10-6 of The Records of the Year of My Choosing

It’s the top 10! Which feels significant because our mathematics is predicated on a decimal base! Because we’ve got 10 fingers! How many fingers will we have in the future?

10 Deerhunter – Monomania

Deerhunter have produced excellent albums from day one, but it took Monomaniafor me to appreciate them as more than just another decent guitar band.

It’s a weird turn in their discography and one that could have come across as too self-aware and corny, in the sense that there’s a new braggadocio in their style and posturing in the lyrics that is, essentially, an introspective indie band playing at being proper rock ‘n’ roll.

But, in the stripping away of their noisy/ambient characteristics and the dreamy romanticism of Halcyon Digest they demonstrate the same attention to detail and texture, albeit applied to engineering a grinding, sleazy sensibility full of sawing guitars and delayed vocals. It’s like a studied exercise in notching up classic rock references (shitty bars, neon lights, leather jackets, motorbikes) that manages to appear both postmodern/wryly humorous and immediately believable.

Tracks like T.H.M. showcase their ability to encapsulate simplistic cool (an excellent bassline always helps), while Back to the Middle is a shit-hot garage pop tune and The Missing nods back to previous albums’ indie balladry.

9 Powell – Untitled EP

Powell makes the kind of music I’d make if I made music.

I think Boomkat described it as ‘techno for people who like rock and rock for people who like techno’, and I agree. This sense is largely produced by the extensive use of No Wave samples and Powell’s narrow but signature palette of drum sounds and effects – it satisfyingly combines a knowledge of its underground heritage with a rawness in its surface and a neck-snapping rhythm that places it in that murky territory between dance and rock.

Techno, at one extreme, can be obsessed with production and structure in such a way that it consistently ossifies conventions and appeals to tutting specialists who wear expensive headphones.

Rock can also too easily forget the importance of dancing, hypnotic rhythm and the texture of sound – but No Wave and Powell shrug off those potential flaws in both genres, with No Wave artists introducing repetitive rhythm and electronic noises to a punk shell and Powell reinserting the punk aesthetic into the often mechanically flawless surface of techno.

It results in a really filthy industrialism that’s got way more swing than much that’s previously been released under that banner – A Bandbeing a fine example of an almost funky rhythm being wrought from clangs and clatters, and stand-out track Oh No New York directly referencing its No Wave heritage with foot-stomping beats, steampunk hisses and dissonant synth buzzes.

I say it’s the kind of music I’d make because I love this fusion of Industrial dirt, sonic innovation and rock ‘n’ roll abandon, but also because that punk aesthetic feels inexpensive, DIY and approachable in that it wrenches something admirable from simple and unassuming components.

8 Vatican Shadow – When You Are Crawling / Remember Your Black Day

Dominick Fernow is no shrinking violet. As Prurient, he makes uncompromising Noise with a ferociously political performative aspect and he has explored the nexus of ritualistic spirituality and mass murder in his guise as Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement.

As Vatican Shadow, Fernow continues his commitment to imbuing traditionally nihilistic and self-contained genres with an explicit content. In this case, he utilises the repetitious and structured nature of techno to invoke the conformity, relentlessness and violence of the military-industrial complex.

The success of this project could be called into question since, ostensibly, the legibility of his message appears to rely on the excellent imagery on his album covers and the poignant and evocative track titles (Contractor Corpses Hung over the Euphrates River,Jet Fumes Above the Reflecting Pool). Nevertheless, the music manages to capture something of that weird marriage of beauty and horror in military imagery through wrenching some melancholic resonance out of industrial soundscapes.

There’s an element of satire in the use of sonic aesthetics that might just about fit in a Call of Duty soundtrack, but they’re lent a sinister malevolence that brings a reflective quality. The collagistic anti-propaganda that was explicit in the early cassette releases has matured into a subtle atmosphere of distant dread – of atrocities committed far away that scratch at the Western conscience.

When You Are Crawling is an EP that acts as something of an addendum to the full-length Remember Your Black Day and – with Silent Servant getting production credits – it packs a more immediate punch as out-and-out techno.

 

Both releases, taken together, present a compelling, thoughtful and resonant body of work that navigates a minefield of extremely serious subjects.

There are few people attempting such high-minded, coherent and controversial music around; it’s extremely hard to ignore.

7 Laurel Halo – Chance of Rain

I have to admit, I didn’t quite get Laurel Halo before. I found Hour Logic a bit stark and disjointed and, although I appreciated Quarantine’s scope and originality, it left me cold.

Chance of Rain adds a lot of physical depth and some darker shades to Halo’s sound, giving it far more traction than previous efforts. She’s removed the vocals that were foregrounded in Quarantine, but the album somehow presents a more engaging face and, true to its place in Hyperdub’s stable, adopts a more rhythmic focus.

The title track’s a belter, perfectly encapsulating everything that works about this album. High tempo kick drums are given a huge amount of momentum by filtered arpeggiations that climb up and down in the mix – and it’s given some serious bite by whip-crack snares that sustain throughout – but the whole thing segues into a melancholy keyboard phrase that sounds like it’s been lifted out of In a Silent Way.

The entire album revels in this sort of oscillation; between hard-edged metallic sounds that are expertly modelled into jittery digital rhythms and a warm, blue-filtered jazz sensibility that only occasionally flickers into view.

The album comes across, therefore, as lurking in that territory where the bleak landscape of fragmented digitalia and mechanical dance music – disjointed rhythms and stark sounds (think Mouse on Mars circa Glam) – meets an irrepressible musicality. It’s easy to identify the former with sinister, mindless process and the latter with human warmth and creativity, but Halo brilliantly blurs these distinctions by delighting in the rapturous possibilities of anonymous sounds.

6 My Bloody Valentine – m b v

Probably the only reason this isn’t higher in the list is that it was so bloody late and I’ve penalised it for tardiness. Some of the textures and influences on this album do sound too 90s for an album that was released in 2013 (like the vaguely D&B clamour of Wonder 2), giving the whole thing an atmosphere of curious distance.

But My Bloody Valentine transcends all that nonsense about time and space. Coming after 17 years of Shields’ digestion and monkish crafting, m b vblew most other records in 2013 out of the water; it hopefully made swathes of half-arsed indie bands realise that transcendental aural experiences can make people physically shit themselves, and that they should be attempting to elicit this most flattering of responses from their listeners too.

Some of the tracks on this album are up there with moments on Loveless, and I really didn’t expect that. Who Sees You achieves that characteristically stirring, queasy beauty that can make both tears and blood stream down your face like Eisenstein’s screaming nurse, and If I Am manages to sustain a real groove behind its ephemeral vocals and gorgeously subtle guitar line.

Nothing Is takes the record somewhere a little different, spearheading its riotous close. Something of Shields’ love for balls-out rock ‘n’ roll creeps out here and it’s the only track I actually remember from witnessing them live (virtually unconscious for 80% of the gig). I remember the stage looked like the mouth of hell and I was about as happy as I’ve ever been.

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There ya go; eat yer cauliflower and you’ll get the next lot fer afters…

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Trickling Music

The next part of my 25 RECORDS OF THE YEAR will appear soon; here’s a distraction:
Trickling Music
It’s probable that innovations in the musical avant-garde ‘trickle down’ into more popular forms. 
This notion appears to provide an easy justification for the often technocratic and rarefied explorations of ‘difficult’ composers and sound artists.
“They make waves, and slowly inspire more popular artists that actually have a direct impact on mass sonic culture”.
In a real avant-garde, activities are (ideally) unfettered by the need to function and can be truly autonomous, allowing the sort of genuinely innovative developments that would otherwise be filtered out. These innovations don’t just stay floating around in the world of musical academia however; there exists a sort of musical hierarchy of mass appeal, through which ideas can be passed.
The need to see these avant-garde experiments as having a real ‘impact’ or ‘effect’ completely undermines the very notion of a rarefied culture of innovation that isn’t smothered by the crippling demands of utility. In seeking justification for avant-garde art, we succumb to an implicit capitalist ideology, wherein nothing has inherent value beyond its power to generate further value (defined abstractly).
We shouldn’t view this web of inspiration as a justification of the initial act, but as an inevitable process of cultural digestion.
Do avant-garde artists feel vindicated by their displaced notoriety? What happens to these ideas once they are adopted in other forms? Are they bastardised or simply utilised? If we layer a William Basinski loop over a drum-track, is it even the same thing at all? What’s carried over into the new form, if anything?
I have a feeling that, in the main, avant-garde composers are imbuing their work with a fair amount of conceptual content that cannot possibly be carried, in toto, into other forms.
But, this amounts to saying that two pieces of art are different, having different inceptions and different meanings. A Cageian would say that two different performances of Beethoven’s 9thhave two different meanings and effectively constitute two different artworks.
When sonic tropes from the underground (e.g. early dubstep) are imported into other cultures (e.g. brostep), we are simply witnessing different attempts to realise the objective potential of aural materials.
We must be careful in conflating the morphological similarity of sounds with an ideological or functional proximity.

15-11 of the Records of the Year of My Choosing

Sharpen your ears: it’s the records that are a bit better than the last lot but not quite as good as the others!

15 Factory Floor – S/T

Thing is, all the best tracks on this album have been released before (Fall Back, Two Different Ways) which makes the record something of a disappointment. Despite that, it’s full of sophisticated techno that’s got Industrial/Noise chops as well as analogue dance appeal. In contrast to Nik Void’s work on Transverse with Chris & Cosey, the washes of noise are kept to a minimum and the album operates largely on the interplay between the excellent drum programming and Void’s treated vocals.

Sometimes it can be a bit route-one with its reliance on arpeggiated synths (guaranteed to make you move) and thunderous New Order beats, but it’s all so well orchestrated, sharply produced and deadpan in its delivery that it overcomes a limited dynamic by staring you down and bludgeoning you to dance with relentless techno sex. I want a befringed robot to fuck me right in the 80s.

14 Grouper – The Man Who Died in His Boat

Pretty hard to argue with this one; Liz Harris has released a bunch of older material under this title that deals with her witnessing of an empty boat washing ashore – the owner apparently absent and, presumably, lost at sea.

She deftly confounds expectations in her unusual compositions that threaten to be merely pretty in their reverb-drenched greyness, by allowing layered vocals to clash and melodies to hang, unresolved.

It’s heart-breaking and tender, with Harris’s gorgeous high vocal register breaking free of the murkiness of the mix – not enough to enunciate clearly, but enough to intone and generate a melancholic ambiguity.

13 Darkside – Psychic

This was obviously going to be good – Nicolas Jaar’s got a virtually impeccable back catalogue and he marries an evident intelligence with a searching ear and attention to detail, always managing to retain an immediacy in the sensuality of his production and vocals.

As Darkside, Jaar works with guitarist Dave Harrington to create music that bears all the hallmarks of Jaar’s own work, but expands into a space-disco aesthetic that’s propelled by Harrington’s 70s noodlings. It’s telling that Darkside released a remixed version of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories earlier in the year, since they’re also operating in the same territory – slickly produced, ambitious long players that hark back to the era of disco and prog.

Darkside shit all over Daft Punk’s syrupy mess by still retaining a progressive attitude and merely learning from past eras, rather than just creating a novelty record with all their mates. The album is full of space and moments of reverie, allowing the grooves to bubble up organically and, while Harrington is no Nile Rodgers, the funkiness is couched in subtly inventive electronics that allow the album to snake around into surprising corners.

Sometimes it’s in danger of meandering aimlessly, but the psychedelic and exploratory attitude opens it out to unusual modes of engagement, while the humanity is retained in Jaar’s characteristic vocals and jarring keyboard melodies.

12 Thee Oh Sees – Floating Coffin

Yes, yes, yes. As soon as this fucking monster opens, it’s pretty clear that it’s Thee Oh Sees on top form. On occasion, Dwyer’s bloodlust lyrics can sound a bit daft, but there’s cartoonish edge to Thee Oh Sees that suits the balance of seriousness and hedonism in garage.

There’s a lot of breakneck riffing that stays amazingly rigid despite the spectre of chaos and mayhem that’s always behind Dwyer’s innocent falsetto (the cover depicts a load of strawberries intermingled with bared fangs) and there’s a well-judged balance of wide-eyed psychedelia with crisp melodies (No Spell); dirty, drifting grunge (Strawberries 1 + 2) and dexterous foot-stompers to lose your shit to (Maze Fancier).

Play it loud and take your shirt off, please.

11 Demdike Stare – Test Pressings #001, #002, #003, #004

 

A strange and audacious set of 12” singles from Demdike Stare; the Test Pressings series sees them adapting the production techniques that had previously generated their haunted, pagan techno to a slew of recognisable dance formats.

The mystical strand of occultism that colours their take on dance music produces a violent, satanic, sexualised broth. They’ve successfully married the hedonistic and hypnotic nature of house/techno with the psychedelic abandon of pagan ritual. It’s fucking volatile. If anyone could actually play it to a dancefloor, they’d all start fucking each other with crucifixes.

In the Test Pressings series they disappointingly dial down the vampiric bloodlust but compensate with improved dancefloor mechanics. It’s all excellent, and makes explicit the origins of Demdike’s previous dancefloor emptiers by re-examining the classic dance templates that have inspired the explosion of sonically innovative electronic artists with tangential relationships to their Detroit / Chicago / Berlin origins (see Blackest Ever Black).

It’s all about Eulogy and Dyslogy from #003 for me however; an engrossing cut of dubby techno from the Basic Channel mould on the A-side with a ridiculous bit of pots-and-pans breakbeat on the other.

The only disappointment is the loss of all the weirdo-chanting, doomy piano chords and atmospheric hiss that made their earlier material so compelling; perhaps their next release will be a perfectly symbiotic pairing of The Wicker Man and Drexciya, but this is pretty good for now.

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Get in the recovery position and await your top 10…

20-16 of the Records of the Year of My Choosing

Continuing yesterday’s ball-tingling countdown…

20 Matmos – The Marriage of True Minds

Matmos can come across as annoyingly conceptual and didactic, but often the conceit behind the album is so esoteric and charming that you kind of let them off, before being slightly bored by the album.

They manage to overcome a lot of niggles with this record, producing a really engaging, sometimes danceable, often amusing and completely weird album that’s eccentric, intelligent, coherent and unpredictable.

Matmos apparently got a bunch of test subjects together and tried to telepathically convey the concept of the album to them, before recording their responses and building the album around the subjects’ fumbled attempts to describe half-imagined sounds and shapes.

It sometimes sounds like The Books, with plucked strings and metallic plonks supporting lots of vocal samples, and it sometimes sounds too slick – like the backing track to an educational documentary about the Future of Cell Biology – but it won me over with its highbrow humour and smart production.

19 Co La – Moody Coup

If Co La’s latest album had matched up to the promise of some of the better moments from Daydream Repeater and the brilliantly glossy dub on Dialtone Earth, it would easily be up there at the top of this list.

Unfortunately, Moody Coup struggles to coalesce into a really satisfying whole, but Co La’s overall project is so aesthetically coherent, blissfully lush and compellingly inventive that it’s still a real stand-out.

Moody Coup retains the dubby roots of Dialtone Earth in its vocal samples and use of reverb/bass, as well as the fluorescent sheen of Daydream Repeater, but it moves on from both works by dropping the rhythmic tethering to Bmore and Dub, and opening up weird syncopations that challenge its dancefloor aspirations.

The extension of his sound is evident in the album art, which drops the quasi-satirical, VIP sleekness of previous efforts to utilise an artfully textured and tactile surface with an abstracted grimace in the centre, reminiscent of Benedict Drew’s artwork. It speaks of Co La’s desire to look away from Earthly concerns, existing genres and recognisable sounds to grope for new and transcendental noises.

Get fucked, drink coffee, take drugs, sit in the sun, stroke the bonnets of cars and see faces in spray-painted driveway gravel.

18 The Field – Cupid’s Head

I think The Field loses something in this record by adding something – his previous, From Here We Go Sublime, was almost sublime in its repetitious clarity; gorgeous loops lifted out of the sludge of reality through sheer persistence.

Nevertheless, even thoughCupid’s Head is a little less striking due to its more conventionally full sound, it still achieves moments of hypnotic bliss. It’s pretty much simple 4/4 house beats from start to finish, but there are beautifully subtle rhythmic touches throughout, absurdly simple chord shifts that are so warm they make your face red, and smothering walls of glistening noise that would make your Nan chew her face off.

17 Dirty Beaches – Drifters / Love is the Devil

I can’t work out whether this album is anything other than just really fucking cool.

It’s all submerged, lo-fi vocals, stuttering drum machine loops and no-wave basslines that owe a massive debt to Suicide, but stand-out tracks like I Dream in Neon add an extra facet of sleazy nihilism that feels trippy and warm as well as foreboding and confrontational.

Plus, there are moments when it’s got a weird funk to it (e.g. Casino Lisboa) or an unhinged sadness (Alone at the Danube River) that take it beyond mere retro fetishism and the tired ‘neon city’ tropes that threaten to overburden it. While Suicide sound rightfully angry at New York’s underbelly, Dirty Beaches has had time to stop and rue some of that neglect, kicking litter about and wondering what it all means.

It’s important that you wear leather and eat glass bottles while listening to this album.

16 Blood Music – Blood Music EP

I saw these guys play live at Wysing Arts Festival with a raging hangover and a belly full of potent, homemade alcoholic ginger beer. I can’t be sure whether that experience has coloured my appreciation of this record or not, but it’s stood up to repeated listens.

The EP is really percussive, with stabs of distorted guitar backed by both live drums and a punchy drum machine; both of the longer tracks are, consequently, propulsive and menacing, engineering a restrained anger through layers of noise, semi-whispered vocals and a snarling, throbbing backbone.

This EP was released on Powell’s ‘Diagonal’ label and, while their sound possesses a more traditional guitar-based tone, it shares something of the potent marriage of rock’s darkness and techno’s propulsive, electronic rhythm. In that sense, the guitar – although sounding often like it’s coming from a metal band – isn’t used for riffs, but to bolster the backbeat and to build texture.

It’s managing to do something a little different with a potentially tired template, without sounding contrived.
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Records 15-11 in the post…

25-21 of the Records of the Year of My Choosing

Before you whinge:

1. I will have forgotten records that I like a lot.

2. I will have omitted most of the records you like (I haven’t listened to everything and we don’t have the same taste).

3. The ordering is largely impulsive and almost certainly arbitrary.

4. I favour innovative, jarring and contemporary things over staid, comforting and snuggly things.

5. Those of you who know what I like will be unsurprised and, therefore, disappointed.

6. None of this really fucking matters anyway because I just want to show off my musical interests and you’re just bored.

7. Kanye West may or may not feature.

Selections are based on:
ENJOYABILIANCE, INTERESTINGNESS, UNUSUALITY, SOUNDY-POPS and NOTHING

 

25 Rabit – Sun Showers EP

 

I don’t know anything about Rabit and I can’t remember where I heard this EP.

Nevertheless, it’s pretty good. Forged from the same stuff as guys like Ramadanman, Co La and SND, Rabit wrenches some awkwardly danceable rhythms out of really relentless, stark samples that are processed and repeated to an almost musique concrète level of abstraction.

The production is minimal and full of space, with each crisp sound given plenty of foreground, and samples dart about according to either complex or arbitrary structures. You’ll get laser blasts, glass smashes, laughter and vocal stabs flung at your head before Rabit tantalisingly drops about 3 seconds of warm kick drums in, makes you think you’re about to dance, and then changes it up again.


24 C Spencer Yeh, Lasse Marhaug, Okkyung Lee – Wake Up Awesome

Three experimental/improv stalwarts concoct a broth of thoroughly enjoyable dissonance with surprisingly tender and lush synth & string elements.

A lot of the time it’s pinging violins, squalling electronic fuzz and aural fuckery but reflective moments like Ophelia Gimme Shelter and the opening half of Tonight We Sleep Like Empty Hard Drives are really, really beautiful.

Plus, there’s a track called The Mermaids of Extended Technique.

 

23 Eric Copeland – Joke in the Hole

Copeland makes anti-dance music that’s equal parts funny and funky. He’s from Black Dice, in case you didn’t know, and he kind of does what Black Dice do, but with a more focused and rhythmic sound.

It’s neater and more accessible than some of Black Dice’s wilder moments, but it’s still all frayed at the edges, collapsing in on itself and full of weird sleaziness. The cover, yet again, features a disembodied naked ass.

22 Keith Fullerton Whitman / Floris Vanhoof – Split

Keith gets into the groove! Three short tracks of generative blips, degrading synth tones and dissonant blasts precede a fourth track which is effectively a collage of each independent element; it has surprising levity and rhythm, and a strange reverberating aesthetic that disorientates as it excites.

Vanhoof’s B-Side is a swirling, panning, glittering mélange of pulses and space-age gargles that perfectly complements.


21 Mohamad – Som Sakrifis

Mohamad are a Greek trio of musicians (Cello, Contrabass, ‘Oscillators’) who, on the evidence of Som Sakrifis, make extraordinarily visceral and enveloping music that creeps towards Drone in its use of extended, layered strings.

It’s reminiscent of KTL by virtue of the dense, gravitational bass notes that sink and warp against a slightly higher, phasing register – the two stringed instruments groan and shimmer while the electronics provide a subtle counterpoint that adds flashes of colour.

 

Som Sakrifis has the grandeur and depth of a black hole, but Mohamad’s use of traditional chamber instruments, alongside the stark animal imagery in their videos and album art, bring it back to Earth.

Stirring and physicallyengrossing.

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I will post the next part shortly, featuring choices 20-16. Salivate.