Posts filed under ‘albums of the year’

More from 2010

You may remember this here blog’s recent year-end roundup post freely acknowledging that there were a lot of intriguing 2010 releases that were still in the pile marked “to hear”. Naturally, the Christmas season – with all it’s accompanying free time and Albums of the Year lists – provided a great opportunity to catch up on some listening. Often, this meant finally giving a serious listen to things that reputable sources had been bigging up for months. In other cases, it meant tracking down physical copies of recent releases by favourite artists. Most of all, though, it meant having lots of great new (and old) music to listen to. Here are three of the most notable discoveries…

Forest Swords - Dagger Paths

Forest Swords - Dagger Paths

Forest Swords – Dagger Paths (Old English Spelling Bee) LP
It’s ridiculous that the Bubblegum Cage III slept on this one for so long. Perhaps the association with a record label primarily known for pumping out lo-fi nostalgia rock was the off-putting factor here. Dagger Paths has been described as a cross between the modish “hynagogic pop” sound and Burial-style avant dubstep. The hypnagogic comparison doesn’t really ring true, though. There’s no sign of fuggy 80s pop pastiche here. Furthermore,  despite being connected with on one of the US underground’s hippest imprints, Forest Swords is a British artist and – more to the point – Dagger Paths is a thoroughly British sounding record. Much of the music presented on this mini album is strongly reminiscent of pioneering UK post-rock acts like Scorn and Moonshake (and if it recalls an American band, it’s the UKPR-flavoured Nudge, whose As Good as Gone was this hear blog’s Album of the Year in 2009). Apparently, though, it was post-punk that was the major influence here. Certainly, there’s a bit of the Fall sound here, most clearly audible in those Stephen Hanley-esque bass stylings.

As you’ve probably figured out by now, Dagger Paths is right up this here blog’s alley. So much so, in fact, that it definitely would have made it into the 2010 top ten if it had been given a fair hearing before that list was compiled. Apologies to all the people who recommended it earlier in the year.

Forest Swords – “If Your Girl” (an Aaliyah cover!)

Grasslung - Sincere Void

Grasslung - Sincere Void

Grasslung – Sincere Void (Root Strata) CD
Again, this is an album that some extremely hip listeners were pushing last year and one that nobody among BBCIII’s massed editorial ranks actually got around to hearing until January. Doh! So much beauty ignored for so long!! Basically, Sincere Void is a more analogue-focused take on the recent Fennesz sound. In fact, opening track “Scarred Hands They Drifted” could be straight off Venice. That chord sequence sounds seriously familiar. What this album most closely recalls, though, is the Tim Hecker-influenced guitar atmospherics of Jefre Cantu-Ledesma’s Love is a Stream – which makes sense because it was released on Cantu-Ledesma’s Root Strata label.

So, while this may not be one of the more original releases of recent times, it is one of the loveliest. Yep, definitely should have caught onto this one sooner. Apologies, again, to all those who recommended it way back when.

Grasslung – “Tired of Remembering”

The Fall - The Wonderful & Frightening World of... (Omnibus Edition)

The Fall - The Wonderful & Frightening World of...

The Fall – The Wonderful & Frightening World of The Fall [Omnibus Edition] (Beggars Banquet) 4CD + book
This is the big one, in more ways than one. Four CDs of remastered album tracks, singles, B sides, rarities, radio sessions and live recordings orbiting the serious gravity of what anyone who isn’t a twat knows to be The Fall’s best album. At the end of 2010, it was looking like Editions Mego’s 2LP pressing of Fennesz’s Endless Summer was going to take the prize for Not Only Re-Issue of the Year but Also Best Re-Issue Evar! Well, this one is even better. The Bubblegum Cage III doesn’t usually discuss re-issues in a best-of-the-year context but this one is just too darn choice to pass up on.

The only real quibble here is that the oral history presented in the accompanying book seems designed specifically to reinforce well-established but short-sighted critical dogmas, when it should have been the perfect opportunity to challenge these very dogmas. Wonderful & Frightening…, according to the history presented here, represents the beginning of The Fall’s “pop period” – catchy choruses came into play as never before, producer John Leckie made the band sound clean ‘n’ tuneful and “Bug Day” was just a bit of filler. This, of course, is bullshit. In reality, Wonderful & Frightening… is essentially a better realised Hex Enduction Hour – an onslaught of monumental avant rock barbarism and sparse, abstract melancholia. Are tracks like”Lay of the Land” and the contemporary single “No Bulbs” really any more approachable, than “Totally Wired” or “How I Wrote Elastic Man”? The stuff about Leckie putting the band in tune is particularly galling, as he famously did the exact opposite – knocking all the guitars slightly out of tune, to give the band a bigger, rawer sound. Oh well, British rock historians have never let reality get in the way of a good party line, have they?

Still, it goes without saying that this is a 100% essential purchase for all Fall fans and anyone with a serious interest in rock history. Huge. The hugest.

The Fall – “Lay of the Land”

January 26, 2011 at 2:00 pm 2 comments

Albums of the Year 2010

A Typical Scene from the Bubblegum Cage III Office

A typical scene from the Bubblegum Cage III office

There were a lot of great records this year. Sure, it may not have felt like A Great Year for Music, as such but there were at least a few records that had all the tell-tell signs of future-classic status. More to the point, there was something in the air – a subtle shift; a hint of a near future where musicians will once again aspire to make classic records. Some of this year’s best albums had a genuine freshness – something that hasn’t been sensed much at all in recent times (in fact, much of the best music in recent memory has fairly reveled in its own fusty mustiness).

This diffuse sense of freshness might have more to do with listeners’ attitudes than with the music itself. Gradually, snobbery is giving way to inclusiveness and fear is giving way to curiosity. A lot of the music that would have been extremely marginal during the previous decade is now finding at least a modicum of an audience.

It is affecting the music too. Some artists who might previously have been satisfied to simply do their thing now appear determined to do something else altogether – see the Album of the Year for proof. So, for audiences and artists alike, ambition and originality are coming back into style. 2010 may not have been a vintage year but it was a pretty good year. And more importantly, it left us with the impression that things are only going to get better over the coming decade.

The usual disclaimers apply, especially this one: nobody has enough time on their hands to do a particularly good job of writing a monumentally epic blog post like this one, so you’ll doubtless forgive the cavalcade of typos, marginal grammar and stylistic clunkers appearing throughout (not to mention the rather half-baked theories outlined above).


Oneohtrix Point Never - Returnal

Oneohtrix Point Never - Returnal

1. Oneohtrix Point Never – Returnal (Editions Mego) LP
(Also, Returnal 7″)
Daniel Lopatin (aka Oneohtrix Point Never) has built a reputation as a pastiche artist par excellence – someone able to conjure up a bygone age of analogue synth atmospherics with the flick of his calculator-watch-clad wrist. For people whose appreciation of Lopatin’s work is dependent on this perception, Returnal was a disappointment, not to say something of a shock.

The fact is, though, the popular perception of Oneohtrix Point Never is somewhat inaccurate. First of all, it’s worth noting that Lopatin is not a straight-up analogue purist. The two main weapons in his arsenal seem to be  a hybrid analogue/digital synth (the Roland Juno 60) and a fairly recent “groove box” sampler (the magnificent Korg ES-1).

Furthermore, there’s always been more to OPN music than sci-fi-themed synth-scapes. For instance, Lopatin’s “echo jams”, as showcased on projects like Memory Vague, use sample processing to take fragments of 80s pop into weird new places. Spiritually, this puts OPN in league with those lo-fi yacht rockers in the hypnagogic pop movement but in material terms, much of Lopatin’s work bears little structural resemblance to anything else out there.

With all this in mind, it shouldn’t be too surprising that Returnal was released by Editions Mego (a label commonly associated with austere laptop electronica) or that the album’s first side opens with a prolonged burst of sliced-up digital noise. Admittedly, the sheer onslaught of “Nil Admirari” is rather bracing but the way it dissolves into “Describing Bodies” and returns, in dubbed-out form, at the end of the album (as “Preyouandi”) suggests that this is, to some extent, OPN business as usual. Y’see, like all Oneohtrix albums, Returnal has an extremely dramatic sense of narrative structure.

It might just be his most ambitious narrative yet – it’s certainly his most ambitious structure yet. Whatever its context, whatever its influences and affiliations, Returnal is musically magnificent. A genuinely uncanny false memory – a glimpse of an improbable past or the very possibility of a future. And the album of the year.

The 7″ that followed the album really helped to cement Returnal’s brilliance in many people’s minds. By re-imagining the album’s title track in collaboration with Antony (he of the Johnsons) and Bubblegum Cage III hero Christian Fennesz, Lopatin showed his willingness to step out of the hypnagogic basement and into the light of a whole new world.

Oneohtrix Point Never – “Nil Admirari”

Oneohtrix Point Never – “Describing Bodies”

Oneohtrix Point Never – “Returnal”

Buy it from Forced Exposure

Oval - O

Oval - O

2. Oval – O (Thrill Jockey) 2LP + download
(Also, Oh 12″, Ringtones download and Ringtones II download)
One slight bummer about 2010 was that some of the year’s most striking and original music was made by a bunch of old has-beens from the 90s. Shouldn’t the young guns be taking care of this sorta thing? It’s just weird. Kinda creepy and wrong.

Really though, who would have thought Seefeel would turn up and release the best single of the year (Faults)? And who would have thought Markus “Oval” Popp would ever show his face again – with that look of vague bureaucratic indifference still intact? Popp, you’ll remember, backed himself into a theoretical corner about 10 years ago, at which time he was commonly making pronouncements along the lines of “who cares what I think the music should sound like?”

Around the same time, glitch – the sub-genre of experimental electronica that Oval basically invented – was seriously running out of creative steam. If a great inventor and innovator like Popp was going to make a comeback somewhere down the line, he’d surely have to distance himself from the generic clicks-and-cuts that came in the wake of classic Oval albums like the all-but-peerless 94 Diskont. Perhaps sensing this, Popp only recently managed to break his creative and theoretical deadlock – and he did so by almost completely reinventing the Oval project.

Much has been made of changes to Popp’s technical set-up – swapping custom-made software for generic plug-ins; improvising on actual instruments… But the real change that gave birth to the new Oval sound was a slight but significant shift in theoretical focus. Oval was always a critical project – one dedicated to a thorough but non-aggressive deconstruction of its chosen subject matter. But whereas the subject matter of Oval in the 90s was digital audio, the reboot zoomed in on music itself. Oval 2010-style seems very much like Popp’s attempt to take music apart in order to see how it works, both materially and in a more abstract, semiotic or even spiritual sense.

O and the EPs that accompanied it (Popp refers to the whole project as “O(h)”) are certainly his most musical releases, in the conventional sense. The really shocking thing for many long-term fans was the appearance of four-square rhythms, pounded out on a real live drum set. Hearing out-and-out beats in Oval-world was so shocking that many people didn’t even seem to notice that most of the other sounds were originally produced by acoustic guitars. Oval with acoustic guitars? What is this – a Gastr Del Sol record???

Well, no it’s not. It’s not even like that at all. Hell, it’s not quite like anything else (always a running theme in any good end-of-year-list). Perhaps it’s like a Gastr record in spirit, though – in it’s determination to poke and prod the most standard of musical building blocks into startling new shapes. This is where the freshness comes in  – the whole O(h) project fairly reeks of clean air and renewed vigour.

Popp certainly seems pleased with the new sound he’s invented. He must have released going on for 100 tracks this year (many of them short “ringtones”) – and all drawn from the same basic musical template. Having thoroughly investigated this particular formula, one has to wonder where he’ll turn his attention next. Can’t wait to find out!

Oval – “Ah!”

Oval – “I Heart Musik”

Oval – “Brahms Mania”

Buy it from Forced Exposure

Mount Kimbie - Crooks & Lovers

Mount Kimbie - Crooks & Lovers

3. Mount Kimbie – Crooks & Lovers (Hotflush) 2×12″
Dubstep has been twisting itself into all sorts of odd shapes over the last few years, some more interesting than others. The two main modes of post-dubstep strangeness seem to be obnoxious quirkiness (aka wonky) and a strangely emo tendency towards doleful emotionalism (everyone who wants to be the next Burial – you know who you are, emostep culprits!) Not that this stuff is bad per se – much of it is actually very enjoyable. It just seems a little cheap somehow; lacking in charm.

The two fresh-faced lads in Mount Kimbie, on the other hand, make music that’s as charming as can be. Sure, their sound is off-kilter and soulful but it doesn’t have the smugness or the self-pitying glumness that blights a lot of related sounds. Saying Crooks & Lovers is unassuming sounds like damning it with faint praise. But that’s how they get you. On first listen, it all seems a bit off-hand; throwaway – short (36 minutes), light and bouncy. Listen a few times, though and it reveals itself to be ingenious, open-hearted and infectiously funky. It’s not an outwardly heavy record, in any sense but when it hits you, it hits you like a tonne of bricks. And then it apologizes for the inconvenience.

There are distinctly indie-rock-friendly elements here (not least: guitars). With many dance music acts, these would come across as cynical attempts to court the lucrative middlebrow market. But with Mount Kimbie, it all seems like a natural upshot of sincere musical interests. So, when Crooks & Lovers wins the Mercury Music Prize, it’s unlikely to go to these boys’ heads. They seem like the types to shrug something like that off and go back to doing what they actually want to be doing. Whatever that turns out to be in the future, you should be listening.

Mount Kimbie – “Before I Move Off”

Mount Kimbie – “Mayor”

Buy it from Forced Exposure

Sylvain Chauveau - Singular Forms

Sylvain Chauveau - Singular Forms

4. Sylvain Chauveau – Singular Forms [Sometimes Repeated] (Type) LP
France’s Sylvain Chuaveau is certainly versatile. His output ranges from orchestral soundtrack music, to arid digital electronica, to acoustic Depeche Mode covers(!) With its sparse, glitchy electronics and rich, declamatory vocals, Singular Forms is heavily, heavily in debt to the recent work of Scott Walker and – especially – David Sylvian. This is tricky stuff to pull off but if anyone has the chops (if not quite the voice) to make it work, it’s Sylvain Chauveau.

The David Sylvian comparisons are hard to get away from (particularly with the whole weird Sylvain/Sylvian thing) and there are a few English-as-a-Second-Language moments in the lyrics but – on the whole – the quality of the material here is high enough to make such reservations irrelevant. This is a concise album (33 minutes) but it’s an extremely ambitious one that has a genuine sense of Importance about it. Singular Forms is courageous, impressive and often incredibly beautiful.

Sylvain Chauveau – “The Unbroken Line”

Sylvain Chauveau – “A Cloud of Dust”

Buy it from Forced Exposure

Actress - Splazsh

Actress - Splazsh

5. Actress – Splazsh (Honest Jon’s) 2LP
While audiophiles continue to decry the overuse of compression in digital music production, artists throughout electronic dance music’s broad church are making it their aesthetic raison d’etre. The Mount Kimbie album has that pressurized feel of radically over-compressed audio but it’s Actress – aka Darren J. Cunningham – who is the high priest of compression-as-psychedelia. Splazsh perfectly embodies the pressure cooker atmosphere of a long, hot urban summer. It’s like a fire hydrant that’s fit to burst.

While Cunningham is often identified as a post-dubstep artist, his beats have the straight-ahead drive of house music and his sample-mangling techniques recall both classic hip-hop and glitch. But what this sounds most like – usually for better, occasionally for worse – is today. Splazsh is a flagrantly contemporary record; a pointedly digital, pointedly lo-fi burst of colour and energy. It should be obnoxious, thin and abrasive. Instead it’s energizing, witty and often beautiful. “How is this achieved?” you may ask. Well, it’s called musical talent and what we have here is a major talent.

(Also, it’s been suggested that Cunningham is actually using a lot of analogue technology to get that densely compressed sound, which might explain why it floods the ears, rather than simply assaulting them. Anyone who has details of this fellow’s actual working methods is encouraged to leave a comment, explaining all.)

Actress – “Hubble”

Actress – “Maze”

Buy it from Forced Exposure

Mark Van Hoen - Where is the Truth

Mark Van Hoen - Where is the Truth

6. Mark Van Hoen – Where is the Truth (City Centre Offices) LP
This fellow was one of the founding members of that Seefeel band (remember them, eh?) and was also involved in Seefeel spin-off act Scala. He’s additionally known for his work as Locust. Wherever he’s gone, he’s peddled a pretty nice line in experimental pop tunes. Where is the Truth continues in that vein and contains possibly the single most beautiful song of the year – “Your Voice”.

It’s great to see someone like Van Hoen, who’s been toiling at the margins for so long, still at it and producing some of his best work ever. His live performance at the Decibel festival in Seattle was one of the highlights of the year, too.

Mark Van Hoen – “Your Voice”

Mark Van Hoen – “Photophone Call”

Buy it from Forced Exposure

Loscil - Endless Falls

Loscil - Endless Falls

7. Loscil – Endless Falls (Kranky) 2LP
Vancouver’s Scott Morgan – aka Loscil – began incorporating live instruments into his electronic sound-scapes a couple of albums back. The results were predictably seamless – twinkling Fender Rhodes and aching e-bow guitar stitched artfully into Morgan’s thick, warm blankets of sound. On Endless Falls, Loscil continues this aspect of his explorations but displays a new willingness to let the instruments be themselves, rather than merging them into the overall field of sound.

It’s not a huge change but then it never is with Loscil. His work is all about gradual development, after all – inky loops incrementally gaining density over repetitive but intricate rhythmic patter(n)s. Still it’s a significant change; a quantum leap, of sorts. What it brings to Scott’s sound is a previously unheard human agent, which adds to the considerable emotional weight behind his music. This effect is compounded by the appearance of Destroyer’s Dan Bejar, providing spoken-word vocals on album closer “The Making of Grief Point”.

And unlike all previous Loscil albums, this one is available on vinyl. Which makes it the one to get, if only by default.

Loscil – “Dub for Cascadia”

Loscil – “Lake Orchard”

Buy it from Forced Exposure

Klimek - Movies is Magic Extended Edition

Klimek - Movies is Magic (Extended Version)

8. Klimek – Movies is Magic (Extended Version) (Anticipate) LP
In 2009, Klimek – aka Sebastian Meissner – released a CD called Movies is Magic, which turned out to be one of the best abstract electronica albums of that year. This year, Meissner made the rather perverse move of releasing a rather more accessible and musically conventional version of the same album exclusively on vinyl.

This Extended Version adds torch song vocals and danceable beats (and some more slightly unfortunate ESL lyrics) to the original album’s appropriately cinematic atmospheres. Theoretically, this could have resulted in some sub-Portishead dinner party music. But there’s plenty here to stop that happening. Fierce intelligence, a palpable sense of dramatic tension, thematic cohesiveness, a non-specific sense of melancholy and an ongoing commitment to no-holds-barred abstraction all conspire to steer this LP way clear of any tepid socializing. It’s an act of sly musical seduction that someone like Matthew Herbert can only dream of.

Great cover too.

Klimek – “Into Zero”

Klimek – “Exploding Unbearable Desires”

Buy it from Forced Exposure

A Sunny Day in Glasgow - Autumn Again

A Sunny Day in Glasgow - Autumn, Again

9. A Sunny Day in Glasgow – Autumn, Again (Mis Ojos Discos) LP
(Also, Nitetime Rainbows 12″)
Philadelphia’s A Sunny Day in Glasgow made it onto last year’s list too. How, you might ask, does a contemporary indie rock band make it onto the Bubblegum Cage III’s year-end list for two years in a row? The answer is obvious: Because this band is fucking awesome, that’s why! But to be more specific, it’s because A Sunny Day in Glasgow is the only contemporary indie rock band that really matters – the only one the goes beyond its specific influences and the current fashions, to produce something truly unique and special.

Hyperbole? Sure but isn’t that the default mode of indie rock criticism? To be a bit more “fair and balanced”, it did seem, a while back, like indie rock was undergoing some sort of creative renaissance. There are certainly some reasonably interesting acts out there catering to the indie audience (Dirty Projectors being a notable example, with various others cropping up on this here blog’s summer mix CD). But most of the current crop of more-interesting-than-you-might-expect indie rockers are really only good for a song or two, usually downloadable from The Hype Machine. ASDiG’s songs, on the other hand, are so immediately energizing and resonant that they fairly compel the attentive listener to seek out at least one whole album.

Autumn Again is a good one to seek out. Like several of this year’s best, it’s a short album (33 minutes, in case you’ve keeping track). Apparently, it’s made up of out-takes from 2009’s epic Ashes Grammar. This seems hard to believe because – as the subtitle Pop Songs 2010 suggests – Autumn Again contains some of the catchiest tunes ASDiG has ever written. If you were making an album and you’d written songs as infectious as “Drink, Drank, Drunk” and “How Does Somebody Say When They Like You?”, why would you leave them off the finished product?

Perhaps it makes sense, though. Ashes Grammar was like one huge ebbing, flowing unified whole. The discrete pop songs featured here might get lost in that oceanic mass – they fare better in this slimmed-down, compartmentalized context.

Other than that, this release represents sonic business as usual: multi-tracked, half-buried vocals, heavily processed guitars, imaginative use of electronics and lashes of reverb on everything. But it’s not what they do, its the way they do it. And right now, nobody does it better than A Sunny Day in Glasgow.

A Sunny Day in Glasgow – “Drink Drank Drunk”

A Sunny Day in Glasgow – “How Does Somebody Say When They Like You?”

Probably out of print but you can download it for a donation of your choosing

Fenn O'Berg - In Stereo

Fenn O'Berg - In Stereo

10. Fenn O’Berg – In Stereo (Editions Mego) 2LP
(Also, Fennesz – Szampler cassette, On – Something That Has Form & Something That Does Not LP, Fennesz Daniell Buck – Knoxville LP, Fenn O’Berg – Live in Japan Part One LP, Fenn O’Berg – Live in Japan Part Two LP and a bunch of reissues)
Blimey! 2010 saw a veritable onslaught of Fennesz-related vinyl. Perhaps the most notable release was In Stereo, which reactivated the great man’s long-dormant trio with Peter “Pita” Rehberg and Jim O’Rourke.

Unlike the previous Fenn O’Berg releases, In Stereo is a “proper” studio album. Whereas those previous releases were goofy, mind-bending and occasionally beautiful, In Stereo is dramatically structured, dynamic and not a little dark. The emphasis is still on chaotic laptop duelling but there seems to be a bit of live instrumentation in the mix too. On “Part I” there’s even a rather stirring drum solo! The point is that, by moving into the studio, these Fenn O’Berg chaps came up with the most serious and the most seriously brilliant music they’ve ever recorded together.

To be honest, though, the material on the two (2!) live Fenn O’Berg albums that Mego put out later in the year was just as good as the studio material (especially the phenomenal first side of Live in Japan Part One). Also notable was Szampler, a cassette dump of audio from Fennesz’s old hardware samplers, which makes for a surprisingly coherent listening experience. Something That Has Form… also deserves a shout out here – it’s a low key but utterly beguiling collaboration with On – aka that fellow Sylvain Chauveau and Steven Hess of Pan American/Labradford.

As for the re-issues, the 2LP version of Endless Summer has to be heard to be believed – the bonus tracks are superb, there’s a stunning 15-minute version of “Happy Audio”, the remixed Tina Frank artwork is gorgeous and the LPs themselves have the loudest, most vivid pressings imaginable, courtesy of Dubplates & Mastering.

Fenn O’Berg – “Part VI”

Fenn O’Berg – “Part I”

Buy it from Forced Exposure

BUBBLING UNDER (in rough order of preference)

Joanna Newsom - Have One on Me

Joanna Newsom - Have One on Me

Joanna Newsom – Have One on Me (Drag City) 3LP
Another epic piece of work from the angelic Ms. Newsom. Still, while it is very, very long and impressively coherent, Have One On Me doesn’t quite have the sense of overreaching ambition that made Ys a classic. Instead, it has the feel of someone settling into a sound that will form the basis of a long and productive career.

The Fall - Your Future Our Clutter 2

The Fall - Your Future Our Clutter

The Fall – Your Future Our Clutter (Domino) 2LP
A solid effort from the greatest of all rock institutions. Not a patch on 2008’s Imperial Wax Solvent but definitely in the same vein.

Woebot - Moanad

Woebot - Moanad

Woebot – Moanad (Hollow Earth) CD
The blogging legend’s most accomplished sampledelic excursion to date. A beautifully written love letter to his voluminous record collection.

The Third Eye Foundation – The Dark (Ici d’Ailleurs) LP
Look who’s back! Perhaps sensing that his fan-base had lost interest in his more song-based solo career, Matt Elliott has reactivated The Third Eye Foundation’s  doomy beat-scapes. Seriously, The Dark picks up exactly where 2000’s Little Lost Soul left off. Which is a bit weird because TEF has previously showed considerable album-to-album progress. Now, with ten years between albums, Elliott has chosen to give us more of the same. Which ain’t necessarily a bad thing because Little Lost Soul was a fantastic album and The Dark is an extremely ambitious development of its aesthetic.

Moritz Von Oswald Trio – Live in New York (Honest Jon’s) 2LP
More alien chattering from the Basic Channel man and his band of sickly techno aesthetes. Weird hearing a live crowd whooping along to the steady course of this impeccably un-dynamic music, though.

ALSO RECOMMENDED (in rough order of preference)

Seefeel - Faults

Seefeel - Faults

Seefeel – Faults (Warp) 10″
Absolutely the single of the year. A stunningly infectious and richly textured comeback by one of the most legendary acts from the early UK post-rock scene. The self-titled full-length, scheduled for a February release, promises to be one of 2011’s best albums (if “Dead Guitars” is anything to go by).

Seefeel – “Faults”

Fieldhead – Long Train Journeys (Gizeh) download
Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – Love is a Stream (Type) LP + CD
Pita – Mesmer (The Tape Worm) cassette
Alog/Astral Social Club – Split 12″ (Fat Cat)
Secret Pyramid – Ghosts (No label) CDR
Esperik Glare – Disruption (Else Product) CDR
Emeralds – Does it Look Like I’m Here? (Editions Mego) 2LP
Yellow Swans – Going Places (Type) LP + CD
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today (4AD) LP
Empty Love + Sade Sade – s/t (Diadem Discos/Bien Bien) CDR
Jim O’Rourke – All Kinds of People – Love Burt Bacharach (AWDR) CD

Haven’t Heard Yet
Koen Holtkamp – Gravity/Bees
anbb – Ret Marut Handshake
BJ Nilsen & Stilluppsteypa – Space Finale
Marcus Schmickler – Palace of Marvels
Cindytalk – The Poetry of Decay
…and goodness knows what else!

Oneohtrix Point Never, Fennesz and Noveller in Seattle
Fennesz in Vancouver
Robert Henke and Mark Van Hoen in Seattle
Mount Kimbie and Teebs in Seattle
A Sunny Day in Glasgow and Solars in Vancouver
Robin Fox in Vancouver
Tim Hecker and Loscil in Vancouver
Ben Frost, Grouper, Lawrence English and Rafael Anton Irisarri in Seattle
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti in Vancouver

..and a bunch of awesome local shows in Vancouver, featuring the likes of Loscil, Pink Island, EDR, Aerosol Constellations, Ora Cogan, Fieldhead, Gunshae, Prophecy Sun, Secret Pyramid, No UFO’s, Scant Intone, Souns, Kellarissa, Magneticring, Dr. Dad’s Sound Lab, Solars, Holzkopf, Angel Lust, coin gutter, Empty Love, Broken Sleep, Glaciers, The Rita, Flat Grey, AHNA, Twin Crystals, Diadem and so many more… Quite the little scene you people have going for yourselves!

Edit: Fans of this particular scene should make sure not to miss the show at Blim on December 10, which is part of the SquareWaves festival and has a line-up including Fieldhead, Secret Pyramid & Scant Intone (!), Magnetic Ring and many more.

Another edit: Also, there’s another Quiet City show at Blim on December 17. Details here.


Richard Skelton - Landings

Richard Skelton - Landings

Richard Skelton – Landings (Type) 2LP+CD
Keeping up with new music is hard. Compiling an end-of-year list is hard. Inevitably, you’ll spend half of, say, 2010 catching up on stuff that quite possibly should have made it into your 2009 best-of list. 2010 yielded plenty of 2009 discoveries – SunnO)))’s terrifying, hilarious and truly brilliant Monoliths & Dimensions being one notable example (Monolake’s gorgeous Silence being another, Lawrence English’s A Colour for Autumn being yet another). There isn’t room to discuss them all here but one 2009 release that deserves more than a passing mention is Richard Skelton’s Landings.

Most writing on the subject of Skelton’s music focuses on the tragic biographical events that inspired it and the unusual set of non-musical practices that are involved in its creation. All this is highly relevant but it can sometimes obscure one of the main upshots of Skelton’s unique approach to instrumental melancholy – which is that he puts out a lot of music and most of it sounds remarkably similar. It could be argued that – beautiful and unique as Skelton’s music is – most people only really need to own one of his albums. But they do need to own one – and Landings is the one they need to own.

Landings has all the slowly modulating, rough-hewn strings, sparse piano figures and subtly processed drones familiar from Skelton’s previous work. But it’s striking for both its epic scope and it relatively large amount of musical variety. Everything Richard Skelton does is beautifully realised, so when he decides to deliver a masterpiece, you know you’re in for a treat.

Richard Skelton – “Of the Last Generation”

Richard Skelton – “Remaindered”

Winter 2010/11

Winter 2010/11

Why not? Click here to download the whole damned thing. And enjoy!

1. The Fall – “Bury Pts 1 & 3”

2. Oval – “Hey”

3. Mount Kimbie – “Before I Move Off”

4. Darkstar – “Gold”

5. Actress – “Maze”

6. Hype Williams – “MVP ’94”

7. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – “Bright Lit Blue Skies”

8. anbb – “One”

9. Mark Van Hoen – “Your Voice”

10. Seefeel – “Faults”

11. A Sunny Day in Glasgow – “Drink, Drank, Drunk”

12. Le Volume Courbe – “I Love the Living You”

13. Oneohtrix Point Never – “Returnal (Remixed by Christian Fennesz)”

14. Sylvain Chauveau – “A Cloud of Dust”

15. Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – “Mirrors Death”

16. Das Racist – “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell”


And as a special bonus, here’s a re-up of last year’s winter compilation featuring The Fall, My Bloody Valentine, Antipop Consortium, King Midas Sound, Mordant Music, Broadcast & The Focus Group, Richard Youngs, A Sunny Day in Glasgow, Nudge, Pulido Fennesz Siewert Stangl, Sparklehorse + Fennesz, Black to Comm, Moritz Von Oswald Trio, The Field and Flight of the Conchords.

Well, that appears to be it for another year. Seems likely that this here blog will take a bit of a break at the start of 2011 but rest assured: this ain’t over.

Peter Christopherson 1955-2010
Harvey Pekar 1939-2010
Guru 1961-2010
Captain Beefheart 1941-2010

OTHER LISTS (updated regularly)
My Bloody Valentine forum
Everything’s Exploding (members only, sorry!)
FACT Magazine
Rafael Anton Irisarri
Cybore Me
The Original Soundtrack
The Quietus
Optimistic Underground
Tiny Mix Tapes
Zulu Records
Red Cat Records
Raven Sings the Blues
Aquarius Records
Solar Flares
Cybore Me
Pop Dr(((O)))nes

December 2, 2010 at 9:00 am 27 comments

Top Ten Albums of All Time

Well honestly, where do you go after compiling your top ten albums of 2009 and your top ten albums of the Noughties? Once again, the usual disclaimers and lame excuses apply. One additional thought: Maybe this list should be refreshed  yearly. Might be interesting to see how it mutated year after year.

Sorry if the descriptions below are a little defensive – they all seem to say “everyone reckons this album is crap but it’s actually a classic because…” Bubblegum Cage III hereby acknowledges that you know most of these albums are generally considered to be fairly obvious classics.

My Bloody Valentine - Loveless

My Bloody Valentine - Loveless

1. My Bloody Valentine – Loveless
Indeed, this is a staggeringly obvious choice for number one but what are you going to do? The fact that My Bloody Valentine’s peerless masterpiece is one of the most imitated albums of all time only goes to show how utterly inimitable it remains. As physical as it is ethereal, Loveless is, in fact, anything but obvious.
My Bloody Valentine – “Loomer”

The Fall - The Wonderful & Frightening World of The Fall

The Fall - The Wonderful & Frightening World of The Fall

2. The Fall – The Wonderful & Frightening World of The Fall
As a consequence of the now-tiresome post-punk revival, a critical consensus has developed that puts The Fall’s best before date at 1984. But from ’84 to ’86 the band developed a truly singular sound that could never be generically pigeon-holed. Wonderful & Frightening represents the pinnacle of this period.
The Fall – “Lay of the Land”

Scott Walker - Tilt

Scott Walker - Tilt

3. Scott Walker – Tilt
The Drift my be a fuller realisation of Scott Walker’s late-period avant garde song style but Tilt is ultimately a richer, more rewarding listen. Maybe this is precisely because it displays more willingness to meet the listener halfway, providing at least a modicum of conventionally musical reference points.
Scott Walker – “Farmer in the City”

Fennesz - Endless Summer

Fennesz - Endless Summer

4. Fennesz – Endless Summer
Fennesz’s master-work is the only LP to make into both the Noughties list and this one. Like a lot of albums on this list, Endless Summer represents an artist’s most individual statement. Though it owes debts to everyone from The Beach Boys to Oval, Endless Summer sounds like nothing else on earth.
Fennesz – “Caecilia”

Arthur Russell - World of Echo

Arthur Russell - World of Echo

5. Arthur Russell – World of Echo
Talking of singular artistic statements…  Arthur Russell spent most of his career playing with genres ranging from modern classical to disco via folk and pop. This collection of heavily processed voice-and-cello songs shows us Arthur’s true vision – the sound of a dreamer lost in his own World of Echo.
Arthur Russell – “Place I Know/Kid Like You”

Disco Inferno - DI Go Pop

Disco Inferno - DI Go Pop

6. Disco Inferno – DI Go Pop
The legendary Five EPs contain Disco Inferno’s best work but seeing as those singles have never been officially collected, DI Go Pop will have to do. Certainly, this album represents the band’s most original statement – few traces of traditional instruments are audible above the barrage of sampled sound.
Disco Inferno – “New Clothes for the New World”

Oval - 94 Diskont

Oval - 94 Diskont

7. Oval – 94 Diskont
Oval’s Systemich introduced the digital glitch into the lexicon of recorded music and proposed a challenging new form of experimental electronica that was neither ambient, noise nor electro-acoustic composition. It was the follow-up, 94 Diskont, that harnessed this new form in the service of timeless beauty.
Oval – “Do While (✂)”

Wu-Tang Clan - Enter the Wu-Tang - 36 Chambers

Wu-Tang Clan - Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

8. Wu-Tang Clan – Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
It’s not easy to pick a favourite Wu-affiliated album – Tical has the best production, Only Built for Cuban Linx has the best rhyming, Iron Man has… well… Ghostface! Still, Enter the  Wu-Tang conveys a palpable sense of artists discovering their powers – something that only a debut album can capture.
Wu-Tang Clan – “Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber, Part 2”

Kate Bush - Hounds of Love

Kate Bush - Hounds of Love

9. Kate Bush – Hounds of Love
Kate’s career has been – pardon the pun – dogged by the slick manoeuvres of slimy session musicians. To a great extent though, Hounds of Love is the sound of a genius at home with her Linn Drum and her Fairlight. It’s all Kate, in other words and Kate is a true visionary, best left unencumbered by fussy technique.
Kate Bush – “Cloudbusting”

Sonic Youth - Sister

Sonic Youth - Sister

10. Sonic Youth – Sister
Mark K-Punk’s infamous evisceration of Sonic Youth seemed to suggest that Thurston and co’s innovations were purely technical and that their music had no ontological resonance. Has he actually listened to Sister? Here, the guitar is re-invented in the service of sheer nerve-racking, life-affirming panic.
Sonic Youth – “Tuff Gnarl”

Honourable Mentions
Antipop Consortium – Arrhythmia
Basic Channel – BCD2
Bark Psychosis – Hex
Tim Buckley – Starsailor
Can – Tago Mago
Fairport Convention – Liege & Lief
Steve Reich – Music for 18 Musicians
Scritti Politti – Songs to Remember
Tujiko Noriko – Make Me Hard
Neil Young – Zuma (Controversial!)

February 4, 2010 at 9:00 am 3 comments

Top Ten Albums 2000-2009

Like the recent best of 2009 list, this top ten does not claim to be definitive. It’s not just that the whole thing is highly subjective, it’s mainly that this list has been compiled by someone with a really, really terrible memory. Doubtless, something utterly indispensable has been wantonly omitted.

Once again, the desire to spuriously identify broad, overarching trends has been resisted, for the most part. But one trend does assert itself rather forcefully:  As many bloggers and crtitics have already noted, it seems clear that the first half of the decade produced much better music than the second.

Let’s get this over and done with then, shall we? Taking it from the top…

Fennesz - Endless Summer

Fennesz - Endless Summer

1. Fennesz – Endless Summer (2001)
Most of the very few truly new opportunities presented to musical artists in the noughties stemmed from the astonishing things that could suddenly be done with real-time digital signal processing. No album took advantage of these opportunities with more emotively musical aplomb than Endless Summer.

Fennesz – “Caecilia”

Antipop Consortium - Arrhythmia

Antipop Consortium - Arrhythmia

2. Antipop Consortium – Arrhythmia (2002)
It’s not a fashionable opinion but one could easily argue that indie rap produced a great deal of the decade’s most original music. Arrhythmia is the sound of a sub-genre at its delirious creative peak. Every single second of every single track is still breathtakingly exciting. Fashion be damned.

Antipop Consortium – “Human Shield”

Burial - Untrue

Burial - Untrue

3. Burial – Untrue (2007)
Nobody captured the decade’s anhedonic zeitgeist better than Burial. Untrue recycles elements of ’90s underground dance music and contemporary R&B into an immediately recognizable signature sound. Mournful, delicious and still definitively contemporary.

Burial – “Etched Headplate”

Tujiko Noriko - Make Me Hard

Tujiko Noriko - Make Me Hard

4. Tujiko Noriko Make Me Hard (2003)
Noriko was simultaneously one of the decade’s best digital electronica artists and one of its most intriguing songwriters. Her song’s aren’t particularly memorable though – they’re all texture and flux, drifting by like clouds. Make Me Hard is the most ambitious and well-realised of her many albums.

Tujiko Noriko – “Penguin”

Scott Walker - The Drift

Scott Walker - The Drift

5. Scott Walker – The Drift (2006)
With The Drift, Scott Walker finally managed to boil his music down to its core essence. The result was a stark, nightmarish collection of fractured narratives, with Scott intoning cryptic fragments of song over monumental, unforgiving blocks of sound. Totally compelling.

Scott Walker – “Cossacks Are”

Sonic Youth - Murray Street

Sonic Youth - Murray Street

6. Sonic Youth – Murray Street (2002)
Those of you who believe Sonic Youth haven’t produced anything worthwhile since Daydream Nation need to hear Murray Street and eat your words. Honestly, this album is something of a perfect storm – an ecstatic culmination of years of research into the power of rock noise.

Sonic Youth – “Karen Revisited”

Joanna Newsom - Ys

Joanna Newsom - Ys

7. Joanna Newsom – Ys (2006)
With the long, wordy songs all sung in Newsom’s impossibly kooky squeak and garnished with Van Dyke Parks‘ garish, relentlessly melodic string arrangements, Ys should be awful. But the sheer quality of this material and the conviction of its delivery win out. The results are utterly affecting.

Joanna Newsom – “Monkey & Bear”

Alva Noto - Prototypes

Alva Noto - Prototypes

8. Alva Noto – Prototypes (2000)
For some of us, the early noughties were all about the glitch – the disruption of precise digital sound into something gritty and abstract. On Prototypes, Carsten Nicolai – aka Alva Noto – refined the digital glitch, making it ornate and reintegrating it into a minimalist simulacrum of pop’s 4/4 rhythmic grid.

Alva Noto – “Prototypes Track 6”

The Fall - The Unutterable

The Fall - The Unutterable

9. The Fall – The Unutterable (2000)
It was either The Unutterable or Tromatic Relexxions, Mark E Smith’s tragically underrated collaboration with Mouse on Mars, under the guise of Von Sudenfed. Together, these albums represent the perfection of a dance-rock hybrid Smith developed in the 90s and mostly abandoned in the noughties.

The Fall – “Sons of Temperance”

Gas - Pop

Gas - Pop

10. Gas – Pop (2000)
If Prototypes took glitch into the white-walled spaces of contemporary art, Pop dragged it semi-conscious into the depths of the woods and buried it under a thick layer of moss and peat. Lush and sinister in equal measure, this is a magnificent testament to the meditative properties of hiss and static.

Gas – “Pop Track 2”

January 11, 2010 at 9:00 am 7 comments

Albums of the Year 2009

Albums of the Year 2009

Albums of the Year 2009

A festive, holiday, Yuletide gift to you: The Acid Folk Remix Project Volume Two is complete and you can download it by clicking on this link. Full details further down in this post but first… the list.

This list is incomplete. How many recent albums by favourite artists remain unheard? How many obscure gems remain undiscovered? Who can keep up? This list is provisional. The definitive version may never exist.

Best albums of the noughties? Maybe. All in good time. That would take a hideous amount of research and – frankly – a rather better memory for names and dates. For now, it’s hard enough to piece together the highlights of these last 12 months.

Was it a good year for music? Was it really so awful? Who can say? After all, how many great discoveries of 2009 were technically released in 2008? How many of 2009’s great LP releases emerged on CD the year before? Where to draw the line?

Oh and don’t expect some kinda overview of the state of (the) music (industry). Do you really want to read another tedious think-piece about how MP3s are saving the world and/or ruining everything? Yawn.

Sure, coded opinions and suggestions for ways forward may be embedded deep within this post. You can dig for them at your peril. The music industry can go hang. Trite as it sounds, this post is strictly about the music, maaan.

It is worth noting one upshot of the music industry’s increasing conservatism, though: This year, it seemed like nobody wanted to release a record in anything other than the holiday shopping season (or at least the preceding six weeks – December itself is a notoriously slow month for new albums). How to keep up with this flood of eleventh-hour releases?

So many questions, so few answers. In the final analysis, it hardly seems worth agonizing over. The albums below are all fantastic and well worth discovering. This list may not be definitive but it is a wonder to behold.

One final disclaimer, this post is quite long and was written at the last minute, during a rather busy time of the year. As such, it is likely to include even more typos, borderline grammar, factual inaccuracies and half-baked opinions than usual. Please do point out any glaring errors or broken links, via the normal channels.

Okay, that’s enough lame excuses. Let’sh get shtarted…


1. Nudge – As Good as Gone (Kranky) LP

Nudge - As Good as Gone

Nudge - As Good as Gone

As Good as Gone seems like a pretty modest proposition. Nudge is just about as unassuming a band name as you could hope to find. The band itself is a loose collective of mostly Portland-based dilettantes led by Audra Glint label boss Brian Foote and featuring Paul Dickow (aka Strategy) and Honey Owens (aka Valet). Their latest album is short, to the point and avoids showy bombast to the extent of being positively diffident.

This is a small album, then but hell yes is it ever perfectly formed. Oddly enough, this kind of short, well-structured album seems to be making a bit of a comeback right now. As a format, it’s ideal for either legal or illegal consumption – for economical vinyl releases or full-album blog downloads.

But As Good as Gone is more than just a tidy little package. It’s a record that displays admirable restraint and good judgement at all levels. It’s an electronically-enhanced avant rock album that manages to be simultaneously Spartan and luxurious – lightly misting dry’n’heavy dubwise rhythm tracks with an ocean spray of dream-pop guitars and vaguely distracted-sounding vocals.

This formula makes explicit the links between Can’s aquatic mantras, PiL’s death disco and the moonscapes of early UK post-rock. But As Good as Gone never seems like its trying to make a big deal of all this – nothing here is cheaply showy; every note and texture is purposefully-chosen.

While it’s certainly an immediately ear-grabbing record, As Good as Gone‘s real strength is in its ability to gradually win over the listener’s heart and mind. In other words: it has hidden depths and it’s a grower.

This, friends, is what it’s all about. Seemingly out of nowhere, with little or no fanfare: the album of the year.

Originally reviewed in October.

Nudge – “Two Hands”

Nudge – “Aurolac”

Buy it at Insound.

2. Black to Comm – Alphabet 1968 (Type) LP

Black to Comm - Alphabet 1968

Black to Comm - Alphabet 1968

To a great extent, darkness continues to be the prevailing mode of experimental music’s international underground community. This mode generally expresses itself in the form of faux-metallic low-end droning or murky lo-fi ambiance. More often not, it expresses itself as a set of empty gestures, signifying nothing more than “this is dark because that’s what we’re into right now”.

Today’s dark stuff often sounds like it was made in the afterglow of a stoned horror flick viewing. Consequently, it tends to come across as doubly mediated. This is not the stuff real nightmares are made of. Sure, nightmares are often baroquely  horrifying but they can also be cathartic, illuminating and even entertaining. Strange as it may sound, seeing minor permutations on a recurring nightmare can actually be very intriguing.

Enter Black to Comm aka Dekorder label head-honcho Marc Richter. His latest album – Alphabet 1968 – is as uncannily dark and illuminating as a really, really interesting nightmare – it’s like musical night vision! The tracks are mostly based on short sample loops, like recurring dreams in miniature – an approach that is sure to please fans of Colleen, Ekkehard Ehlers, The Focus group  and Gas.

Like the Nudge record, this is a concise and beautifully structured little album full of concise and beautifully structured little tracks. And like the Nudge album, it manages to be truly, excitingly brilliant, without being flashy or smug about the whole thing.

Another unexpected treat and very nearly the album of the year.

Originally reviewed in November.

Black to Comm – “Forst”

Black to Comm – “Traum GmbH”

Buy it at Insound.

3. Moritz Von Oswald Trio – Vertical Ascent (Honest Jon’s) LP

Moritz Von Oswald Trio - Vertical Ascent

Moritz Von Oswald Trio - Vertical Ascent

The concept is easy enough to grasp: Moritz “Maurizio” Von Oswald, one half of the legendary German dub-techno duo Basic Channel, forms a live improvising trio, which includes acclaimed abstract electronica artist Vladislav Delay on percussion. But the sound that this Moritz Von Oswald Trio makes is another matter – all unspeakably alien pulse and clatter, more stark and robotic than any of Von Oswald’s more straightforwardly electronic work.

Vertical Ascent, the trio’s debut recording, is a somewhat difficult record to get into. The first three of its four long tracks are off-putting in their dry austerity, offering few obvious points of reference to even the most attentive listener.

The fourth and final track will seem more familiar to fans of Von Oswald’s previous work (it could almost be an early Rhythm & Sound tune) but it still feels frustratingly enigmatic. It’s as if, having stepped into the limelight as a live performer, Maurizio needs to do something that will protect the anonymous non-image he has spent years cultivating.

Of course, it’s the album’s wilful refusal to engage that ultimately makes it compelling. This might not be the year’s best album but it may just be the year’s most original and intriguing record. A remarkable piece of work, which really does seem to be the product of some alien intelligence – alive, organic and yet utterly unknowable.

Originally reviewed in August.

Moritz Von Oswald Trio – “Pattern 4”

Buy it at Insound.

4. King Midas Sound – Waiting for You (Hyperdub) CD

King Midas Sound - Waiting for You

King Midas Sound - Waiting for You

Kevin Martin has been on the scene since at least the early ’90s, when he helmed such extremist UK post-rock outfits as God, Ice and Techno Animal. Throughout his entire musical career, he’s been dealing with competing compulsions towards rock density on one hand and dub space on the other. Much of his work is reliant on shear heaviosity – massively compressed slabs of mid-range noise that seem to suck the air out of the room. Elsewhere, he’s displayed a penchant for dub reductionism and a knack for creating dark, strung-out atmospheres.

In recent years, Martin has achieved unprecedented levels of popularity and critical acclaim – mainly for his work with reggae singers and deejays under the guise of The Bug. Last year’s Bug album, London Zoo, felt like a bit of a false start. Martin seemed like he was trying to appeal to an even wider audience, without abandoning the heavyweight sound he’s built his reputation on – stripping his blaring faux-dancehall beats back to the  bare essentials of boom, bap and bass. The results were mixed.

On the debut King Midas Sound album, Martin seems to have perfected the formula he was developing on London Zoo. King Midas is supposedly his dubstep project but it clearly has a life of its own. Largely a collaboration with Trinidad-born poet and singer Roger Robinson, Waiting for You is as based in lovers rock – the sweet bubblegum of 1980s London reggae – as it is in dubstep. Robinson’s voice is disconcertingly sweet and high and yet he asserts himself as a startlingly intelligent and powerful presence over Martin’s titanic riddims. Truly this is a collaboration of equals.

Its also an absolutely fucking stunning record. Every song is beautifully realised and utterly heartbreaking. It gets better with every listen. If this list were to be revised a year from now, Waiting for You might just have worked its way to the top.

As it is, it already has the best album cover of the year – you’ve gotta love the way “collection” is misspelled in that laundromat window!

King Midas Sound – “Meltdown”

King Midas Sound – “Lost”

Buy it from Boomkat.

5. Broadcast & The Focus Group – …Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age (Warp) LP

Broadcast & The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age

Broadcast & The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age

Birmingham’s retro-futurist post-rockers Broadcast have been going from strength to strength in recent years. This collaboration with The Focus Group – aka Ghost Box label founder and ace graphic designer Julian House – is possibly the best thing either party has been involved in. It’s a quintessentially hauntological collage of song and sound, which recalls Faust, The United States of America, White Noise and a lost age of utopian English boffinry that is truly worth reanimating.

Originally reviewed in November.

Broadcast & The Focus Group – “Trailer”

Broacast & The Focus Group – “The Be Colony”

Buy it at Insound.

6. Mountains – Choral (Thrill Jockey) LP

Mountains - Choral

Mountains - Choral

Mountains is a New York-based duo, which has been toiling in obscurity for a few years now, self-releasing albums full of pastoral folktronica par excellence. For Choral, Mountains moved to the relatively high-profile Thrill Jockey label and unleashed four sides featuring some of the duo’s best work to date – very likely to appeal to fans of Fennesz, Greg Davis and late-period Gastr del Sol.

Originally reviewed in August.

Mountains – “Map Table”

Mountains – “Choral”

Buy it at Insound.

7. The Field – Yesterday & Today (Kompakt) 2LP + CD

The Field - Yesterday & Today

The Field - Yesterday & Today

Sweden’s Axel Willner – who releases music as The Field – does things that no electronic dance music artist in his or her right mind should ever do. And he makes it all work wonderfully, through sheer force of exuberance. Cover versions of terrible ’80s soft-rock hits! Live Afrobeat drumming! Bouncy tech-house tracks that modulate between two chords for over 10 minutes! All of this sounds utterly life-affirming on Yesterday & Today. The year’s most purely uplifting album.

Originally reviewed in November.

The Field – “Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime”

The Field – “Sequenced”

Buy it at Insound.

8. A Sunny Day in Glasgow – Ashes Grammar (Mis Ojos Discos) 2LP

A Sunny Day in Glasgow - Ashes Grammar

A Sunny Day in Glasgow - Ashes Grammar

“Shoegaze” has to be the most insulting genre term ever invented, doesn’t it? Who would want to admit to playing “shoegaze” music?? But wait! There’s a new wave of shoegaze bands and they’re being labelled “nugaze”!! That may be even worse but… Did someone just say “shitgaze”?

Well, this has little to do with Philadelphia’s  A Sunny Day in Glasgow. The members of this band are doubtless massive fans of My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive but they have enough wit and inventiveness to lift themselves above the – cough – nugazing hordes.

In fact, if this band harks back to a sub-genre of early ’90s UK indie music, it’s to post-rock rather than shoegaze. At times, Ashes Grammar recalls recently-reformed UK post-rock legends Seefeel (but with added song-writing skills).

It’s an epic album that works wonderfully as a complete piece – an audacious and heroic move from an outwardly shy and self-deprecating band. You have to watch out for the quiet ones.

Originally reviewed in October.

A Sunny Day in Glasgow – “Shy”

A Sunny Day in Glasgow – “Passionate Introverts (Dinosaurs)”

A Sunny Day in Glasgow – “Failure”

The vinyl is out of print but you can get the CD from Mis Ojos Discos.

9. Mordant Music – SyMptoMs (Mordant Music) CD

Mordant Music - SyMptoMs

Mordant Music - SyMptoMs

The most song-based missive yet from Mordant Music – a mysterious collective operating deep within the hauntological hinterland. More prosaically, this album recalls Eno’s witty art-rock period, Underworld’s literate techno and The Fall’s acerbic magic realism. Best lyrics of the year.

Mordant Music – “Where Can You Scream?”

Mordant Music – “SyMptoMs”

Buy it from the Mordant Music website.

10. Shackleton – Three EPs (Perlon) 3×12″

Shackleton - Three EPs

Shackleton - Three EPs

A fellow traveller of the Mordant Music organization, Bristol’s Sam Shackleton makes post-dubstep music that recalls the industrial exoticism of Muslimgauze, Kevin Martin’s monumental Techno Animal project and the more interesting aspects of recent minimalist dance music. The Three EPs is rhythmically intricate, without ever being fussy and it’s affectingly moody, without lacking a sense of humour.

Shackleton – “It’s Time for Love”

Shackleton – “There’s a Slow Train Coming”

Buy it at Insound.




Magneticring – Magneticring
Long-awaited debut LP from Vancouver’s Joshua Stevenson aka Magnetic Ring. Given the length of the wait, it’s unfortunate that this album doesn’t really represent the true extent of Josh’s talents – concentrating instead on some precision-tooled kosmische synth action. As a pure listening experience, though, it is thoroughly, thoroughly satisfying.

Doom - Born Like This

Doom - Born Like This

DOOM – Born Like This
Another reliably patchy collection from hardcore rap’s last remaining square peg. MF Doom continues to rhyme about himself in the past tense and the third person, over beats that genuinely deserve to be called “wonky”. There are a few misfires and the subject matter is occasionally odious but what else would you expect from a survivor of hip-hop’s early ’90s golden age?

Tim Hecker - An Imaginary Country

Tim Hecker - An Imaginary Country

Tim Hecker – An Imaginary Country
Canada’s Tim Hecker has really been picking up steam in the last few years, becoming one of the most prominent abstract electronica artists currently operating. An Imaginary Country represents a bit of a cooling off after the febrile Harmony in Ultraviolet but it doesn’t show any signs that Hecker is losing his spark. Can’t wait to hear what he does next.

Ekkehard Ehlers & Paul Wirkus - Ballads

Ekkehard Ehlers & Paul Wirkus - Ballads

Ekkehard Ehlers & Paul Wirkus – Ballads
This album relies a bit too much on Ekkehard Ehlers’ penchant for squeaking, scraping contemporary classical/improv sounds to deliver the full-on blissout fans of his best electronic work will be craving. Still, anything with his name on it is worth investigating and this taut, tense duo album with Paul Wirkus is no exception.

Antipop Consortium - Fluorescent Black

Antipop Consortium - Fluorescent Black

Antipop Consortium – Fluorescent Black
APC couldn’t really have picked a worse time to reform. The type of cerebral underground rap that Beans, Priest and Sayyid  specialize in is deep in the Black Hole of Cool, with no immediate signs of escape. Perhaps, if they’d arrived baring  a really killer comeback album, they could have circumvented the music-listening public’s temporary prejudices but Fluorescent Black is decidedly patchy and doesn’t have the growing power of APC’s first two albums. Still, the good patches are as dizzying as anything these guys have done – which is to say utterly.

Vladislav Delay – Tummaa
Richard Youngs – Under Stellar Stream
Sparklehorse + Fennesz – In the Fishtank 15
Mokira – Persona
Richard Youngs – Beyond the Valley of Ultrahits
Jim O’Rourke – The Visitor
Mountains – Etching
Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto – UTP
Empty Love + Sade Sade – s/t
Woebot – Automat EP and East Central One EP
Flight of the Conchords – I Told You I Was Freaky
Sonic Youth – The Eternal

My Bloody Valentine – “Kevin Song”

Pulido/Fennesz/Siewert/Stangl – A Girl and a Gun 7″

The Fall – Slippy Floor 7″
Stephan Mathieu – The Keys to the Kingdom 10″
Esperik Glare – As the Insects Swarm 7″
Burial & Four Tet – black label 12”
Antipop Consortium – “Get Lite”
Flight of the Conchords – “Carol Brown (Stick Around)”

Alva Noto – Xerrox Vol.2
Belbury Poly – From an Ancient Star
Coin Gutter – Broken Lily
Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
Leyland Kirby – Sadly The Future Is No Longer What It Was
Mount Eerie – Wind’s Poem
Richard Skelton – Landings
Mark E. Smith & Ed Blaney – Smith & Blaney
Sunno))) – Monolith’s & Dimensions

Other essential lists: Blissblog, The Decibel Tolls, Grimmertown, Hollow Earth, Mapsadaisical, Raven Sings the Blues.

Not Me

Not Me

This here blog’s first festive gift to you – Not Me’s second volume of UK folk remixes and re-imaginings. You can download the whole thing by clicking on this link ( or get the individual songs you want from the track-listing below.

1. Comus –  “Bitten (Not Me Remix by Esperik Glare)”
This first of two genuinely terrifying mixes by Wyoming’s Esperik Glare should put paid to any notion that The Acid Folk Remix Project Volume Two is going to be some sort of pastoral lovefest from start to finish. Having said that, this is not generic dark ambient rumble or harsh noise assault but a genuinely cinematic piece of abstract electronica.

2. Not Me – “APC Meets Fairport Convention Upcountry”
There’s a cute story behind this one. While connect_icut was struggling with a remix of “Matty Groves” by Fairport Convention, the estimable Wonk flagged up the existence of WFMU’s Antipop Consortium remix contest. The Antipop track (“Reflections”) was 89 BPM. The Fairport track was roughly 91 BPM. Could the vocal track from the former be layered over loops of the latter? Here’s your answer. Sadly, the track was not eligible for the contest on account of uncleared samples, hence the existence of a separate “Reflections (connect_icut Remix)”.

3. Historian Trinkets – “She Walked Through the Fair Gathering Mushrooms”
Little is known about this artist. “She Walked Through the Fair Gathering Mushrooms” may or may not be entirely sourced from recordings made in the 1980s. All we can say for sure is this: Clannad!

4. Nick Krgovich & Rose Melberg – “Coldest Night of the Year (Version Two)”
This is where the lovefest starts. A charming Vasti Bunyan cover from Nick of No Kids and Rose, formerly of Tiger Trap and The Softies. You can find the original on Vashti’s Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind, a compilation of her early singles and demos. This cover is one of two versions of the song recorded by Nick and Rose. The other is available as part of a festive compilation album called The Mental Beast Eggnog Experience.

5. Johnny Payne – “Meet on the Ledge”
The lovefest continues. Not sure exactly which Vancouver indie bands Johnny is currently playing with but they are doubtless greatly improved by his presence. Johnny had a bit of a cold when he recorded this Fairport Convention cover and was a little worried that he might come out sounding like Kermit. In fact, Devendra Banhart would probably give up a lung if it would help him sound this good.

6. Skullfucker – “The Witch”
Skullfucker – aka Dan from Vancouver drone rock duo Solars – gives his new microKORG synth a workout on this cover of Mark Fry’s “The Witch”. Understated and moodily atmospheric, this thoroughly excellent recording  is perfectly complemented by…

7. Secret Pyramid – “Milk and Honey”
A really, really incredible Sandy Denny cover from Dan’s buddy Amir – the other half of Solars. This recalls the pastoral dreampop of Flying Saucer Attack, with the lo-fi murk replaced by piercing psychedelic clarity. More stuff like this, please Amir!

8. Shirley Collins – “Adieu to Old England (Not Me Remix by connect_icut)”
A darkly hypnotic remix of this classic Shirley Collins a capella. The remix is as a raw and scary as the emotions evoked by the original. To put this another way: it was made really quickly and sounds like hell. But – y’know – in a fun way.

9. The Watersons – “Hal-an-Tow (Gunshae’s Winter of Discontent Remix)”
Last year, Vancouver-based ambient duo Gunshae went to town on The Watersons’ recording of “Christmas is Now Drawing Near”. This year, Kuma and Eve do the same to “Hal-an-Tow” – turning a song about the coming of spring into a meditation on deep winter dread. Chilling, in every sense.

10. Wonk – “Cellular (Lord Summerisle is My Co-Pilot Mix)”
The aforementioned Wonk – aka Vancouver multi-disciplinary artist Christopher Olson – with a track based entirely on samples from “A Very Cellular Song” by The Incredible String Band. It starts off Steve Reich, ends up Nurse with Wound and it’s all good.

11. Skullfucker vs. connect_icut – “Evil Island Home”
The undisputed hit of last year’s Acid Folk Remix Project was a hair-raising, lo-fi cover of Kevin Coyne’s “Evil Island Home”, which came courtesy of that Skullfucker fellow. This epic remix reinstates a previously AWOL guitar solo, adds about three layers of murk and plays out with a churning schaffel coda. Ten points if you can spot where that drum loop’s from.

12. The Pentangle – “Lyke-Wake Dirge (Not Me Remix by Esperik Glare)”
And if you thought Esperik Glare’s first contribution was scary… Here, the solemn executioner’s drum that marks time in The Pentangle’s rendition of “Lyke-Wake Dirge” is filtered into a sky-rending, thunderous roar. The punch line of “And Christ receive them all” starts to sound much more like a threat than a promise of redemption.

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays!

This here blog’s second festive gift you. Same deal: download it all by clicking on this link ( or get the songs you want from the list below.

1. The Fall – “Hot Cake – Part 2”

2. My Bloody Valentine – “Kevin Song”

3. Antipop Consortium – “Get Lite”

4. King Midas Sound – “Meltdown”

5. Mordant Music – “SyMptoMs”

6. Broacast & The Focus Group – “The Be Colony”

7. Richard Youngs – “Cluster to a Star”

8. A Sunny Day in Glasgow – “Failure”

9. Nudge – “Aurolac”

10. Pulido Fennesz Siewert Stangl – “Canto de Velorio”

11. Sparklehorse + Fennesz “If My Heart”

12. Black to Comm – “Traum GmbH”

13. Moritz Von Oswald Trio – “Pattern 4”

14. The Field – “Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime”

15. Flight of the Conchords – “Carol Brown (Stick Around)”

And that’s all. Happy holidays. See you in the New Year.

December 24, 2009 at 9:00 am 20 comments

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