Friday, April 29, 2016 

Deep soul.

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Friday, April 22, 2016 

Desire.

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Friday, April 15, 2016 

Vectors.

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Friday, April 08, 2016 

Venom.

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Friday, April 01, 2016 

Generation.

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Friday, March 25, 2016 

Too close to see.

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Friday, March 18, 2016 

Four four claps.

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Friday, March 11, 2016 

Reanimator.

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Friday, March 04, 2016 

Ride with you.

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Friday, February 26, 2016 

Swimming.

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Friday, February 19, 2016 

Black pearl.

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Friday, February 12, 2016 

Tracksuit.

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Friday, February 05, 2016 

Shaker.

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Friday, January 29, 2016 

No justice.

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Friday, January 22, 2016 

Oil on ice.

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Friday, January 08, 2016 

Submission.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2015 

The 15 best albums of 2015.

Honourable mentions, no order:

Floating Points - Elaenia
Joker - The Mainframe
Mumdance and Logos - Proto
Blanck Mass - Dumb Flesh
DJ Clent - Last Bus to Lake Park
DJ Roc - Practice What You Preach
Flying Saucer Attack - Instrumentals 2015
Four Tet - Morning / Evening
Titus Andronicus - The Most Lamentable Tragedy
Battles - La Di Da Di
Chvrches - Every Open Eye
Julia Holter - Have You in My Wilderness
Joanna Newsom - Divers
Mattwizard - Phone Home

15. Mumdance - Fabriclive 80

The self-proclaimed "grimy John Peel", 2015 has been quite a year for ostensible grime DJ Jack Adams.  Building on last year's Take Time, Adams has been at the epicentre of grime's continued resurgence, surveying the best the genre has to offer and a lot more besides on his Rinse FM show.  His entry for Fabric's live mix series showcases both his influences and his tendency to go off beam - it journeys in its 70 minutes from a weightless, beatless opening through to up to the minute productions by himself and associates, before ending all the way back in of all places, happy hardcore territory.  State of 2015 stuff all the way it sure ain't, but it's all the better for it.

14. Refused - Freedom

Bit of a controversial one, this.  I might be around the only person suggesting this deserves the best of year moniker, as mixed reviews or not, the general consensus seems to be Freedom is a bit of a clunker.  And it's true, it's not the Shape of Punk to Come.  But it was never going to the Shape of Punk to Come all over again.  It's not meant to be the Shape of Punk to Come.  What Freedom is is a loud punk record, and despite Dennis Lyxzen screaming on opening track Elektra that nothing has changed, it has.  Freedom is the best that could have been expected, which in these times of celebrating mediocrity is no bad thing.

13. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress

Something is deeply unsettling about GY!BE's first album of completely new material since 2002's Yanqui U.X.O.  It's that, well, half of it sounds happy.  GY!BE's output in the past has been many things, but happy, rather than say joyful, exultant, or euphoric, would not be an adjective you'd use to describe it.  GY!BE's music has always seemed designed to soundtrack desolate landscapes, partially because its peaks and troughs seem to herald ascents to heaven and falls to earth, as though the apocalypse is upon us or something very much like it.  Hearing the ensemble appear to be playful is almost off-putting, and yet otherwise Asunder is determinedly the same band.  Thankfully, the group return to the dark side for the album's second half, and everything is once again right with the world.

12. Drew Lustman - The Crystal Cowboy

It's hard not to feel a little apologetic about choosing the Crystal Cowboy for a end of year best of list, as it is without doubt a side project to Lustman's main output as Falty DL, especially when those albums haven't featured here previously, despite my enjoying them regardless.  Perhaps Crystal Cowboy succeeds precisely because the pressure was off - essentially another of those tributes to jungle that have been doing the rounds of late, some a whole lot better than others, Cowboy takes inspiration from the 92 through 96 period without doing wholesale obeisance.  It also does so without outstaying its welcome, and in a year where we've had that Jamie xx album, that's something to cheer on its own.

11. Girlpool - Before The World Was Big

BTWWB is one of those albums it takes a while to properly adjust to.  The accents of Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker grate at first, the instrumentation is sparse and rudimentary to the point of hardly being there at all, and the songs are almost over before they've begun.  10 minutes in though and it already starts to make sense: you adjust to the duo's voices, their harmonising starts to shine through and by the time it's over you want to listen again.  One of the year's sleepers, and more than deserving of the praise it has picked up.

10. Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld - Never Were The Way She Was

Yes, for anyone wondering, everything you hear on Never Were The Way She Was is produced entirely using sax and violin, recorded live, with no overdubs or loops.  That in itself is extraordinary enough, with the not always easy to impress Boomkat exclaiming at how the pair managed to create such low end.  What stays with you beyond the virtuosity of Stetson and Neufeld is the soundscapes they create, the heaviness of their music, and how impossible it is to categorise it.  Is it neo-classical?  Drone?  Pure avant-garde?  Does it matter when it's this good?

9. JT the Goon - King Triton

Despite many not realising due to his only recently emerging as a producer in his own right, JT the Goon is one of grime's originators, with his work as the man behind the buttons for Slew Dem Crew marking him out as such.  The title itself is a reference to the Korg Triton, and the artist's debt to the synth is made apparent throughout his debut album.  For anyone who isn't a nerd, though, it's the Goon's ear for a melody that will keep them returning to what is a peerless collection of instrumental grime of the kind 2015 has delivered a reassuringly large amount of.

8. Ipman - Depatterning

With dubstep all but dead, and some would also say the album format along with it, Adele notwithstanding, that any sort of statement has been made by someone most associated with the genre in 2015 is a bonus in itself.  Typically, Depatterning is not straight up dubstep, nor is it post-dubstep; indeed, it opens with the visceral Regicide, a breakbeat-led track more satisfying than almost the entirety of drum and bass released this year.  What follows is more about the texture of the sound than it is the constraints of either beats per minute, time signatures or drum patterns, and it's the kind of release Ipman clearly relished.

7. Rabit - Communion

At the complete opposite end of the grime scale to JT the Goon's melody led, tropical bursts of colour is Communion, the debut from another of the genre's bright young things.  Austere, often completely lacking in melody altogether and on occasion abrasive, it follows on from where That's Hari Kiri by SD Laika left off last year, all taut drums, sharp snares and often sounding like the soundtrack to an experimental film not yet made.  Eyes down doesn't quite do it justice.

6. Sleaford Mods - Key Markets

I must admit to previously being a Sleaford Mods sceptic - a bloke seemingly doing little more than spitting prose rather than verse over repetitive, minimal pre-recorded backing is the kind of thing I normally run a mile from.  What marks the Mods out beyond those who've been doing similar on the toilet circuit for years is just how damn funny Jason Williamson's lyrics are, how the anger and malice contained within are not the product of bitterness, as they could so easily be, and their genuine not giving a fuck attitude, affected by so many, but rarely surviving as little as the success the Mods have achieved.  Have there also been more applicable lines of late than these, taken from Rupert Trousers?

Idiots visit submerged villages in 200 pound wellies / Spitting out fine cheese made by the tool from Blur / Even the drummer's a fucking MP, fuck off you cunt, sir / Die trying whilst the others just live lying / Rife all polish, no strife

5. Tame Impala - Currents

On first listen to Currents, I was convinced from around the half-way point that it would be my album of the year.  Descending all the way into psychedelia, it's safe to say there hasn't been another album remotely like it this year, or at least one that hasn't been so widely recognised.  Why then is it not at the number one spot?  Sad as it is to relate, that feeling I had on first listen has diminished each time I've returned.  Don't get me wrong - Currents is still one of the albums of the year, but its emotional heft, its ability to haul you in and capture your attention fully dissipates over time.  It's not helped that there's a song as misjudged as Past Life wedged right in the middle, which with its not-quite sampled speech does a disservice to what surrounds it.  Great, but not destined to be a true classic.

4. Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear

Were this a list determined not by the music and instead by liner notes, Father John Misty aka Josh Tillmann's Exercises for Listening would see I Love You, Honeybear at the top spot.  That it's this high based on the former is a reflection of how ILY, H is very much of its time despite all its musical pointers meaning it could have been recorded 30, 40, even 50 years ago.  Misty is a world-weary character clearly not all that distant from Tillman himself, the exaggerated avatar of the real person we've grown so familiar with from the comedy of the past 15 years.  It helps that unlike some of those characters, Misty is lovable while still being hilarious, but even if he was simply a jerk, the sheer loveliness of the melodies, tempered as they are by the bittersweet and occasionally simply bitter lyrics, would shine through.

3. Jlin - Dark Energy

Of all the albums on this list, it would be fair to say Dark Energy was the one least likely to have found a wider audience and yet still achieved it.  A footwork album by a woman from Gary, Indiana, who works long shifts at a steel plant, or at least that's what we're told, not just exciting the usual heads over at Boomkat or FACT, but doing so pretty much across the board?  Dark Energy has done so mainly, it must be said, by not being a footwork record; yes, it's still footwork, but it drops the genre's over-the-top eccentricities and affectations, from the over-repetitive beats to the comedy/coarse samples that so often litter other offerings.  Jlin instead makes use of the genre's basic structure to create a sound that can one minute be playful, as on first track Black Ballet, to as puncturing, harsh and downright FWD as Infrared (Bagua).  If anyone pushed an entire sound to the next level this year, it was Jlin.


2. Oneohtrix Point Never - Garden of Delete

If you were to believe any of the bullshit supposedly behind Garden of Delete, how it's meant to be about a teenage alien called Ezra, or is influenced by Daniel Lopatin's touring with Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden, not only would you be somewhat gullible, it would also distract from what an astonishing album GoD is.  Lopatin has never been afraid to use irony in his music in the past, but on GoD he seems to firing at all and sundry, one minute channelling euphoric trance, the next the kind of crushing power electronics that figured on the Bullet Hell Abstractions part of his RSD release.  The result is a 48-minute long fever dream, at turns exhilarating and terrifying, but never anything less than thrilling.

1. Sleater-Kinney - No Cities to Love

Like I expect a good few others, by the time I'd discovered Sleater-Kinney they had gone on hiatus.  2005's The Woods was, is, an utter behemoth of a record, the sound of a group seemingly at their peak, with the members deciding they should go out on that high.  No Cities to Love could then have been another of those disappointing, shouldn't of it done reunions, much like some feel about Refused's Freedom.  No Cities to Love by contrast feels like the product of a band that never went away, and in truth 2015 has been the kind of year made for a collective that were always ahead of the curve, with the rest of the world finally beginning to catch up.  While not as heavy as The Woods, not at least as it hardly could be, No Cities has the same number of hooks, the same battle cries, whether it be on A New Wave, the title track, Bury Our Friends, or most potently, No Anthems: "I want an anthem / An answer and a force / A weapon, not violence, a power source".  Rather than no anthems, No Cities has 10.

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Monday, December 28, 2015 

The worst music of 2015.

Hello.

Hi.

It's me.

Sorry, who? I don't think I've had the pleasure.

I was wondering if after all these years you'd like to meet.

No, really, who are you? I don't think we've met.

To go over everything.

Can we possibly start by establishing who the hell you are?

They say that time's supposed to heal but I ain't done much healing.

You're going to really need healing if you don't say who you are.

Hello, can you hear me?

Yes, I can hear you.  Now who the fuck are you?

I'm in California dreaming about who we used to be.

OK, we're getting somewhere. Are you genuinely in California or are you referencing the Mamas and the Papas song?

When we were younger and free.

No, wait. Are you listening to me? Will you answer one goddamn question?

I've forgotten how it felt before the world fell at our feet.

Our? Our feet? I work at Greggs, always have?

There's such a difference between us.

Well yeah, I don't phone random strangers and sing nonsense down the phone to them.

And a million miles.

Oh, so you are in California? I hope this is costing you a bomb.

HELLO FROM THE OTHER SIDDDDDDDEEEEEE

*click, brr*

Culture in general in 2015 has seemed stuck.  Star Wars is the biggest film of the year, with the sort of reboot of Jurassic Park not far behind.  The charts have been stuffed with house music that seems to be directly channelling 1994.  The rest of popular music appears to be following one of three templates: the Adele minimalist template, where understated backing is accompanied by powerful, overwhelming vocal; the Ed Sheeran template, where blandness is king; and the Rihanna template, where when all else fails, just belt it out whether you can stay in tune or not.


A few years back this was rather presciently described by Peter Robinson as the new boring.  Adele is undeniably boring.  Ed Sheeran is unbearably boring.  Rihanna herself might have been relatively absent this year, but we've had Sia instead who somehow turns out to be worse, and is just as dull.  Rather than see a reaction against the new boring, almost any sort of reaction, instead the response has been to double down.  Not sated by Adele's new album?  Well, you can alternate 25 with your Sam Smith Spotify playlist, can't you?  They're practically identical.  Getting a bit tired of Ed Sheeran's unfathomably popular wetness?  Here's Jamie Lawson, James Bay, or you could go all out indie and plump for George Ezra if you're feeling a bit dangerous.  Want some more overbearing, strident and generally insufferable screeching?  There was a new Florence album while Paloma Faith was once again in evidence, to pick on just two.

Essentially what the Great British Album Buying and Film Watching Public have decided is they want the same thing, over and over again, only done very slightly differently.  I might think that 25 is 21 and 19 all over again, mining the exact same production techniques and once again featuring Adele's patented line in really quite creepy self-pitying keening, all shouted from the gob of a multi-millionaire, the kind that would be called out in thinkpieces if it was a bloke singing the same words, but who can argue with its success?  The critics can't, however many hints they drop in their hand-wringing 3 star reviews.  What are Coldplay other than a record selling machine, despite each album in turn being less memorable?  What was Writing's on the Wall but a direct attempt to ape Skyfall, regardless of why anyone would want to?  Rather than tire of Florence's attention seeking flapping around, her insistence on appearing the biggest arse going, she keeps on getting bigger.  Most horrifically of all, some of these people now want to impose tribute acts to themselves on us, as Ed Sheeran has done with Jamie Lawson, he of Wasn't Expecting That notoriety.  You spent the night in my bed / You woke up and you said / Well, I wasn't expecting that.  Why wasn't she?  Did you drug her?  Are you confessing to date rape through song, Jamie?

I could take it a lot easier if, to complain about the same thing for the umpteenth time, these efforts weren't regarded as being the very best that our society has to offer.  The Quietus opens its top albums of the year rundown by setting out the facts: despite ever more music being produced, ever fewer people are paying the creators to do so, and those who are getting paid are getting squeezed ever tighter.  The underground and the mainstream have never seemed further apart, and despite the internet meaning we can all subdivide ourselves into our own little corners where we do become aware of new artists in our preferred genres, the chances of them making the leap from those corners to the centre in turn diminish.  


When this is the case, why would record companies spend what money they do have to promote new signings on an artist that could well fail?  Why not just market a gay bloke who can sing about essentially the same things as Adele?  Why do something other than throw a drippy guy with an acoustic guitar and a line in bland lyricism that still somehow appeals across the board out onto the world?  As alluded to above, and bearing in mind music critics are rarely as acerbic or scathing as their film reviewing colleagues, there's little they can do other than doll out mediocre reviews to music which is mediocre, but which sells by the million.  Indeed, perhaps it sells so well precisely because of its very mediocre quality.  Adele isn't even Taylor Swift, for pity's sake, and yet to believe the hype she may as well be Christ Jesus Herself returned to Earth.

Nor is this water treading confined just to the pop side of things.  After a period where house seemed revitalised, it has once again returned to the groove it routinely gets stuck in.  The pinnacle of house to many is Robin S's Show Me Love, or more precisely, the Stonebridge remix.  Other names from the period, like MK, have made a comeback through producing mixes that sound almost the same as the ones they were making 20 years ago.  For those like me who were so excited a few years back by dubstep and its evolutions and mutations, only for them to collapse in on themselves and for grime to retake the mantle it held first, it's disconcerting to read the yoof declaring they got into clubbing courtesy of Disclosure, they of ever diminishing returns on the tropes of UK garage and 90s house.  Little wonder that someone like Jess Glynne, vocalising over the top of arid, empty, vacuous, meek EDM soundscapes can have one of the most successful albums of the year.

2015 also saw the return of another group with much to answer for, no one's friends, the Libertines.  Their success can probably best be measured by how I got a gig round-up email which had Sleaford Mods in the title, only for the body to reveal they were ahem, supporting the world's most overrated group.  Landfill indie may have come and gone, but in its place is what exactly?  SlavesWolf Alice, whose album must be one of the most epically overpraised of the year?  The only indie rock of any note this year has been American, as indeed has been the case for the last few years.  When probably the most anticipated album of the new year is the fifth from a revitalised Bloc Party, complete with new drummer and bassist, and it's up to the Sleaford Mods to try and bridge the gap between two worlds, something has gone very wrong.

As have the critical faculties of more than a few people, and to a far greater extent than in rating Wolf Alice.  Yes, finally, we come to the great Jamie xx album debacle.  Never the best source for informed news 'n views on the bass music side of things, as proved by how highly they've rated Disclosure, Pitchfork gave Jamie xx's debut album as a solo producer a quite incredible 9.3 (although it's worth stating how odd it is that we react differently to a 9.3 score than we would to say, a score of 93% or 5 stars).  It's second on their best of the year list.  Not that it was just Pitchfork: In Colour was supposed favourite for the Mercury, it's 3rd on the NME's list (yes, I know), and ends up 14th on Album of the Year's aggregated list.  Boomkat meanwhile, which does know just a little about the music it sells, slaughtered it in a mere 177 words.  Key parts: "safe raving", "pre-eminent posh soul boy", "The putative "soul" of rare groove, boogie, hardcore and early jungle is sucked out and spliced with vocals in feathered arrangements ripened up for students and yummy mummys alike", and best of all, "it's as seductive as a Waitrose fridge on a warm day".  For good measure, the Quietus and Resident Advisor also joined in on the act.

And the latter reviews are all correct.  In Colour is no bloody good whatsoever.  It's bland background music as far removed from a club like FWD as it's possible to imagine.  This is all the more mysterious because, unlike some of those reviewers who hated Jamie xx from the moment he started delving outright into solo production, I really liked Far Nearer.  I liked All Under One Roof Raving.  In Colour's problem is that it's not a dance record, it's a bad xx record, an xx album like the one the band's detractors hear.  There's no emotion, no depth.  It's all surface.  You forget it the moment it finishes, and have no inclination whatsoever to listen to it again.  I've made this comparison before, but James Blake's first album was sneered at as coffee table dubstep, when it was nothing of the sort, a lazy insult.  In Colour is coffee table, dinner table, cocaine cutting table music, and unlike say the intro to the first xx album, which for a time was ubiquitous as a background to anything and everything on television, it's where it deserves to be.

In Colour isn't terrible, mind.  It's not David Guetta.  It's not Avicii.  It's mediocre.  How lovely it would be if the other mediocrities lauded and treated as superstars were as reviewed and rated as honestly.  If they were, we could still be saved from our broken record culture.  And that would never do.

P.S. Expect the 15 best albums run down to probably follow on Thursday, as I've still a few albums I'm yet to get to and some others I want to listen to again.  It won't be worth the wait, I promise.

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Friday, December 18, 2015 

Victory.

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Friday, December 11, 2015 

Cherry picking.

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