Monday, 18 January 2010

Al bums

To be perfectly honest I would've expected a far less puerile and immature title for this post on my favourite albums of the year, but it just goes to show what a dreadful state this country's in today. Absolutely disgusting - I make myself physically sick. Sometimes I just stand in my bathroom staring in to the mirror and thinking "You, sir, are a foul git". This blog is even the number one most common aid used by bulimics to induce large vomiting fits (recently over-taking listening to audiobooks of Piers Morgan reading Peaches Geldof's memoirs), such is the repulsive nature of the writing style and "humour" it contains. But until I learn to grow up and start thinking of genuinely amusing post titles, I'll just have to sit here and type out my list of the top ten albums of 2009, pausing after each entry to spew my guts out on to my computer through sheer revulsion at what I've just written. So, once I've finished scooping bits of regurgitated broccoli out from under my Caps Lock key that have found their way there as a result of re-reading this introduction, please feel free to carry on perusing through this blog and sneer/marvel/snarvel at my favourite long playing records of the year - just remember to keep a bucket to hand.

10. Dorian Concept - When Planets Explode

If truth be told, When Planets Explode isn't exactly an album that I could put on any time of day and think, "Wow, yeah, this is so the tenth best album I've heard in 2009". When I'm not in the mood it can even start to sound a bit like Jones' music in Nathan Barley, as my brain struggles to make sense of it all. But when I am in a suitably glitch-hoppy state of mind, I find that nothing hits the spot quite like a bit of Austrian quirky beat-making c/o Dorian Concept. If anyone reading this is temporarily suffering from enough of a sanity deficiency to actually take interest in my words and decides to track this album down, I'll take advantage of your weakened sense of judgement by chucking a drink-based metaphor at you - treat this record like a pint of Guinness. Don't grab it and down it as soon as it's been poured, that'll leave you with a foul taste in your mouth. Instead, give it time to settle, nurse it, sip it, and then at the end you'll have enjoyed it a lot more. No harm in buying a couple of packets of pork scratchings as well to offset the taste, y'know... just in case.

Dorian Concept - Color Sexist

Further listening: Hudson Mohawke - Butter

9. Fuck Buttons - Tarot Sport

Phew, glad we're back in to much more accessible music territory here.......NAHT. If you're sat or crouching at your computer thinking "who the fuck buttons are Fuck Buttons?", they're two men from London who take Super Hans' maxim in Peep Show that what is needed in music is a powerful sense of dread, then making the aforementioned powerful sense of dread seem otherworldly and actually quite uplifting in a dready kinda way, before bundling the whole lot in to an epic-o-meter and cranking the 'epic' up to 11. Acid dealers were probably creaming themselves when this one came out.

Fuck Buttons - Olympians

8. Dam-Funk - Toeachizown

Dam-Funk should actually be written with a little circumflex accent over the 'a', but I don't know how to do those on keyboards and whenever I try to copy stuff in to here the formatting gets messed up all over the shop, and I'm not adept enough at the finer side of this blogging bizniz to sort it out properly. But enough about my blog formatting woes - the Toeachizown LP is a collection of the 5 Toeachizown EPs that the L.A. electro-funkster released in the past year or so. If Prince and George Clinton had made a film in the 80's about their vision of how life would be if we all lived in space by now, this album would pretty much be the soundtrack. It's slick, it's sultry, it's soulful, it's funky - would it be completely lame and cringeworthy to finish that sentence with "- it's Dam-Funk"? It would, wouldn't it? Good. It's slick, it's sultry, it's soulful, it's funky - it's Dam-Funk.

Dam-Funk - Let's Take Off (Far Away)

7. Fever Ray - Fever Ray

Fever Ray's début album sounds very much how you'd expect an album by The Knife to sound if you took away the more dance-fuelled half of the group, and were left with the unique vocals of the other half. Which is exactly what this album is, as a matter of fact. The pulse on this record is slower than is often found on productions by The Knife, with Fever Ray's rhythms and beats tending to take a supporting rather than leading role in the songs, leaving it to Karin Dreijer Andersson's exquisite voice and lyrics to take prominence. The album is mournful in parts and hopeful in others, and beautiful all the way through.

Fever Ray - Keep The Streets Empty For Me

6. Few Nolder - New Folder

Directly beneath Fever Ray in both my iTunes and this list is Few Nolder, a Lithuanian techno producer who is probably one of the greatest people alive on the planet at the moment, a statement that may or may not be due to the fact that he somehow picked up on my inclusion of his track 'Chika' in my top 10 songs of 2009, which resulted in him posting this blog on his Facebook fan page, leading to an influx of visitors from Lithuania. So, ačiū labai, Few Nolder! New Folder is a refreshing techno record, an album that declines to comply with standard techno etiquette (techniquette?) and is instead clearly crafted in Few Nolder's own specific style. Often such a description would really mean "it's shit, there's a reason why people follow conventions", but this album is honestly really impressive, and of course contains the best musical moment of any song in 2009, the melody in 'Chika'. Long live the Lithuanians.

Few Nolder - No Mo (Chika can be found on previous blog posts)

Further listening: Rone - Spanish Breakfast

5. Moderat - Moderat

This album was a latecomer to my 2009 ears - it was released in April, but it wasn't until the staff of the wonderful Polish website that I fairly inexplicably write for (I'm just generally a big deal in Eastern Europe) started waxing lyrical about Moderat during discussion for our end-of-year round-up that I felt I needed to get myself moderatted. I'm sure that literally 0% of you had been worrying how successful the link up between eclectic electronic Berliners Modeselektor and experimental techno producer Apparat would turn out, but I can now assure you that it's been a very successful partnership indeed. Both Modeselektor and Apparat are mighty fine creators of music in their own right, and while there was obvious potential for their unison to flop, they doggedly stuck with the project (it actually started in 2002, so seven years is a mighty long time to wait for a début album - what happened to German efficiecy?) and this record is a really great fusion of techno, dubstep, glitch and idm. Apparently their live show was absolutely the greatest thing ever as well, so if it ever pops up near you then lock on dat shit, ja?

Moderat - Seamonkey

4. Nosaj Thing - Drift

Hailing from the same school of thought as Flying Lotus, Daedelus and the rest of the L.A. Low End Theory gang, comes Nosaj Thing. Following up the exquisite track Aquarium, his first LP 'Drift' is "glitch-hop" at it's absolute finest. I still don't quite like the term "glitch-hop", which is why I feel the need to humiliate it by putting it in inverted commas. The album is more ambient than the work of Mr Lotus and Daedelus, yet the record is still well stocked in the beats department. It has a floating, delicate and haunting feel throughout, making the album title highly appropriate - every track is captivating, the production skill is immense, Nosaj is a frickin' genius.

Nosaj Thing - Light 2

3. Clark - Totems Flare

Gentlemen, we're no longer in ambient country. Totems Flare is an absolutely nuts firecracker of an album, evoking the image of someone trying to re-wire a computer using a drum stick in the midst of an acid-apocalypse while being attacked by a wild beast. Or if it doesn't evoke that image for you, then you're blatantly proper weird, innit. Some of the tracks are so chaotic that I'm having to break my habit of re-listening to the albums while I write about them, because my brain is just getting too melted. This is all in a good way, of course. Clark has long been a mad professor in the music world, and it'll come as no surprise (or, to many of you, interest) that Warp Records is responsible for unleashing Totems Flare upon the world, carrying on their fine and long tradition of experiMENTAL releases. Totems Flare has a very powerful energy to it which can often sound very raw and primal, but the album is actually very expertly produced and there's an excellent balance between grit and melody throughout the record. To use a bit of a hackneyed phrase, Totems Flare is 'controlled chaos'.

Clark - Rainbow Voodoo

2. Martyn - Great Lengths

I've ranted a bit about certain types of dubstep before, but for the very few of you out there who haven't been steadfastly piecing together all my blog posts in to a form of religious manuscript, I'll quickly recap my qualms. When dubstep first hit, it was great. Wobble wobble wobble, whom whom whom, bass bass bass. All well and good. But this was a good few years ago now, and although classic tracks from the likes of Caspa and Rusko are still classics, there's been an infuriating lack of imagination from many producers ever since. Get a little sample of a song or film/TV show, chop it up, throw in some slow off-beat drum patterns and then crank the LFO up and make the bass as wobbly and slamming as possible. The result is a type of music that gets boring very quickly, and unsettling only slightly slower. "Dubstep remixes" are now simply a song played in it's normal manner, but with a ham-fisted punch of whomping bass underneath. Both Caspa and Rusko have been maintaining a distinct level of crapness for a long time now, yet for some reason they seem to be the benchmark for many budding bass-merchants. So to counter this sea of dubstep trash, it's probably about time I got round to actually talking about Martyn. For me, Martyn has been the most innovative producer of 2009. Taking dubstep as a loose basis, he's crafted an album that transcends any kind of previously existent genre, and although other producers had been starting to move in a similar direction at around the same time, Great Lengths is a masterful talisman of the emerging dubstep/techno/minimal sub-genre. It's clear that a lot of effort and soul has been put in to the making of the album, something which is so grossly lacking in the sadly probably more widely popular style of dubstep that I've been blathering on about in this section. If you want to listen to good dubstep, do yourself a favour and listen to Martyn, Untold, Pangaea, Guido - don't listen to Caspa and Rusko. OK? Good.

Martyn - These Words (feat. dBridge)

Further Listening: 2562 - Unbalance

1. Bibio - Ambivalence Avenue

Whilst I was compiling this list, I was often scratching my head over which albums stood out above the rest I'd acquired last year, and in which order to arrange them. However, there was absolutely no ambivalence (groan) when it came to picking Bibio as number one. Sorry folks, but that had to be done really didn't it? Seriously though, Bibio's record was easily my favourite of 2009, and oddly enough it was actually his second album of the year - and even then it wasn't his last. Having released his third studio album, Vignetting The Compost, in February to a lukewarm reception (at this stage I hadn't even heard of the lad), Bibio decided to take his musical career in a new direction, and left Mush Records to hook up with Warp. I've only listened to bits of his first three albums after I heard Ambivalence Avenue, but I can tell you that they're all fairly uninteresting, not-particularly-bad-yet-not-particularly-good creations, and as it's transpired his move to Warp has probably been the best decision of Bibio's life. Strongly influenced by Boards of Canada, Bibio's typical style is electronic folk (folktronica, if you will), a sound which is at the core of Ambivalence Avenue but far from dominates it. Upon his move to Warp, Bibio opened himself up to a variety of new influences, and this is immediately and emphatically obvious as the olde English folky opening track 'Ambivalence Avenue' drops in to the glorious funk of 'Jealous of Roses', an audacious move that completely blows the album wide open. From then on there's wonky hip-hop on 'Fire Ant' and 'Sugarette', the blues-y 'Cry! Baby!", and elegant folk ballads in the form of 'Haikuesque (When She Laughs)' and 'The Palm of Your Wave'. And this isn't just experimentation for experimenting's sake - each track feels perfectly at home on the record, and despite the variety of genres influencing it the album flows remarkably well. I'm aware that Fuck Buttons and Clark are hardly going to be to many people's tastes, and the albums by Martyn and Few Nolder might not appeal to anyone not previously vaguely interested in dubstep or techno, but I truly believe that if you hunt down Ambivalence Avenue and give it a listen then you'll be a fan. There's still enough of Bibio's folk-pop leanings present to give the album a gorgeous quality that should be accessible to pretty much everyone, even the most hardened of Soulja Boy, Cascada or Meshuggah fans. Of all the albums in this list this has the most obvious 'real' instrument presence (namely Bibio's guitar), but combines this with various electronic elements to create a unique sound. A really brilliant album.

Bibio - Jealous of Roses

Further listening: Bibio - The Apple and The Tooth (a follow up to Ambivalence Avenue, containing remixes of tracks from AA as well as a few new songs)

So that's that - about 3 weeks after I first started writing this post, I've finally finished my run down of my top 10 favourite albums. I reckon we should celebrate with a bloody great classic track and a bloody great special edition of songs I'm currently loving, don't you?

Classic Track:

I don't really know much about Arthur Russell, other than he died young and I like the songs by him that I've got, so instead of trawling Wikipedia to make it seem like I do I'll just get on with it and cough up the track. This is a lovely down-tempo song with an enchanting backing of cello (I think) and bongos behind Arthur's beautiful vocals. Very blissful.

Songs I'm Currently Loving: World Music Special
  • Tinariwen - Lulla - political blues rock by a band from the Sahara Desert - ticks all my boxes, dunno about you.
  • Amadou & Mariam - Sebeke - already legendary duo from Mali, who were easily the best support act on the day I went to Blur's reunion in Hyde Park (Florence & The Machine were pretty good, Vampire Weekend were dull as mud). This track is actually the last on the album and features a hidden song in it after a period of silence, meaning that the whole thing is about 11 minutes long, which I apologise for. It's a banger, though.
  • Pedro Laza y Sus Pelayeros - Navidad Negra - old skool Colombian jazz here, perfect for a summer's day in the garden in a deckchair with a glass of cool home-made lemonade.
  • Omar Souleyman - Shift Al Mani - if you haven't heard of Omar Souleyman already, you pretty much definitely need him in your life. Just when you thought the world of Syrian psychedelic folk couldn't get any better (come on, you were all thinking it), along comes Omar and gives the ever-popular genre a booster shot of greatness.
  • N.O.H.A. - Balkan Hot-Step - otherwise known as the opening song on Rob Da Bank's (peace be upon him) excellent Fabric 24 mix, this is Balkan at it's most ecstatic, and I'm still dreaming of the day when this is dropped in a set while I'm present.
  • Bangs - Take U To Da Movies - YOUR BOY BANGS! Bangs is a self-proclaimed "Superstar Hip Hop Artist!" (from his website), and is easily the jewel in the crown of the Sudanese rap world, and these days that's really saying something isn't it. Other highlights include My Special Girl, and all of Bangs' other YouTube videos.

Peace etc, yeah?

No comments:

Post a Comment