good in 2012

March 2, 2013

Ah 2012, another year of non-posting (and 2013 is shaping up nicely in the same respect). Musically, as ever, there was reason for a little more optimism: new artists continue to plough the comforting furrows of melancholic synth-pop, krautish indie, soulful folk and minimal composition to keep this blog ‘happy’.

Click on the Mixcloud embed above to listen. Or, if you’re a VIP, wait patiently for an increasingly redundant physical copy to wing its way to you.

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0:00:00 / Ryan Teague: “Shadow Play”, from the album Field Drawings
[eMusic]

Opening Teague’s exquisite album, Field Drawings, “Shadow Play” suggests a hopeful awakening. The Bristolian composer’s artful blend of pastoral and urban grows in confidence and resolve over its duration, but remains in thoughtful repose, just short of committed action.

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0:04:08 / Metric: “Artificial Nocturne”, from the album Synthetica
[eMusic]

“I’m just as f**ked up as they say” confesses Emily Haines at the beginning of this epic slice of power pop. The driving rhythm combines with cascading chords to provide a brimming articulation of the futility of 24-hour culture – an “Artificial Nocturne”.

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0:09:48 / ERAAS: “A Presence”, from the album ERAAS
[eMusic]

The new project by former members of haunt-rockists Apse, ERAAS wove a neo-gothic fantasy with its first album. “A Presence” possesses a mesmeric, halting motorik beat and calls to mind “Sea Within A Sea” by The Horrors, as featured on the 2009 edition in this compilation series.

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0:14:24 / Biosphere: “Blue Monday”, from the magazine promo Power, Corruption & Lies Covered
[Discogs]

Well, here’s a turn up for the books. Geir Jenssen, a.k.a. Biosphere, retreats from the ice caps and tundra to cover perhaps the most sacred artefact in the electronic pop canon. By rights it shouldn’t be here (it was apparently released by Mojo magazine at the end of December 2011), but it makes the cut because (a) it remains an unimpeachably good song, and (b) Jenssen didn’t mess it up.

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0:19:52 / Liars: “No. 1 Against The Rush”, from the album WIXIW
[eMusic]

The art-punk outfit’s second album for Mute show off its electronic chops more strongly than ever. Single “No. 1 Against The Rush” blends accessibility (there are hooks!) with otherness just so.

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0:25:00 / Holly Herdon: “Fade”, from the album Movement
[eMusic]

In Movement, Herndon produced a provocative work about the interplay between human and machine at an almost anatomical level. “Fade” – with its sliced vocals, chopped beats and pounded bass – provides a energising way into the darker, more visceral sounds elsewhere on the album.

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0:31:15 / Grimes: “Genesis”, from the album Visions
[Boomkat]

Whereas Holly Herndon evokes a sometimes fraught fusion between tissue and metal, in Grimes’ music (created single-handedly by Claire Boucher) music the two forces duet in ethereal harmony. Transporting.

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0:35:29 / NZCA/Lines: “Atoms & Axes”, from the album NZCA/Lines
[eMusic]

Pure nostalgia, recalling the early, innocent synth-pop of early Depeche Mode, as well as previous revivalists (as noted in several reviews) like Junior Boys. No pretensions, other than those held back in the early 1980s by Michael Lovett’s (NZCA/Lines sole band member) antecedents, trapped in amber for our benefit and enlightenment 30 years later.

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0:40:18 / Clark: “Black Stone”, from the album Iradelphic
[eMusic]

An acoustic interlude from Iradelphic, Chris Clark’s wide-ranging tableaux of an album (though unmistakably Warp with it). As a whole the release didn’t cohere for this listener, though pockets of beauty, such as “Black Stone”, made it worthy of exploration.

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0:42:17 / Bat For Lashes: “Laura”, from the album The Haunted Man
[iTunes]

The lead single from Natasha Khan’s third album, The Haunted Man. Khan is among Britain’s finest songwriters of recent years, as “Laura”’s redemptive fable (and her previous appearance in this compilation series) attests.

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0:46:36 / DIIV: “Doused”, from the album Oshin
[eMusic]

Back to krautrock, back to Brooklyn (c.f. ERAAS, above – what is it about upper case, double-vowelled band names there?). But who’s complaining?

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0:50:12 / The Liminanas: “Salvation”, from the album Crystal Anis
[eMusic]

Effortlessly cool, unabashedly retro, seductively French – think Gainsbourg meets Spector with a banjo. Magnifique.

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0:53:30 / Choir Of Young Believers: “Nye Nummer Et”, from the album Rhine Gold
[eMusic]

Jannis Noya Makrigiannis’ music hit mainstream consciousness when his (still stunning) “Hollow Talk” (from 2008’s This Is For The White In Your Eyes) was used as the theme for Danish/Swedish crime drama, The Bridge. I think “Nye Nummer Et” means “New Number One”. And it should be.

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0:58:05 / Alt-J: “Something Good”, from the album An Awesome Wave
[eMusic]

∆, to spell the band’s name correctly, won the Mercury Music Prize in 2012 with their debut An Awesome Wave. “Something Good” is a sprightly ditty whose pensive quality makes it a stand-out among its more generic brethren on the album.

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1:01:37 / Sharon Van Etten: “Give Out”, from the album Tramp
[eMusic]

Van Etten produced possibly the year’s finest Americana in Tramp, recorded with fellow neo-folk luminaries Zach Condon (from Beirut) and Julianna Barwick among others. But it’s honesty and directness, not cool collaborations, that give songs like “Give Out” their potency.

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1:05:54 / Cold Specks: “Winter Solstice”, from the album I Predict A Graceful Expulsion
[eMusic]

Al Spx (real name unknown), as the creative force behind Cold Specks, created a rare wellspring of authenticity in a world where increasingly one can look only to the past for that vital state of being. Her expansive songwriting and powerful vocals blend folk, gospel, soul and working song – music to be listened to, not written about.

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1:09:57 / Dustin O’Halloran: “Fragile N.4”, from the album Lumiere
[Boomkat]

Lumiere, from which “Fragile N.4” was taken, was released in 2011, so is here (due to administrative error) under false pretences. But no matter: O’Halloran’s rich, forgivably syrupy piece feels the right way to close.

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1:13:26 / ends

See also:

Concert date: May 15, 2010

I’m still reeling from the state of rapture that Wildbirds & Peacedrums, above, created – for themselves as well as their congregation at the Bishopsgate Institute – last night. The Swedish husband/wife drums/vocals duo combined primal rhythmic power with unmediated emotional intensity in a way their recorded output hints at but cannot match (for a taste listen to There Is No Light, which was one of my tracks of last year).

The performance – deliberately or otherwise – was perfectly programmed, building from the quaint and exploratory, through the serene and uplifting, to the revelatory and transcendental. It culminated with My Heart (from 2008’s The Snake), an eight minute declaration of love by vocalist Mariam Wallentin to husband Andreas Werliin. “I’m lost without your rhythm” she cries, with a passion that matches, exceeds, the fervour of a gospel singer lost in communion with the Lord.

Wallentin communed with the audience instead, moving away from her microphone she sang parts of the song unamplified to and with the audience – who responded, blessed, with hushed accompaniment – before returning to her husband’s adoring gaze.

The experience felt like a religious celebration, worshipping not God but the human capacity for emotional honesty, righteous protest and uncomplicated love. This feeling was enhanced by the addition of the Schola Cantorum Reykjavik Chamber Choir for many of the songs, who added a heavenly aura to Wallentin’s secular hymns to the heart.

By the end of the evening, performers and audience alike seemed overwhelmed by the adoration each accorded the other, with the latter leaving the venue in a reverie that will surely take some time to dissipate completely.

Before all that though, Choir Of Young Believers – another Scandinavian group, centred on the talents of Danish/Greek singer-songwriter Jannis Noya Makrigiannis (above, right) – served up the perfect start to the evening.

Performing in a duo with cellist Cæcilie Trier (left), Makrigiannis’ rural take on indie (principally from his 2009 album This Is For The White In Your Eyes) succeeded in enchanting his audience, despite many being reluctant to be pulled into the music so early in the evening. This was not least due to his pure, even angelic, voice (which reminded me, in feel and timbre, of Arthur Russell, though Makrigiannis is the superior singer).

Simple, honest, sincere, free: four adjectives that capture both Choir Of Young Believers and Wildbirds & Peacedrums on an evening full of wonder.