Friday, May 01, 2015 

Altercations.

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Friday, April 24, 2015 

Dead air.

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Friday, April 17, 2015 

Arcadia.

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Friday, April 10, 2015 

All the rage back home.

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Friday, April 03, 2015 

Piss crowns are trebled.

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Friday, March 27, 2015 

False hope.

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Friday, March 20, 2015 

From early.

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Friday, March 13, 2015 

My lion.

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Friday, March 06, 2015 

Deep, dark, deadly.

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Friday, February 27, 2015 

They rave us.

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Friday, February 20, 2015 

A new wave.

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Friday, February 13, 2015 

Head for home.

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Friday, February 06, 2015 

Recall.

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Friday, January 30, 2015 

Future now.

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Friday, January 23, 2015 

Patchwork.

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Friday, January 16, 2015 

Through.

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Friday, January 09, 2015 

5 years.

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Friday, January 02, 2015 

From a scream to a whisper.

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Wednesday, December 31, 2014 

The best music of 2014 part 2 / 15 best albums.

Honourable mentions, no order:

Fucked Up - Glass Boys
Iceage - Plowing Into the Field of Love
Andy Stott - Faith in Strangers
Young Fathers - Dead
Lee Gamble - Koch
Death from Above 1979 - The Physical World
La Roux - Trouble in Paradise
Damon Albarn - Everyday Robots
Millie and Andrea - Drop the Vowels
Eagulls - Eagulls
Real Estate - Atlas
Actress - Ghettoville

15. Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra - Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything

Is releasing an album at the beginning of the year a disadvantage when it comes to it getting the recognition it deserves come the end of it?  It's worth pondering when you consider Run the Jewels 2, which tops a whole host of end of year lists came out very recently, although saying that one of the other albums challenging Run the Jewels was released at the back end of February.  Fuck Off... was released a month earlier, and seems to have been neglected despite it easily being Mt Zion's finest work since 2005's Horses in the Sky.  Efrim Menuck's singing is his best yet, in that he's in tune, the "orchestra" sound tighter than ever, and any album that opens with a child saying "We live on an island named Montreal, and we make a lot of noise because we love each other" instantly wins me over.

14. Hookworms - The Hum

Naming your second album after the background noise some claim to be tormented by might strike a few people as sort of asking for it, and Hookworms are undoubtedly a band you could find yourself laughing at.  Everything about them is conducted in a haze, whether it be much of their music, how they are known only by initials, and the fact their lyrics are all but indecipherable.  Thankfully this doesn't matter when the combination of psychedelia, shoegaze and post-punk melds together this well, and while they might not thank me for it, there's more than an occasional hint of Wish You Were Here-era Pink Floyd about proceedings, which as albums to take inspiration from go isn't a bad choice.

13. This Will Destroy You - Another Language

I am it must be admitted, a sucker for instrumental rock and frankly instrumental music in general.  "Better without the vocals" was a sentence always crossing my lips when discussing music a good few years ago, and so it continues.  Another Language is as post-rock as it comes, at least without involving strings, and the band's name, as with stablemates Explosions in the Sky tells you much of what they're about.  It's not always clever, it often is quiet quiet loud, but as with the best post-rock bands the by the numbers stuff doesn't matter when the beauty and texture of the music is as compelling as it is here.

12. Slackk - Palm Tree Fire

While grime went off in a multitude of directions over the year, Palm Tree Fire was the purest concentration of what the genre does best: cutely sampled melodies, sparse beats and enough space to let it all breathe.  Previously instrumental grime has never made proper use of the album format: for three separate and brilliant records to come out the same 12 months is hopefully just a sign of things to come.

11. Wild Beasts - Present Tense

Wild Beasts have always stood apart from the crowd, Hayden Thorpe's falsetto scaring off anyone who might have mistaken them for a landfill indie group.  Present Tense sees them just as chippy as ever: opener Wanderlust asking "in your mother tongue, what's the verb to suck?", a barb directed at some of their more America-embracing contemporaries, while Nature Boy takes aim firmly at one of those encouraged by the internet fetishes, the willing cuckold.  Wild Beasts' approach to sex is still as ambiguous, mature as before, album closer Palace touchingly honest in its detailing of a relationship while temptation abounds.  "You remind me of the person I wanted to be / Before I forgot" Thorpe sings, a line that expresses both the regrets of the past while being content with the present.  Few groups can pull off such sensitivity both in music and lyrics without becoming twee or dull, and it remains their abiding trademark.

10. Flying Lotus - You're Dead!

I'll freely admit Flying Lotus previously was someone I just didn't get it, so it's perhaps typical that once Steven Ellison went in for an almost concept album on passing away it suddenly began to make sense.  Not that you need to approach You're Dead! as anything other than a virtuoso 40 minutes of alternating beats, free jazz motifs and occasionally inspired guest appearances, including Herbie Hancock and Captain Murphy.  For an album concerned with death it's endlessly playful, and the short nature of the tracks, some little more than vignettes, reminds more of Zomby than the jazz contemporaries Ellison gets lumped in with almost as often as IDM/hip hop producers.

9. Cloud Nothings - Here and Nowhere Else

Cloud Nothings' first three albums managed to pass me by entirely, so Here and Nowhere Else came as pleasant a surprise as a distortion heavy balls out garage rock record can.  Those looking for subtlety or nuance can go elsewhere, as Dylan Baldi's ensemble do the exact opposite.  Despite the pained, growled vocals and accompanying bleak lyrics, it's the riffs and the drums that draw you in, and clocking in at just slightly longer than half an hour Cloud Nothings do what they have to and go.

8. Parquet Courts - Sunbathing Animal

One thing we've lacked in recent years is a properly spiky, angular indie band, such have been the diminishing returns from the surfeit we had in the mid 2000s.  Parquet Courts don't quite fit the bill, as they only fully let rip on occasion, as on Ducking and Dodging.  Truth is that's clearly not the sort of band they want to be: while their workrate which has already seen the release of a follow-up can't be doubted, they're just as at home on the elongated slowjam of Instant Disassembly with its knowing references as they are going all out as on the title track.  If the members don't get bored first, you get the impression even better is yet to come.

7. SD Laika - That's Harikiri

Describing That's Harikiri as grime is stretching the genre's template to absolute breaking point.  Certainly SD Laika's likely only album draws upon grime's percussion and melody as a base, but beyond that it reminds at times of the sonic experimentation of These New Puritans' Hidden, at others of the sound a crashing computer makes as it tries desperately to continue playing music.  If that isn't enticing, then the brutalism of some of the tracks contrast with the synths of others to harmonious effect.  Just when you think a tune has turned fully industrial, SD Laika introduces lush pads that bring you back in, only to then go back to distortion.  One of the year's most challenging listens, it rewards in equal measure.

6. Lewis - L'Amour

Difficult to know how to properly classify this one.  Technically it's a reissue, but seeing as it was barely heard until this year and frankly it's this special the rules are there to be bent.  You probably know the story by now: record collector finds a copy of L'Amour at a flea market (how "lost" the album really was is open to question, as songs from it have been on YouTube since 2010), the label Lights in the Attic reissues it and fails to track the artist down despite their best efforts.  Since discovered have been a further "lost" record and songs recorded as recently as last decade, as has been Lewis himself.  Is it any good then?  Well yes: you could almost describe it as a minimalist counterbalance to FKA Twigs' debut, just thirty years previous.  The same themes are present, as are the often barely perceptible vocals.  Whatever Lewis's intentions at the time, for it still to be as affecting now is testament to how everything and everyone deserves a second chance.

5. FKA Twigs - LP1

At times it proves impossible to resist the hype.  LP1 is the year's most successful crossover critical success, and for good reason: it's produced to within an inch of its life, the instrumentation could be Rustie's, only slightly toned down for a wider audience, and Tahliah Barnett's vocals are hushed, confessional and gorgeous.  Two Weeks has the requisite swearing and video, Numbers asks of a lover whether she's just another notch on the bedpost, and the pace mostly keeps up right to the end.  If I sound cynical it's because while I can't fault the record on a practical level, I wonder about its longevity: what sounds of the moment now soon dates.  Then again, something so in debt to Aaliyah and other 90s R&B might stand the test of time just as much as those songs have.

4. Ben Frost - A U R O R A

Aurora is one of those extremely rare albums that manages to combine moments of sheer terror, such is the noise that suddenly erupts on Diphenyl Oxalate and elsewhere, with the tenderest, most touching soundscapes the next.  The most obvious comparison is Fuck Buttons, but whereas their music tends to build and build and build, Frost's structures are far more idiosyncratic, playful, often lulling you into a false sense of security for when the next blast of power electronics hits.  A perfect complement to last year's Virgins by Tim Hecker.

3. Manic Street Preachers - Futurology

When the Manics return to using the Holy Bible typeface with its backwards Rs, it's their way of telling everyone they mean business.  Futurology is quite possibly even better than 2009's Journal for Plague Lovers, when the band felt the need to go back and use the lyrics Richey Edwards left before he disappeared.  Walk Me to the Bridge also seems to have been deliberately written by Nicky Wire to both concern Edwards' likely end while also being about something else entirely.  It proves once again you should never believe any artist when they say what their work's about, the lines "I re-imagine the steps you took / still blinded by your intellect" having very little in the way of alternative interpretation than Wire putting himself in Edwards' shoes.  For a song dealing with such a difficult subject for the band, it's another example of Wire never wanting closure while still saying goodbye.  That it encapsulates the band at their strongest, and comes between the punch of the title track and Let's Go to War gets the album off to a breakneck start, and it doesn't trail off as so many other records do.  Unusually for the latter day Manics, the material that didn't make the album is just as strong if not better than some of the album tracks, with both Sound of Detachment and Caldey from the Walk Me to the Bridge EP deserving of the same playlist rotation.

2. Mr. Mitch - Parallel Memories

Released by Planet Mu, an indication of an artist having been recognised for doing something different within a genre's confines, Parallel Memories is grime for the night bus as opposed to the club.  Burial comparisons are often erroneous or not justified, but while it lies just beneath the surface of some of Parallel Memories tracks, it comes to the fore properly on Denial, the vocal samples just too evocative of Will Bevan's work.  Fact Mag identified the sense of desolation Wandering Glaciers suggests, yet desolation is nearly always synonymous with contemplation and the revealing of previously unidentified beauty, something Parallel Memories has throughout.

1. St. Vincent - St. Vincent

Hands up.  St Vincent's last album Strange Mercy ranked far too low on my 2011 list (which was perhaps a smidgen too dubstep heavy), barely making it in at 15.  The question is whether Annie Clark's err, self-titled fourth album is better than Strange Mercy, and despite my declaring it the best album of this year I'm not certain it is.  St. Vincent is exceptional, that's for certain: almost every review noted the opening couplet of Birth in Reverse, because it's so effortless in its capturing of the numbness of modern life.  "Oh just an ordinary day / Take out the garbage, masturbate".  It's a theme that runs throughout, with Digital Witness's all too vivid summing up of a world lived through others through a screen the sadder for its acuity.  Just as wonderful are Prince Johnny and I Prefer Your Love, the latter with Clark declaring she'd rather have the devotion of a partner to that of Jesus in heartbreakingly lush fashion.  Pared back somewhat is the experimentation in sound of Strange Mercy, but that only allows Clark's song-writing to come to the fore all the more powerfully.  Whichever is ultimately determined the stronger, Annie Clark has produced two of the finest albums of this decade.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014 

The best music of 2014 part 1.

Best Track(s)
Flowdan - Serious Business EP

While album of the year lists tend to reach a certain amount of consensus, with usually four or five albums dominating, the same is never the case of track of the year lists.  With 2014 being a year where I'd challenge anyone to say there was without question one song that dominated, I thought I'd choose something from relatively out of leftfield just to emphasise that.

We must do something approaching a round-up of the best nevertheless, and we may as well start with Mala's sort-of sequel to 2009's Level 9, which is certainly my favourite of his under his own moniker rather than Digital Mystikz.  Level 10 (Expected) isn't quite up to its predecessor's standards, but in a year when dubstep seemed in hibernation it wasn't difficult to be among the finest tracks.  Also outstanding was Proxima's Trapped, and while not yet released, the Nomine tune Youngsta has been hammering for what already seems like months that samples Zatoichi also slays.

Grime by contrast hasn't been in better health since the middle of the last decade, and very few grime tunes reflect the best of old and new as well as JT the Goon's Twin Warriors.  2014 production chops are combined with a flute sample that if not for how clean it is could have come from one of those foundational grime tracks, probably because it err, originated from Jammer's Chinaman.  Other sites have Mumdance's Take Time ranking near the top of their lists and while certainly good, I prefer the cleanness of It's Peak, which edges nearer that Night Slugs sound than it does grime.  Mr Mitch's Don't Leave and Denial are grime at its most beguiling and beautiful, while Darq E Freaker went all trap with the unfortunately named Minger.  Just about fitting in here is Rustie's Up Down featuring D Double E (worth mentioning is Pitchfork chose the disappointing Green Language's worst track for inclusion on their list, saying everything about their appalling as usual taste), with grime's best MC bar perhaps one doing his usual thing over some of Rustie's harking back to hardcore beats.

On the drum and bass side of things Fracture's entire Loving Touch EP was peerless, Tessela's Rough 2 was aptly named and as we ought not to entirely ignore the not digital, St Vincent's Digital Witness (oh the irony) and the Manics' Dreaming a City (Hughesovka) were also difficult to beat.

If you were to take Flowdan's Serious Business EP as four separate tracks rather than as a whole, it probably wouldn't come out as top.  All four are by different producers, and while Coki's work on F About is as excellent as always, you can guess what Flowdan, err, flows about from the title.  Combined with People Power and No Gyal Tune though, the former of which is an ostensible grime track (produced by The Bug) about social justice in general, something as rare as a funny Jack Whitehall joke, and the intensity of the latter, it becomes more than the sum of its parts.  Flowdan might not always have the best rhymes, but no one else can touch his delivery.

Best Remix / Bootleg
Peverelist - Roll With the Punches (Kowton Linear Mix)

This year finally saw a release for Kromestar's inspired retooling of Joker's Tron, one of those deceptively simple remixes which does little more than slightly reamp the melody while adding a synth and yet it improves on the original immeasurably.  On the bootleg front Rabit took Kelly Rowland's Dirty Laundry home and applied his sparse production techniques, complimenting the vocal perfectly, while Cyphr polished Rihanna's dull Diamonds until they finally shone as they should.  It probably came out last year, but I didn't hear it until this so I'm also including Special Request's standardly effective junglist improvement of London Grammar's Nightcall.  Plastician was good enough to hand over a shedload of his old dubs to producers new and established to rework, the best efforts coming from AWE on Safari, Mr. Mitch on White Gloves, with Kahn and Neek on The Search and Wen on Shallow Grave bringing up the rear.

Not content with turning in a superb remix of Paul Woolford's Erotic Discourse, the criminally undervalued Kowton, given access to Pev's minor classic turned it into a straight up dubstep banger, the original's melody attached to toughened drums and more bass than Pev thought it could handle first time round.

Best Reissue
Nana Love - Disco Documentary

The obvious thing to do would be to just write The Holy Bible 20 here and leave it at that.  Just this once let's not be obvious and instead run down some of the myriad other reissues this year.  Original hardcore / jungle label Suburban Base's entire back catalogue was put out digitally and also released was a 3cd comp of its glory years; Led Zeppelin's albums were remastered, if the extras were a little dull; Mogwai's Come on Die Young got the 15th anniversary treatment; and Sleater-Kinney's discography up to now also came out again, although seeing as my local HMV decided not to bother getting them in and I can't really justify the expense in any case I'm yet to hear them.  Sob.  Also of note is Soul Jazz's Punk 45 series, with two discs given over to underground punk from both America and here, with a third dedicated to what came before between 70-77.

In a year of barely known about gems resurfacing, BBE put out Nana Love's lost 1978 album Disco Documentary - Full of Funk, the kind of record that despite being precisely of its time still sounds incredible today.  Nana Love's voice is unique, and while she was never going to give Gloria Gaynor or Donna Summer much of a challenge it just adds to an album that should never have been overlooked first time round.

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