April 19, 2014
Remember 2013? It seems such a long time ago now, but even late-April isn’t too late for this blog to update on the previous year’s music. Certainly not. Last year was actually another standout year, including the return of a few of the big beasts in music – David Bowie (featured in this compilation) not least among them.
Click on the Mixcloud player above to listen, and reminisce.
0:00:00 / Daft Punk: “Get Lucky” from the album Random Access Memories
No comment required – the biggest track of the year by far (here’s the proof).
0:06:03 / Poliça: “Chain My Name” from the album Shulamith
Joyous, youthful synth-pop from the Minnesotan band.
0:10:08 / Young Galaxy: “Pretty Boy (Peaking Lights Remix)”, original version from the album Ultramarine
An undulating pop gem from Vancouver (via San Francisco).
0:16:41 / Nosaj Thing feat. Kazu Makino: “Eclipse/Blue” from the album Home
Dreamy pop, featuring Makino’s (she of Blonde Redhead) ethereal vocal talents.
0:20:57 / Suuns: “Minor Work” from the album Images Du Futur
Intelligent, modern rock music.
0:26:49 / Joasihno: “Oh Boy” from the album A Lie
Quirky, carefree and forgivably twee frippery from this Bavarian duo.
0:30:59 / Foxygen: “No Destruction” from the album We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic
The Californians channel a cheesy Bob Dylan – and get away with it.
0:35:53 / David Bowie: “Love Is Lost (Hello Steve Reich Mix by James Murphy” from the album The Next Day Extra
Take Bowie’s triumphant return, add a respectful James Murphy (erstwhile of LCD Soundsystem) at his most inspired. The result is this astonishing track.
0:46:16 / Banks: “Before I Ever Met You” from the EP Fall Over
Tied (with the preceding track) for best song of 2013, in this blog’s opinion.
0:50:43 / Saltland: “Treehouse Schemes” from the album I Thought It Was Us But It Was All Of Us
Six minutes of beautiful contemplation from cellist Rebecca Foon (also of Esmerine – see this year’s mix).
0:56:56 / Serafina Steer: “Night Before Mutiny” from the album The Moths Are Real
Jarvis Cocker (behind the production desk) breathes new life into this otherworldly tale of derring-do, originally recorded in 2010.
1:01:54 / Agnes Obel: “Fuel To Fire” from the album Aventine
Beautifully simple, simply beautiful songwriting from this Danish chanteuse.
1:07:21 / Moderat: “This Time” from the album II
Sascha Ring (Apparat) and Gernot Bronsert/Sebastian Szary (Modeselektor) once again find the soul in the machine.
1:13:04 / Junip: “After All Is Said And Done” from the album Junip
Swedish artesans featuring the talents of José González, whom you may recall seduced listeners with a beautiful Kylie cover back in 2003.
1:18:46 / ends
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.
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.
“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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Effortlessly cool, unabashedly retro, seductively French – think Gainsbourg meets Spector with a banjo. Magnifique.
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.
∆, 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.
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.
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.
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.
1:13:26 / ends
January 25, 2012
2011 was another vintage year for new music – though it must be said a less-than-stellar year for this blog. Time to make a change.
Still, I just about managed to find time to curate my annual CD-sized selection of favourite tracks (not a definitive countdown, please note) from the past 12 months. I’m grateful for my own small mercies.
Click on the Mixcloud embed above to listen. Or, if you’re a VIP, wait patiently for a physical copy to wing its way to you.
Swod is the acronymic name of German duo of Stephan Wöhrmann and Oliver Doerell. Together they crafted one of the most intelligent yet accessible instrumental albums (their third) of the year. “Sans Peau” illustrates its lightly-worn intricacies perfectly.
Nom de plume for Parisian singer-songwriter Pauline De Lassus, Mina Tindle captured critics’ and listeners’ (including this one’s) hearts with her warm, playful chamber pop.
Another slice of grown-up, contemporary pop from the consistent, generous but sadly not prolific Joan Wasser. This cut, with shades of “Cry Me A River” (a good thing, by the way), adds a touch of soul to her indie sensibility.
“She Wants” out-New Waves the New Wave – it sounds so authentic it could have inspired Japan, The Cure and the others over thirty years ago. But it was released in 2011, and sounds fresh too. How do Metronomy do that? Maybe it’s something in the Devon water.
More New Wave reminiscence, this time from elegantly morose Portlanders Blouse. My early enthusiasm for their self-titled debut album has perhaps waned just a touch, but “Into Black” still pulls me into a gratifyingly melancholy dream state.
Ema Jolly – Berlin-based, Czech-descended, England-born Emika – created possibly most accomplished electronic pop record of 2011. Her debut showcases her already coherent vision: meticulously-programmed techno and dubstep sounds wrapped in immaculate song structures. A real treat.
I haven’t heard Ms. Williamson’s Brian Eno-inspired album Pulse, but this blend of her breathy, passionate vocals with Raffertie‘s techno theatrics hits the spot.
Shamefully, the only other album from German sound designer Ben Lukas Boysen I’m familiar (intimate, more truthfully) with is 2008’s Night Falls – a cinematic, ambient, exquisitely dark symphony-of-sorts. Avenger, on the other hand, is a satisfying collection of mostly pummelling dubstep. Trifonic’s take on “With Angels” (click for an insight into the production process) is in fact one of its lighter moments.
This track from Dutch producer/DJ Martyn (Deykers) makes the cut simply as a result of its tip-of-the-hat to my 107th favourite track of the last four decades: Front 242’s “Headhunter“. That it’s also a pleasing little techno interlude is just gravy.
I can’t think of a single way in which this house/techno hybrid could be improved. “So So So” asks little of you but rewards you in spades – a selfless track that only knows how to give. The video is a hand-drawn treasure, and the other two tracks on the EP maintain the quality. Erwan Castex deserved all the plaudits he got in 2011.
Gui Boratto’s 2007 debut Chromophobia remains one of the best dance albums ever released in this blog’s humble opinion. While his third full-length – called, aptly enough, III – doesn’t quite match up, it does have more than a few moments when Boratto’s intuition shines. “Soledad” is one of them.
Sascha Ring (a.k.a. Apparat) toured with a live band for the first time (photo here, video here) to support The Devil’s Walk, his fourth album blending analogue and digital, club and home, headphones and heart. While he may not appreciate the comparison, Apparat brings to mind Radiohead at their very peak.
“Midnight City” was pretty inescapable in the second half of 2011, particularly if you came across E4’s Made In Chelsea or the BBC’s endless Olympic coverage trailers while channel-flipping. I didn’t rate the album as highly as everyone else, but once you hear “Midnight City” its hook remains in your head thereafter. The very definition of catchy.
The most conventional song on Tragedy, a meditation on the Greek play Hippolytus, “Goddess Eyes” nevertheless belies Holter’s beguiling otherworldliness. The album is captivating, bewitching even – we are Phaedra to Holter’s Hippolytus.
Possibly the breakthrough act of 2011, “Video Games” single-handedly propelled Lizzy Grant – Lana Del Rey to her audience – from online backwaters to the global chat show circuit almost overnight. A torch song for meaning and happiness, it brings majesty to the mundane. “Hollywood sadcore”, as the woman herself puts it, is the perfect label.
Swedish neo-shoegaze band I Break Horses’ debut Hearts created a shimmering, beautiful soundworld, though perhaps it lacked just a little light and shade across its 40 minutes. That said, “No Way Outro” does evoke a kind of end-of-innocence feeling that takes a long time to fade after the song does.
Norwegian duo Deaf Center crafted a beautifully haunted album of cello, piano and field recordings in Owl Splinters. I’ve covered the solo work of one member, Erik Skodvin, before. “Time Spent”, however, foregrounds the touch and poise his co-conspirator, pianist Otto Totland.
1:11:51 / ends
December 30, 2010
Herewith another end-of-year compilation and, like every year, good in 2010 doesn’t represent a definitive countdown of the best tracks of the last twelve months: it’s a track list for a compilation that covers some great music released across that period. (CD-Rs in the post to those on The List soon.)
You can listen to all of it in sequence here…
… or dip into it track-by-track below. Tomorrow I’ll publish a mix of deeper, darker stuff from 2010. Enjoy.
1. Lay In A Shimmer by Pantha Du Prince
The opening track of close to 94‘s sixth favourite album of the year (Black Noise), Lay In A Shimmer does what it says on the tin.
2. Odessa by Caribou
Opener and single from Swim, 2010’s fourth best album by this blog’s estimation, Odessa is kooky disco par excellence.
3. We Want War by These New Puritans
Bold baroque pop from Southend-on-Sea from the #10 album of the year according to close to 94.
4. Aminals by Baths
Baths, a.k.a. Will Wiesenfeld, broke through this year with his debut album, Cerulean, a highly-praised mix of hip-hop beats and sun-drenched Californian song-writing.
5. Tracers by Scuba
With Triangulation Scuba served up one of a small handful of thoughtful dubstep releases that appeal as much to the head as to the feet. Full album review here.
6. Move On by Lali Puna
A highlight from the so-so album released back in April by the German electro melancholists. Full album review here.
7. Mirrorage by Glasser
Glasser is Cameron Mesirow, a one-woman orchestra who performs on conventional instruments and those of her own invention. She also writes and sings beautifully. Can someone have too much talent? Check out her debut album, Ring, to find out.
8. Losing My Patience by Shit Robot
Great band name, though Shit Robot isn’t actually a band. It’s the alter ego of Marcus Lambkin, an Irish DJ, producer and member of James Murphy’s DFA stable of acts (see track 10). This track features Hot Chip vocalist Alexis Taylor, which is nice.
9. Vessel (Four Tet Remix) by Jon Hopkins
This year, as ever, Four Tet gave as much to listeners as remixer as he did as creator (his There Is Love In You album was a welcome return to form). This beautiful re-rendering of a track from Jon Hopkins‘ 2009 album Insides is what you hear if you look up with word sublime in the dictionary.
10. Home by LCD Soundsystem
The last LCD Soundsystem album? That’s what I call quitting while you’re ahead. From close to 94‘s #02 album of the year, Home is just one of a brace of James Murphy’s immaculately loose electro-punk cuts on This Is Happening. After listening to it you feel younger but wiser. Weird, huh?
11. Afraid Of Anyone by The National
Grown-up rock can either be grippingly stirring or crushingly dull. The National, naturally, stay firmly on the side of the former. From their universally lauded album High Violet, this track shows why the band, ten years in, are as strong as ever.
12. We Used To Wait by Arcade Fire
Arcade Fire were back in 2010. Back as in they released their first record since 2007’s Neon Bible, and back as in The Suburbs (from which this track is taken) more than made up for the (relative) disappointment of that release after the revelation that was their debut LP Funeral.
13. The Mall And Misery by Broken Bells
Broken Bells is name of the collaboration between Brian Burton (the producer-star better known as Danger Mouse, one half of Gnarls Barkley) and James Mercer (lead singer of US indie band The Shins). As such it could either be spectacularly good, or spectacularly bad. It is not bad at all.
14. Enchanting Ghost by Sufjan Stevens
Sufjan Stevens indulged the world with not one but two substantial releases this year. The first, the hour-long All Delighted People EP – from which this track is taken – was a wonderful blend of Stevens old and new (full review here). The second, the dizzying album The Age Of Adz, I haven’t yet fully digested.
15. The Course by Wildbirds & Peacedrums
It’s becoming an annual tradition to include something by Wildbirds & Peacedrums on this compilation, though last year they made it there via an administrative error. No such nonsense this year: their album Rivers, itself comprised of two EPs – Retina and Iris – was 2010’s seventh best. And that’s official.
16. Natural Tune by Efterklang
The quiet compilation closer is this year provided by Danish art-indie ensemble Efterklang, whose latest album, Magic Chairs, saw them return to a more intimate staging of their music following their triumphant tour of previous album Parades accompanied by full orchestra.
January 7, 2010
This is the fifth annual “good in…” roundup CD-R compilation, but the first I’ve published. The small number of people on my Special List will receive the real thing in the mail as usual, but I thought blogging it would be a good experiment.
It isn’t a definitive best of 2009 – it’s a selection of tracks I like that can be sequenced to fit into the 80 or so minutes you can squeeze onto a 12cm-diameter slice of plastic.
So what was good in 2009? It was a good year for leftfield electronic pop with a post-punk sensibility, female vocals and a Scandavian bias, it seems. But there were other treasures too…
The songs are presented here in tracklist order.
1. There Is No Light, from The Snake by Wildbirds & Peacedrums
A purely physical acoustic experience – not a circuit board in sight as far as I can tell – from this Swedish drums/vocal husband/wife duo. Call them the White Stripes of avant-pop if you like, but you won’t hear anything as primal and playful elsewhere. (UPDATE: There Is No Light was actually released in 2008)
2. Zero (RAC remix), original version from It’s Blitz! by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
This one took me by surprise. I’ve never truly fallen for YYY’s brand of punk but Zero knocked me out. The original version is a dance-punk anthem without parallel last year – and the year before that probably – but I’ve chosen the RAC remix because I’m a sucker for electronic beats.
3. Daniel, from Two Suns by Bat For Lashes
Ms. Khan continues to attract comparisons with Kate Bush, for all the right reasons. The mixture of intelligence, musicality, poignancy and otherworldliness in Daniel is pitch perfect.
4. The Afterlife, from See Mystery Lights by YACHT
I hadn’t come across YACHT before this album, but its blend of punk, goth, new wave and electro (all at the same time) just works. The Afterlife reminds me of Diamond Dogs-era David Bowie, the Flying Lizards and LCD Soundsystem (YACHT is signed to DFA, headed by LCD’s James Murphy) – what’s not to like?
5. Blinking Pigs, from Machine Dreams by Little Dragon
Stripped-back pop perfection from another Swedish band.
6. Porc #2, from Moderat by Moderat
A collaboration between three of Germany’s most talented electronic producers/musicians: Sascha Ring of Apparat (try 2007’s Walls) and Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary, both of Modeselektor (2005’s Hello Mom! is the place to start). Epic, dreamlike, even lyrical.
7. Sea Within A Sea, from Primary Colours by The Horrors
The grandest song on a grand album. The Horrors created, from humble indie beginnings it seems, a gothic shoegaze minor masterpiece in Primary Colours. A Loveless for our times, perhaps (without the financial ruin bit).
8. Love Comes Close, from Love Comes Close by Cold Cave
Like a lost session from Power, Corruption & Lies. Yes, that good.
9. Seasun, from Ayrton Senna EP by Delorean
I really shouldn’t like this – it feels a bit like the hit of the summer, Ibiza circa 2003. But I do really like it. It creeps up on you and before you know it your mood has lifted a little and you feel that things are probably going to turn out OK. Annoyingly pleasing.
10. Accusations, from The Future Will Come by The Juan MacLean
A highlight from an album that maybe wasn’t as good as I hoped it was going to be. A Gilles Peterson favourite, which back in the day were three words that sent me to the record store in a flash.
11. Stillness Is The Move, from Bitte Orca by Dirty Projectors
A song that on first listening you think “yeah, so?” but by the third or fourth listen you can’t believe just how amazing it is. That’s how it worked for me anyway. One of the songs of the year for the blogosphere, Pitchfork et al. I agree.
12. Hullaballabalú, from Sing Along To Songs You Don’t Know by Múm
Múm returned last year with their best album in quite a while (perhaps since 2002’s Finally We Are No One). Simple, melodic, happy.
13. We Belong, from Clangour by Sin Fang Bous
Múm label-mate and compatriot, Sindri Már Sigfússon’s solo project melds folksiness with electronic (in this case 8-bit) pop in a way seeimgly only Icelandics can.
14. Young Adult Friction, from The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart by The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
The perfect band name for the wide-eyed, heart-on-sleeve, straight-up-with-a-pinch-of-knowingness indie rock New York seems to cultivate without trying. At my ripe old age, music like this makes me nostalgic for a time I’m not sure I ever had.
15. Lisztomania, from Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix by Phoenix
It still amazes me that these guys are from Versailles (that’s Versailles, France) rather than, say, Brooklyn. Perky, tuneful indie-pop done right. Before Wolfgang… I’d only heard Alphabetical (2004); it’s refreshing that there are still mainstream(ish) bands getting better as they enter their second decade.
16. Heart Skipped A Beat, from XX by The XX
Hotly-tipped NME-darlings – a recipe for vacuous, unmusical ephemera, surely. Not in this case. The bare instrumentation, the boy/girl dialogue lyrics, the studied melancholia are all so now and yet somehow whenever.
17. Entropy, from Night Music by Etienne Jaumet
There are two immutable laws every close to 94 compilation must follow. The first is that they must include a minimal techno/electro instrumental track. This time it was either this, from one half of Zombie Zombie, or a track by Subway. I chose this.
18. Tow The Line, from Wrought Iron by Nancy Elizabeth
The second immutable law is: end with a quiet track. Nancy Elizabeth was unknown to me until this track turned up on a sampler from the always excellent Leaf Label (the same goes for Wildbirds & Peacedrums, track 1). Although she isn’t quite my new Julie Doiron, this song is pure encoded bliss.
And that’s it.