Round 99 – Steve’s Selections – Year End Tracks

8b4e795c17070424342e2b923362abf90ad54b9dBlood Orange – ‘Freetown Sound’: “Augustine”
This is my first selection. This is from what is probably my favourite album of the year. Most of the other tracks I have picked have some sadness associated with them, but this tune just picks you up in its arms and loves you. It pulls all those 1980’s tricks I love. The album – which I will leave for another night – is a seductive mix of soul, funk and jazz, mixed up with guitar riffs and subtle piano interludes that will melt your heart. Dev Hynes may have failed to impress previously (although Cupid Deluxe has its moments) but here he has played a masterstroke. Augustine flows to the heavens and back. I recommend watching the video on Youtube for the full dance-off.

Whyte H27696orses – ‘Pop or Not’: “Promise I Do” Probably only known within a small(ish) radius around Manchester, Whyte Horses are described as a psychedelic band. On this number they manage to blend 60s psyche, with French super-pop. Notwithstanding the excellent production, you could mistake this track for somehing from another time. It’s a racy tune. The album takes you on a journey around the world, taking in different sounds from many different countries. It came in as the number one album for Piccadilly Records (my Mecca on Oldham Street). They can be a bit biaised but this year they have got it right.

replacmenetsReplacements – ‘Let it Be’: “Unsatisfied”
This was a controversial choice  – can we have a reissued album? This was reissued in 2016 and is the standout track on this classic album. It was quite bold of The Replacements to use the title ‘Let it Be’, given its associations with the Beatles. The song itself was released at the time of Reagan. The lyrics are all tongue in cheek irony

Look me in the eye
Then, tell me that I’m satisfied
Was you satisfied?
Look me in the eye
Then, tell me that I’m satisfied
Hey, are you satisfied?

and later

Everything goes
Well, anything goes all of the time
Everything you dream of
Is right in front of you
And everything is a lie (or) And liberty is a lie

The disenfranchisement with the way things are going in the US at the time, now re-released with new venom and relevance for the Trump generation seemed appropriate for a new listen.

rememberustolifeRegina Spektor – ‘Remember Us to Life’: “Obselete”
This track feels quite Christmassy (is there such an adjective?). The subject – depression and self-loathing – is far from the happiness, sparkle and tinsel of the festive season though. The song is just stripped down to her voice, which lays bare Regina’s incredible range. Despite the subject matter I find this song strangely uplifting. Facing how you feel about yourself during depression is the first step towards recovery. In that sense this song is very honest and open. Highly cathartic.

 

amber-light-siteJane Weaver – ‘The Amber Light’: “Argent”  This is all Stereolab, and reminds me of another album I brought along to DRC some weeks ago Stereolab -Emperor Tomato Ketchup. Being almost a direct copy is not a bad thing. Jane Weaver hails from Manchester, and is the wife of Andy Votel of Twisted Nerve Records fame. I know I know, some bias here for the Manc music but this is really rather good and well-worth checking out. The track I selected appears to follow Stereolab almost to the end when at the end, as a muscial deviation, horns are added. Beautiful.

 

a1895762218_10Anhoni – ‘Hoplessness’: “Obama” Given the unwelcome alternative and successor to Obama in the US one might be forgiven to take out the paintbrush and whitewash the past, forgiving the incumbent for terrible atrocities (drone-bombing, the continued use of state-sponsored proxy torture etc etc). This album pulls no punches on Obama’s legacy, particularly on this track. The sound is almost Native American Indian in style. A chant, summoning up the spirits of the dead themselves? Haunting.

 

packshot1-768x768Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – ‘Skeleton Tree’: “Magneto”

In love, in love, in love you laugh
In love you move, I move and one more time with feeling
For love, you love, I laugh, you love
Saw you in heart and the stars are splashed across the ceiling

The imagery in this song is incredible. There’s no tune to speak of. Just a deep buzz-saw drone and the wonderful voice and mind of Mr Cave. At one point there is even some dark humour

Oh, the urge to kill somebody was basically overwhelming
I had such hard blues down there in the supermarket queues

This was Rob’s Joker track. We sat silently and marvelled.

10_700_700_580_bobmould_patchthesky_900pxBob Mould – ‘Patch the Sky’: “Losing Sleep”

Bob back here at his best. It’s all hard guitars, tight drumming and a great tune. Sugar and Husker Dü. Apparently he just holed himself up in a wood shack recording studio and played music till he liked it. Great to see him back on form. It’s probably one of the standout tracks for me though as there are some duds on here.

 

 

 

e8074a26Wild Nothing – ‘Life of Pause’: “Love Underneath My Thumb”

Basically I will go for anything that sounds vaguely 80s. This track pulls all those tricks. A little bit of Japan, a bit Talking Heads (ok that’s 70s too but they were ahead of the game). The spash of choppy guitar chords over a synth and I am your’s. Delightful.

 

 

160682North Sea Radio Orchestra – ‘Dronne’: “Guitar Miniature No.4”

Just great guitar on this one. We were reminded of Robbie Basho from a previous round and the similarity is not lost. There’s some incredibly difficult fingerpicking here from the incredible NSRO. They are well-worth checking out for anyone into a bit of traditional UK home grown folk.

 

a3953211025_10Kool Keith – ‘Feature Magnetic’: “Tired”

Some basic old-school rap here. Kool Keith is an old-timer having been on the circuit now for more than 20 years. His lyrics are less confrontational here in this album but he blends some nice humour here with slagging off other rappers

I can’t believe I’m so good, I’m in the studio with carrot cake
Other rappers bake

 

DavidBowie★David Bowie – ‘Blackstar’: “Dollar Days” and “I Can’t Give Everything Away”

What to say? I listen. I cry. I’m amazed at how good it really is, and his last recording  although I’m sure plenty more is tucked away. But this was his conscious last message to the world and it’s glorious.

I’m dying too

Push their backs against the grain
And fool them all again and again
I’m trying to

 He does it as well. Fools us all again. Takes us by surprise. The song segueways beatifully into the jazz-infused ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’ which again fills the mind with questions. Is he singing about his own death? Yes, probably, but it’s just a great song on its own merits without digging too deep into the lyrics. Bowie bows out and stuns us all. Mesmerizing. RIP David…..

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Anna Meredith – Varmints: Round 98, Nick’s choice

Anna Meredith came to my attention when she won the SAY – Scottish Album of the Year – for 2016 in the summer, beating the likes of Young Fathers, Steve Mason, Emma Pollock, and FFS. I didn’t know her name, but I did recognise the artwork for Varmints, and the description – classical composer makes debut pop/electronic album – made it sound right up my street.

It starts with “Nautilus”, an enormous, instrumental, Steve-Reich-like horn loop that never fails to get Nora dancing (she’s been known to point at the hi-fi and say “music”, and then get huffy if anything but this album gets put on). It’s not pop music, per se, and not quite dance or electronic either, but it is catchy, and it does make you move. As someone on ILM described it, it is “focused and amazing-sounding”. And it really is; the resonances of the horns and reverberations of the drums are monolithic and cavernous and loaded with detail.

Every single second of Varmints has something interesting going on sonically and/or compositionally; there’s a real feeling of musical depth and richness without it feeling complicated for the sake of complication. It’s been said that one of the joys of [pop?] music is how your brain tries to predict what’s going to happen next (and the satisfaction when you either get it right, or something beautifully unexpected happens), and Meredith surfs that line between comfortable, reassuring predictability and interesting, confounding unpredictability with expert poise.

At first Varmints almost felt too… positive? Too major-key? As if there was no real edge or dissonance to it. But a; that’s not actually true, as there are numerous frenetic / angry / charged / sad moments, and b; even if it was, I’m not sure that’s necessarily a bad thing. “Taken”, the second track and a single that’s found loads of airplay on 6music, definitely felt a touch too… something… in its male-female harmony vocals the first few times I played it (“Taken sounds like Nirvana’s Lithium as performed by an am-dram society” read another ILM comment), but the slashing guitars, tightly-wound synth loops, and odd rhythmic changes, as well as those hard-to-ignore vocals, have seeped into my cerebellum over the months to the point where I now thoroughly enjoy it.

About half the tracks are instrumental, and the album mixes up synthetic elements with cello, drums, clarinet, guitars, and many more different live instruments. The tone shifts massively from track to track; “Something Helpful” is delicate and yearning, but “R-Type” is almost violently repetitive and machine-like, and “Dowager” is tinged with sadness through both the arrangement and the lyrics, while “Blackfriers” is essentially beautiful, plaintive ambient music.

Meredith herself was born in London but moved to Scotland aged two, and has various compositional awards, a Masters from the Royal College of Music, and composer-in-residences on her CV. She’s also released a pair of EPs, Black Prince Fury and Jet Black Rider from 2012 and 2013 respectively, from which “Nautilus”, originally from Black Prince Fury, is the only track to feature on Varmints. Each EP has a rather surprising and surreptitious cover version hidden on it, by the way…

Nils Frahm – ‘Solo’: Round 98 – Rob’s choice

nf-solo-front-1600x1600

Nils Frahm is an enviable talent, but also a reachable one. His facility with the piano is, from the perspective of someone who does not really know how one goes about the business of playing a piano, marvelous rather than virtuosic. That is to say that what is so hypnotic, so engaging about the music Frahm makes at the piano, is not some display of unfathomable technical proficiency (he may be amazingly proficient, I don’t know), but instead it’s the warmth and the openness of the relationship he has with the instrument. He seems to sit down and talk with it, recording and lovingly curating the conversations that ensue.

‘Solo’ is the perfect example. It is warm, enveloping, comforting, friendly, delightful, simple, giving, still, spacious and gorgeous, as so much of Frahm’s music is. This is one of the most reachable records of recent years, or any year come to think of it. ‘Solo’ has accompanied more of my thinking and doing time in 2015 and 2016 than any other sound. We’ve been over this ground before, worrying about the utility of music instead of just getting on and utilising it. This is a beautiful record full stop and that cannot be lessened by the use I have made of it. In fact, far from being mere tools for filling backgrounds, this is a record that gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling of gratitude when I think about it.

There were whole stretches of the last two years when I couldn’t write without ‘Solo’ playing in the background. I’d be lying if I didn’t put its utility down to its smooth surfaces and the absence of hooks to lodge in the mind. But also, perhaps subconsciously, there is something about this record that speaks directly to notions of creativity and the image of a human at work. Nils Frahm created these pieces during a mammoth improvisation session on a handmade, 12-foot tall upright piano. As in some of his earlier work you can hear and feel the join between man and mechanism as keys are depressed, hammers lifted and wires struck. There’s a sense of a blank page, of someone sitting down to figure out what can possibly be done and then how to go about doing it.

Tom listened: Nils and his amazing 12 foot deep piano was the topic of hot debate at record club. You see, the fact he’s sitting atop the instrument makes much more sense to me, commanding the sound that emanates rather than being cowed by it; I had imagined a little man under a huge organ type affair, the machine as master and manipulator, the, no doubt minimal, music (you can tell from the album art these days) being far too repetitive and simplistic for my tastes. I was gearing up to write my ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ response again.

But no!

On Solo, Frahm has that stately elegance and dignity that can only remind one of Eno (and his much smaller organ) on Music for Airports. That’s a huge compliment, seeing as Music for Airports is a magnificent piece of work. The resonance of the notes as they hang in the air like the floating embers from a fire being replenished just in time, just as they fade out and die is a wondrous thing and kept me captivated throughout. Good choice Rob and full marks on the anti-prog meter.

Nick listened: This was lovely. I’d like to own it. And the piano is tall, not deep.

Steve listened: Beautiful record and now in my collection.

PJ Harvey – Is This Desire?: Round 97, Nick’s choice

“I do think Is This Desire? is the best record I ever made – maybe ever will make – and I feel that that was probably the highlight of my career. I gave 100 per cent of myself to that record. Maybe that was detrimental to my health at the same time.”

PJ Harvey’s fourth album came three and a half years after her previous record, the performative, modernist blues cabaret of To Bring You My Love, which had been a moderate crossover success and acclaimed in the music press. In the meantime she made Dance Hall At Louse Point with John Parrish, and collaborated with Tricky and Nick Cave (and had a relationship with the latter which inspired, allegedly, much of The Boatman’s Call).

James Oldham in NME gave Is This Desire? a 6/10 score, and lambasted it for being “wilfully uncommercial”. “It is an album tormented by visions of endless women doomed by their own circumstances. In the space of just 40 minutes, we’re presented with Angelene, Joy, Leah, Elise, two Catherines and countless other unnamed characters, all united by a sense of their own (almost comical) misfortune.” It’s worth noting that lead single “A Perfect Day Elise” is still PJ’s highest-charting – it reached number 25. It’s also worth noting that James Oldham is a man writing for an ‘indie’ magazine nearly 20 years ago, and Is This Desire? is a record about female desire that is pretty defiantly not ‘indie’, in that 4-boys-with-guitars-and-hair way that Britpop was the apex of. A final thing worth noting is that Is This Desire? was nominated for a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Performance of 1998. So what does James Oldham know?

Is This Desire? covers a huge amount of musical ground; it lives in that twilight space after Britpop and triphop when the British music press didn’t really know what to call anything. There are chunky, oppressive loops based around keyboards, electronics, and bass, and moments of delicate piano minimalism. Parts of it are intensely, wildly aggressive, as aggressive as anything PJ Harvey has recorded, and yet the overall feel of the album is hushed, subtle, almost withdrawn.

18 years on it feels like my favourite PJ Harvey album, alongside Let England Shake. The two records are similar in many ways, from their monochrome sleeves to their forward-thinking, backwards-referencing approach to a hidden side of history; history taken on painfully individual levels, rather than broad brush-strokes across cultures and societies. Only instead of war and atrocity, the characters here are victims of emotional violence, often, seemingly, of their own causing. Even the lyrically celebratory moments – like “The Sky Lit Up” – are rendered with a disconcerting edge (which would be almost completely shorn from the far more accessible and positively-received Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea two years later) that makes the album feel emotionally harrowing even as it describes things which seem positive when written down and divorced from their musical contexts.

This being a PJ Harvey album at record club, there was, as ever, a lot of talk about authenticity and performativity and autobiography. It seems, following The Hope 6 Demolition Project earlier this year, to me that Polly Jean Harvey has always been a historian in many ways, exploring primary, secondary, and tertiary sources in her music, both musically and especially lyrically. I know very little about her as a person, which seems to be how she likes it.

Let’s finish with another quote from Polly herself, from an interview around the time Is This Desire? was released: “the tortured artist myth is rampant. People paint me as some kind of black witchcraft-practising devil from hell, that I have to be twisted and dark to do what I am doing. It’s a load of rubbish.”

The Besnard Lakes – Are The Black Horse: Round 98 – Tom’s Selection

homepage_large-48cd8e8b‘Inspired’ by Steve’s attempts to ‘proggify’ us at the previous meeting…and neatly tying in with Rob’s Godspeed offering as well I decided, at the eleventh hour, to take Are The Black Horse along as my choice for Nick’s supremely poorly disguised ‘bring anything as long as it’s not prog’ themed night. He couched this, in the literal sense, as ‘bring something recent’, but we all knew what he was getting at. I thought, however, that it might be fun to poke the bear and seeing as The Besnard Lakes have occasionally had the ‘P’ word used to describe their work, I couldn’t wait to see Nick’s reaction when subjected to what may be the proggiest record in my collection.

However…it turns out that Are The Dark Horse is actually not very proggy at all. In fact, I would say it leans closer to shoegaze, post-rock or psychedelia than prog, only evoking those hoary old behemoths of excessive tempo and key signature alteration during the occasional guitar solo, or in the airbrushed cover art and the ridiculously pretentious album name.

To be honest, I have never quite clicked with the music of The Besnard Lakes. Whilst they are one of those bands that I have always felt might play a blinder at some stage of their career, the two albums of theirs I do own (this and the one with the even sillier name about UFOs) are just a little too po-faced and monochrome to really draw me in. That said, there is much to admire – the swooping melodies for a start, often aching with melancholia, are beautifully realised, especially on the first two tracks of the album, Disaster and For Agent 13.

Third track, And You Lied To Me, is the album’s epic and, as such, is probably its proggiest moment, segueing from one movement to another over the course of its 7 minute duration. But this is prog 30 years on and whilst the structures may echo past glories/misdemeanours, the music has been filtered through a lineage stretching from Glenn Branca, to Sonic Youth to Broken Social Scene, so there is only the faintest whiff of the 70s art form present on this, or indeed any other track on the record. Because Tonight is similarly lengthy but is far more straightforward in construction and plays like an indie band dabbling in post-rock probably thanks, in no small part, to the influence of Godspeed You Black Emperor’s Sophie Trudeau guesting on the album. The record closes with a gorgeous Beach Boys sound-a-like in Cedric’s War, its warm bounciness and summery vocals making it very much an outlier and a welcome one as far as I am concerned.

But that’s not to say that the album needed a change by track 8, it doesn’t. The preceding seven tracks (well, with the exception of Devastation, which I have never really got on with at all) are all lovely, interesting…compelling even. It’s just that, as an album, Are The Dark Horse doesn’t really draw me to it very often and, when it does, it doesn’t tend to keep me coming back for more. I’m not entirely sure why this should be the case…all I know is I’m glad the album exists, I’m glad to have it in my collection and I super relieved it didn’t turn out to be proggy at all…apart from the fact that, for me, the album as a whole seems to add up to less than the sum of its parts (see my response to Trespass in round 97).

Nick listened: Rockier than I expected.