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!

Friday, 19 June 2020

Video of the Day: 'State Of The Union (STFU)' by Public Enemy feat. DJ Premier

Looks like Chuck D has made up with Flavor Flav. They're back together with some help from DJ Premier to deliver this coruscating attack on Trump and his Presidency.

"All we know is, Trump has gotta go..."

Let's hop this helps to achieve that aim, as well as signalling more new material from PE.

Sunday, 17 May 2020

New mixtape - DJ Cull presents The Lockdown Getdown

So we've all been stuck indoors now for far too long, but one of the upsides is some extra time to do stuff we might usually be too busy for. As well as reading tons of books and watching the whole of the Star Wars saga (including The Mandalorian, which I thought was great) I've got the mixing gear out again and made the mixtape above. It's mostly tracks from 2020 with a few new versions of older songs thrown into the mix - I just wanted to make something positive and upbeat to put a smile on your face and a beat for your feet. Here's the tracklisting:
  1. Valentine - Violet Sky [Joe Goddard Remix]
  2. Holy Fuck - Deleters (feat. Angus Andrew)[APRE Remix]
  3. Basement Jaxx - Red Alert [The Cube Guys Remix]
  4. Sonny Federa & King Henry - Before U (feat. AlunaGeorge)[Illyus & Barrientos Remix]
  5. New Order - Fine Time [Nollan Remix]
  6. Love Regenerator - Peace Love Happiness
  7. Robbie Doherty & Keees - Pour The Milk [ExtendedMix]
  8. Jacques Greene - Night Service (feat. Cadence Weapon)[Fort Romeau Remix]
  9. Caribou - Never Come Back [Morgan Geist Remix]
  10. Four Tet - Baby
  11. Bicep - Atlas
  12. Darkstar - Wolf [John Talabot's Euphoric Remix]

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Track of the Day: 'Pure Luxury' by NZCA Lines

This rather full on slice of synth-pop heralds the return of NZCA Lines, with a song about luxury, status and pursuing material wealth in the face of environmental catastrophe. Could it be any more relevant?

Over the course of 4 minutes it manages to cram in about three decades of pop references, somehow sounding like Prince, The Beach Boys and LCD Soundsystem all at once.

The track is out now on Memphis Industries and the band have announced a headline show at Heaven in London on October 28th.

Recommended music: 'Thug Ambient' by Dale Cornish

It's a weird kind of situation to be releasing new records into. Some acts have pushed theirs back (including Jarvis Cocker, which surprised me) while other have soldiered on, giving us some welcome distractions from the world around us. This new one from Londoner Dale Cornish came out a couple of weeks ago and I picked it up on Friday from Bandcamp when they were having their special day to support artists.

Over the course of its 11 tracks this is a pretty intense and occasionally brutal record, with few moments of calm. But I've found that to be a relief to be honest, there's only so long you can try and think happy thoughts and be gentle before you want to listen to something that's going to put up a fight, which is what this record does for me.

So then, how best to describe this album? I asked Dale and he said that 'this album...isn't worried about fitting into certain categories / tribal affiliations', which is just as well as it would be pretty hard to pigeonhole. I mean, you could say it sounds like New Order on a messy night out with Venetian Snares, or you could say it sounds like the 8-bit soundtrack to the most violent game of Mario Kart ever invented. But why bother? The best thing to do with this album is to just stick your head inside it and play it really LOUD, let it pound through your bones and drive the virus out of your system. I'm particularly keen on the last 4 tracks on the album but you can pretty much dive in anwhere and see what you think of it.

Cornish might have been called a 'thug' when he went to a gig aged 16 wearing trackies, but if this is the sound of him embracing that label then I'm all for it.

You can listen to the full album below, and if you feel inclined then buy a copy too.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Track of the Day: 'Atlas' by Bicep

Back with their first single since 2018, Bicep have released this powerful, brooding track which positively throbs with dark vibes. Calling to mind Four Tet, Aphex Twin and Underworld, it's sure to set dancefloors and gigs alight once we're all allowed to go back outside. Until then you'll just have to turn it up LOUD at home and dance on your own, isolation style.

'Atlas' will be released physically on Ninja Tune on April 2nd.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Recommended music: 'Mother' by Cold Beat

The fifth album from this San Franciscan sees them deliver a perfect mix of 80s nostalgia and 20s ennui. Seemingly tailor made for soundtracks and/or personal reminiscing, you could hear some of these tracks on 'Deutschland 83' or 'Stranger Things' and believe that they were originals for the time. Take 'Prism' for example, a driving synth and guitar slice of power pop with just the right level of disdain in the vocals.

'Gloves' pulls off the Gremanic cool so such great effect that you can picture the video had it been made in the 80s, all shiny pvc, smoke and fast cars. 'Pearls' meanwhile has that effortless simplicity that Vince Clarke always employed to great effect in his songs for Depeche Mode, Yazoo and Erasure.

Interestingly the songs here were written by singer Hannah Lew while she was pregnant, hence the title and the lyrics, which are designed to describe the Earth to a new visitor, be that a newborn child or an alien visitor.

You can listen to the whole album below, and if you like it then why not buy it? Musicians are struggling in the current crisis, not being able to tour and promote their records, so they need all the support you can give them.

Track of the Day: 'Martin' by Car Seat Headrest

The second track to appear from their forthcoming album 'Making A Door Less Open', this song sees Will Toledo's Car Seat Headrest in a relatively mellow mood. I'm assuming that the titular Martin is the narrator of the song, since he's singing about a guy called Justin. The introduction of a trumpet towards the end gives the song a different vibe to most Car Seat Headrest tracks, and makes me think the the new record will be even more diverse that I was expecting.

I'm not sure if the extreme protection and cleaning video was made before the coronavirus pandemic kicked in, or if it's a response to that, but it feels a bit too close to home for now - we need some escapism in these troubled times. But don't let that put you off listening to the song.

'Making A Door Less Open' is released on 1st May 2020.

Monday, 23 March 2020

Recommended music: 'Collector' by Disq

Hailing from Madison, Wisconsin, new 5-piece guitar band Disq inhabit the same sort of spaces as Bodega, Fountains of Wayne and Weezer amongst others. There's some great melodies in here, along with some decently (or indecently) fuzzed guitars, some acoustic track, and even a bona fide pop song on 'Loneliness'.

Parts of some of these songs also remind me of the band XTC, in the way they're constructed and the rhythms they use, like for example on 'Fun Song 4', and there are also hints of Ben Folds on 'Gentle'.

 All of these influences combine in a record that sounds joyous and full of energy, as if it's designed to lift the spirits and propel you forward, while at the same time looking back through the nest bits of your record collection.

Like every other band Disq have had to cancel their forthcoming tours, so once you've listened to the full album below why not by a digital or physical copy from them? You know it;s the right thing to do.

Track of the Day: 'Pearls' by Cold Beat

Taken from their new album 'Mother', it's hard to believe that this track hasn't been stolen from the vaults of Vince Clarke (Depeche Mode / Yazoo / Erasure) and just spruced up a bit before being set free in 2020. It's the perfect mix of simplicity and melody, you could imagine it soundtracking a film or a tv series like Stranger Things.

I've only just come across this San Franscican band since they moved to DFA Records but apparently this is their fifth album so there's plenty more from them to check out!

Saturday, 21 March 2020

Track of the Day: 'Daily Routine' by Disq

I'm really into this track from the new Disq album 'Collector'. I'm a sucker for a song that changes pace and rhythm and this one does it more than once over the course of its 4 and a half minutes. The band are a five piece from Madison, Wisconsin and if you like this then I recommend you check out the whole album, which has strains of Bodega, Fountains of Wayne and Weezer among others.

Hopefully the band will make it somewhere near you on a tour when all of this coronavirus business is over.

Friday, 20 March 2020

Recommended music: 'Sixteen Oceans' by Four Tet

Since this record was released a week ago a lot of people have been saying that it's exactly the record we need right now. I'm not sure that releasing a record during a global pandemic is at all beneficial for an artist but I know for sure that it's helping me through these difficult times.

The best and most consistent album that Four Tet has released for a few years, this is a record that seems infused with solar energy. It's crisp and bright and uplifting, expertly produced with just the right mix of dancefloor fillers and reflective moments. The surprising appearance of Ellie Goulding on 'Baby', albeit chopped into pieces, feels like the most natural thing in the world after a couple of listens (and I guess after he sampled Nelly Furtado last year on 'Only Human' it's maybe not that much of a leap).

In an album full of great moments it's hard to isolate highlights, but for me 'Love Salad' is the best uptempo track on here, I love its rumbling groove and the array of keyboard sounds.

I'm really looking forward to listening to this on vinyl - apparently there was a manufacturing error and the original pressings had to be scrapped but I'm sure it'll be worth the wait. With this and the Caribou record released a couple of weeks ago it's already looking like a great year for electronic music (if nothing else). You can listen to the full album below.

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Track of the Day: 'Tbilisi' by Nathan Fake

Sometimes all you really need in life is a decent electronic banger to get you out of your seat. This is particularly true of the times we're living in now, where if we're not careful many of us will just sit on out chairs and calcify while the lockdown kicks in.

Riding to the rescue is this chiming, pounding track from Nathan Fake. The first track to escape from his new album 'Blizzards', which is out next month via Cambria Instruments, it's a woozy dance track with a slight nod to rave culture and an insistent rhythmn. Can't wait for the album!

Recommended music: 'Suddenly' by Caribou

The fifth album from Dan Snaith's Caribou has recently been released and I'm starting to think it might be the best thing he's ever done. A couple of things before I start, which are going to sound like cliches but are particularly true of this record, The first is that despite the fact its and electroinc record the warmth of the re recordings really come through if you listen to it on vinyl. The second thing is that if it doesn't grab you on first listen you need to make sure you go back to it again and again. It might feel a little disjointed at first but over time the idiosyncrasies of the samples and production really start to burrow into your brain and meld together into a perfectly formed album

'Suddenly' certainly seems to be more diverse than previous Caribou albums - there are more samples (some of which you might expect to appear in Snaith's Daphni guise) and more variations in style and sound. There's even a couple of racks on here that, with different arrangements, could be lost 'Yacht Rock' classics, 'You and I' in particular.

I read in an interview that Snaith bounces a lot of his ideas off Kieran Hebden (Four Tet) who encouraged him to move forward with some of the tracks.It's great that Dan takes input like that and has used it to craft some of these songs, putting bits and pieces together to create a brilliant sounding record.

Hopefully we'll get the chance to hear this stuff live at some point; Caribou are always an enticing proposition for a night out. In the meantime give it a few listens and maybe buy a vinyl copy too.

'Suddenly' is out now on City Slang Records.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Recommended music: 'Sister' by Ultraísta

After a gap of 6 years the trio of Nigel Godrich, Joey Waronker and Laura Bettinson are back with their second album 'Sister'. One of the things that's immediately noticeable about this record is the influence and input that Godrich must have on Thom Yorke / Atoms For Peace records, and Radiohead as well. Some of these tracks could easily be Atoms For Peace tracks with female vocals. Elsewhere there are a couple of songs that remind me of Polica, and a hint of Unloved in the singing too.

It all wraps together in an engaging sound that's part electronic beats, a few funky basslines and some woozy vocals and sounds. It's the sort of record that would be equally at home soundtracking a long drive in the sun, relaxing by the pool or a chilled night in a bar with some friends. The fact that we can't really do any of things at the moment shouldn't detract from the pleasure of listening to this music, it'll be good for your headspace. You can listen to the whole album below.