Wednesday, 25 December 2013

The Top Tracks of 2013

When it comes to cataloguing the best tracks of 2013, there's a fairly large, sequin-covered elephant in the room.

I remember when Daft Punk's 'Get Lucky' was first released, I listened to it as if the 'repeat' button was going out of fashion. So slick was Nile Rodgers' disco-flecked guitar riff, so carefree Pharrell's hedonistic lyrics, so, err, whatever it was Daft Punk actually did on the track, it was as perfect a summer pop song as anyone could ask for.

Then, of course, it got overplayed. Very overplayed. And annoying. Very annoying. The reaction to the track's appearance swiftly faded from, "Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, it's that new Daft Punk track!" through to, "Oh, uh, it's that Daft Punk track. Cool. I'll continue to browse this shop without paying it much further attention, but at the same time not fuming inwardly while I flick through this limited selection of deodorants", then finally to the inevitable, "I would rather pour the entirety of this cheap high-street chain bar's stock of vodka through my eyeballs than spend any further seconds listening to this fucking Daft Punk tune again. I'm going to take up smoking purely so that I can go outside to have a cigarette to escape Pharrell Williams' sickly boyish crooning, and perhaps when my departure from this mortal coil is accelerated through smoking-related diseases I'll finally be able to escape it once and for all".

So basically what I'm trying to say is: 'Get Lucky' - very good song, too overplayed, so not on the list. Here are 31* excellent tracks from the past 12 months that are.

(*I assembled the list of tracks on Spotify, which told me that, after much tinkering, I had edited it down to 30. When it came to putting pen to blog-paper, however, it turned out there were actually 31 tracks, due to Spotify being a steaming heap of the proverbial. By this point I had lost all will to trim any further, so I now present to you the rather clunky quantity of 31 songs)

T H E  T O P  3 1  T R A C K S  O F  T H E  Y E A R

31. Factory Floor - 'Fall Back'

The punk-techno experimentalists finally made good on years of solid singles and a mind-melting live show with their self-titled debut this year, with 'Fall Back' as hypnotically absorbing as anything they've released to date.

30. Disclosure - 'Help Me Lose My Mind'

Disclosure were one of the year's biggest success stories, managing to craft a brand of fun dance music that appealed to both Joe Public and critics alike. While their emphasis was largely on bouncy garage-tinged house, the closing track on debut album 'Settle' - 'Help Me Lose My Mind', a collaboration with London Grammar - took a superbly withdrawn post-night look at youth's relationship with dance music.

29. Goldie - 'Single Petal Of A Rose'

Goldie's back! In pog form! OK, that second bit may be not only untrue but will probably be lost on anyone other than the most fervent of Simpsons anoraks, but 2013 saw jungle legend Goldie compile his influential body of work in to a 'Best of...' bundle, which also saw the inclusion of new track 'Single Petal of a Rose'. While a more mellow, soulful affair than some of his earlier work, the song wouldn't have seemed out of place on his masterful 1995 album, 'Timeless'.

28. Syclops - 'Jump Bugs'

Maurice Fulton is one of house music's most criminally underrated talents, possibly because he flits around so often under different production aliases that his birth name becomes forgotten. This year he returned to his Syclops moniker for one of 2013's strongest electronic albums - 'A Blink of an Eye' - with 'Jump Bugs' proving to be a particularly irresistibly buoyant cut of flickering funk.

27. The Mole - 'Lockdown Party (DJ Sprinkles' Crossfaderama)'

Anyone foolhardy enough to keep a loyal eye on this blog will know from my 'favourite albums of all time' post that Terre Thaemlitz aka DJ Sprinkles' stock is very high around these parts, and she was responsible for one of the greatest slow-burning hits of the year with her reworking of The Mole's 'Lockdown Party'. It won't take too many minutes of listening to glean why the remix is dubbed a 'Crossfaderama', as Sprinkles deploys a novel production approach to craft an intimate spotlight on the year's most alluring audio party.

26. Letherette - 'Cold Clam'

Another firm favourite of this blog, Wolverhampton duo Letherette released their self-titled debut album this year through Ninja Tune, with one of its tracks always destined to find itself appearing on this list. As it was, 'Cold Clam' proved to be the highlight from the record, a stellar example of the kind of organically warm instrumental hip hop the pair trade in.

25. Jam City - 'Worst Illusion'

Jam City has often proved a more interesting proposition that many of his Night Slugs labelmates, largely thanks to his habit of going on well-constructed ambles towards the leftfield with his production style. On 'Worst Illusion' his wandering eye remains unrestrained, but a more frenetic energy to much of his other output makes the track one of his most hedonistic to date.

24. Mssingno - 'Xe2'

Essentially hinging around a sample of R Kelly exhibiting his decidedly dubious sexual predatory instincts, London producer Mssingno tweaked these snippets (from 'I'm A Flirt') to sound almost strangely moving, and draped them over a backdrop of synths and a deceptively rudimentary marimba line.

23. Axel Boman - 'Hello'

The Swedish House Mafia have probably had as damaging an impact on the reputation of Swedish house as the real mafia had on the island of Sicily, but through the likes of Axel Boman the Scandinavian land is capable of demonstrating that restraint, delicacy and soul are all still part of their national vocabulary.

22. James Blake - 'Life Round Here'

A good year for Jimmy B, in which he won the Mercury Music Prize for his sophomore album 'Overgrown', despite being initially announced as 'James Blunt' during the ceremony by compere Lauren Laverne. For me this was the highlight of what proved to be a far stronger record than his debut, and there's even a version of the track featuring rhymer of the moment Chance The Rapper if you're that way inclined (I'm not).

21. Florian Kupfer - 'Feelin'

Florian Kupfer's 'Feelin' kicks off a mid-section of this list which is fairly loaded with the kind of scuzzy, unpolished house music that I (along with many others) have been listening to a fair amount this year. Arguably led by Ron Morelli's Long Island Electrical Systems (L.I.E.S.) label - on which 'Feelin' was released - the movement dubbed 'outsider house' in some tongue-in-cheek quarters has gone some way to dragging house music off its over-earnest watertight perch during the past couple of years, with Kupfer's track a prime example of the raw yet emotive characteristics favoured by himself and his peers.

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In all honesty, 'These Times' is one of those slightly cheesy, self-important forays into introspection that dance music producers only have the balls / sense to tag on to the end of their full-length albums,as if acknowledging that it's realistically more filler, less thriller, and lo and behold the original bookends Jimpster's solid 2013 LP 'Porchlight & Rocking Chairs'. Dixon doesn't exactly reinvent the wheel with his remix, stretching the track's vocals over 9 minutes of steady progressive house. Do I care about either of these potential pit-falls? No, I do not.

19. Marquis Hawkes - 'Get Yo Ass Off My Grass'

Marquis Hawkes proved to be one of my favourite men of the year, turning out a string of excellent mixes on top of some enormously enjoyable original material. 'Get Yo Ass Off My Grass' was brilliantly jocular in its sassiness, with a distinctly silly vocal sample looped over a potent, elasticated pounder of a beat.

18. Nightmares On Wax - 'Be, I Do'

The Warp Records veteran returned this year with another fine entry into his impressive discography, with one of the several highlights from the aptly titled 'Feelin' Good' album being this gently lurching, sun-kissed effort.

17. Delroy Edwards - 'White Owl'

Another man for whom 2013 smiled kindly upon, Delroy Edwards proved to be one of outsider house's most intriguing figures, releasing consistently excellent material that skitted across several different styles. 'White Owl' - another L.I.E.S. release - is hyperactive balls-to-the-wall basement techno at its most unrelenting, but the energy that Edwards has piled into the track is amongst the most seductive of the year.

16. Four Tet - 'Aerial'

Already awarded the much-envied honour of my ninth favourite album of the year, Four Tet slinks in to the top tracks list as well with my personal highlight from the record, 'Aerial'. Similar to the album's equally fiery 'Kool FM', 'Aerial' is a mash of incoherent MC mutters and clattering percussion, held up by a foggy haze of bass that all combine as if Berlin's famous techno mecca Berghain had been rebuilt in Bow E3.

15. Anthony Naples - 'Moscato A'

More of that outsider house bizniz now, from what may be considered the poster boy of the movement, New York's Anthony Naples. Naples has released banger after banger over the past two years, and it was a tough job deciding which of his glorious roughshod productions stood above the rest. The dreamily hazy 'Moscato A' won out, serving as prime testimony to how a track can mould fundamental repetitiveness into a jubilant rolling journey.

14. Rezzett - 'Fire Bomb'

Another case of techno getting lost in a foggy haze here, with the strong temptation being to describe Rezzett's 'Fire Bomb' as the quintessential 'Ronseal' track - aka, it does exactly what it says on the tin. One of the most unwelcome changes of 2013 was YouTube's overhaul of its comments section, but back in the time when user's notes were still in any sort of relevant order a brief exchange between commentators on the track's video (a strangely captivating watch in itself) summed up its bewildering intensity perfectly: the simple question - "what is this?!"; the simple answer - "Fire Bomb".

13. Gobby - 'Taajeloc 22'

American producer Gobby is one of electronic music's most curiously schizophrenic figures, with his output ranging from over-hyperactive juke and hardcore to more fuzzy, decaffeinated jams, of which the confoundingly named 'Taajeloc 22' is the latter. The track's title smacks of Aphex Twin, and while Richard D. James is unlikely to have ever made anything so neon-coloured, Gobby displays the kind of eccentricity in his production work that the great recluse would approve of.

12. Blue Hawaii - 'Try To Be'

Plucked from this blog's number two album of the year, 'Try To Be' is a beautifully understated wistful ballad, covering resignation, self-doubt, hope and determination all in one movement. Addressing the sense of lack of identity and purpose in life, the track's central refrain of "may as well just be me" is by itself one of the most exquisite moments of the year, displaying a vulnerability and a softness through simple melody.

11. Agoria - 'Scala'

There'll always be a loving place for tracks at the more epic end of the deep house scale that tease out a build-up over the course of a few minutes, before hitting the listener slap bang in the middle of the forehead with an uncomplicated but euphorically destructive piano line. 'Scala' was this year's that, deploying a basic riff that could probably be played on one hand by even an elementary ivory-tickler, but with such uplifting effect that you can almost hear the roar of an eager crowd and the blaring of rave sirens as it kicks in.

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10. Tropic Of Cancer - 'Children Of A Lesser God'

Tropic of Cancer's lo-fi noirish shoegazing harks back to the new wave movement of the 1980s, and succeeds in making even a wash of hazy feedback sound morose. 'Children of a Lesser God' is a loping, patiently droning affair, layering shimmers of soaring synths with an unrelentingly oppressive kick drum, forlorn guitar flickers and foggily echoing vocals that barely pierce the surface of the track's density. Omit a few words from the song's title and you could have some fun convincing a religious parent that it's a long-lost Christmas ditty - just watch their faces as they try and scoff mince pies and play Cluedo with this as a soundtrack.

9. Terekke - 'Bank 3'

One last blast of what we're giddily calling outsider house and then I'll leave it be for this year. The opening track from his mightily impressive EP on L.I.E.S. which was presumably named after falling asleep on his keyboard - 'YYYYYYYYYY' - 'Bank 3' is a sublime trip across various indistinctly-marked peaks and troughs, riding across a steadily pulsing drum kick and wide-eyed bass line. Scatters of indistinguishable vocals are injected at intervals, making you think you've got something to sing along to when in reality you're just emitting a kind of mumbled slur.

8. Werkha feat. Bryony Jarman-Pinto - 'Sidesteppin'

In an age where anything we could possibly desire - including music - is usually instantly available at our fingertips, it actually felt like quite a relief when I wasn't able to get my hands on 'Sidesteppin' for several months after first hearing it on Gilles Peterson's Radio 6 show. Frustrating, sure, but also a relief - if somehow that's possible. With only replays of the transmission and a brief snippet on Werkha's Soundcloud (and even that disappeared before long) to keep my appetite sated, I found myself appreciating it all the more when his collaboration with vocalist Bryony Jarman-Pinto finally surfaced in its complete form on the latest of Peterson's 'Brownswood Bubblers' compilations. The track's breezy and carefree attitude proved apt in the hot summer months when I first heard it, but yet still seems warm and comforting upon revisiting it in December. 

7. Dawn Richard - 'Return Of A Queen'

When inking Dawn Richard's 'Goldenheart' in to third place in my albums round-up, I pledged that the record's second track 'Return of a Queen' would be riding high should I ever get round to writing this tracks post. Always, or at least sometimes, a man of my word, here it lands at #7 as an electronically twinkling tale of determination and perseverance. Richard's history is one that's riddled with let-downs and false starts, having previously gained glimpses of success through appearing on American reality show 'Making The Band' back in 2005 and forming girl group Danity Kane, only for the outfit to disband a few years later. 'Return of a Queen' perfectly encapsulates many of the themes present on what is only her debut solo record, displaying a lyrical resilience and toughness that is offset by the dream-like production work. Really very good indeed.

6. Piu Piu - 'Baller' [Free Download]

While I'm far from a pop snob - I double-checked while compiling this list to see if any of Taylor Swift's particularly excellent singles had dropped this year, which (in my eyes) they hadn't - I do often mourn the fact that the likes of Blue Hawaii, Werkha and this track don't bag the wider exposure that their more heavily marketed maximalised cousins do, as to my mind they tick many of the boxes that would appeal to the record-buying public. French chanteuse Piu Piu went down the route increasingly chosen by artists working without big budget backing and released her debut mixtape for free via Bandcamp earlier this year, studded with many gems of which 'Baller' was the pick of the bunch. Piu Piu's compatriots French Fries and Bambounou provide a swaggering codeine-laced beat, which the singer's angelic voice offsets with a deceptively saccharine take-down of the grandstanding male's abilities.

5. Bonobo - 'Cirrus'

Bonobo's follow-up to 2010's excellent 'Black Sands' didn't prove to be quite as enduring overall, but there was one track resting within 'The North Border' that will surely continue to charm and entrance for years. 'Cirrus' doesn't so much sparkle as beam down its own celestial light on to the listener's brain, with the slightly forlorn quality to the track's elegant chimes suggesting that whatever forest filled with sun-specked glades and crystal clear pools you've found yourself lost in, you may never quite manage to escape. If this is soundtracking your fruitless drifting, though, why would you even want to?

4. Todd Terje - 'Strandbar (Disko)'

Pity Todd Terje. No man can churn out such undeniable belters two years in a row as he's done with 'Strandbar' and last year's 'Inspector Norse' without entering 2014 with a degree of trepidation about repeating the feat. 'Inspector Norse' was absolutely everywhere in 2012, and while 'Strandbar' didn't achieve quite the same level of ubiquity those that doubt its comparative potency should do so at their peril. Over a career of consistently on-point re-edits and original productions Terje has demonstrated the keenest of knacks for finding a groove that can't fail but make people dance, and while both versions of 'Strandbar' - a 'disko' and 'samba' mix - are overflowing with rhythm, it's the former incarnation that is easily the most captivating. Its standalone status as probably the year's most uplifting jam was underlined when I witnessed A Love From Outer Space (Andrew Weatherall and close collaborator Sean Johnston) reach the end of the final set of Friday night in Bestival's Bollywood Tent earlier this year. With the house lights flickering on to mark the close of play, the music wound to an end for a moment, the crowd began to whoop and cheer their approval before the duo dropped the needle on one last tune - 'Strandbar's sprightly piano riff was to be lodged in my head for the rest of the festival.

3. Moko - 'Homesick' [Free Download]

Having lamented in my Piu Piu blurb the fact that certain entries in this list aren't scaling the heights of the pop world, Moko is one artist that not only really should, but probably will be deservedly massive by this time next year. Having so far flirted with mainstream attention through her vocal contribution on recent Chase & Status single 'Count On Me', it's Moko's solo work that's truly exciting, and she released her excellent debut 'Black EP' through the dance production pair's own MTA Records earlier this year. As far as this blog is concerned, however, it's a track that may ultimately never become more than the Soundcloud free download that it appeared as in spring that's the highlight of her catalogue so far. 'Homesick' conjures up all the right memories of mid-'90s trip-hop but with a modern-day silvery gleam that washes over the singer's lovelorn lament to create a slick, shimmering pearl of a song. With fellow New Cross residents Imposters providing production for this and her other solo work so far, Moko seems to have cultivated a match made in heaven which - if there's any justice in the world - should see her stock soar in 2014.

2. Sophie - 'Bipp'

Despite the name, Sophie is a man, not a woman. "Bipp", however, is probably the word that most honestly describes the penultimate entry in this list, as really how do you describe it? It sits completely aside from anything else, like the misfit protagonist of some American high school movie who occupies a table solely by themselves in the canteen at lunch. However this is not a misfit at odds with the rest of the world, it's one so drenched in its own flamboyant idiosyncrasy that it cares not for any of the cliques or conventions that surround it, and instead forges its own unique existence with such carefree abandon that the rest of its peers can't help but look on with mouths wide open. The irony of this all is that the lyrics of the song revel in close contact and intimacy - "whatever you feel inside, I can make you feel better" - and whether it's sex, drugs or something else that Sophie's peddling, it proves nigh-on impossible to resist. 

1. William Onyeabor - 'Good Name'

So, this blog's #1 top track of 2013 is... a 10-minute Nigerian funk song recorded sometime in the 1970s! That's right, finger on the pulse as per bloody usual. No, while William Onyeabor's 'Good Name' really does date from sometime in the late '70s or early '80s, I've decided that, through virtue of it only receiving a full release on these shores through David Byrne's Luaka Bop label this year, it qualifies for this list. With all this in mind, I'd excuse you for donning your cynicism cap and thinking, "a retro Nigerian sprawling funk odyssey at No. 1, eh? Reeks of try-hard hipster posturing to me", and to be honest I'd have initially been inclined to agree. While I'm not adverse to a spot of world music - see, if you will, my placing of Omar Souleyman's latest effort at #4 in the album round-up as further proof of my credentials - I have a fairly deep distrust of those who devote large swathes of their attention to the more far-flung sounds of our planet. Why are you so fixed on Eritrean acid jazz? What's wrong with Western music? Should I be shopping you to MI5?

William Onyeabor's music, however, could be from anywhere and any decade and still be nothing other than joyously brilliant. The man's ability to formulate effortlessly crisp dance music (in the most fundamental sense of the term, not a flashing strobe or 'hands in the air' moment in sight) has proved to be quietly influential since he first recorded it over 30 years ago, as evidenced by my discovery while researching it that modern-day favourite Daphni (the dancefloor-ready alias of Dan Snaith aka Caribou) sampled Onyeabor on the brilliant 'Ye Ye'. 'Good Name' is pure buoyant energy from start to finish, and as if that wasn't enough, the lyrical message of staying true to yourself at all costs is a charming detour from much of what modern electronic dance music espouses. Go forth and boogie.

If you like, you can listen to all these tracks (the ones that are on YouTube at least, which is most of them) through this handy playlist that I've compiled:


Thursday, 19 December 2013

The Top Albums of 2013

The Internet is arguably the world's most vast, most unnavigable ocean. There's so much online content out there in such a fluid, inconsistent state that the mind would boggle a thousand times before it was able to comprehend even a fraction of just how boundless the world wide web is.

With such immensity comes the problem of deciphering what it is within this great digital mass that's really worth devoting your precious attention to. For instance, there are literally hundreds of amusing spoof news sites, Miley Cyrus parody videos and Buzzfeed lists of the cutest pugs available for you to peruse at the drop of a hat, but, if you spent your time consuming every single instance of these that the Internet has to offer, you would find yourself sitting at your computer for weeks on end in piss-encrusted boxer shorts because you just couldn't tear yourself away from a baby pug wearing a beret for long enough to visit the toilet.

There's a similar problem when it comes to experiencing music through the Internet. There's just so, so much of it uploaded with such frequency to YouTube, Soundcloud, MySpace and Bandcamp that only a fool would attempt to keep even vaguely on top of every musical happening around the world at any one given moment. That, dear reader, is where the End Of Year list comes in to its own. Sifting through all the music released in 2013 to leave only the finest, most enduring output of the past 12 months, consolidated in to handy list-form and presented to the audience with a few lines of supporting text, the End Of Year list is one of society's unsung heroes. Where's the tax break for the End Of Year list, Mr. Cameron? Where's their parade? A good End Of Year list is truly a thing of beauty, to be marvelled at and cherished - a monument to human achievement, signifying the lengths that man will go through to cast appreciation upon the culture that surrounds him. A good End Of Year list is in itself a work of art.

The problem is that, if you've read this far, I'm afraid to say you're currently wearing the proverbial piss-encrusted boxer shorts. I update this blog so laughably infrequently that it carries pretty much no relevance, and any End Of Year round-up I publish is little other than a further waste of Blogspot's server resources. I mean, I haven't even published an End Of Year list in two years - do you honestly think reading this one will be worth your time? What are you even still doing here? Did you not see Buzzfeed's list of '17 Hilariously Tragic Holiday Baking Fails'?! They're hilariously tragic! Those people can't bake for toffee! Go, see for yourself!

If you do still insist on drawing your daily dose of hilarious tragedy from these pages rather than those of an international media hub, then please, as I detail my top ten favourite records of this year, let us meekly accept the futility of the situation and just hope we make it to the bottom of the list without anyone getting hurt.

In which case: are you sitting as comfortably as someone who's been wearing the same piss-encrusted boxer shorts for the past three weeks can be? Then I'll begin.

10. Daniel Avery - 'Drone Logic'

Listen: 'Water Jump'

Daniel Avery is a man whose name would probably be familiar to anyone who's interacted with a club in London over the past decade, whether through attending it, seeing a flyer or poster for a night there or lurking outside to throw red paint at its owner for having skinned your cat and turned it in to a snazzy scarf after running it over the month before. Anyone not so au fait with the capital's nightlife would be excused for being alien to his presence, as while he has built up a strong reputation over his career so far, it has predominantly been for being a DJ, and predominantly for DJing in London clubs. His steps in to production, though, prove that often some of the best electronic music is made by those that are record selectors first and foremost, as he demonstrates a winning knowledge of grooves, lifts and drops over the course of his debut album 'Drone Logic'. Flecked with acidic splashes and junglist breaks, it is a record that proves ensconcing from start to finish, with the smart dancefloor sensibilities that you'd expect from a resident at Fabric coupled with obvious production skill, no doubt finely honed during all those years of keeping dancefloors pulsing.

9. Four Tet - 'Beautiful Rewind'

Listen: 'Aerial'

That a Four Tet album will be immaculately packed with enticingly offbeat flourishes and a romantic sense of adventure is never in question. What is more up in the air is just what the resultant record will sound like. Originally a purveyor of lush folktronica, over the past years Kieran Hebden has been delving in to the realms of glistening, transcendent techno, with an eye much more firmly on the dancefloor than his initial gently loping offerings. His DJ sets can often be the best indicator of just where the man's head's at during any given moment - anyone that's caught him recently will have noticed his love affair with grime showing through, and it is this same passion that informs much of 'Beautiful Rewind'. While many of the tracks are not of the ilk for an MC to readily hop on during a late night Rinse FM session, there are constant nods to the electricity of the UK's most singular genre of this millennium - bursts of incomprehensible spitting pepper even the more tranquil corners of the album, while the likes of the heaving 'Kool FM' and 'Aerial' are clearer homages to the rugged underbelly of British club music, packaging 'hype' in the most serene, most Four Tet of ways.

8. Parquet Courts - 'Light Up Gold'

The only 'straightforward' guitar album to make the list this year, and I almost didn't include it because I thought it was released in 2012... but it wasn't! There's no more to that anecdote, it's over and was as mundane as you thought. Hailing from Brooklyn, Parquet Courts make the kind of punky garage rock that can often succumb to the same fate as many DIY creations, and limply fall apart through poor construction. 'Light Up Gold', though, oozes with fine guitar riffs and song-writing, and for a record that's 15 tracks in length impressively never sags or drags. It's punk without the overly shambolic workmanship, with songs bursting in sub-two minute frenzies when they need to (see 'Light Up Gold II'), and stretching in to longer, more considered form when appropriate - 'Stoned and Starving' is a brilliantly churning five minutes of humdrum frustration. What 2012 in my mind's loss is most definitely 2013 in reality's gain.

7. TREE - 'Sunday School II: When Church Lets Out'

Listen: 'The King'

I have fairly little patience when it comes to hip hop mixtapes - if I can refer you for one moment to my own words slightly further up this page, they are one of the biggest culprits for online over-saturation, leaving it nigh on impossible for those of us who just don't care enough to keep up with what's worth investing time in and what's not. More often than not I'll find myself listening to five minutes of a rapper telling me that he's going to stick his dick in my bitch over a background of generic trap beats and audio idents from whatever ridiculously named mixtape site I've signed up to in order to download the tape, before realising that I'm bored and putting on some Kate Bush while trying to work out why it's almost impossible to unsubscribe from the aforementioned mixtape site's mailing list that I've now found myself on. So it's always quite a treat when a good quality mixtape presents itself, and a good quality mixtape is what TREE's 'Sunday School II: When Church Lets Out' is. This may not come as a surprise given the nature of the rest of this paragraph, but I know absolutely fuck all about TREE other than I like his music, hence why most of the space I'd allotted myself to write about it is taken up with me whinging that hip hop websites now send me too many emails.

6. Donato Dozzy - 'Plays Bee Mask'

Even though I myself am someone that regularly listens to what would be described as more serious, textured music, for some reason I still wrinkle my nose whenever the term "headphone music" is bandied about. I guess a part of me still wishes that everything sounded as fucking amazing as 'Hybrid Theory' did through my computer's tinny speakers when I was 13, but I sometimes think that if a record really can't be appreciated outside of two cups placed directly over your ears then surely it can't be all that amazing really now can it. The thing is, though, I'm an idiot and don't know what I'm talking about, and anyone that pays any attention to what I have to say is probably an even bigger idiot. For I would strongly prescribe a pair of whatever decent quality ear-pieces you can lay your hands on for listening to Donato Dozzy's 'Plays Bee Mask', a record that's so ball-shrivellingly delicate that to lose any of its exquisite intricacies to outside noise would feel almost criminal. The constitution of the album is a strange one, as the whole existence of the record stems from the peddler of experimental oddities that is Bee Mask sending his track 'Vaporware' to cult Italian techno producer Donato Dozzy for remixing. Dozzy apparently felt that it'd be an insult to Bee Mask to rework his track a paltry once, so instead crafted for him seven different versions which were then assembled here to form one of the most entrancing and hypnotic releases of the year.

5. Forest Swords - 'Engravings'

Listen: 'Ljoss'

While there are undoubtedly still those that think electronic music can be any less emotional than its more lyric-based cousin, these are the same people who would have you believe that Keith Lemon's legendary status is rivalled only by that of their own penis, and in fact in years to come revisionists will look back upon my mockery of them in a manner akin to how we perceive curators of Victorian freak shows now, as my snarky cynicism is held up as an example of baiting the weak and helpless of our time. Anyway, while that day remains yet to dawn allow me to guide you through my menagerie of cultureless abominations as we point and laugh at them to the soundtrack of Forest Swords' 'Engravings', which contains more emotion in one distorted pluck of the Manchester producer's guitar than occupies any of the whining ballads that fill Miley Cyrus' misleadingly named 'Bangerz' album. With only the faintest scattered hints of the human voice, the songs on 'Engravings' are enough to bring any grown man to his knees, shivering and sobbing through the excruciatingly restrained power with which the record aches.

4. Omar Souleyman - 'Wenu Wenu'

Listen: 'Wenu Wenu'

I don't know about you, but I can't think of anywhere in the world more at the forefont of human endeavour right now than Syria. Oh, err, right - that stuff. OK, so while Syria may not exactly be the new Magaluf at the moment, one positive thing to have emerged from the region is without a doubt Omar Souleyman. While your favourite ahead of the curve blogs were bigging him up years ago, Mr Souleyman gained greater exposure in 2013 through collaborating with a man that he's now beaten in the coveted rankings of this very list, Four Tet, with the resultant record signed to the largest label of his career so far, Domino. I'm not going to lie to you - an Omar Souleyman album is an Omar Souleyman album. If 'Wenu Wenu' had been pretty much any other entry in his past discography it would probably still be occupying this #4 spot, as Souleyman makes music that is just so universally joyous to listen (and, more importantly, dance) to. His unique brand of psychedelic Middle Eastern acidic craftwork proves time and again to be bewitching and impossible to resist, appealing to the more primitive sides of human nature that will tease a dancer out of even the staunchest of kill-joys.

3. Dawn Richard - 'Goldenheart'

Probably the biggest criticism I'd level at most R&B albums is that they too often descend in to excess. The tracklists and running times could generally do with some trimming, the production usually leans towards the overblown and the lyrics can be so cheesy that, if they could, Wallace & Gromit would try to land their ramshackle spacecraft on them. In a way, Dawn Richards' 'Goldenheart' is no exception. However, in this instance the slightly rambling album length is welcome, the production majestic in its grandiosity and the lyrics drip with genuine passion, rather than Wensleydale. R&B is ultimately about marrying an infectious melody with potent vocals, and 'Goldenheart' has such unions in abundance. If I ever follow through with the 'Top Tracks of 2013' that I intend to write on top of this post, you'll find the album's second track 'Return of a Queen' riding very high - it's a stunning demonstration of wistful anguish and unwavering determination delivered with impassioned, raw emotion, and lays the foundation for many themes that will recur across the record. Writing this a couple of days after Beyonce dropped her surprise self-titled album, I'm uncertain that even after a few more listens to that undeniably excellent effort whether it'd dislodge 'Goldenheart' as my top R&B album of the year. Not that I'm purposefully limiting myself to just one, of course - that might be racist. And I'm not racist, some of my best friends are black. Actually, they're not - does that make me racist? Probably. I am probably just a massive racist.

2. Blue Hawaii - 'Untogether'

Listen: 'Try To Be'

You! You there! Try finding a more gorgeously plaintive track from this year than 'Try To Be' by Blue Hawaii, that's linked to above. You can't, can you? You big dick. If I was to continue to express in words the utter contempt that I feel for you, the reader, then I'd go on to mock you for not only having failed to top 'Try To Be' in the head-tingling beauty stakes, but also for not being able to find an album that so perfectly marries such poetry with a keen rhythmic drive through much of its duration, as is demonstrated on the 'In Two / In Two II' double-header, or that ties all these themes together with an exquisite delicacy that will have your ears tip-toeing across it as if on eggshells for fear of breaking anything. What in more boring hands may be a fairly pleasant but ultimately insignificant ride, Blue Hawaii have washed their dreamlike ruminations with seductively engrossing production work, meaning that while your brain is reflecting contemplatively back to memories of that cat you had that died when you were 11, your feet are tapping away like 1920s telegram operatives. And let me tell you something - release 'Untogether' mid-way through that decade and your Great Depression can go whistle. [Author's note: I realise that the album in reality has been released during a time of similar economic turmoil and has of course made no significant difference, but just let me have my pretentious poetic license OK?]

1. Tricky - 'False Idols'

Contrary to popular opinion, my nerve is not incapable of wavering. Often when I form an opinion on music, it's rarely a case of 'that's the end of that', all's done and dusted for my thoughts and assertions to be carted off to my brain's Big Room of Immutable Conclusions. I generally can't help but subconsciously seek assurances about my reasoning from popular outlets, as if to try and gain external justification for my thinking. It's for this reason that over the years, I've often developed self-doubt when I've liked or disliked something but my peers and the media don't seem to share my view. I remember feeling genuinely worried when coming to the conclusion that The Kooks were shit, yet at the same time most around me were lapping up their nauseating brand of wipe-clean indie pop with gleeful abandon. I'm not just trying to rewrite history to align with current popular opinion by the way, I genuinely always thought The Kooks were shit. I have similar restless nights about Drake now as well - is Drake not just, y'know, shit? But everyone likes him! Should it be his 'Nothing Was The Same' album occupying this top spot right now? I must be doing something wrong.

It's this sense of critical insecurity that I must confess made me take a reflective moment before finalising my top choice for favourite album of the year. For Tricky's 'False Idols' has received little by way of similar esteem for which I hold it. I should probably point out at this stage, that I'm no Tricky fanboy. I'd given the producer's most highly acclaimed album, his debut 'Maxinquaye', little more than a few cursory listens since it first entered my music library a few years ago, and I'm largely unfamiliar with the rest of his work. So no, I have no kind of rose-tinted reverence of the Bristol artist, in a way that made me try slightly too hard to enjoy Bjork's - incidentally an ex-girlfriend of Tricky - last offering 'Biophilia', before accepting that it was merely a good album compared to her other exceptional work.

So I found myself approaching 'False Idols' with fairly indifferent ears, however those same lugholes quickly became hooked after the first listen. There's a deliciously menacing presence that underlies the whole record, and whether it seeps through in the slicker funk-driven likes of 'Is That Your Life' or the sweeping 'Nothing's Changed', it maintains an aura of uneasiness and poised threat that makes for an engrossing listen. The vocals of Tricky and an array of female vocalists weave smokily together in a way not dissimilar to The xx, and each track on the album proves to be compelling in its own distinct way. I'm probably wrong, and that album of Miley Cyrus covers that Drake recorded with The Kooks is probably infinitely better, but for me, 'False Idols' was my album of 2013.


Wednesday, 23 October 2013

NME of the Taste

It's an irony that won't scoop me many gongs at the Originality Awards for pointing out, but possibly the least 'express' means of discovering new music is through the New Musical Express. Granted, as a weekly print publication they're always going to be fighting a losing battle against the all-seeing, all-knowing Internet in terms of delivering content at speed to their readership, but a quick browse through the magazine's recent cover stars demonstrates that it's not exactly living up to the first two thirds of its name, either.

So far in 2013, Liam Gallagher (twice), Johnny Marr (twice), David Bowie (thrice), Nirvana, The Who, The Stone Roses, Nine Inch Nails and Paul McCartney have all taken their turns to leer out from the shelves of your local newsagent's music section. While admittedly some of these had new records / gigs / haircuts to promote, none of the hat-trick of front-pages featuring the Artist Formerly Known as Ziggy Stardust succeeded in featuring any actual interview content once you've handed over your £2.40 and peered inside, and with a Gallagher brother having appeared on a total of ten covers since the start of 2011 (note: Oasis disbanded in 2009; Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds have released just one album since; Beady Eye are shit) the NME seems to be running dry on inspiration. But is it the magazine's fault?

As is always the case when bloggers pose questions to themselves during an article, the answer is both yes and no. The problem for the NME is that the browsers of the WH Smiths magazine aisle who would have any interest in parting with their disposable income are those who would stare blankly at a picture of Disclosure before plumping for the reliably nostalgic coziness of MOJO instead. The audience that will be interested in the latest exploits of the brotherly dance duo, or of the sisterly trio of American new arrivals Haim, will be the kids that have grown up comfortably enough with the Internet to be able to access all their music fixes from their laptops, speedily and for free, and what's more it's unlikely that they'll be doing so from NME's messy eye-sore of a website.

I feel I'm hating a little on NME here so far. Perhaps with a touch of rejuvenation and rebranding, they could be back dominating the world of music journalism, with lines of school-kids waiting impatiently outside their local retailers every Wednesday morning to pick up a copy of the latest edition to rifle through keenly in double Geography a few hours later. Well hey now, whaddya know? The NME has just relaunched itself, along with a promise to expand the magazine's Radar section, which focuses on new and up-and-coming acts. So, who's on the first cover in this new dawn for cutting-edge music exploration? Oh, it's David Bowie again. Never mind though, the following week saw a celebration of 'Young Britannia', an ensemble cover featuring new British artists as commendably diverse as Erol Alkan-affiliated producer Daniel Avery, scuzzball Welsh rockers Joanna Gruesome and electro-pop babe Charli XCX, alongside more established UK names as Jake Bugg and Katy B. Things, then, definitely seem to be looking up.

However, just as any makeshift team of footballing nuns who can't afford a proper ball will tell you, old habits are hard to kick. This week's issue sees the NME flaunt its restraining order and make a bee-line straight back to Memory Lane (electronic tag around ankle still in tact - it just seemed to work well with the vintage Doc Martens), as they counted down the 500 greatest albums of all time. Spoiler: The Smiths' 'The Queen Is Dead' won. A more than fair choice, in this commentator's personal opinion, and entirely befitting of the publication's aesthetic.

A rather more unsavoury fall-out from the list is the accompanying 'staff lists' on the NME website blog. I'll quickly hold my hands up and say that the use of "unsavoury" in that past sentence is rather strong and unjustified - it's not as if the NME have daubed a big willy on their local mosque, or pissed on someone's kids on Christmas morning. Probably more accurately, the staff lists are just down-right wearisome. Each is a Top Ten from various staff members, and each reads like a blindfolded individual has put ten pins in a generic 'Greatest Albums of All Time' list, removed their visual impairment and thought, "oh yeah, that'll do". The majority of entries are mind-numbingly conservative - you've got to wonder whether anyone who lists 'Dark Side of the Moon', 'Revolver' (AND 'Rubber Soul'), 'The Velvet Underground & Nico' and 'Blood on the Tracks' in their favourite albums of all time has either never listened to a record that hasn't featured in a late-night Channel 4 countdown, or misunderstood the task and thought they had to predict the most likely final rankings. Honestly, is 'Dark Side of the Moon' actually anyone's 'favourite' album? No, no it's not. David Gilmour's, perhaps, but even then only at a stretch.

Several lists (without showing too much dedication to the cause by researching each release date, I'd guess at least two or three out of eleven lists) contain no albums that were released in the past twenty years, and there are only a small number of albums over the course of the page that were released in the past decade (this ratio is boosted by Laura Snapes, who decides to populate five out of her ten slots with albums by The National). Does this matter? Well, no, obviously on the worldwide scale of 'Things That Matter' it ranks just behind, "hmm, this milk's expiry date was yesterday, but it smells alright, I guess". What it demonstrates, though, is that NME might need to look a bit deeper than the design of their logo to discover why they're not quite as on the pulse as they once were - which, unfortunately, was when most of the albums on their list were released.

* * * * *

What's that dear reader? You want me to demonstrate how much cooler than the NME I am by listing my own Top Ten favourite albums of all time and pointing out the difference in how less mainstream and obvious they are in a thoroughly narcissistic and self-congratulatory manner? Ohhh, you guysss...

Having studied the NME staff lists, I did begin to wonder what would populate my own Top Ten. There were some more immediately obvious candidates, but as I was trawling through the recesses of my mind I realised that perhaps the classics are considered the classics for a reason, and that I'd judged the NME staffers a bit too harshly. Then I remembered: DARK SIDE OF THE FUCKING MOON. 

The list I've ultimately come up with is, of course, very subject to change, and will probably do so in the very near future. It's certainly not the list I would've conjured up ten, five, or probably even a couple of years ago. As the magazine's writers did with theirs, I've arranged it in to a rough descending order, kicking off with some untouchably brilliant Icelandic introspection and rounding off with a bonafide classic that our friends at NME would be proud of, taking in socio-politically aware East Coast rap, socio-politically aware expansive deep house, and socio-politically aware tongue-in-cheek UK garage along the way. I've linked to a key track from each as well, so get stuck in.

Just one quick final note - as always, I'm fully aware that I'm just writing this blog post to pretty much myself, but in the unlikely scenario that anyone else happens to a) stumble upon this article and b) bothers to read all the way through to here and fancies popping their own Top Ten list in the comments, then they'll be warmly welcomed.

My Own Top Ten Favourite Albums

1. Björk - Vespertine 

2. Nas - Illmatic

3. DJ Sprinkles - Midtown 120 Blues

4. Cocteau Twins - Heaven or Las Vegas

5. The Streets - Original Pirate Material

6. The Smiths - Meat Is Murder

7. Björk - Debut
Listen: Big Time Sensuality (<< from where this blog derives its name!)

8. Burial - Untrue
Listen: Archangel

9. Grouper - Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill

10. Fleetwood Mac - Rumours
Listen: Dreams


Friday, 16 August 2013

(What's So Crazy 'Bout) Peace, Love And One Direction

If you've ever sat through an evening of amateur comedy, you'll be well acquainted with the Acme 'Observational Gag Format' of: "Right, so I've been thinking a lot about [subject] lately... have you ever noticed how [subject] always does [whatever it is subject does]? What's that all about!"

Some comedians have made enormously successful careers out of doing just this, however most of the time the deliverer will be a slightly haggard-looking man in a pub's part-time comedy annex, part-time storage room, nursing a beer belly that suggests he's spent a large amount of time in similar taverns watching amateur comedy before incorrectly drawing the conclusion that he could in fact do this himself. Often the subjects of his observational scything will be everyday matters that we, the audience, are all familiar with, which he'll then proceed to deconstruct before our very eyes before probably saying 'penis' and slouching off stage. One particularly unsuccessful attempt at uniting an assembled crowd with thigh-slapping hilarity and shrieks of, "YES! YES! That's EXACTLY what that's like!" that I witnessed was a stand-up start with the question, "so, who here smokes weed?", and, upon being met with blank stares - the queue to the Amsterdam McDonalds this was not - proceeded to descend in to a defensive ramble about why the stand-up smoked weed, with little comic effect.

Anyway, Channel 4's 'Crazy About One Direction' documentary is essentially this joke format, with teenage girls the subject in this instance. In a similar way to the sociological forecasting that within 60 years white Britons while cease to be the majority ethnic group in the UK, so we are faced with the very real prospect that the number of teenage One Direction fanatics outpouring their love for the former X Factor runners-up through online forums will soon pale in comparison to the amount of grown adults taking smug swipes at their obsessive behaviour from their supposedly more mature corner of the internet. Following 'Crazy About One Direction's screening, Twitter parted like the Red Sea - on one half the aforementioned fandom, perhaps understandably a bit cheesed off at how their kind had been portrayed by C4, while the other half consisted of older folk, scoffing at how idiotic these kids are. I know I've completely misused the Red Sea allegory there, so as slight recompense I should add that the group passing untouched through the nautical corridor are One Direction themselves, who, along with their marketing team, will not be losing one moment of sleep over the documentary, which the placing of adverts for the group's forthcoming film during the breaks was testament to.

A similar inter-generational spat had previously erupted after GQ revealed that the boy band were to grace the cover of their latest issue, a piece of promotional coverage - akin to C4's documentary - that 1D's fan-base seemed to take issue with. Death threats were rapidly dispatched to the GQ editorial staff - by sticking menacingly anonymous cut-out newspaper letters to a sheet of paper and being stuffed in to an untraceable letterbox? No, you big plum, by Twitter of course. GQ then collected some of the most outrageous of these reactions and rewarded their advertisers' continued loyalty by posting them in a click-bait article online, spawning a flurry of extra page hits and yet more warmongering in its comments section.

After a brief scroll through these messages, it becomes clear that the ultra-defensive fans aren't the real cretins here - it's the fully-formed, ballot-casting, rental car-hiring, income tax-paying adults that take time out from their daily lives to argue with and mock their adolescent online cohabitants for the opinions that they peddle, probably with precious little to do during school holidays with the prospect of GCSEs looming large. My computer usage during my formative years was mostly devoted to playing Football Manager and wanking (to porn, I hasten to add, not Football Manager), not checking my Nectar points online and adding high-flying strangers to my network on LinkedIn. Whilst some of my peers may have spent their time slightly more productively - if we've somehow found ourselves in an unholy world where 'winning back-to-back trebles with Atletico Madrid' is considered unproductive - this was fairly typical teenage boy behaviour, just as obsessing over boy bands is typical teenage girl behaviour. Always has been, and always will be. Why some of the older generation feel the need to take issue with this is bemusing - would the same gaggle of eager finger-waggers feel a similar obligation to sneeringly correct a six year-old's claims that if you eat enough pizza you'll turn in to a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle? (Less out-dated children's references are available for Premium Members only)

Admittedly, based on the documentary some of the One Direction fans' behaviour is rather bizarre, occasionally bordering on mildly terrifying, but unless puberty has changed since my day (and under this Coalition mess of a government it may well have done, amiright) these girls will reach a more rational plane of thought in a few years, probably around the time One Direction are usurped by the next gaggle of good-looking, adequately-voiced young men. I suspect anyway that part of the ire directed against 1D fans stems from a jealousy of the band themselves, and seeing as there's little your man at his keyboard can do about the group's international success and fame, they feel they can play some part in derailing their efforts by giving both barrels to those that must be braincell deficient enough to support and defend them. I for one don't enjoy One Direction's music, but nor do I let this or their stratospheric status bother me. Would I want to live like Harry Styles, travelling around the world in luxury, bedding a string of beautiful women (...and Caroline Flack) and raking in millions from record sales and merchandise? Yes, I most definitely would. Does shagging Taylor Swift win you La Liga 'Manager of the Year' three-times on the trot though, Harry? No, it doesn't Harry. It doesn't.

* * * * *

Given that One Direction originally shot to fame after finishing third on the X Factor a few years back - always a slightly baffling fact considering the second and first-placed contestants have enjoyed nowhere near the same adoration from the voting public - and I think I saw an advert the other day saying it's approaching the show's tenth anniversary edition, I thought I'd do a very brief run-down of the best songs to have emerged from UK talent shows. For the sake of this not descending in to a list of my favourite Girls Aloud songs, I'm restricting the tracks to the singles that are given to the winning acts upon victory. So, in order, here are the best reality pop songs of the past decade or so:

5. Joe McElderry - The Climb [X Factor, 2009] - DISCLAIMER: this song is, of course, not good, however it turns out that barely any of the winners' singles are so this is here simply for the commendable fact that without its existence, Rage Against The Machine would never have reached Christmas #1

4. Leona Lewis - A Moment Like This [X Factor, 2006]

3. Hear'Say - Pure & Simple [Popstars, 2001]

2. Will Young - Evergreen [Pop Idol, 2002]

1. Girls Aloud - Sound of the Underground [Popstars: The Rivals, 2002]


Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Favourite LPs #3 - Samantha Greenberg

No Doubt - Tragic Kingdom (1995)

By Samantha Greenberg

The world is harsh when you're 15. You hate everyone and no one likes you. You're emotional and erratic. The pop-ska anthems of No Doubt's first album are certainly tailor-made for you. You listen to "Don't Speak" when you're crying and alone. You belt out "Just a Girl" and "Excuse Me Mr." in the car with your friends. You sang "Sixteen" and "Sunday Morning" in front of the mirror. Or at least I did.

True story, for about a year, my cell phone answering machine message was the chorus from "Spiderwebs": 

"Sorry I'm not home right now
I'm walking into spiderwebs
So leave a message
And I'll call you back."

It was angsty but not depressed. Pop-y but not saccharine. Girly but not weak. I got the album when it came out and I was all of 6 years old. I don't know what my father, who introduced me to David Bowie and The Who, was thinking when he let me get that CD. He loves me that much, I guess. Tragic Kingdom was my music. It was my taste - not something that my dad taught me to like or my friends suggested. It's an album that, from start to finish, is completely unskippable. Not one song falls short. The sound may be repetitive but the energy (and horns) keep it from feeling stale. To this day, it remains highly played on my iTunes account. I may reach for it less and less but I'm always happy when a Tragic Kingdom song comes on shuffle. 

I know it's not the best musically or lyrically or conceptually. But our favorite albums aren't always based on logic - they come from memories and emotions and time. For what I wanted, for what it gave me, Tragic Kingdom is the best.

Track list:

1. Spiderwebs
2. Excuse Me Mr.
3. Just A Girl
4. Happy Now?
5. Different People
6. Hey You
7. The Climb
8. Sixteen
9. Sunday Morning
10. Don't Speak
11. You Can Do It
12. World Go 'Round
13. End It On This
14. Tragic Kingdom

Wanna write about your own favourite record? Just holla, yo.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Favourite LPs #2 - Nathan Crouch

Weezer - Weezer (or, The Blue Album) (1994)

By Nathan Crouch

You can’t write about Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ without talking about ‘grunge’. You can’t discuss King Crimson without saying ‘prog’. No overview of either Oasis or Blur could ever be complete without reference to the journalist-fuelled battle for ‘Britpop’ glory that dominated their early history, despite how different they were, and how little either cared for the crown. Some albums are so synonymous with a certain sound that it becomes impossible to write a retrospective review without taking this into account. This can prove frustrating for the artists themselves, as almost all of these musical buzzwords are the pigeon-holing brainchildren of journalists, and a lot of the time these buzzwords place far more focus on the look of a band than its sound.

Unfortunately for Weezer, this proved to be the case, for when their debut album emerged in 1994, the pigeonhole parade took one look at the cover and cast them as ‘Nerd Rock’ until their dying days. Within their sound may be contained the gain-heavy power chord freak outs of Pixies, the sweetly acoustic serenading of Cat Stevens, and a fair few (simplified) solos stolen from the glory days of Glen Danzig, but despite all of this, they wore glasses. Not only in public, but on stage, and in music videos. In addition, not a single one of their songs was about drug addiction – no winking references to spoons, no reports on visits to Dr Greenthumb, not even a passing mention of anything ‘brown’. Indeed, it seems that when lead singer Rivers Cuomo chimes about how much he enjoys hanging out ‘In The Garage’, it’s less for its hot-boxing potential and more about an irony-free desire for Dungeons and Dragons and X-Men comics. 

Wherein lies Weezer’s main appeal on their debut ten-track pop masterpiece: as with all great music, it’s incredibly honest. All the best musicians find the best ways to convey where they come from, be it Compton, Trench Town, Outer Space (google ‘Sun Ra’), or in this case, Suburban Nowheresville, Connecticut. No band who puts a couplet like ‘Come sit next to me, pour yourself some tea’ in the opening song of their first album could be aiming for street-cred, and it would almost be embarrassing to sing along to on the bus with your headphones were it not for the magic of Weezer: they sang infectiously catchy songs that make you not care about how lame you may look dancing to them, because you’re having too much fun. They would often recall the crooning pop numbers of Buddy Holly, with a modern post-Pixies adherence to loud-quiet-loud that gels perfectly - take the distortion out of ‘Holiday’ and you’ve got the sound of a hit 50’s 7 inch. From Holly to glam rock, at its best the Weezer sound is a compendium of every music that teenagers at various points enjoyed putting on in their bedrooms and turning up loud for the pure joy of rocking out, free of inhibition.

What differs ‘The Blue Album’ from the later, suckier work of Weezer on albums like ‘Make Believe’ is the subtle blend of angst and insecurity that infuses ostensibly happy numbers like ‘In The Garage’, and conversely the notes of hope and optimism that run through more miserable titles like ‘The World Has Turned and Left Me Here’. Latter-era Weezer are a little too content to wear their emotions on their sleeves, picking one feeling per song from the emotional spectrum and sticking to it, but the Weezer of yore had a wonderful way of making sad songs sound happy, and vice versa.

Thus, the success of ‘The Blue Album’ is a simple formula: ten perfectly crafted pop songs, from bouncy 3/4 opener ‘My Name Is Jonas ‘ to the dreamy walking bassline that fuels closing 8 minute wonder ‘Only In Dreams’, that encapsulate the main advantage of being a nerd: the ability to enjoy cheesy nerd things without giving a shit. And that’s pretty cool. 

Interesting side-note: The influence of this album has stretched far and wide, to bands as bizarrely un-weezer-ish as Deftones and Biffy Clyro, who have both covered tracks from this album – it is certainly worth seeking out the latter’s rendition of ‘Buddy Holly’ as an example of artistic license gone magnificently insane. Remember that episode of ‘Family Guy’ where Peter turns a production of ‘The King and I’ into a war epic about robots from Space? This is the audio equivalent of that: 

Track list:

2. No One Else
3. The World Has Turned And Left Me Here
5. Undone - The Sweater Song
6. Surf Wax America
7. Say It Ain't So
8. In The Garage
9. Holiday

Wanna write about your own favourite record? Just holla, yo.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Favourite LPs #1 - Alex Bate

At the Drive-In – Relationship of Command (2000)

By Alex Bate

I bought this album after seeing At the Drive-In deliver a blistering version of One Armed Scissor on Jools Holland, then whizz a chair past Robbie Williams’ head when they finished. This performance summed up the feel of the album exactly, a startling combination of noise and energy leaning occasionally towards the unhinged/bat-shit mental.

Opener Arcarsenal slowly builds up before exploding into life, and is followed by one post-hardcore monster after another. Listening to songs like Cosmonaut and Sleepwalk Capsules feel like being driven the wrong way down a motorway, whilst Enfilade and Quarantined are brilliantly edgy slow-burners.

The energy of the songs is backed up by lyrics ranging from the baffling (“Lazarus threw the party, Lazarus threw the fight,” “this syringe will take a lifetime, it’s filled with bait and tackle”) to the powerful – particularly Invalid Litter Dept.’s account of the Ciudad Juarez drug murders. All of this is delivered in Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s inimitable yelp, although Iggy Pop gives a good attempt to mimic it when he turns up on Rolodex Propaganda.

When At the Drive-In broke up after this, their next bands they formed showed what each individual brought to the band, with Bixler-Zavala’s The Mars Volta producing staggeringly creative but frustratingly inconsistent music, whilst Jim Ward’s Sparta were solidly competent almost to the point of boring. However on Relationship of Command they each take their respective Lennon and McCartney roles, with Ward helping to shape Bixler-Zavala’s creativity into something resembling coherent song structures. What this leaves you with is one of the greatest punk records ever written.

Track list:

1. Arcarsenal
2. Pattern Against User
3. One Armed Scissor
4. Sleepwalk Capsules
5. Invalid Litter Dept.
6. Mannequin Republic
7. Enfilade
8. Rolodex Propaganda
9. Quarantined
10. Cosmonaut
11. Non-Zero Possibility
12. Catacombs

Wanna write about your own favourite record? Just holla, yo.