.    Oval – Voa (self-released)
Technically, this came out digitally in 2013 but the vinyl is the real deal

4.    Diamond Version – CI (Mute)
Top-ten-worthy for Leslie Winer’s cameo alone – the rest is just (delicious) icing

5.    Tape – Casino (Hapna)
Pure melodic loveliness? No: specifically impure melodic loveliness

6.    Andy Stott – Faith in Strangers (Modern Love)
His most accessible yet but still utterly, utterly knackered

7.    Oren Ambarchi – Quixotism (Editions Mego)
Ambarchi’s best in ages – imagine a Moritz von Oswald Arkestra

8.    Loscil – Sea Island (Kranky)
Finally, Loscil manages to integrate discontinuous elements into his oceanic swells

9.    Black to Comm – Black to Comm (Type)
A massive, mind-fraying psychedelic journey into the heart of the drone

10.    Locust – After the Rain (Editions Mego)
Inexcusably gorgeous radiophonic melodicism from Mark van Hoen and co

Bubbling Under

  • The Bug – Angels & Devils (Ninja Tune)
    The best bits are as good as anything but there are a few duff tracks
  • Sleaford Mods – Divide & Exit (Harbinger Sound)
    A very disappointing, patchy follow-up to Austerity Dogs but the peaks are miles high
  • Actress – Ghettoville (Ninja Tune)
  • Lee Gamble – KOCH (Pan)
  • LCC – D/evolution (Editions Mego)
  • Tujiko Noriko – My Ghost Comes Back (Editions Mego)

Also Recommended

  • Vladislav Delay – Visa (Ripatti)
  • Lawrence English – Wilderness of Mirrors (Room40)
  • Fennesz – Mahler Remixed (self-released)
  • Eric Holm – Andøya (Subtext)
  • Nicholas Krgovich – On Sunset (NK World Service)
  • Kyoka – Is (Is Superpowered) (Raster-Noton)
  • Klara Lewis – Ett (Editions Mego)
  • Madlib – Piñata Beats (Madlib Invazion), Rock Konducta Vol. 1  and Rock Konducta Vol. 2 (Rappacats)
  • Namoi Punk – Television Man (Captured Tracks)
  • Nochexxx – Thrusters (Ramp)
  • Thee Oh Sees – Drop (Castle Face)
  • Shabazz Palaces – Lese Majesty (Sub Pop)
  • Ty Segall – Manipulator (Drag City)
  • Arbutus – Bedroom Safari (Vague Sound)
  • Sarah Davachi – August Harp (Cassuna)

Singles/EPs

  • Holly Herndon – Chorus and Home (RVNG Intl.)
  • Sleaford Mods – Tied up in Nottz (Little Teddy) and Tiswas (Invada)
  • The Bug vs. Earth – Boa/Cold (Ninja Tune)
  • Ian Crause – The Song of Phaeton (self-released)
  • Dalglish – Dorcha Aigeann (Ge-stell)
  • Lee Gamble – Kuang (Pan)
  • Katie Gately/Tlaotlon – split (FatCat)
  • Oneohtrix Point Never – Commissions I (Warp)

Reissues etc.

  • The Fates – Furia (Finders Keepers)
  • Leslie Winer – Witch (Superior Viaduct)
  • Basic Channel – Q-Loop (Basic Channel)
  • The Fall – The Unutterable (Let Them Eat Vinyl)
  • Secret Pyramid – The Silent March (Students of Decay)
  • Sleaford Mods – Chubbed Up + (Ipecac)

Live Shows

  • Kate Bush in London
  • Loop in Vancouver
  • Big Joy Festival in Vancouver

Discoveries

  • Roly Porter
  • Sleaford Mods

Oh and I had an album out this year, for what it’s worth.

December 24, 2014 at 10:48 am 2 comments

connect_icut – Small Town by the Sea (Aagoo) 2×12″/CD/DL

connect_icut - Small Town by the Sea

Small Town by the Sea (Aagoo, 2014), is simultaneously connect_icut’s most accessible and most ambitious album. It’s the first to feature a truly solid rhythmic underpinning (aka beats) but it also packs in all manner of epic song structures, processed field recordings and general psychedelic madness. Dedicated to connect_icut’s home-base in Vancouver, Canada, Small Town by the Sea twists familiar environmental sound tropes (bird song, ocean waves) into new shapes, creating an uncannily powerful sense of place and time. As with all connect_icut productions, the results are both enveloping and ominous. The album is being issued in two completely different versions – a tight, punchy mix for CD/download and another, more expansive mix for vinyl. To provide the deepest, most immersive sound possible, the vinyl version has been cut as two 45rpm 12″ singles.

Praise for Small Town by the Sea

  • “It is a gripping-by-the-throat beauty.” – Caleidoscoop
  • “Six intriguing tracks and each one is effective and reflective. Smart and resilient electronic music from a different mental space.” – Babysue
  • A perfect album for those who are driven by curiosity.” – Paperblog
  • “With adventure aplenty while rich in sounds and effects, this album dwells in being one hell of a seaside resort excursion.” – Penny Black Music
  • “More than an album – a real psychic journey.” – ImpattoSonoro
  • “Has a pleasant weirdness that sparks your imagination without giving you a headache.” – WRUV
  • “It’s a place for daydreamers, deliberately instigating lapses in concentration.” – Rock-a-Rolla

Recommended if you like: Actress; Burial; Vladislav Delay; Demdike Stare; Fieldhead; Forest Swords; Holly Herndon; Monolake; Oval; Rhythm & Sound; Andy Stott etc.

May 21, 2014 at 9:15 pm Leave a comment

connect_icut – Crows & Kittiwakes Wheel & Come Again (Rev. Lab./Aagoo) LP/CD

connect_icut - Crows and Kittiwakes Wheel and Come Again
The new connect_icut album – Crows & Kittiwakes Wheel & Come Again – is now available on LP (with deluxe eight-page booklet) and CD. The most intense and cosmic expression of the connect_icut sound so far, it anchors all manner of granular chaos and glitched-out abstraction in a solid foundation of three-chord pop. But don’t take our word for it: listen to a couple of songs on Soundcloud or watch the video for “Imperial Alabaster”.

And here’s where you can mail order a copy:

Distribution in North America is courtesy of Revolver. In the UK, distro is via Code7 and it’s through Orkhestra in mainland Europe.

Recommended if you like: Oren Ambarchi, Black to Comm, Kim Cascone, Sylvain Chauveau, Dalglish, Greg Davis, Vladislav Delay, Ekkehard Ehlers, Lawrence English, Farmers Manual, Fennesz, Ben Frost, Lee Gamble, Gas, Katie Gately, General Magic, Tim Hecker, Holly Herndon, Giuseppe Ielasi, Klimek, Machinefabriek, Stephan Mathieu, Mountains, BJ Nilsen & Stilluppsteypa, Oval, Rosy Parlane, Pita, Roly Porter, Sébastien Roux, Sohrab, Tape, Rafael Toral, Tujiko Noriko etc…

Praise for Crows & Kittiwakes Wheel & Come Again:

  • “Excellent” Simon Reynolds
  • “A faultless album for those who want to immerse themselves totally in the flow of their own consciousness,  for those looking for healthy and lawful means to cross the barriers of the senses.” Libero (Italy)
  • “An overwhelmingly great album!” Caleidoscoop (Netherlands)

December 12, 2013 at 11:55 am Leave a comment

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