Sunday, 30 January 2011

Rewind: The 10 best electronic albums of 2010

1. Gold Panda - 'Lucky Shiner'. Brilliant proof that electronic music doesn't have to be cold and clinical, this mostly instrumental album, full of lo-fi samples and crackly warmth, manages to convey an emotional story through its music and titles. And if you listen closely you can even hear a sample of Gold Panda's nan talking to him as she puts the washing out! Just this week 'Lucky Shiner' has been given the Guardian First Album award. You can read my full review here or listen to the whole thing here:

2. Darkstar - 'North'. At times bleak, but ultimately uplifting, this is an album that rewards repeated listening to become an (electronic) comfort blanket. Glitchy & crackly, this is a few steps on from the band's dubstep roots, and all the better for it. You can read my full review here

3. Caribou - 'Swim'. Who could deny the brilliance of 'Sun', especially when heard outside at a summer festival? On record mainly just the work of Dan Snaith, although live they are a 4-piece who create a brilliantly together sound.

4. Four Tet - 'There Is Love In You'. Uplifting, blissful and warm electronica, stuffed full of melodies. Four Tete was also responsible for many of the best remixes that came out in 2010.

5. UNKLE - 'Where Did The Night Fall'. Like all UNKLE albums, this grows on you over time, and the remixes that have subsequently come out have really added to the tracks, especially the mixes of 'Natural Selection' by Tom from the Horrors, and Team Ghost.

6. Mount Kimbie - 'Crooks & Lovers'. At the time this came out I described it as 'like Four Tet meeting Burial on a sunny autumn afternoon'. Sums it up pretty well I think.

7. Hot Chip - 'One Life Stand'. Possibly their most complete and accessible album, bringing together great melodies, quirky tunes, catchy lyrics, and even steel drums. Hot Chip manage to write great British pop tunes in the same way as the Pet Shop Boys, and one day they'll hopefully get the same recognition.

8. Brian Eno - 'Small Craft on a Milk Sea'. Eno's 25th solo album sees him look up with the legendary Warp records to great effect, mixing ambient sounds and gentle piano with throbbing electronica. Definitely shows the youngsters a thing or two!

9. Pantha du Prince - 'Black Noise'. Crisp German technicality meets analogue bass, marimbas and glockenspiels. Clinical but never cold, this also features a guest vocal from Animal Collective's Panda Bear.

10. Flying Lotus - 'Cosmogramma'. Probably the hardest to describe album in this list. Flying Lotus himself has called it a 'space opera' - it's dense, multi-layered, distorted, extremely bass-heavy, even occasionally jazzy. Thom Yorke makes a guest appearance on '...And The World Laughs With You'.

Friday, 28 January 2011

10 UK acts to see at SXSW 2011

This year I'll be going to SXSW for the first time and frankly it looks a bit overwhelming. The sheer number of bands appearing is staggering, and then I've got to get my head round who's playing where, when, is it a showcase or at a party etc.
It occurred to me that there'll be loads of people in the same boat as me, so here's how we can help each other out. Below I've listed what I think are the 10 acts from the UK that it's most worth making the effort to see. When you've read it let me know who I should be seeing from your home country, and then as the list builds up we'll all have a great list of some cool acts to watch.

Gold Panda - creator of 'Lucky Shiner', my favourite album of 2010 (review here Proof that electronic music doesn’t have to be cold and clinical, here was an instrumental album that managed to be touching and tell a story through its tracks.

Darkstar - ‘North’ was another of my top 10 albums from 2010 (review here Downbeat but somehow uplifting, especially their cover of The Human League’s ‘Gold'.

Edwyn Collins - a hero on so many levels. Writer of some of the best songs ever ('Rip It Up' and 'A Girl Like You' being just two) and more recently, survivor of 2 strokes, MRSA and aphasia. For a humbling and inspiring read, check out 'Falling and Laughing: The Restoration of Edwyn Collins' by Grace Maxwell.

Anna Calvi - a demon with the guitar, at times almost a female Jeff Buckley, at others like the secret bastard lovechild that PJ Harvey would've produced if Nick Cave had been allowed to have his wicked way with her (believe me, he tried...)

Noah and The Whale - their second album ‘The First Days of Spring’ was a brilliant but heartbreaking tale of loss. By all accounts their 3rd, due very soon, is even better.

The Vaccines - who knows if they can make a whole album as good as lead single ‘Post Break-Up Sex’ - this is where we’ll find out.

Frankie and the Heartstrings - produced by the aforementioned Mr Collins and on the verge of greatness.

Bombay Bicycle Club - after the success of last year’s acoustic album ‘Flaws’ these energetic young things will be plugging themselves back in for your pleasure at SXSW.

Chapel Club - hotly tipped by the NME, and with a debut album produced by Paul Epworth released on 31st January, this is definitely a band to watch out for in 2011.

Bob Geldof - This year's keynote speaker has a new album out (review here ). Worth seeing to be reminded that he started life as a musician rather than a charity-working saint, and in the hope that he'll play 'I Don't Like Mondays'.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Dusting 'em down #1: 'This Is Big Audio Dynamite' by Big Audio Dynamite

With Mick Jones announcing that he is reforming Big Audio Dynamite with their original line-up to tour and play festivals this year, it seems like the ideal opportunity to get their first album off the shelf and see how it has stood the test of time.

After leaving / being ousted from The Clash in 1983, Jones formed the short-lived Top Risk Action Company(T.R.A.C.). It wasn’t long before this evolved into Big Audio Dynamite, who notably featured Clash film maker Don Letts on sound effects and vocals. Bassist Leo Williams remained from T.R.A.C., and they were joined by Dan Donovan (one of the many future Mr. Patsy Kensits) on keyboards and Greg Roberts on drums.

‘This Is Big Audio Dynamite’ was released in October 1985, and reached the dizzy heights of number 27 in the UK album charts. A futuristic-sounding (at the time) mix of pop tunes with sound effects, film clips and hip-hop like beats, it mixed cultures in much the same way as Malcolm McLaren’s ‘Duck Rock’ had done 2 years before. I don’t think this was acknowledged at the time as much as it should have been - Don Letts was obviously playing a big part in the band’s development, and he brought the filmic quality to the tracks, but let’s not forget that The Clash themselves had embraced a whole range of musical styles, and Mick continued this with BAD.

I bought this on cassette when it first came out and played it to death (I downloaded the 2010 ‘Legacy’ version to listen to while I wrote this) so having revisited it, how does it sound? Pretty good, actually. Some of the musical arrangements undoubtedly sound a bit dated, but there’s no denying there are some great tunes on here. You can’t argue with songs like ‘The Bottom Line’, ‘Medicine Show’ & the classic ‘E=MC2’, which even now sounds great when it comes on the radio (I think Guy Garvey played it on his show just a few weeks ago).

BAD (and BAD II) went on to release a number of different albums featuring various personnel, including their second ‘No.10, Upping Street’, much of which was co-written and co-produced by Joe Strummer. Since then Jones has had a varied career, producing 2 Libertines albums and forming Carbon/Silicon with Tony James (from Sigue Sigue Sputnik & Generation X). For the past 12 months or so he’s been a member of Gorillaz, which has thrust him back into the spotlight and must have played a part in his decision to reform BAD.

Live dates announced so far are:
29th March - Academy, Liverpool
30th March - ABC, Glasgow
31st March - Academy, Newcastle
2nd/3rd April - Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London
6th April - Rock City, Nottingham
7th April - Academy, Leeds
8th April - Academy, Manchester
9th April - Academy, Bristol
16th April - Coachella Festival

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Artist Profile: Ringo Deathstarr

When a band comes up with a name as great as Ringo Deathstarr, there's an inevitable worry that the music won't live up to it. Fortunately this 3-piece from Austin, Texas more than match their moniker. A fascinating mix of The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine and Beach House, with an added sprinkling of 80s UK goth for good measure, they make perfect power pop that's loud in all the right places.

You can listen to 'Imagine Hearts' the first track from their debut album 'Colour Trip', here:
Ringo Deathstarr - Imagine Hearts by Club AC30

Band members: Elliott Frazer (guitars & vocals), Alex Gehring (bass & vocals) & Daniel Coborn (drums).

I recently had the opportunity to interview the band on behalf of The Rock Club, you can read the results here:

The album is released on February 14th through Club AC30 Records, and is well worth some of your hard earned cash. They will be playing some live dates around the release of the record, as well as some gigs at SXSW where I hope to catch up with them again.

UK Live Dates:

12th February - Stereo, Glasgow
13th February - Academy, Sheffield
14th February - Ruby Loung, Manchester
16th February - Komedia, Brighton
17th February - Lexington, London

My review of the album is on the Rock Club website here:


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