Sunday, 19 December 2021

Albums of the Year - 2021

 It's been another year of mostly sitting indoors, although I did make it to a couple of festivals and quite a few gigs which was a relief after 2020. I also seem to have bought more vinyl this year than ever before, which made selecting a Top Ten a very difficult process. I made it to the end though, so here are my favourite albums of the year, along with another chunk that are worth investigating and might have made the top on a different day.

1. Black Country, New Road - For The First Time

Pretty much nailed on to be near the top of my list since the day it was announced, this short but brilliant album served as a document of the formative part of BC,NR's career. Despite the niggling omission of fan favourites 'Snow Globes' and 'Basketball Shoes', which will be remedied on album 2 next year, the 6 tracks here showcase a band which is really unlike any other (although they've already inspired a few imitators). It's not just the tunes either, the lyrics are great too and cover subjects as broad as love, science, depression and Kanye West. Having already started to evolve musically I hope this is a band that stays together for the next few decades.

2. Black Midi - Cavalcade

Although BC,NR just crept to the top of my arbitrary selection, this album by Black Midi is really equally as good. It's consistently inventive, not just over the course of the album but often during the course of individual songs. The musicianship is phenomenal and live they have become a unstoppable tour de force. I never expected to love a jazz-prog-psych-genre-busting album so much.

3. For Those I Love - For Those I Love

It's hard to believe that an album about by death and grief can be as uplifting as this record is. But David Balfe's homage to his friend Paul Curran manages to touch you deeply and make you smile in equal measure as he talks is way through the stories of their wayward youth together. A judicious use of samples helps to provide a warm familiarity to the songs so that after a few listens you feel like you new Paul yourself in some small way. 

4. Fred Again - Actual Life (April 14 - December 17 2020)

The sound of lockdown 2020. With songs constructed from conversations with friends, producer Fred Gibson's debut album touches on the emotion and isolation each of us has probably suffered from at some point since Covid first took hold. It's an open and honest look at how we feel today and finishes with a touch of optimism via a snatch of Bon Iver.

5. Hannah Peel - Fir Wave

Nominated, perhaps surprisingly, for this year's Mercury Prize, Peel's excellent album uses music by Delia Derbyshire and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop as a starting point to create some sublime electronica. The record somehow manages to evoke atmospheric landscapes and the wonders of nature while at the same time having one foot on the dancefloor. Electronic album of the year for sure.

6. Little Simz - Sometimes I Might Be Introvert

Produced by Inflo (the genius behind Sault) this record is the sound of Little Simz exploring her public persona and contrasting it with her private perception of herself. The big, orchestral arrangements on a number of tracks help to give the album real gravitas, although this is in part counterbalanced by the annoying interludes (which 9 times out of 10 spoil rap records). That niggle aside, this is an assured and powerful album which will no doubt gain her even more recognition.

7. Dave - We're All Alone In This Together

Could Dave match the impact of his first album? After just one listen to this record the answer was a resounding yes. It's ambitious and powerful in its subject matter, covering both Dave's life in the UK and his heritage. There's a host of interesting collaborators, including James Blake, who help give the album a broader feel than his debut, but despite the input of others you sense that this is exactly what Dave wanted to say and how he wanted to say it.

8. Squid - Bright Green Field

An unpredictable and innovative album that moves in a number of different directions, sometimes all at the same time. The songs evolve, ebb and flow and any track is likely to feature trumpet, screaming, guitars, jazz riffs, often when you least expect it. There's a real skill in making something that sounds like it's teetering on the brink of falling apart, and Squid have already mastered it. 

9. Ross From Friends - Tread

For his second album Essex born Felix Weatherall a.k.a Ross From Friends created his own recording program that allowed tracks to automatically record and catalogue themselves and he was creating them, leaving him free to plough on with the actual artistic process. The result is a warm and evocative electronic / dance album which almost has the feel of house music performed by a live band. I can't wait to hear this one at a festival.

10. IDLES - Crawler

After the disappointment of last year's 'Ultra Mono' album i was worried that IDLES' time might have passed. Those worries melted away as soon as the opening track 'MTT 420 RR' started up. There are songs on this record that take the band in directions I never thought they'd go, and even the more IDLES-y tracks have more breadth and depth than on previous albums.

16 more to check out:

  • Damon Albarn - The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows
  • Daniel Avery - Together In Static
  • Blank Mass - In Ferneaux
  • MG Boulter - Clifftown
  • Geese - Projector
  • Lande Hekt - Going to Hell
  • Iceage - Seek Shelter
  • Joy Orbison - Still Slipping Vol. 1
  • Koreless - Agor
  • Lice - Wasteland: What Ails Our People Is Clear
  • Modern Nature - Island of Noise
  • Public Service Broadcasting - Bright Magic
  • Self Esteem - Prioritise Pleasure
  • Shame - Drunk Tank Pink
  • UNKLE - Ronin 1
  • W.H. Lung - Vanities

Friday, 29 January 2021

Recommended music: 'Lost Themes III: Alive After Death' by John Carpenter


Arriving 5 years after volume 2, the third in John Carpenter’s ‘Lost Themes’ series finds him treading familiar territory. Subtitled ‘Alive After Death’, these may be original tracks rather than music composed for his films but it’s easy to imagine them soundtracking one of his signature style of movies. One look at the titles – ‘Dripping Blood’, ‘The Dead Walk’, ‘Cemetery’, Weeping Ghost’ – is enough to bring to mind plenty of gruesome images to fit nicely with the vibe he’s created here.

As with all of his recent work, the album is a collaboration with his son Cody Carpenter and his godson Daniel Davies. It’s clear that they have developed as a trio, in part by playing together on the road (I saw them live at The Troxy in East London on Halloween a few years ago), and John says that they can now “… communicate without words, and the process is easier now than it was in the beginning.” It’s nice to hear Davies let rip on the guitar every now and then as it brings a new dimension to the synth-led tunes. ‘Vampire’s Touch’ is probably my favourite track on here, for the way it starts off as a brooding synth piece and then turns into a pounding guitar driven monster.

I sometimes feel that Carpenter doesn’t receive his fair dues for his music and the influence he’s had on other composers and artists, from Cliff Martinez and Clint Mansell through to Hans Zimmer. If you’re new to his work and find yourself listening to this album and thinking ‘this sounds like X or Y’, then probably the reality is that X or Y actually sound like JC. And whilst his film-making career may be on hiatus, he can continue to make albums like this to inspire a new generation of synthwave artists.

 ‘Lost Themes III: Alive After Death’ by John Carpenter will be released on 5th February 2021 on the Sacred Bones label.

Thursday, 24 December 2020

2020 Review - Best Compilation albums

 In a bad year music is one of the few things that's kept me going. Here are my pick of this year's best compilation albums.

1. GU43 Joris Voorn: Rotterdam

Less a compilation album and more a work of art, this astonishing album brings together over 100 tracks in 2 continuous mixes. Voorn has taken all of the tracks, mixed and edited them so seamlessly, sometimes with 2 or 3 playing at once, that the whole thing feels like an album that he's written and played himself. If you get the download version with the separate tracks as well as the mixes there's over 11 hours of music, which is surely the best value for money album you'll buy all year.

2. Cafe Exil - New Adventures In European Music 1972-1980

Complied by the musical encyclopaedia that is Bob Stanley from Saint Etienne, this excellent compilation  provides the imaginary soundtrack for David Bowie and Iggy Pop hanging out in Kreuzberg's Cafe Exil in West Berlin in the 1970s. It's brilliantly evocative of the period and provides lots of unknown gems as well as one or two more well known tracks.

3. Late Night Tales: Khruangbin

The second Late Night Tales album to be released in 2020, this is expertly executed compilation that takes you around the world via 14 tracks that I can pretty much guarantee you'll have never heard before. It's hugely atmospheric and also works as a great companion to Khruangbin's own album from this year, 'Mordechai'.

4. Back to Mine - Fatboy Slim

As eclectically brilliant as only Norman Cook can be, this album mixes the Pink Panther Theme and the Go! Team, Dave & Ansel Collins and Manu Dibango and lots more besides, It's the perfect antidote to 2020's woes.

5. Late Night Tales: Hot Chip

With three new Hot Chip tracks, as well as their cover of The Velvet Undergound's 'Candy Says', this is a must for Hot Chip fans, or anyone else who appreciates quality music from the vast lake of Hot Chip's vinyl collection.

Saturday, 19 December 2020

2020 Review - Top Ten Electronic Albums

 2020 has been a great year for electronica - maybe it's because it's often made by individuals alone and in isolation, something a lot of people experienced this year. Here is my pick of the best releases.

1. Kelly Lee Owens - Inner Song

A brilliant mix of throbbing instrumentals and gentler vocal tracks, plus you won't find a better combination of Welsh legends than Michael Sheen being in the video for 'Corner Of My Sky', the track which features John Cale.

2. Caribou - Suddenly

The fifth album from Dan Snaith's Caribou is the best yet.

3. Four Tet - Sixteen Oceans

Totally uplifting and warm dance vibes.

4. Rival Consoles - Articulation

6 tracks of pure quality from Ryan West

5. Romare - Home

Another artist who just keeps getting better and better.

6. Darkstar - Civic Jams

A very personal and warm album from the duo.

7. Daniel Avery - Love + Light

An album recorded and released quickly during lockdown, with 2 distinct personalities - throbbing techno and ambient headscapes.

8. Against All Logic - 2017-2019

Another great collection from Nicolas Jaar.

9. Nathan Fake - Blizzards

A great slice of chunky electronica.

10. Luke Abbott - Translate

Modular synth loveliness from the depths of Norfolk.

Friday, 18 December 2020

Albums of the Year - 2020

 Let's not dwell on how crap this year has been. The dark times have at least provided me with more time to listen to (recorded) music, even if the buzz of live performances has been curtailed. Here are the records that stood out for me:

1. Sault - Untitled (Black Is)

The first of two albums released by the mysterious Sault this year initially draws you in through its brilliant production. It's hard to tell whether the music is mostly sample based, freshly recorded, or a mixture of the two, but it somehow has a timeless and non-geographic quality that means you could believe it was recorded in Bristol in the early 90s, or New York this year, or at any point in between. The lyrical themes are bang on the 2020 agenda, but they're more like a whisper in your ear than a punch in the face, subtly getting their message across. Their second album of 2020 'Untitled (Rise)' was a more upbeat affair but is equally worth checking out, but this one edges it for me. Powerful stuff.

2. Kelly Lee Owens - Inner Song

There have been some great electronic albums this year, but this is the clear winner for me. A great mix of throbbing instrumentals and more gentle vocal tracks, topped off with a guest appearance from John Cale and a belting cover of Radiohead's 'Weird Fishes'. I can't wait to experience this album live once we can all be together in dark sweaty rooms again.

3. Caribou - Suddenly

Caribou's fifth album is their most diverse and best yet. There's a warmth to the recordings that elevate them from bedroom electronica and the whole record has a surprisingly analogue feel. There are snippets and samples of other people's songs as well as what seems like Snaith sampling his own unreleased tracks to build into layers of different songs. Give it a few plays and it will become a familiar friend.

4. Mura Masa - Raw Youth Collage

I love the warmth and nostalgia of this record, and how it talks about a longing for times that perhaps seem look better looking back than they did as you were living them. With guest appearances from Wolf Alice, slowthai, Georgia and Clairo, it still manages to feel like a complete piece of work and was clearly a labour of love for him, especially the accompanying book. I'm surprised that this didn't really get highlighted in any of the big media end of year reviews, but it's one of my favourites even if no-one else recognises its quality.

5. The Avalanches - We Will Always Love You

Although the full album only appeared in December, a number of tracks had been released in the preceding months and already felt this was going to be a great record. And I wasn't disappointed - despite the plethora of guest performers this is a wonderfully cohesive record, full of warmth, with lots of soft moments as well as a few dancefloor boogies. The whole experience of it is like a having a duvet for your soul.

6. Working Men's Club - Working Men's Club

Syd Minsky, the driving force behind this band, is possibly the most driven and focussed 18 year old in the country at the moment, and certainly in the music business. Making music that sounds like New Order and The Fall chucked in a blender and whizzed back and forward in time for a while, he's somehow created a sound that feels fresh and new for people around his age, but warmly familiar for those of use with a few more miles on the clock. The last band I went to see before Covid struck, and the first I saw at a socially distanced gig afterwards, this is the debut album of the year.

7. Modern Nature - Annual

I'm not entirely sure if this is an album or an EP, but either way it's gorgeous. Like a modern day pastoral it evokes nature, countryside, the warm sun and just a general good feeling of being outdoors and experiencing life. Beautiful artwork too.

8. Moses Boyd - Dark Matter

The 'new jazz' scene in England shows no signs of getting old, and this year's breakthrough came for brilliant drummer Moses Boyd. The Mercury Prize-nominated 'Dark Matter' sounds current and classic all at once, with intricate rhythms and skilful arrangements. With a recent presenting slot on BBC's Jazz 625 programme, the future looks the opposite of dark for Mr Boyd.

9. The Wytches - Three Mile Ditch

Possibly the most surprising inclusion on here, I wasn't expecting this album to be anywhere near as good as it is. It's a real step forward for the band in terms of both melody and production - at times it sounds like Radiohead or The Longpigs, and yet it still has some full pelt psychedelic freak-outs on it. It's enough to make you fall back in love with guitar music again.

10. Disq - Collector

Talking of guitar music, here's an album full of fuzzed guitars, melodies and even a bona fide pop song or two, he 5 piece from Wisconsin conjure up vibes from Fountains of Wayne and Weezer as well as more recent acts like Bodega, and wrap everything up in a bundle of joy and energy.

15 more that nearly made the cut:
  • Everything Is Recorded - Friday Forever
  • Four Tet - Sixteen Oceans
  • Pottery - Welcome To Bobby's Motel
  • Lianne La Havas - Lianne La Havas
  • Crack Cloud - Pain Olympics
  • Rival Consoles - Articulation
  • Car Seat Headrest -  Making A Door Less Open
  • Romare - Home
  • Khruangbin - Mordechai
  • Bob Vylan - We Live Here
  • Run The Jewels - RTJ4
  • LA Priest - Gene
  • Westerman - Your Hero Is Not Dead
  • Against All Logic (A.A.L.) - 2017-2019
  • Bananagun - The Tue Story of Bananagun

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Video of the Day: 'Block 9: Temporary Alternative Realities'

Continuing with the Glastonbury theme from earlier, here's a fantastic 30 minute film about the Block 9 late night area in the South East / Naughty Corner are of the site.

If you've never been to Glastonbury but think you know it from what's shown on TV then think again - imagine stumbling into this area at 1 in the morning and just seeing what you can find. If you ave been then you'll know how impressively constructed the area is, and what a great vibe you can find here.

Track of the Day: 'Love' (Kendrick Lamar cover) by Gengahr

Today is the hardest day of Coronavirus lockdown so far for me. By now I should already have my Glastonbury wristband on and be in Pylon Field setting up camp. The first two days would then be spent exploring the site, seeing what was new, and catching the smaller bands before the big stuff kicks off on Friday. Kendrick Lamar was due to headline Friday night and was definitely going to be in the pit for that one *sad face*.

By way of some slight compensation Gengahr have given us this great cover of Lamar's 'Love', which is great for listening too in the sunshine while trying to to cry too much.

Here's to Glastonbury 2021 - only 365 days to go!