The Null Device

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With another year coming to its conclusion, here is the annual list of noteworthy records:

  • Astrel K - Flickering I (BandCamp)

    Astrel K, the new Stockholm-based band from Ulrika Spacek frontman Rhys Edwards, do a sort of library-music-flavoured psychedelic chamber pop; they caught the eye of Stereolab, who put out their debut album on their Duophonic label and invited them to play their UltraDisko minifestival in London, and one can see why. Their debut album places them in the hypnagogic realms not that far from Broadcast or Still Corners: choppy electric guitar licks, funky drums, clunking basslines, soaring Mellotron strings and radiophonic blips, over which Edwards' vocals float with an almost exaggerated melodiousness; the entire effect is cinematic, albeit slightly discoloured as if shot on expired film stock. When they eventually name the sprawling genre that Stereolab, Broadcast and such spawned (it's not krautrock, chamber pop or library music, to say nothing of “hauntology” or similar, and “psychedelia” is nowhere near specific enough a term), this will be in the early-2020s chapter alongside Dummy and Adult Oriented Pop.

  • Barrie - Barbara (BandCamp) and Jockstrap - I Love You Jennifer B (BandCamp)

    Two very different records unselfconsciously blurring the boundaries between the roles of singer/songwriter and producer, and the magisteria of “rock”/“folk” and “electronica” without making a thing of this. Barrie is New York songwriter/producer Barrie Lindsay, and her album Barbara touches all bases. Opener Jersey is guitar-led indie, not too far from Hatchie, slathered in chorus and reverb and with some subtly crunchy beats beneath it. The second track, Frankie, is a piece of warm electronica, propelled by a metronomic drum machine and synth arpeggio and building up with warm synth pads and breaking down with chopped-up breakbeats, which feels like a Michel Gondry cardboard version of New Order's Power, Corruption and Lies or something. Concrete, with vocals floating over pulsing synthesisers, ventures towards Jane Weaver territory before the beats kick in, whereas Quarry is a larger-than-life slice of M83-esque electrogaze nostalgia with its heart on its sleeve.

    Jockstrap, meanwhile, are a London duo who met whilst studying composition, and whose approach seems to be a chaotic, constructivist one, throwing the kitchen sink at their tracks. The opener, Neon, starts off with vocals and guitar, and escalates into a sort of mutant trip-hop, ending as a saturated wall of fuzz; the semi-titular track Jennifer B builds out of glitchy loops of lo-fi samples and compressed drum hits, before breaking out into song and lush strings, all sounding like a collage. Greatest Hits is a funky groove built on a drum machine, piano chord loop and choppy samples, and sounds like a lo-fi Saint Etienne. It is, improbably, followed by What's It All About, an unbelievably pretty ballad over strummed guitar and sweeping strings that sounds almost like it could be off a 1960s film soundtrack. The rest of the album is similarly varied: beats, arpeggios and random samples.

    Records like these bear out the thought that the folk musics of tomorrow will be made with software and digital manipulations, just as the folk music of yesterday was with the abundant technologies of the day, such as string instruments and tape recorders.

  • Bis - Systems Music For Home Defence

    The veteran Glaswegian disco-punks return with another record; this one is a love letter to techno, house and dance-pop circa 1990. Drum machine rolls, authentically vintage digital synth patches and the odd video-arcade bleep combine with Bis' cheerful skronk: choppy guitars you can pogo to and half-sung, half-shouted vocals that sound like they wouldn't be amiss on a Friday night out on Sauchiehall. The album kicks off in characteristically boisterous fashion with with Lucky Night: choppy guitar, drum machine and call/response vocals rising to a soaring chorus with Italo-house piano chords; the song, which sems to be about socially-aware pick-up lines, straddles the gap between Eurodancy pop and punk energy in a very Bis way. (I Don't Think We're) Falling In Love, a funky piece of dance-pop with a subtle nod to Glaswegian 303 pioneers Orange Juice's Rip It Up And Start Again; The Safe Routines slows down the pace slightly, venturing into Saint Etienne territory, with Manda channelling Sarah Cracknell as she describes the risk calculations made by a woman on a night out. The pace picks up with Stress, propelled by choppy guitars, clattering cowbell and a house beat. coming down to land with The Who's Who Of What, a midtempo closer arranged around gated synth chords.

    Systems Music could be compared to Bis' 2001 disco-pop masterpiece Return To Central; the difference, though, is that, for all its techno/dance leanings, it feels more live; one has more of a sense of each song being recorded in one take with everyone in the same studio. (I don't know if this is what happened, though it feels that way.) Which, if you liked Return To Central for its coolly constructed qualities, may be a negative, though not a huge one, and knowing Bis, who knows where they'll go next?

  • Black Cab - Rotsler's Rules (BandCamp) and Federation - Heartfelt (BandCamp)

    Two albums of hard-edged electronic pop from different sides of the world. Rotsler's Rules, the latest album from Melbourne electronic combo Black Cab, is a slab of propulsive electronica (for want of a better genre name: it's not house or techno, the vocals are insufficiently prominent to be Pop proper, and has neither the dystopic sadofuturism of EBM nor the neon-hued retro-romanticism of synthwave, and it's not krautrock either, though you may find elements of all these). Propulsive 4/4 drum machines, burbling sequencers, hard-edged bass, anthemic pads and the odd vocoder drive this forward; highlights include the motorik Karl Marx Stadt, the bipartite Hanna, which goes from anthemic pop to 303-driven techno, and Bad Robot, an unabashed fan letter to Kraftwerk.

    Federation are in a similar space, only more on the indie-rock side of the fence; they are a new trio, originally from Bollnäs, Sweden, but now based in Stockholm, who started playing in punk/indie bands but switched to electronic instrumentation, their sound is somewhere between post-punk and rave. Their sound is hard-edged and metronomic, undergirded by saturated sawtooth waves and layers of beats and sequences, reminding me of a less sparse Suicide, the first Apparat Organ Quartet album, or some of Ollie Olsen's post-punk works like Whirlywirld; unlike Black Cab, their non-instrumental songs have prominent vocals, sung in a resonant post-punk croon, somewhere between James Murphy and Peter Murphy. Heartfelt is their debut album; highlights include Strange Dreams, with its skittering beats and chiming keyboards and the anthemic Tell Your Friends; the closer, Now And Always, shows a slower, more processional side of the band. Ones to watch.

  • Cheekface - Too Much To Ask (BandCamp)

    He's tall! He's Lean! He reeks of gasoline! And he's got perfect credit if you know what I mean… Fast-paced slacker-rock serving as a medium for an even faster barrage of one-liners drawing a sketch of the American way of life (mostly as dysfunctional, medicated consumerism), delivered by a frontman who can almost be arsed to sing properly and sounds like Fred Schneider crossed with J.R. “Bob” Dobbs' younger brother the TV announcer. The songs have titles like When Life Hands You Problems, Vegan Water and You Always Want To Bomb The Middle East and few ideas outlive the line they're delivered on, but that's fine, as they keep coming like tennis balls out of a cannon.

  • Confidence Man - TILT (BandCamp)

    Big dumb south-of-the-Yarra house-pop like something Peewee Ferris came up with in the mid-90s, with 909 snare rolls and vapid lyrics about partying/being in love/feeling good, or some combination thereof delivered in midpacific accents. There are touches of DFA in places (Angry Girl, which is like if Le Tigre came from Chapel St.), though elsewhere it channels Vogue-era Madonna (Break It/Bought It) and home-grown legends Sophie Lee And The Freaked Out Flower Children (What I Like). Which works well, with tongue as much in cheek as required; after all, it must be said that (pretentious indie outliers notwithstanding), Australians like their dance music, as per Pet Shop Boy Chris Lowe's approving description, moronic: boofy, doofy beats you can dance to for hours on the amphetamine/opiate mix that passes for MDMA within the Australian biosecurity zone and vaguely euphoric adornment that doesn't commit the faux pas of trying too hard; all this, Confidence Man deliver in spades. File alongside your Kath And Kim DVDs.

  • Destroyer - Labyrinthitis (BandCamp)

    Dan Bejar's songwriting is surrealistic; not in the popular sense of the word, which was ceded to advertising bureaux decades ago, but in the original sense of being comprised of dreamlike, vaguely unsettling subconscious imagery, without attempts to impose a rational interpretation on it. His last few albums of musical output have haunted the lacunae between new-wave and sophistipop, all the while maintaining a reserved, enigmatic detachment that makes Bernard Sumner sound heartfelt by comparison. In that sense one could call Destroyer a heir to New Order, not so much for the surface stylistic touches (which have been mimicked by entire generations of bands, and not without reason, and which Destroyer, characteristically, only ever feints at momentarily) but the oblique detachment of songs like Leave Me Alone. Bejar takes it one step further, often writing in the second person: not so much unreliable narrator as unreliable director in a theatre of the absurd.

    Labyrinthitis follows in this vein, like a musical de Chirico painting, a masque of shadows and symbolism. June is symbolist spoken-word poetry over languid disco-funk with cowbell and choppy guitar, Eat The Wine, Drink The Bread, its nonchalant absurdism belied in its title, is a disco-pop number propelled forward by synth bass, funky guitars and drum-machine handclaps, providing some structure beneath the thematic ambiguity. The States is a piece of minimal synthpop whose lyrics read like a surrealist noir (“you abandon your luggage at the abandoned bus station, you go over your story again and again, but it doesn't make sense, not the third or the fourth time”), and The Last Song strips back the studio artifice but not the veil of meaning, being essentially minimal electric guitar-folk; written in the second person, nonspecifically accusatory (“you wake up, you stand up, you move to LA, you're just another person that moves to LA”).

  • Dubstar - Two (Spotify)

    Second-act Dubstar are back with their second record, and it's what you'd expect: a bit of synthpop (they worked with producer Stephen Hague), a bit of indie jangle, and Sarah's stage persona is as always a vortex of drama, even at the height of the Covid pandemic. The album opens with Token, a track which sounds so much like a Pet Shop Boys song that it is slightly startling to hear that the voice that comes in is not Neil Tennant. I Can See You Outside and Hygiene Strip are the two Covidcene anthems, with Sarah's narrator lamenting all that was lost with the Before Times and negotiating the new normal (by which, of course, one means the protocols of flirtation in a masked-up, self-isolating world), and managing to pull off that combination of cool archness and confessional vulnerability that is Sarah's stock-in-trade. Elsewhere, they go Numanesque (Tectonic Plates), channel The Verve (Lighthouse), bring the jangly guitars (Social Proof), and it probably won't surprise you that if anyone was to write a song titled Kissing To Be Unkind it'd be Dubstar. The album ends on a slow, reflective piano ballad titled Perfect Circle. If you liked One, Two will probably appeal.

  • Lande Hekt - House Without A View (BandCamp) and Momma - Household Name (BandCamp)

    Two albums of anthemic indie-rock which stood out in 2022, in some ways similar, in others, quite different. Momma are a band from LA, whose stock-in-trade is self-consciously 90s-style alternative-rock, often about driving, smoking or the life of a rock musician, with chunky guitars, honeyed, close-miked vocals and a knack for catchy hooks; they sound a bit like a female-fronted Pavement or Pixies. Among highlights: Speeding 72 and Lucky are perhaps the climactic moments one might expect to close a set or an encore, and Brave and Spider also stand out in a slightly more chill way, though there aren't any weak songs here.

    Lande Hekt, meanwhile, is based in Bristol; House Without A View is lush (and occasionally Lush-adjacent), melodious indie-pop verging on dreampop. Hekt's guitar sound is chorused, almost in dreampop territory, and her singing voice is more Emma than Miki. One could perhaps imagine Hekt having come to the attention of Sarah Records, had she been around a few decades earlier. Anyway, House Without A View was a late find this year, though otherwise I would undoubtedly have listened to it a lot more, as it's lovely.

  • Let's Eat Grandma - Two Ribbons (BandCamp)

    The third album from the pair of childhood friends is a record of a very tough time for them. Jenny Hollingworth's boyfriend, the pop musician Billy Clayton, was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive cancer, of which, despite all efforts, he died; their collaborator and friend, the producer SOPHIE, also died in an accident. Then there was the pandemic, of course; and, by no means least, the duo's almost lifelong friendship began fraying, beginning with Hollingworth and Rosa Walton finding they could no longer finish each other's sentences. Walton moved to London, suffered a nervous breakdown, and moved back to Norfolk. Their friendship has since recovered, though in a new way. So, in some ways, this record is an artefact of mourning: for Clayton, for SOPHIE, and for the lost purity of childhood friendships. Having said this, don't expect Mt. Eerie's A Crow Looked At Me: Hollingworth and Walton are nothing if not supremely skilled artificers, and using their grief and emotional turmoil as an ingredient for pop music is not beyond them. As such, this record is more about putting on a brave face and dancing the pain away, chaotically through the Kübler-Ross stages of grief in no fixed order.

    The opening track, Happy New Year would be the bargaining, or perhaps denial, phase: recounting moments in their friendship, arguing a bit too hard for its steadfastness; with its euphoric synth chords, it feels celebratory, even if a close reading could interpret it as an ironic juxtaposition, and a eulogy for something lost. Levitation is an upbeat-sounding electropop song, which one may not realise was inspired by Walton's breakdown in London. Watching You Go, Hollingworth's song for Clayton, is about the thoughts that pass through one's mind as a loved one slips away; in other hands, one could have imagined this as a lugubrious piano ballad, perhaps with the blocky minor chords that denote a Heavy Mood, though this would be too obvious for Let's Eat Grandma, who instead render it as Robyn-esque dance-pop, one can get down to if one doesn't think too hard about the lyrics. The mood darkens a bit in the claustrophobic Hall Of Mirrors, before hitting bottom in Insect Loop, easing away from both the clubby beats and cheer. Then, in the second half, the album lightens; the interlude In The Cemetery, a field recording of birdsong, serves as a halfway marker. A highlight is Sunday; a wistful ballad driven by subtle guitar and even subtler electronics that builds to a gentle climax; it's not flashy, but showcases the strength of their songwriting. The album continues at a languid pace, finishing with its title track, a Velvet Underground-esque meditation on change, friendship and letting go. Is this the last chapter of the Let's Eat Grandma story? Who knows. Though in any case it's likely we'll hear more from Jenny and Rosa, one way or another.

  • Loney Dear - Atlantis (BandCamp)

    Not so much an entirely new album from Loney Dear as a live studio recording of recent (and some less recent) songs, made during what would have been a gig were it not for pandemic restrictions. Those in particular who have seen Loney Dear hone these songs in live shows, eagerly anticipating their release on a record, and then bought A Lantern And A Bell, only to find everything stripped down to within an inch of its life, will find some joy here, as the live performance allows the songs to unfold and expand. Loney Dear performances have a way of differing, with the structure, arrangement and instrumentation of the songs changing from gig to gig, and this live studio performance is no exception. The melancholic Largo, in particular, transforms almost into trip-hop, driven by Konrad Agnas' jazzy drumming; in retrospect, an uncannily good fit for the shadowy anhedonia of the song. The highlight for me would be the closing track, Interval Repeat War, last heard in somewhat truncated form on A Lantern And A Bell; here, it is given the space to expand to its full despondent beauty. (You know that thing Loney Dear does where, towards their end, his songs come together and for one sublime instant the celestial spheres are in harmony with all the sorrows in your insignificant life? Well, that thing happens here too.)

  • My Favorite - Tender Is The Nightshift: Part 1 (BandCamp)

    In the 90s, they were, in their own self-deprecatingly ironic words, New York's last cult heroes; a group of outsider kids who, in the face of grunge-era alternative rock, made their own world out of raw emotion and unfashionably smooth 80s pop. That My Favorite died in 2005; its second incarnation, consisting of frontman Michael Grace Jr. and a few bandmates, returned nine years later with the single-cum-manifesto Second Empire, a pensive sophistipop missive from and for the aging homeless club kids, too old to die young and yet too young to die slow. The arrival of the second empire has been incremental, though after another two-track single—Christine Zero/Killed For Kicks—in 2016, the first instalment of something more expansive arrives.

    Tender Is The Nightshift: Part 1 is, as the title suggests, intended as the first of three chapters of an album; thematically, it is a reflective record, about letting go—or refusing to—of the past, and of illusions, and about the ghosts that haunt one. In parts it feels like a belated return to the setting of their debut Love At Absolute Zero, the dead spaces of Long Island, haunted by numerous ghosts. The rage is there, though the years have weathered Grace's angry-young-man shout to a Bryan Ferryesque croon; meanwhile, the vocabulary of lyrical and stylistic references is as sharp as always.

    The record kicks off with Dean's 7th Dream, an 8-minute Kraftwerk-meets-Let's Dance-era-Bowie disco-pop number, with The Roots' Captain Kirk Douglas on guitar playing the Nile Rogers role. Before long, those slow-strummed guitar chords wash over us and we are back in the My Favorite cinematic universe: a place familiar, if not entirely comforting, hewn from the legends of doomed youth, and where it always rains: a hard rain in a soft cell, as Grace croons, the first of many references. The familiar themes soon return: doomed romanticism, panache in the sense of adversity, and references to a pantheon of the young and lost Track two, Princess Diana Awaiting Ambulance (its title an echo of My Favorite v1's James Dean Awaiting Ambulance), is slower, propelled by a gated-reverbed Be My Baby backbeat. (To my subjective ears, it sounds of a kin with The Boys Next Door's “Shivers”; after all, what is “I leave the 90s behind but they keep dragging me back, cause I hear the chatter of angels when I don't take my Prozac” if not a Gracean version of “I keep contemplating suicide, but it doesn't really suit my style”?) It is not, of course, a breathlessly Anglophilic royalist hagiography; the late princess is merely an icon, a token of lost youth, or perhaps the lucky ones who stay gold while we, left behind, rust? Blues for Planet X, like the last tracks of the past two singles, features a female vocalist, though with Grace joining in the chorus; this time, the ghost invoked is Bowie circa Space Oddity. The record is finished off with a rerecording of the aforementioned Second Empire, now made yet more lush, with added saxophone and backing vocals. A promising first instalment.

  • NO ZU - Heat Beat (BandCamp)

    Australia's premier (and indeed only) purveyors of the Heat Beat genre (think early-1980s New York punk-funk gone troppo) regroup for the first time since the death of vocalist Daphne Camf, releasing their last recording with her contributions. The titular exemplar of their genre, Heat Beat is a slender five tracks (one of which is a phone skit, with Camf, as shamaness-cum-premium-phone-line-operator, ministering to a caller who couldn't quite cope with the heat) and just over 25 minutes, but what a 25 minutes. Propelled forward by propulsive beats, congas, cowbells, horn blasts, funk guitar, sax and synth riffs, with vocal adlibs hyping up the crowd and pushing the Heat Beat mythos, which, going by the record, appears to be a sort of physical, cosmically erotic rhythm-based panpsychism, and possibly a virulent psychohazard. Catchier than COVID, and probably the grooviest record of 2022.

  • Phoebe Go - Player EP (BandCamp)

    Yes, another young woman with a guitar and some songs obliquely referencing possibly traumatic personal experiences; though Phoebe Go has a knack for songwriting and arrangement and a good singing voice with a smoky languor. The songs have a sparse, moody quality and a good sense of melody; the production is subtle, with unobtrusive programmed beats accompanying the vocals and guitar in places. The EP itself is only five tracks; the opener, We Don't Talk, kicks it off on a high note, almost approaching shoegaze in places, and Hey is an atmospheric slow-burner. A very promising debut; it will be interesting to see what she does next.

  • PUTOCHINOMARICÓN - J​Á​JÁ ÉQ​Ú​Í​SDÉ (Distop​í​a Aburrida) (BandCamp)

    PUTOCHINOMARICÓN is Spanish-based queer Taiwanese hyperpop artist Chenta Tsai, signed to Elefant, the Spanish label better known as a home for twee indiepop than frantic, glitchy digital electronica, which is what JÁJÁ ÉQUÍSDÉ is. From the intro (subtitled Renacentista De Tutorial, which eases in with a autotuned vocals, and plucky synths and chiptune arps before bludgening your ears with a barrage of drum hits and synth stabs), the album, clocking in at just under half an hour, is a relentless ride through a jittering neon landscape, never standing still. Tamagotchi is a frantic dancefloor workout with a swaggering guest rap by PC Music mainstay GFOTY; this is followed by the languid, arpeggio-driven DM, a lush confection of vintage FM chimes and trebly drum hits, echoing the smooth, throwaway 80s synth balladry that typically only emerges from the uncanny unspoken of hipster cultural memory in vaporwave mashups. Aduoto Incomprendido is a piece of twitchy, twinkly 2-step; it is followed by Internacional Call, a J-Pop-tinged frenzy of pitch-shifted vocals, thumping kicks and various bleeps, that makes up with manic intensity what its 71 seconds lack in duration. Otra Fisicalidad touches on freestyle, only with with rave risers and manic energy. The closer of the album is Tu Foto De Perfil, a manic pitch-shifted rave anthem which brings the house down in a cascade of buildups, throwing seemingly every synth preset at it. As the titles suggest, the album has an overarching theme of sorts, and it is one of being very online. Every generation discovers this on its own, of course (the oldsters among you will remember the MONDO 2000-era cybercultural boosterism that mingled with first-generation rave), though here is the 2022 instalment. There are songs about intimacy through online communications (DM), teledildonics (Rubberhand, the one song wholly in English), the possibilities of the construction, and destruction, of virtual identities (Chique De Internet, Otra Fisicalidad and Tu Foto De Perfil), and the tension between the freedom of cyberspace and the awareness of being under surveillance (Tamagotchi). One could say that JÁJÁ EQÚÍSDÉ is a yin of sorts to the yang of Serotonin-era yeule; both cover similar areas though with very different temperaments. This is hyperpop at its most hyper.

  • yeule - Glitch Princess / The Things They Did For Me Out Of Love (BandCamp)

    yeule's Serotonin II was one of my favourite discoveries of last year; a record whose ethereal, digital dreampop aesthetic resonated with me in a why-haven't-I-heard-this-before way. Their follow-up feels like a transitional record, as yeule (who started hanging out with the PC Music people while studying art at St. Martin's in London) moved away from the headphones and into the mainroom. There are more live instruments (some jangly guitar on Don't Be So Hard On Your Own Beauty, which combined with heavy Autotune, reminds me of FRITZ' experiments in that direction; a touch of shoegaze guitar on Flowers Are Dead, some piano not made abstract by reverb on the minor-key Eyes), and the digital sounds have a more cavernous sound. It doesn't all work (Perfect Blue, a song about the narrator's emotional state, does suffer a bit from the guest verse of some dude going on about his new car which is a blue car, for example), though has its peaks, such as Friendly Machine, combining distorted digital waveforms, mangled close-miked vocals and shoegazey textures to convey a sense of medicated dysphoria; a great song which wouldn't fit on any of yeule's earlier albums. This hasn't become my favourite yeule album, though I'm looking forward to seeing where they go next.

    Also, the last track (in the Spotify version, or as a separate MP3 download with the Bandcamp release), The Things They Did For Me Out Of Love is a doozy; it clocks in at 4¾ hours, consisting of slow chords made of samples of yeule's voice, co-produced with Danny L. Harle; there are also gaps every half hour or so. I listed it separately, as it doesn't really fit in with the rest of this album, or indeed yeule's back-catalogue. My guess is that they wanted to release it as a box set, as a sort of Max Richter's Sleep for online Generation Z or something, but the label put its foot down.

And some other releases I liked: Cate Brooks, Winterfest (the Advisory Circle/King Of Woolworths creator's first solo record post-transition—no, you're not misremembering things—is what the title suggests: a sound sketch of winter, evoking snowfalls seen through a window with a cup of something warm in hand; file alongside other Café Kaput releases) ¶ Calliére, Barcelona (shoegazey indiepop and moody instrumentals that reads like a snapshot of the moment in the 1990s immediately before UK indie discovered cocaine, and features Mary Wyer of Even As We Speak guesting on one track; file alongside your Boo Radleys CDs and/or The Field Mice's less pop excursions) ¶ Stella Donnelly, Flood (Melodious, sunny and exceedingly pleasant folk-pop from the Western Australian singer-songwriter; highlight: the upbeat spoken-word song-poem How Was Your Day, a Neighbours to Dry Cleaning's Eastenders) ¶ Dry Cleaning, Stumpwork (the band refine the formula from their first album—languid, heavy-lidded spoken-word over indie-rock backings—only this time, the music is mellower and further from the indie-rock comfort zone in places) ¶ Goat, Oh Death (the latest from the masked northern-Swedish witch-doctors of psychedelia sees them getting some Funkadelic in their Amon Düül II) ¶ Hatchie, Giving The World Away (now based in LA, Hatchie polishes up her formula of catchy pop with 90s alternative leanings; you'll find the usual Curve and shoegaze influences here, but also some Madchester baggy and even Tears For Fears) ¶ Jenny Hval, Classic Objects (Hval's post-pandemic album, in which she does her usual omphaloskepsis sung over electronic arrangements; one could perhaps consider Hval a sort of feminine answer to the libidinous high-concept pop of Of Montreal) ¶ Kikagaku Moyo, Kumoyo Island (the last album from the Japanese psych band; mellow, slightly otherworldly psychedelia) ¶ Kelly Lee Owens, LP.8 (a more ambient record, made with Norwegian noise artist Lasse Marhaug; sounds like sunlight filtering into a cavernous industrial space) ¶ Panda Bear & Sonic Boom, Reset (the Portugal-based tropicalist and Spacemen 3 trip-shaman's first collaboration contains, as one might expect, sun-melted hooks and harmonies and hypnotic repetition, and is probably up there with Person Pitch in Panda Bear's oeuvre) ¶ Planet 1999, this is our music ♫ (the one PC Music release here; crisp, glossy soft hyperpop autotuned to within an inch of its life; unlike Putochinomaricón, this doesn't bludgeon you with kick drums and hockets of synth patches; a bit like early yeule, only without the hikikomori tendencies) ¶ xPropaganda, The Heart Is Strange (the ZTT-linked band returns, after a fashion, with their brand of expressionist synthpop; all glossy pulsating sequencers, synth-string sweeps that belie their vintage and Claudia Brücken's enigmatic vocals. It ends with Ribbons Of Steel, a 9-minute sophistipop mood piece, consisting of spoken word over synth pads and jazzy yet moody keyboards) ¶ Resplandor, Tristeza (you may remember them from a Slowdive tribute compilation back when a Slowdive reunion wasn't on the cards; the Netherlands-based Argentine shoegaze band bring lush shoegaze which sounds like concentrated essence of Slowdive, if Slowdive was Lovesliescrushing or something) ¶ SRSQ, Ever Crashing (Kennedy Ashlyn, formerly of Them Are Us Too, returns with her second album, making something beautiful from turmoil; a highlight is Abyss, which is as if Angelo Badalamenti had gotten Liz Fraser to sing at the Roadhouse) ¶ Sun's Signature, s/t (speaking of Liz Fraser, the queen is back! The debut of her project with her partner, percussionist Damon Reece. Her voice sounds even more beautifully clear than in the Cocteaus days, though anyone wanting to hear that voice enveloped in walls of ethereal reverb may be disappointed, as there is no shoegazing to be done here; the arrangements are prog-rocky, each instrument appears cleanly in its own space, and where guitars may appear, they keen in the distance rather than emanating sheets of luscious noise) ¶ Talkshow Boy, Music For Money (Talkshow Boy's latest album, with songs about cryptids, customers from hell, the invention of nuclear weapons and the drudgery of the workday; now with more MIDI piano) ¶ Toro Y Moi, Mahal (funky, introspective, sun-seared psychedelic soul; crunchy breakbeats, fuzzy guitar, electric piano and the odd digital manipulation) ¶ Nik Colk Void, Bucked-Up Space (the Factory Floor frontwoman's solo debut combines their 4/4 minimal-house workouts with dark atmospherics à la Blanck Mass/Demdike Stare and perhaps a dash of Autechre; esoteric alchemy at an East London warehouse rave) ¶ Wet Leg, s/t (the Franz Ferdinand to Dry Cleaning's Interpol; the Joy Division in this metaphor is, of course, Life Without Buildings) ¶ Winter, What Kind Of Blue Are You? (lo-fi, vaguely MBV-esque dreampop from the LA-based solo artist and Hatchie collaborator) ¶ Zola Jesus, ARKHON (the Siberian shamaness' latest release feels somewhat more spacious than her previous works).

There is, as always, a Spotify playlist here.

2022 cds lists music 0


And, with the end of the second plague year, here is the annual list of noteworthy records of the year:

  • Damon AlbarnThe Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows (BandCamp)

    First, I must confess to not having been a fan of Albarn, whom I had mostly written off, for understandable reasons, as an insufferable pillock. There was, of course, his time fronting the second least interesting band of the Britpop Band Wars, surfing the tidal wave of hype that buried forward-looking currents of British independent music under the dredged-up mud of sixeventies guitar rock, and ushered in a retrograde era of Mod cosplay and union-jack kitsch that prefigured the boomer tantrum of Brexit, and of course the various tics of his stage persona—the risible mockney accent, the appropriation of (a caricature of) English working-class identity—which gave the impression of a glib chancer, or what the psychologist Erich Fromm would call a marketing character, wafer-thin and existing entirely in the media. As such, I was pleasantly surprised by his solo album, which is quite a subtle work of introspective melancholia.

    Albarn's connections to Iceland had been well known (he scored Baltasar Kormákur's 00s hipster comedy 101 Reykjavík, co-owned (briefly, it turns out) a trendy bar off Laugavegur, and in the Britpop era, there were apparently jokes on Icelandic TV about Reykjavík being full of babies with the patronymic Damonsson), though mostly seemed to have been coterminous with Iceland being fashionable, in the era between Björk's imperial phase and post-crash mass tourism. It turns out that Albarn's connection to Iceland is an enduring one; he wrote the album at his piano, looking out of the window at Mount Esja at the home near Reykjavík where he had lived for 24 years. And the connection to Iceland does show; not in a superficial way—there are no touristcore Sigur Rós pastiches here—but in a more subtle sense of space, and introspection that comes from spending time there; it is a country where one spends a lot of time, for better or worse, with one's thoughts.

    The opening, and title, track begins with atmospheric strings; soon, Albarn's voice, aged and weary in a way somewhat reminiscent of late-period David Bowie, comes in, singing a quite lovely song, apparently of mourning to a lost loved one. The second track, The Cormorant, with its home-organ percussion and piano, is reminiscent of Radiohead circa Pyramid Song, or perhaps the oblique jazz-rock Bowie made while concealing Death's cold hand on his shoulder. The pace picks up with Royal Morning Blue, propelled forward by a 4/4 beat and driving bassline, and sounding like a closing-credits track. A highlight, in my opinion, would probably be The Tower of Montevideo, which with its home-organ beat, bandoneon riff and jazz saxophone, expresses longing for something gone in the language of magic realism.

    The Nearer The Fountain is a lush yet stark work of ethereal beauty and artistic maturity, the work of an artist who has outgrown the hype and found a voice outside the marketing machine. Still, you may as well savour it, just in case his next creative endeavour is a Gorillaz NFT or something.

  • Cong JosieCong! (BandCamp), and Viagra BoysWelfare Jazz

    Two different records, from opposite parts of the world, arriving, in their own ways, in similar territory; both are grounded in post-punk/new-wave takes on rock'n'roll, and both explore a demimonde of deviant or transgressive hypermasculinity. Cong Josie, the alter-ego of Nic Oogjes, of Melbourne party-rockers NO ZU, exploring a sort of Lynchian netherworld of outlaw masculinity, like Suicide working with Angelo Badalamenti, or perhaps a more muscular version of Jarvis Cocker Darren Spooner's Relaxed Muscle project, with songs with titles like I Want A Man and Leather Whip; saxophones bray over strictly sequenced synths and drum-machine handclaps, with Cong (or is it Josie?) playing a rockabilly crooner like a minor character from a David Lynch film, yelping and cooing in a libidinous frenzy. One notable song, Wedding Bells, recapitulates an almost lost tradition of rock'n'roll death ballads, in an anachronistically new-wave style.

    Viagra Boys (not to be confused with the Icelandic band Vagina Boys), meanwhile, are a Swedish post-punk band. Welfare Jazz, as the name suggests, is an album with a concept, a slightly prurient sort of tour of a sensationalised underclass, played in the first-person by the artists in songs like Ain't Nice and Creatures. Coming from Sweden and its rock culture, it's probably a safe bet that the inspiration may come from Sweden's own raggare subculture, a sort of home-grown rockabilly petrolhead hooliganism that fetishises the idea of 1950s America. It's perhaps for the best that this doesn't extend to the music, because as anyone who has spent much time in earshot of a major thoroughfare in Sweden near the end of a month will attest, raggare music is awful, being essentially a beer-hall schlager with artificial Elvis flavouring. Viagra Boys, meanwhile, draw inspiration post-punk and new wave in general, including once again Suicide; there's probably more krautrock here than schlager. Oh, and there's also a quite decent cover of The Moldy Peaches' redneck misfit love anthem In Spite Of Ourselves.

  • William DoyleGreat Spans of Muddy Time (BandCamp)

    The latest release by Doyle, formerly known as East India Youth, takes a turn into introspective, pastoral art-rock. The product of a hard drive crash, a forced abandonment of perfectionism when reassembling the pieces; and, of course, a product of the current zeitgeist (the title comes from a phrase describing periods of depression heard in a gardening programme Doyle was watching, though it equally describes the formlessness of time during this pandemic), it feels, perhaps appropriately, like a disjointed work, going from Eno-esque new-wave to meandering instrumentals and a mechanical clangour to warm electronics; from too much feeling to an unsettled void. The opening track, I Need To Keep You In My Life, is all warm synth arpeggios and aching sincerity; And Everything Changed (But I Feel Alright) feels Bowie-esque, either his Berlin period or Outside. The standout track, though, would, in my opinion, be Nothing At All, fading in with sweeping strings, jittery electronics and home-organ percussion, and taking a very English resignation and blowing it up to a cinematic grandeur. Not a perfect record, but one whose imperfections are a testament of our current time out of joint.

  • FRITZPastel (BandCamp)

    Tilly Murphy, of Newcastle, Australia, is FRITZ, and brings us a blast of pure indiepop euphoria, driven by crunchy riffs, catchy melodies, lush walls of fuzz and a beat you can dance to. There are more than echoes of C86/Sarah-era UK indiepop, the New York-centred C86 revival of a decade or two ago, as well as Australian 90s alternative pop like The Hummingbirds and Deadstar and with a hint of shoegaze in places; as far as more recent artists go, one could file FRITZ alongside the likes of Alvvays, beabadoobee or Spunsugar.

    The album wastes no time in setting the mood with its opening track, Sweetie, kicking off with a barrage of crunchy guitar riffs, before Murphy's voice floats in a few bars later. It's followed by Arrow, a huge indie-pop anthem DJs would play to get everyone back on the floor. She's Gonna Hate Me is another adrenaline barrage of a song, in a Ramones-meets-Pastels vein, with vocals floating almost shoegazily over the maelstrom, and Gracie, Forgive Me sounds a bit like The Vaselines or someone. Die Happily slows down the pace a little going almost into ballad territory, an angular, insistent guitar riff opening into a lush chorus. U Keep Me Alive could be a lost Field Mice song, except for the extreme insectile AutoTune on the vocal, which, oddly, works. The final track, Jan 1, is everything you'd expect from a good closing track: starting slowly and building to a euphoric hands-in-the-air climax. Pure pop perfection; it's a pity that Indietracks is no longer, as I could see FRITZ tearing the roof off the outdoor stage as the sun set over the railway. In any case, an artist to keep an eye on.

  • HalseyIf I Can't Have Love, I Want Power

    The most recent record for pop artist Halsey takes a turn for the darker, as the title, and Game Of Thrones-esque cover artwork, suggest. In it, she worked with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and the collaboration has borne fruit, as this is a work of smouldering intensity, whilst remaining in the form of well-written pop music; pop for a postapocalyptic wasteland. Opening with The Tradition, a slow, piano-driven track heavy with indictment; from there, it only escalates. Bells In Santa Fe brings a cinematic, electronic pulse, and foreshadowing lyrics, informing you that this is not a happy ending. Lilith lopes in on a breakbeat, with an air of ambiguous, almost Lynchian, seductive menace; Girl Is A Gun floats diffidently on skittering drum'n'bass beats and manic electronic pulses, as if soundtracking a gunfight in an action film, and You Asked For This brings us back to alternative-rock territory, not far from Placebo or Garbage. Then there's some country-adjacent finger-picking (Darling), and another stark piano-and-electronics-driven ballad (1121; one of the album's strongest points), some Disintegration-era-Cure-adjacent rock (Honey). I Am Not A Woman, I'm A God, other than staking out an audacious manifesto, goes perhaps the closest to Nine Inch Nails territory with its industrial beat. Then there's the dirty blues of The Lighthouse, and, finally, a ballad (Ya'aburnee), backed by muted guitars and equally muted electronics, which, in its foreboding gloom, is the If I Can't Have Love universe's closest thing to a love song; one could, at a stretch, call it a postapocalyptic version of The Postal Service's Such Great Heights. All this sounds like it could well be gratuitous, but Halsey's songcraft and delivery hold it up, there is a pain and passion there, not to mention an artful way with words. Even the darkest timeline needs its well-made pop tunes.

  • Hazy MountainsPull Of The Moon (BandCamp)

    Hazy Mountains is Julian Prott from Dortmund, Germany, who makes warm yet chilled-out electronica with an atmospheric, almost shoegazey aesthetic. They have been doing this for 10 years, apparently starting in the chillwave scene in the heady blog-house days of 2011, though I only learned of them this year with this album, which immediately grabbed me. 10 tracks of electronic instrumentals (some with vocal samples). In some ways, the closest comparison might be The Avalanches, only this is without the six-figure sample-clearance bill or guest rappers. Expect to hear warm pads, samples gradually easing in through filters, beats that are never overwhelming, and the odd burst of 70s-vintage disco-funk, French-filter-style, only more understated.

  • Mdou MoctarAfrique Victime (BandCamp)

    Mdou Moctar is a Touareg guitarist, singer and bandleader from Niger, who was mostly playing weddings before coming to the attention of the psychedelic-rock crowd. His music is in the Touareg-desert-blues tradition that is reasonably well known now, combining that with psychedelic currents in a heady concoction, reminiscent in places of Amon Düül II or Goat. The opener, Chismiten, starts with a whirling dervish of overdriven guitars and hypnotic drumming, which accelerates as it hurtles towards its end. The hypnotic mood continues in the slightly more languid Taliat. and the serpentine groove of Ya Habibti. Other highlights include Layla, with a seemingly simple guitar figure, raw and arid, morphing into hypnotic polyrhythms, and the fuzzed-out wig-out of the title track that brings its own thunderclouds as it speeds into kosmische territory. A record best enjoyed lying on one's back in a darkened room with good speakers.

  • Saint EtienneI've Been Trying To Tell You (BandCamp)

    Nostalgia is not new territory to Saint Etienne; they made their mark combining the sounds of post-acid-house club-pop with the shagadelic-60s retro references that ran through the Britpop era like the writing in a stick of Brighton Rock. Somehow they managed to avoid both being subsumed into the retrograde revivalism that culminated in Pretty Green menswear and the stratum of undifferentiable landfill indie, and the eerier currents of hauntology that led, via Broadcast, to Ghost Box and ultimately the folk-horror dystopia of Scarfolk, instead settling in the vicinity of a wistfully optimistic midcentury civic modernism. Their latest record comes from that optimism, though this time untethered from the usual pre-Thatcherite milieu and landing in the seemingly endless summer between New Labour and 9/11, a purer, more innocent time, when the world briefly woke up from history. Even its title sounds like a warning, which we obviously failed to heed, to turn back before it's too late. (Whether the nostalgia is for a world before a fall, avoidable or otherwise, or just for the artists' and listeners' youth, of course, is a question for the listener to contemplate.)

    The record itself is a work of collage, necessarily created in isolation by the three members (with added contributions from film composer Gus Bousfield), largely from fragments of the music that tween poptimists had on their CD-R Discmans at the time; the post-Spice girl group Honeyz (me neither), and Natalie Imbruglia are two sources. This probably sounds a bit like vaporwave, a genre comprised of samples of Shōwa-era city pop, 80s quiet-storm R&B and shopping-mall background music slowed down, drowned in reverb and digitally mutilated into a haze of nostalgic reverie; indeed, Bob Stanley said that he was influenced by vaporwave and had been listening to it; however, while this uses the tools and techniques of the genre, it eschews its more jarring stylistic elements; this is, after all, Saint Etienne.

    The record consists of eight tracks, all somewhat chilled and understated. Beats skitter beneath dubby bassline, with Sarah Cracknell's voice floating in, an ambiguous siren; occasionally a fragment of field recording. Some of the tracks evoke stylish midcentury-modern spaces, like if Orwell's Moon Under Water were a dimly-lit cocktail bar; others (such as Little K) don't sound that far from the imagined informational-film soundtracks of Cate Brooks' The Advisory Circle, though the only ghosts in these wires are those of our younger selves.

    As we stare down climate apocalypse, war, resurgent fascism, potential zombie apocalypses and/or Cthulhu only knows how many rona variants yet to come, Saint Et have provided us with a refuge, if only an illusory one.

  • The SmallgoodsLost In The Woods (BandCamp)

    The Smallgoods, were a fixture of the Melbourne indie scene of the 00s, with their epically hooky, harmony-rich power-pop; now, some nine years after their farewell gig, they return in fine form. Lost In The Woods had been in the works for a year or two, and it shows, being a somewhat grander proposition than the relatively straight-up guitar-pop of their old records; broader in style and instrumentation, and having picked up extra players (significant among them Janita Foley, of Aleks and the Ramps/Denim Owl).

    The opening track, The Hours, opens with a piano and builds from there into the album's first lighters-in-the-air ballad; the pace picks up in the second track, Where've You Been All This Time; propelled by a bongo-driven beat and a guitar line somewhat reminiscent of The Go-Betweens' Streets Of Your Town, it presents a slice of life (apparently a sequel to Good Afternoon, with the philandering salesman of the original meeting the consequences of his actions), in a drily laconic style not far removed from The Lucksmiths, if they had epic choruses in their songs. On With The Show sees The Smallgoods returning to another theme—showbiz—familiar from their previous incarnation, replete with flanged electric piano, synth-brass fanfares and vocal harmonies. Satellite is a slightly more introspective piece of low-key power-pop, rendered lush with shimmering guitars and some elegant chord progressions, building up to something grand; it perhaps sounds the closest to their earlier records. The Last Red Sunday (Fanfare), the penultimate track, is the album's second big ballad, with Foley adding vocals to the chorus, and trumpets in the chorus.

    Lost In The Woods is a welcome comeback, and a bold opening to what hopefully will be a fruitful second act for The Smallgoods. It's great to have back; maybe Mid-State Orange can be next?

  • St. ChristopherOf Angels and Kings (BandCamp)

    They were one of the most beguiling bands on Sarah Records, with a sound far more expansive than one would expect from an indie band from late-1980s York, and a sweeping, at times oblique, widescreen romanticism equally far from the C86-era milieu. After Sarah, they released a few records and played the odd gig (I recall them tearing the roof off the 100 Club in Soho some years ago), though otherwise maintained silence. Of Angels And Kings, their first record in 10 years, dropped with little announcement. The first impression is that it's a lot louder and skronkier than their Sarah-period output; literally the first thing you hear is an overdriven guitar. Glenn Melia's voice soon comes in, lithe as ever, soaring and swooning, though not always managing to stay above the skronk. A few songs in, the shimmer familiar to Sarah-era St. Christopher fans returns, with songs like The Shiver Tree, Stornoway and Ursula showing their trademark cinematic romanticism. (This is a romantic record, though less the teenage romance of the rock'n'roll 7" than a courtly romance, in Technicolor on the big screen.) The record reaches a peak with the penultimate sort-of-title track, Everybody Loves The Rain, before bringing the house down with One Star Too Many. It's good to hear from them again.

  • Talkshow BoyLimitless Light (BandCamp)

    What's this, you say? Could it be that the renegade master is back with the ill behaviour? Yes, it is. There's probably a parallel universe where Talkshow Boy kept going apace, independently inventing PC Music-style hyperpop after the maximalism of his tracks reached a critical mass (after all, both he and A. G. Cook are the cultural heirs of breakcore enfant terrible kid606). In this universe, though, he eschews the hypersaturated ultragloss, keeping it lo-fi, but instead leaning into breakbeats, 8-bit sound chips, granular noise, though at times skirting hyperpop territory, or perhaps threatening to crash its party.

    Limitless Light kicks off with All-Time Low, a nostalgic lament turned into a dancefloor workout. The title track comes in, starting with glitched breakbeats, then turning into a pop song and piling on the layers. (r)aëlian boy, one of the few pop songs referencing a UFO cult, is a relatively mellow number, propelled by a bouncy bassline and the usual digital noise, followed by Unclimbable Mountain, a more upbeat track which starts sounding like something from one of Talkshow Boy's earlier records, before tapering into more dubby territory. Other tracks of note are Unwinnable Gameshow, a foray into the sonic possibilities of the Commodore 64 SID chip, using its waveforms with Talkshow Boy's usual stylistic mania, and the closing track We're Camf (KP instrumental mix) (which I'm guessing may be a reference to the late Daphne Camf, of Rat Vs. Possum/NO ZU/SaD), which is as close to straight-ahead house as Talkshow Boy gets.

  • Vanishing TwinOokii Gekkou (BandCamp)

    Through their tenure, London's Vanishing Twin have made a name for themselves as heirs to the stylistic tradition inaugurated by the late Broadcast, and with good reason; they have similar elements (the combination of analogue electronics and chromatic percussion, reference points in midcentury incidental music, library jazz and the avant-garde ends of pop, and Cathy Lucas' voice sounds in places not unlike Trish's), and this is perhaps even more so in their latest release, which is one of the groovier records of the year. The title meaning “big moonlight” in Japanese, which is also the title track, a seductive lead-in drawing one through the veil to the liminal zone, its polyrhythms giving a subtle feeling of disorientation. Phase 1 Million with its wah guitar and cowbell-led groove, sounds a bit like some of the funkier incidental music in The Goodies. Zuum sounds like Can scoring an Irwin Allen B-movie, with a snake-charmer's oboe floating above a myriad of bleeps and bloops and Valentina Magalotti's funky drumming; The Organism stays in this sci-fi world, and In Cucina moves to other cinematic genres. Other highlights are the vocoder-driven kinetic jazz-funk of Light Vessel, the jittery groove of Tub Erupt and the final track, The Lift, bringing the record to a climax of angular yet fluid kraut-funk. A big leap forward for Vanishing Twin, who in future will be cited as an influence in the way that Broadcast or Stereolab are.

With honourable mentions going to: Adult Oriented Pop, 06:15 AM (a band from Stockholm, doing maximalist psychedelic-pop grooves, somewhere between M83, Tame Impala and Mild High Club, with references to Crowleyan occultism), Astral Brain, The Bewildered Mind (another Swedish band, sounding somewhere between The Advisory Circle and a more summery Death And Vanilla), Caligula, Broken (in the 90s, Caligula were a sort of Australian answer to Curve, combining shoegaze and madchester stylings for a domestic audience; their comeback, Broken, in its maximalist bombast, is the record Australia will win Eurovision 2022 with if they have the good sense to enter it), CHAI, Wink (the Japanese indie band's new one is glossy yet slightly lo-fi, combining crunchy breakbeats, chiptune arpeggios and the smoothness of city-pop), Clairo, Sling (dreamy and sometimes baroque folk-pop with a touch of Laurel Canyon about it), Dummy, Mandatory Enjoyment (choppy guitars, motorik beats and transistor organs, a bit like early Stereolab in places), Dry Cleaning, New Long Leg (spoken-word over angular new-wave rock like a London Life Without Buildings), Haiku Salut, The Hill, The Light, The Ghost (the Haikus' latest record is a more meditative, subtle affair, filled with space; mostly driven by piano, strings and tuned percussion, though with some of the glitchy electronics of their prior works), Heligoland, This Quiet Fire (the Melbourne-via-Paris band's latest record is their richest yet, at once substantial and ethereal; you can just about tell it's produced by Robin Guthrie, though that doesn't overwhelm Karen's voice or the band's musical direction), Alice Hubble, Hexentanzplatz (Hubble swaps nuns for witches and builds on her previous work; the album and sounds much as its name suggests; kosmische synthpop with an European disco sensibility), Japanese Breakfast, Jubilee (subtle electronic pop; surely you've heard it), Hollie Kenniff, The Quiet Drift (dreampop doesn't come any dreamier than this; an enveloping blend of strings, vocals and reverb-drenched electronics that makes the Cocteau Twins sound like Black Sabbath by comparison), HTRK, Rhinestones (HTRK explore country/americana, sort of), Kero Kero Bonito, Civilization II (technically a 3-track EP, but also the second half of an album, whose more ominous first half came out last year; two upbeat J-pop-styled tracks and seven minutes of euphoric house), The KVB, Unity (Angular new-wave electropop the odd choppy guitar and architectonic/modernistic affectations, with titles like "Sunrise Over Concrete" and "Structural Index" and lyrics like "modular factory living"; influences would be Kraftwerk, OMD, New Order and Le Corbusier), Loney Dear, A Lantern And A Bell (Loney Dear & co. finally recorded their great new songs, though in a sparse, stripped-down form; I wrote more about it here), Makthaverskan, För Allting (the Gothenburg indie combo are back; lush guitar-based indiepop with elements of shoegaze), Massage, Still Life (classic indiepop with a touch of shoegaze, with echoes of The Field Mice/Mary Chain/1000 Violins/Milk Teddy), Meemo Comma, Neon Genesis: Soul Into Matter² (mostly ambient digital electronica/IDM/musique concrète inspired by the eponymous anime series and Jewish mysticism), Mr Twin Sister, Al Mundo Azul (a sleek, swaggering slice of dancefloor euphoria with echoes of 80s Miami from the Long Island indie band, better known for their hazy reverie), Monnone Alone, Stay Foggy (Marky & co.'s latest; catchy pop songs with a mildly psychedelic fug of fuzz), Nation Of Language, A Way Forward (coruscating, motorik yet romantic electronica proudly wearing its new-wave synthpop influences on its sleeve), Noda Yûki,Soda Sickness (a five-track EP of playful yet groovy instrumental electronica, recorded by the composer whilst confined, for some reason, to his Osaka home last year, unpretentiously titled things like Broken Refrigerator and Boy And Cat), Geoffrey O'Connor, For As Long As I Can Remember (the Melbourne sophistipop artist's latest is a collection of duets, with the likes of Laura Jean, Nicole Thibault and Sui Zhen; it's also a pandemic record, of course, so emotionally much of it is wistfully reminiscent of better times; expect smooth sounds and the odd arch lyric), Hannah Peel, Fir Wave (lush, luminous, evocative analogue electronic ambience, with samples from Delia Derbyshire's radiophonic compositions), Still Corners, The Last Exit (if Twin Peaks was set in the US Southwest, this is what the soundtrack would sound like), Swansea Sound, Live At The Rum Puncheon (a C86-era supergroup, with Hue from The Pooh Sticks, Ian from Death In Vegas and Amelia and Rob from everywhere else, bring indiepop with tongue firmly in cheek; features the hit* single ”I Sold My Soul On eBay”), Tape Waves, Bright (lush, fuzz-driven dreampop, an equal distance from Galaxie 500, Yo La Tengo and Lovesliescrushing), Jane Weaver, Flock (Weaver, who had the record of 2014 here, leans fully into pop whilst maintaining her usual cosmic avant-garde sensibilities; where else would you find post-Spice sassy R&B-pop referencing Hammer horror films; the closing track, Solarised, stands out in particular).

How would I describe this year musically? Well, the rona is still raging, and people are somehow making their own adaptations. There's perhaps a lot of introspection in music and arts, as adventures in the outside world give way to those in inner space. My list of noteworthy music could well have been different had there been more gigs or festivals to attend.

As every year, there were records I only discovered after the fact, which were not eligible for this year's list. This year, perhaps my most noteworthy discovery was an artist named yeule; they're from Singapore, nonbinary, and currently (I think) based in London. The music they make is a glitchy, ethereal electropop that sounds somewhere between Björk, cuushe and Briana Marela. Anyway, their 2019 album Serotonin II was a big revelation; they have a new album coming out next year, which I look forward to.

As for the record of the year? If there were one, it would possibly be Fritz, The Smallgoods or noda yûki.

There is a Spotify playlist (of the tracks that were available there) here.

2021 cds lists music 0


Once again, at the end of this plague year, it's time to recap the music that came out over the past twelve months and soundtracked the year's events, or lack thereof. And while this year has been somewhat more fallow than previous ones, there was still good music, even if one didn't get to see it live. So here, as always, are the noteworthy records of the year:

  • beabadoobeeFake It Flowers (BandCamp)

    Beatrice Laus was born in the Philippines in 2000 and grew up in London, where she writes and plays songs under the name beabadoobee; Fake It Flowers is her debut album, and stylistically has a distinctive 90s alternative feel to it, stylistically echoing the likes of Pearl Jam, Alanis Morisette, Smashing Pumpkins and such. Though not entirely, as this is not 90s alternative music in a historical sense (whose grunginess was a dirty protest against, among other things, the yuppified gloss of corporate rock in the CD era) but 2020s pop drawing on influences from before the author's time, their original context now rendered inert. Also, as a product of the current digital era, this sounds somewhat cleaner and sharper, with the rough edges of 90s grungeternative filed off and details filled in. Bea's voice, varying from soft croon to belting soprano, floats above the overdriven guitar riffs in the way that, say, Kurt Cobain's enraged bawl didn't, and there is an intricacy to the arrangements beyond the immediacy of the 1990s Seattle sound, though above all, the songs all work as pop songs.

    The album starts with Care, whose title, in the grunge tradition, constitutes most of the chorus, belted over chugging riffs, and there's a very short guitar solo that sounds a bit like bagpipes in the break. The following song, Worth It, sounds like Alanis or possibly Avril crossed with You Think it's Like This-period Mirah. Dye It Red plays with hair-colour-as-rebellion (in its own way, as inevitable as Mod-revival bands writing about parkas and scooters), ending with a sweetly-sung “fuck you”. It's followed by a very short and equally charming, almost-acoustic ballad titled Back To Mars, and then Charlie Brown, with its quiet-loud-quiet dynamic. Other highlights include Emo Song, a ballad whose subtle delicacy is belied by the reductionist title, the gently understated Further Away, with its string arrangement, and Horen Sarrison, a wistful daydream of an outsider's love poem set to acoustic guitar and synthesised strings. Bea's love for antifolk singer-songwriters like Kimya Dawson and Daniel Johnston comes through in How Was Your Day?, a stripped-back acoustic number which wouldn't be amiss on K Records back in the day.

    (On a personal note: there is something uncanny about hearing music from one's youth reiterated by a new generation who were born after the fact. The Endless 80s Revival, from 00s Brooklyn electroclash to the ongoing synthwave subgenre, John-Hughes-credits “goth” to FM-radio gloss, was one thing, as that music was in the background of childhood, mostly just out of earshot. Vaporwave as well, with its hypnagogic distillate of music polished and unexciting enough for a million shopping-plaza escalators and other liminal spaces. However, as someone who went to parties where alcohol was consumed and the alternative music this references was on the stereo, the awareness of the passing of time hits a little closer to home. While I enjoy this record far more than I did 90s grunge (much of which, at the time, just sounded wilfully shitty), its presence does remind me of my own advancing age.)

  • Even As We SpeakAdelphi (BandCamp)

    Sydney's Even As We Speak were perhaps the odd one out in the Sarah Records family, their brightly coloured art-school bohemianism standing out in the 1980s British indiepop milieu like a cockatoo among robins. A few years ago, they returned after over two decades' hiatus with an EP; now they follow it up with a full-length album, one announced around a year earlier and alluded to for longer; they had the costumes (silver jumpsuits as if from an old sci-fi TV show) ready for their UK tour in 2018. The wait, however, has been worth it.

    The album opens with Someone, a polished indiepop song with an elegiac quality like Dubstar's “Stars” crossed with The Chandler Estate's Spies (No More); led in by programmed beats, and driven by a falling minor cadence worthy of 70s soul, it nods at midlife melancholy with wryly evocative lyrics. (That minor fall will be heard again in this album; a major lift, not so much.) It is followed by Forgiving, a more upbeat, guitar-driven pop song reminiscent of The Hummingbirds, The Go-Betweens and countless 60s girl groups. The combination of wryness and wistfulness returns in Sun, whose cheerful arrangements belie the ominously enigmatic lyrics in the verses (“give me the key to the garage, I'm building a weapon in there”). while Leaves evokes lost innocence, with Mary's voice accompanied only by what sounds like an accordion. Stronger and Blind play relationship misunderstandings, first as comic farce, then as mundane tragedy. Signs returns to the beat-driven sound of the opening track, climbing through a series of rising key changes whilst rhapsodising esoterically about hidden symbols and landing markers for extraterrestrial gods or similar. The final track, Light, reminds me of The Softies' album closer Perfect Afternoon, both in its melody (though not so much its sound) and its sense of wistful resignation.

    This is a beautifully crafted album, the work of a pop group in their creative prime, with a shadow of autumnal melancholy and a modicum of larrikin mischief, and builds well on their legacy from the Sarah years. The indiepop record of the year. I just hope that the next one doesn't take a few decades.

  • HachikuI'll Probably Be Asleep (BandCamp)

    The debut album from German-born Melbourne artist Anika Ostendorf, who describes her music as “dream pop with an avant-garde twist”, which is fair. Recorded mostly in her bedroom (not counting some live drums), I'll Probably Be Asleep is an at times hypnotic affair, constructed in layers of echoing guitars, Casiotone drum loops, synth pads, miscellaneous melodic lines and the occasional layer of howling feedback, and Ostendorf's vocals floating serenely over it. This is an artefact of the laptop era, of sound as digital layers cut and pasted at will, though gets its aesthetic and philosophical direction not from glossy computerised pop à la PC Music but from Hachiku's indie predecessors, with their Tascam 4-tracks, skronky guitar amps and Casio keyboards played on ironing boards. One could place this somewhere in the (admittedly capacious) space between The Motifs and Kate Bush.

  • I Like TrainsKompromat (BandCamp); SeemingThe Birdwatcher's Guide to Atrocity (BandCamp)

    Two records tackling the zeitgeist of our time (or at least the moment before the pandemic hit). I Like Trains are best known as a post-rock band from Leeds who made a name from epic songs about doomed adventurers and grand historical follies; Kompromat sees them move towards something more immediate, both sonically and thematically. Gone are the grand tragedies framed by sublime cathedrals of sound, and in their stead, a focus on the sinister machinations that led, among other things, to Brexit and the rise of Trump, rendered to a tighter, choppier, more compact sound in a more post-punk vein, its urgent pulse constrasting with the narrator's spoken-word vocals, in a world-weary drawl, telegraphing enigmatic phrases, cut and pasted like ransom note fragments from the shadows; dispatches from a grubby, paranoid, vaguely Le Carré-esque world in which all are compromised and complicit. Who is/are the narrator(s), and what is their propositions and/or threats?

    Seeming, meanwhile, is a project from Alex Reed, a 1990s goth scene veteran from the US (he literally wrote a book on the history of industrial music) who, in his work, has transcended the stylistic signifiers of the subculture, remaining attuned to the dark sublime but from a distinctly humanistic point of view rather than the trollish provocation so often found in the genre. The result is an album themed around the idea of ongoing, unstoppable collapse (ecological, social, political), seen more often than not from the intimate perspective of those living through it. It starts in dramatic fashion with The Fates, an ever-accelerating track structured around a rhythmic illusion, its (live) drumming accelerating before fading to a half-tempo version of itself, and doing it again, ushering in the mood of emergency. Go Small and Someday Lily switch to an intimate perspective; Other highlights include Remember To Breathe, an oasis of serenity in the postapocalyptic maelstrom, repeating its title as a mantra, Permanent, a harrowing pop song, recounting a historical tragedy, then whipping back, with brutal suddenness, to a far more personal one, and a cri de coeur against the injustice of the human condition (and fortunately Reed is a good enough singer to carry this), and the penultimate track, Learn To Vanish, which is almost a Fitter Happier for the times to follow, almost, but not quite, reassuring. If you liked Ulver's recent material, you may also appreciate this.

  • Laura MacfarlaneInto The Metalude / The Narrows / Future Obscura (BandCamp)

    While her band Ninetynine is on indefinite hiatus, with Cameron having moved back to Perth, Laura has been making music solo. Trapped in Melbourne during its strict winter lockdown, she used this time to make a trilogy of home-recorded solo EPs, each focussing on a different instrument: vibraphone, guitar and keyboards; which I will consider here as one, three-sided, work.

    The first record, Into The Metalude, is themed around the vibraphone, which Laura inherited from her jazz-musician father and made her own within the indie-rock domain. There are four tracks: Swim, with its block chords and Laura's vocals, sounds like a Ninetynine song stripped back to the basics. Echolalia follows, minor key arpeggios and vocals, like a flight through a darkening wood; Metalude has more of a sense of stillness to it, with simple chords and vocal harmonies, and Nightlight, the instrumental track closing the EP off, is a sugarplum fantasia that wouldn't be amiss in the score of an animated short film.

    The guitar record, The Narrows, is next. Coded starts with finger-picked guitar and vocals, in a 90s alternative feel that, at least at the start, wouldn't feel out of place next to beabadoobee; the title track is choppier and more uptempo, with the skronk and tension familiar from Ninetynine's oeuvre, and Tricky is a languid fingerpicked number reminiscent of Woods.

    The final third, Future Obscura, is the Casio keyboard record. Go Back To Where You Came From starts with two lines of trebly melody, building up for the chorus, in a very understated quiet-loud dynamic. Underneath The Crowded Sky starts with a built-in beat, with bass and melody lines, and almost an early-80s synthpop feel in places (if one suspends disbelief, one could imagine it's an early Human League demo or something). The title track's interweaving lines of melody recall Ninetynine's most keyboard-intensive works (such as The Cleaner). The record closes with an instrumental, Via Escalator, all rhythmic blips, reminiscent of Young Marble Giants by way of incidental music from a sci-fi TV show.

    The three records have their differences; to my ears, Future Obscura feels like the one that stands on its own most strongly (these days, the kids call that sort of thing “bedroom electronica” or something), while The Narrows feels, in places, like demos for, or a solo performance of, a Ninetynine record (you can hear the space where a bass, or Cameron's berserker drumming, would go); Metalude could go either way. In any case, it's great to hear new music from Laura.

  • MomusVivid

    This year's Momus album was recorded in his new home city of Paris, whilst self-isolating with Covid-19 symptoms; unsurprisingly, the virus dominates the album, whose songs have titles like Working From Home, Self-Isolation, Empty Paris and My Corona (which, it must be noted, shares nothing with the Knack song other than the nod in the title), and Momus' recent weltschmerz at the advance of the reactionaries in Britain and the US has been pushed aside, in places becoming an aching nostalgia about the days when your mortal foes were human ones you could actually see. Though, after all, if, as he once wrote, all the heroes of Valhalla weigh less than a virus, it could barely not be but so. Vivid's tonal palette, whilst similar to recent-period Momus, is perhaps more European, moving away from his attempts to reinvent primitive blues with Japanese folk instruments, which to my ears sounded a bit murky; the impression here is somewhere between John Cage and Jacques Brel, or perhaps the Weimar-era cabaret of the aforementioned Morality Is Vanity, with repetitive accordion notes being a recurring element.

  • SpunsugarDrive-Through Chapel (BandCamp)

    Their debut EP featured here last year, and now the Malmö band follow it up with their first full-length album, which arrives in a blaze of drum-machine barrages and white-hot blasts of precisely textured guitar noise. Spunsugar, as their name suggests, sound like they came from a moment some time either side of 1990, that milieu that's sort of shoegaze and not entirely Madchester baggy, which is probably more than a decade before any of them were born, though they have rediscovered that sound and made it their own.

    The album kicks off with Jawbreaker, which sounds not unlike a Lush song circa Spooky, all ethereal vocals floating over a swirl of shoegaze guitar propelled forward at a rapid tempo; and then venture into Curve territory with Happier Happyless: pulsing industrial synth bass, distorted funk guitar chops and vocals upfront with gossamer reverb, evoking the moment, some time around 1987, when goths started taking MDMA. The gothic-rock influences continue in Belladonna, with its Batcave drums and bass line and keening guitars. Time Enough At Last kicks in with tight, choppy verses motoring on before erupting into lush dreampop choruses. Video Nasty takes the pace down a bit, with a male vocalist taking over over some flanged picked guitar; things pick up with Run, a juggernaut of blast beats, spiky guitar and ethereal vocals, the lyrics evoking religious imagery.

    The thing that strikes me is how well executed everything about this record is. From the processed guitar tones to the mix of elements, and the composition; this is a maximalist affair, and there's always something around the next corner waiting to be stacked on, and yet it never becomes murky or overwhelming. The music both envelops, the way good dreampop does, and exhilarates with its rapid pace. A band to watch.

  • TangentsTimeslips (BandCamp)

    2020 saw a new record from the Australian improvisational ensemble, whose work falls into the space between post-rock, experimental jazz and laptop electronica adjacent to what used to be called “electroacoustic”. Polyrhythmic brushed jazz drumming mixes with glitchy beats, overlayed with piano, electronic drones, chromatic percussion, processed cello and a variety of digitally processed sounds, creating uneasy soundscapes slightly too abstract to get down to. The record opens with Exaptation, in a flurry of drums and chromatic percussion that, elsewhere, may have lead into a Stereolab song; here it remains sparser and more enigmatic. The second track, Vessel starts with jazzy percussion, soon joined by cello-as-bass, minor-key Rhodes piano licks, distant trumpets and processed recordings, sounding like Prop working with Teeth Of The Sea or something. Old Organs builds from a glitchy loop, Survival skitters along over a pattern of chords, glitches and unidentifiable textures, and Debris gets slower and heavier, with layers of piano and mallets bubbling over crunchy fuzz guitar; the closer, Bylong combines jazzy improvisation with a field recording of 100 carriages of prime Australian coal rumbling along the eponymous valley's freight railway, possibly being the first recorded work to bridge the worlds of Coltrane and coal train, before fading into shimmering delay.

  • ThibaultOr Not Thibault (BandCamp)

    The long-awaited return of Nicole Thibault, formerly of Minimum Chips (capsule summary: imagine Stereolab as a shambolic Australian indie band), now with a new band including members of young Melbourne bands such as Parsnip and The Ocean Party will be at once familiar and novel. Some songs, such as Drama and Spanakopita, could easily be Minimum Chips outtakes, while others diverge in various directions, hinting at tropicàlia, the cosmic baroque of Jane Weaver and the retro hauntology of Broadcast; the lyrics, meanwhile, turning inward to personal themes, and revealing a portrait of the artist anxiously kicking against the pricks whilst dealing with her own problems.

    The opening track, See The World, with its keyboard arpeggios, clunking bass and languid tempo, promises a lush baroque-pop sensibility, setting the stage for the album; Centrelink follows along, opening with a harpsichord line and building into a song about Australia's famously punitive welfare bureaucracy. (After the second chorus, the vocal melody of Centrelink returns, played on a trombone; this makes it the second of Nicole Thibault's songs about oppressive authorities to use that device, the first, of course, being, Clag's Security Man.) The next two tracks, Drama, and Wanting To Be Alone, are more introspective and Chips-esque, with their choppy rhythms and understated vocals, followed by two instrumentals: Componential, which takes a detour into Montero-esque psychedelia, and Continuer, which could have come from the score of an European film (perhaps Czech or Italian?) that aired on SBS and probably involved vampires and/or a witches' sabbat. In Chatty Cathy, Thibault softly enumerates stereotypes (“Debbie Downer, Bossy Betty, Bubbling Brooke, Negative Nancy”) reserved for women not considered well-behaved by Australia's conservative patriarchy. Its slow piano figures and a heartbeat-like drum evoke the feeling of sunlight through a window on a whitewashed wall, and the feeling of a comforting repression.

    The highlights of the album, though, are a pair of songs: Late Expectations and Later Expectations, which reveal a peak of sophistication far from the sunny shambolicism of Minimum Chips. In Late Expectations, Thibault's vocals float on a layer of reverb over synth pads, programmed percussion, driving synth bass and shimmering keyboards, waxing autumnal; the other bookend, Later Expectations, continues in that vein only with a more driving rhythm, propelled forward by a motorik 4/4 drum machine and bass guitar, with some funky bongos later coming in. In between them is Spanakopita, which could have been an outtake from Minimum Chips' Kitchen Tea Thankyou, and Treasure Trove, a cute baroque-pop bagatelle of harpsichord filigrees. The record finishes with two slower, sparser tracks, Moody Ghost and Too Much Time, though to me, they feel almost tacked-on, as if they were from a limited bonus CD rather than the main album.

    Or Not Thibault was an album I had been anticipating since I heard about Nicole's new project, and it does not disappoint. Hopefully there will be more.

  • UUSSWe Cannot Save You (BandCamp)

    The new project from Rhonda Simmons from 90s/00s Casio-and-guitar combo Origami and 767-era Ninetynine, now based in LA; whilst more expansive in tone than the Casiotone days, one wouldn't call this glossy. Running at just under 20 minutes and drenched in fuzz and reverb, their debut EP is reminiscent of Kathleen Hanna's work (in particular, Julie Ruin); highlights include the deconstructed 808-propelled lo-fi disco of SSADDISCO; Mercy, a piano ballad in which Simmons uses Autotune as a form of distortion, and the title track, with its jangly chorused guitar, distorted drum machine and violin accents. Oh, and there's also a rough-as-guts Pat Benatar cover.

With honourable mentions going to: 36 and zakè, Stasis Sounds For Long-Distance Space Travel (an ambient concept album, ostensibly intended to be programmed music for entering suspended animation for long space voyages; it came out before the pandemic exploded, though has only grown in relevance since), Aseul(아슬), Slow Dance (understated bedroom electropop from Korea), The Avalanches, We Will Always Love You (another four years worth of cratedigging and (perhaps more significantly) sample clearance paperwork brings another Avalanches record, and you know the deal: vintage soul/disco/lounge grooves and beats, with an all-star cast of guest appearances), Bananagun, The True Story Of Bananagun (fuzzed out psychedelic grooves tinged with Afrobeat and tropicália influences), Duncan Barrett, Raise The Effra! (the former Tigercats frontman continues his voyage into new-agey ambient electronics, and does so quite listenably), Glenn Bennie, Fade and Shimmer (Glenn of the Underground Lovers's solo outing takes the form of two EPs of shoegazey instrumentals; soft drones, electronics and reverb), David Bridie & All India Radio, Reconstructions (the Not Drowning, Waving frontman joins forces with Tasmanian triphopster All India Radio in a work of Eno-esque ambience, combining piano and electronics), Miles Brown, The Gateway (the thereminist from grindcore-turned-synthwave ensemble Night Terrors' solo effort goes into John-Carpenter-meets-italo-synthwave territory; 4/4 drum machines, pulsing synth bass sequences and coruscating arpeggios, and of course, the theremin; like the soundtrack to a lurid VHS film, or perhaps a video game), Cabaret Voltaire, Shadow Of Fear (now down to one original member, the Sheffield industrial pioneers deliver a project of uneasy beats for dystopic dance floors), Cable Ties, Far Enough (choppy, skronky high-tension garage punk from Melbourne, charged with adrenaline and incandescent with political rage; a Molotov cocktail tossed over the white picket fences of the Quiet Australians, or something like that), Carpenter Brut, Blood Machines OST (apparently a score for a scifi TV series, this sees the French horror-synth trio add some Vangelis to their John Carpenter influences), Cavern of Anti-Matter, In Fabric OST (Tim Gane's new one is a soundtrack to a Peter Strickland film), A.G. Cook, 7G (the PC Music impresario steps out from behind the glossy façade of his hyper-produced electropop with a 49-track box set of oddities, ranging from kid606-style breakcore to lo-fi pop; the artifice is still there, just not in the same order), Cuushe, Waken (returning after a five-year hiatus, the Japanese artist known for her chilled electronic pop steps it up a notch and takes it to the floor, with a new album propelled by driving beats), Haiku Salut, Pattern Thinker / Portrait In Dust (two soundtracks they recorded for short films; recommended for fans of múm, Jon Brooks or indeed their earlier works), Hamerkop, Remote (Annabel of New Zealand kosmische-pop project Bachelorette's new collaborative project, from her new home in Baltimore, Maryland; glistening synthesiser arpeggios, analogue fuzz and hazy reverb, though not quite as focussed as her solo works), Thor Harris, Doom Dub (what the title, and the skull on the cover, say; broken/distorted dub reggae with the theme of humanity's impending self-annihilation; Ben Frost and Lawrence English guest on tracks), Hatari, Neyslutrans (the Icelandic BDSM-themed industrial group who almost won the last Eurovision of the Before Times; generally snarly industriogothic EBM, with a bit of Squarepusher mixed into their Skinny Puppy), HTRK, Body Lotion EP (booming 808s and soft vocals drenched in postapocalyptic quantities of reverb, and underscored by grindcore bass; chilled and yet uneasy, in an almost Lynchian way), imugi 이무기, Dragonfruit (a duo from New Zealand, combining downtempo hip-hop, chilled R&B and Korean electropop influences), The Little Hands of Asphalt, Half Empty (London's indiepop powerhouse Fika Recordings brings us a slab of pastoral indiepop from Norway), Mighty Duke And The Lords, Caribbean Rollarama (a brass-driven party-rocking juggernaut from Melbourne, named after an outer-suburban roller link, where apparently Barack Obama now holds court, or so they say), Of Montreal UR FUN (hey look, it's Kevin Barnes TMI-ing about the exhilirating delirium of his new relationship and his anxiety about it, though this time in a (broadly) 80s-new-wave vein), Kelly Lee Owens, Inner Song (driving electronica and the odd ethereal pop fragment from the Welsh producer; a bit like Dntel or early Autechre in places; with a guest appearance by John Cale), Popular Music, ...Plays In Darkness (a collaboration between Zac Pennington of Parenthetical Girls and Australian composer Prudence Rees-Lee, Popular Music's debut album is a love letter to the myth of cinema; comprised of music from cinema (from old standards to show tunes to music from genre cinema; Willow's Song from The Wicker Man is here, as is Marianne Faithfull's song from The City of Lost Children) rendered with electronics, piano, strings, denatured with reverb and delay, and made uncanny, and in its own way, very 2020; file alongside Misty Roses), Salt Lake Alley, The Way It Feels (summery, hook-laden indiepop from Sweden (I think), albeit on a Spanish label), Singapore Sling, Good Sick Fun With... (the Icelandic psych nihilists' latest album sees them pay tribute to early rock'n'roll, including a cover of Summertime Blues, done with their usual buzzsaw guitar and digital delays), Warm Digits, Flight of Ideas (more propulsive, modernistic electro-krautrock from the Newcastle ensemble; as usual, there are guests, and this time they include twee-punk shouters The Lovely Eggs and indiepop combo The Orielles; perhaps we can expect them to play Indietracks if/when that comes back?), Wedding Guns, Blood In Everyone's Type (a side project of Clue To Kalo with a 4-track EP of wonky grooves coalescing from disjointed loops; file alongside Caribou), Die Wilde Jagd, Haut (the post-krautrock electronica project's new release continues where Uhrwald Orange left off, only moving away from discrete songs, consisting instead of four tracks, each exceeding 9 minutes)

The elephant in the room this year was, of course, Covid-19, which left little untouched. Shows and festivals were cancelled, recordings postponed, and some artists retreated to their home studios. Responses to the Rona varied; Chromeo recorded an EP, Quarantine Casanova, with song titles like Clorox Wipe and 6 Feet Away executed in their trademarked hypersexual Troutmanesque electrofunk style; meanwhile, the London disco allstars Article 54 followed up their Brexit-themed album of 2019 with a Rona-themed one in the same vein. Momus approached the subject less flippantly (though not, it must not be said, with complete earnestness). Shoegaze-adjacent ambient-electronic artist füxa captured the mood early on with an EP titled Sweeps & Beeps for Quarantined Peeps. And Darren Hanlon reminded us that we all cope in different ways.

Another recurring theme, which may or may not be unrelated, was a sense of liminal spaces. Some of that had been building up for a while (see also: vaporwave, and before that, currents in post-rock, shoegaze and ambient music), though it seems to have escalated. Haircuts for Men brought trip-hoppy instrumentals with moody chord progressions and titles like “My Wife Is On Tinder”, making a sort of desaturated vaporwave minus the consumer exuberance; not so much music for shopping malls as for the Backrooms. Cayn Borthwick , the saxophonist from Melbourne's NO ZU and Mighty Duke and The Lords, released a solo album of what could be described as post-punk lounge music: spacious, impressionistic soundscapes made of electronic sounds; sunny with a barely perceivable undertone of melancholia. And Eyeliner, (the vaporwave-adjacent side project of New Zealand synthpop artist Disasteradio) returned with Drop Shadow, a collection of disconnectedly upbeat music crafted with late-Shōwa-era digital wavetable synthesisers. And Popular Music's evocation of the film theatre could fall into this category as well.

The year was also a good one for rereleases, particularly in Australia. The legendary ambient/post-punk/avant-garde project Not Drowning, Waving and their sibling band My Friend The Chocolate Cake uploaded their back-catalogues to Bandcamp; meanwhile, Melbourne indie legends Lost & Lonesome started their own rerelease programme, uploading long-unavailable records by The Foots, Fred Astereo, Mid-State Orange and Lacto-Ovo, including two tracks recorded in 2003 and only mixed now; gradually, gaps in the historical record are being filled.

Were I to name a record of the year, it would be either Spunsugar's Drive-Thru Chapel or Thibault's Or Not Thibault.

One final note: you may have noticed that there are few major-label records here and almost everything has a link on Bandcamp. This is not just indie snobbery (not just — ed.), but rather an artefact of logistics in our time. These days, it seems that fewer and fewer new-release albums make it out to CDs, and of those, fewer and fewer make it to a local record shop. (The situation is particularly bad in Sweden, where I live, where Spotify seems to be to music consumption what the national oat-milk monopoly is to non-dairy coffee additives, and the big record shops mostly have a handful of new releases and a table of discounted “classic” records — if you have a gap in your Blue Öyster Cult collection, you're sorted — though JB HiFi in Melbourne was looking quite bare as well.) As such, my choices for getting something not on BandCamp are either to mail-order it to rip, paying postage (and often import duties) and waiting several weeks (as I did for the Momus album), or pay the full digital price for a lossy low-quality download from Apple Music or Amazon (which may be technically good enough for listening, except for the chagrin of knowing that the copy I paid for will forever lack those missing harmonics and transients, stripped out of it to shrink it down for 00s-vintage computer networks and MP3 players). This is enough of a psychological barrier to keep most of my purchases on Bandcamp (where, to be honest, some 90% of what I'm interested in can be found), with the herculean effort of ordering CDs reserved only for a handful of special cases, and the occasional gap filled at Rough Trade or Fopp on a visit to London (see also: Covid-19). (Of course, I could stream the records on Spotify and justify that as having “consumed” them this year, but that wouldn't be the same, would it? If you haven't bought a copy and stored it on a physical medium somewhere, it's not really in your collection, and is one record-label dispute away from disappearing forever as if it never existed.)

The good news is that more Bandcamp holdouts are joining; London shoegaze institution Club AC30 did this year, as did PC Music, Sonic Youth are putting their records up (starting from demos, live sessions and oddities like Ciccone Youth, though they've managed to get major-label-released albums like Daydream Nation up; I'm guessing it wasn't a Universal Music executive who made that call), and Melbourne indie veterans Underground Lovers are making noises about it (one remix compilation so far, with (hopefully) the possibility of back-catalogue to follow). So, if you're an artist on an independent label who don't do Bandcamp, ask them why the hell not?

If you use Spotify, there is the usual playlist here.

2020 cds lists music 0


It's the last day of 2019, and as such, here are the notable records of the past year:

  • Article 54The Hustle (BandCamp)

    In Australia, the rolling political unpleasantness is tackled by feral larrikin mashup artists; in metropolitan London, though, they do things differently. As is the case of Article 54, a crack team of London live music veterans led by Rhodri Marsden, charting the arc of the ongoing Brexit situation through the medium of lush 70s-style disco. Luscious soul strings, funky clavinet licks and wah guitar, along with ostensibly peppy yet slyly subversive lyrics and samples apparently culled from countless hours of talkback radio. The trajectory of the situation itself is evident in the arc of song titles: beginning with the ebullient Piece Of Cake, breezily asserting that “saying goodbye is easy as pie”, and ending on a more downbeat note with Hard Is Better, itself fading out into the sound of street protests. Freedom Of Movement, a 1970s-style light-music track chiding the foolishness of Britons who aspire to vamoose to Lisbon or Toulouse or set up home in Budapest or Rome, sounds Scarfolkianly redolent of the cheery propaganda of totalitarian regimes; Let's Go WTO, meanwhile, sounds almost like an old radio ad jingle for car insurance, while Backstop and Canada Plus wouldn't sound amiss in a Sardinian nightclub in 1982, and Alternative Arrangements has a groove worthy of Luther Vandross. Ironically smooth sailing.

  • BodikhuuRio/Bodianova (BandCamp)

    Tired: Scandinavians making chillwave electropop dreaming of Caribbean beaches. Inspired: Mongolians making instrumental hip-hop dreaming of Brazil. In this case, Bodikhuu, who works as a construction crane operator in Ulaanbaatar, but spends the winter, when it's too cold to work, making beats in his apartment with an Akai MPC and a stack of old Brazilian records to sample, and releasing his tracks digitally into the Mongolian hip-hop scene. Rio/Bodianova assembled from two such self-released EPs, consists of lush, intricately layered tracks infused with samba and bossa-nova, not a world away from J. Dilla. The image of the fabled Brazil of Bodikhuu's imagination permeates every track, with its tropical heat and breezy languor. The chill-out record of the summer.

  • Cigarettes After SexCry (BandCamp)

    No huge surprises here: if you loved Cigarettes After Sex's eponymous debut, this delivers another package of the same. Expect music with echoes of Slowdive/Mazzy Star/Julee Cruise/Cowboy Junkies/&c., androgynous vocals singing of longing and desire, catchy melodies, and track titles like Don't Let Me Go, Pure and, umm, Hentai. Cry follows on from Cigarettes After Sex's eponymous debut without any major changes, and without the mist of ambiguity that shrouded it, Greg Gonzales' songwriting persona has coalesced into a bit of a softboi cliché; yeah, he's constitutionally incapable of commitment and yet obsessively in love with you, likes porn and blowjobs, and yet finds tenderness and beauty in sleaze; a tender pervert for the generation who grew up on Vice Magazine, permanent austerity, climate catastrophe and cheap cocaine. Though I guess if you prefer more psychodrama with your libidinous pop, there's always Of Montreal.

  • Holly HerndonProto (Bandcamp)

    Herndon's previous albums combined academic experimentation with generative composition using Max/MSP with a raver's love of of electronic dance music and critiques of the interplay of technology and society; this next one is a bit of a divergence, having been arguably the first commercial album composed in collaboration with an AI. For this project (which also formed part of her PhD thesis), Herndon and her collaborators trained a sound-generating neural network named Spawn, and gathered groups of singers around its microphones to sing around it, drawing on the sacred and folk song styles of her native Tennessee, and then got it to gradually synthesise what it learned. We witness the AI learning, emitting choral drones and glitchy syllables and converging on an otherworldly song. This is intermingled with actual dancefloor bangers made using Spawn's input, with collaborators like footwork maestro Jlin.

  • Alice HubblePolarlichter (Bandcamp)

    Hubble, formerly one half of electropop duo Arthur & Martha, makes a solo debut with an album of warmly analogue music, half instrumental and half pop; at once a virtuoso showcase of electronic sound and a love letter to legendary practitioners such as New Order, Kraftwerk and OMD. Hubble is not merely a veteran pop songsmith but also has her finger on the (metronomic) pulse of this genre, and as such ends up hitting all the buttons. Highlights include the bittersweet pop of Are We Still Alone, the cubist pastoral of Atlantis Palm like a ride down the changing voxel landscapes a video-game Autobahn, the waltz-time electronica of Hunt For The Blood Red Moon, and Kick The Habit, arguably the best glam-rock anthem ever written from the point of view of a lapsed nun.

  • Jenny HvalThe Practice of Love (Bandcamp)

    As a musical artist, Jenny Hval has a reputation for fusing ethereal pop sounds with an intimacy and a sometimes visceral frankness, as evident on previous albums like Blood Bitch and Apocalypse, Girl. Her latest album is thematically a gentler affair, eschewing the body horror and (most of the) sex in favour of meditations on love, “love”, death, intimacy and other corners of the human condition, over beds of synth washes, clubby baselines, trancy arpeggios and programmed/sampled beats reminiscent of Dubstar, Decoder Ring or early-90s Momus. Hval's voice weaves in and out of the mix, singing in reverb, or whispering confessionally, sometimes joined by three other collaborators, including Melbourne's Laura Jean, and occasionally teasing the border between chillout and ASMR. The title track sits in the middle and borrows the conceit of The Velvet Underground's The Murder Mystery, with Vivian Wang talking about the word “love” on the left channel and, on the right, Jean about childlessness and regarding oneself as a supporting character, over ambient synth pads and arpeggios; the beats resume on the following track, Ashes To Ashes, an upbeat pop song about dreams of death. It doesn't have any lines as immediately memorable as Apocalypse, Girl's “I beckon the cupcake, the huge capitalist clit”, but it more than makes up for this in its enveloping lushness.

  • Sleater-KinneyThe Center Won't Hold (Bandcamp)

    The group's new album, with Annie Clark of St. Vincent producing, takes a departure from the punk-rock purism of their previous albums and towards a more electronic sound not too far from Le Tigre; more programmed beats and the odd synthesiser mixing in with the spiky guitars, live drums, handclaps and vocals. Thematically, The Center Won't Hold engages with the situation of the world in 2019, from social media to economic precarity, from the political situation in the US and abroad to the importance of personal bonds in the uncertain world, making a humanistic stand.

  • Star HorseYou Said Forever (Bandcamp), and SpunsugarMouth Full Of You (Bandcamp)

    There is a bit of a shoegaze moment taking place in Sweden right now, and these two bands are examples. Star Horse have been around for a few years, though have only released their debut full-length album this year, and are on the poppy side of shoegaze, sounding somewhat like Secret Shine, all ethereal vocals floating above a wash of processed guitars. If they don't get the support slot at the next Slowdive gig in Sweden, it will be a crime. Meanwhile, Spunsugar are a young band based in Malmö, and sound exactly how the name suggests: crunchy, drum-machine-backed shoegaze à la Catherine Wheel, with a touch of baggy and whatever Curve and Caligula were, and if you listen carefully, a hint of metal; clear vocals floating on an ethereal reverb haze over jangling guitars and fuzz. At the moment, they only have one four-track EP out, but with any luck, they should go far.

  • Teeth Of The SeaWraith (Bandcamp)

    The London dark-psychedelic ensemble's most recent album continues their line of uncategorisable yet compelling works (not to mention clever titles), and shifting it up a gear. The opening track, I'd Rather, Jack. begins like a grimdark Radiohead, before escalating into a postapocalyptic soundscape of the usual elements; grindcore chugging, spaghetti-Western guitars, coruscating synths, mournful mariachi-meets-Taps trumpets, Reznorian drones, though with nothing dominating the mix, but instead slowly building and twisting into unsettling yet compelling textures. Further on, Fortean Steed brings vaguely elfin ethereal vocals and picked acoustic guitars over an aurora of synthesiser textures, evoking a liminal state when the veil between this world and another is at its most diaphanous. Following this, VISITOR begins with pulsing synth arpeggios, soon joined by hair-metal guitar shredding and Ottoman/balkan-style drums, building to a cinematic crescendo over its eight minutes, and the closer, Gladiators Ready, ends the album with a rave in a wasteland (think Giorgio Moroder as the Doof Warrior from Mad Max: Fury Road and you'll have an idea). Brutalicious!

  • Underground LoversA Left Turn

    The Undies' second act continues into its third album, and shows no sign of losing strength. There's luscious dreampop (the opener, Feels Like Yesterday with its chorused strums and indiepop harmonies, and Dunes, with with guitars and delay floating over a chunky drum loop), vaguely kraut-ish indie-rock anthems (Bells, with its motorik crunch and harmony choruses, and Hooky, whose title may or may not come from its high-played bass guitar), techno synth pulses and those guitars, not to mention an anthem to the subjective experience of hanging out and partying, Melbourne-style (in this case, Seven Day Weekend, which threatens to turn into techno before the fuzzy riffage kicks in).

With honourable mentions going to: Agent Blå, Morning Thoughts (the Gothenburg band's latest, like a smoother, softer Makthaverskan); The Ballet, Matchy Matchy (soft-spoken indiepop about the travails of being single and gay in New York as if sung in a bedroom over a drum machine; like Magnetic Fields meets The Postal Service); Caterina Barbieri, Ecstatic Computation (luminous soundscapes of analogue arpeggios and reverb, made on modular synths); CHAI, PUNK (a slight misnomer, as it's more slightly skronkier-than-usual J-pop, with the usual Big Melodies underscored with driving bass guitars, and choppy sampling work reminiscent of early Shibuya-kei); Duncan Barrett, Seven Temples (the frontman of Tigercats turns his attention unexpectedly to ambient music, and it's pretty good somewhat new-agey with touches of IDM; layers of pulsating, shimmering synths weave in and out, over subtle field recordings, the odd rainstick and, in places, Barrett's trademark kalimba); Be Forest, Knocturne (Chiming minor-key guitars and pounding drums; like shoegaze/post-rock taking The Cure's Disintegration as a starting point); Bodywash, Comforter (post-Cocteauvian dreampop (or “cream pop” as they call it) from Montreal, nudging tentatively into pad-and-beat-driven electronica, a bit like Love Spirals Downwards' drum'n'bass turn or the German shoegaze band Malory); The Boy Who Spoke Clouds, Fields (the swansong from Melbourne's Adam Casey's solo project; languid compositions for guitar, organ and electronics, in the local post-rock tradition); The Catenary Wires, Til The Morning (Amelia and Rob return with more indiepop ballads for grownups, with their customary wit); Death And Vanilla, Are You A Dreamer? (the Malmö haunto-poppers were robbed when they weren't tapped to write the soundtrack to Midsommar; nonetheless, here's a new album, full of retro-styled hypnagogica that's almost gentle and reassuring); Haiku Salut, The General (a score to the eponymous 1920s Buster Keaton film, breaking the clichés of what a score to a silent film should sound like); Hot Chip, A Bath Full of Ecstasy (a luminous, euphoric affair, of coruscating dancefloor anthems and Autotune-driven quiet-storm numbers; a love letter to the power of dance music to connect people); Jens Lekman & Annika Norlin, Correspondence (a series of songs, alternately composed by Lekman and Norlin in correspondence with each other; witty and thoughtful); Parenthetical Girls, The Scottish Play: Wherein the Group Parenthetical Girls Pay Well​-​intentioned (if Occasionally Misguided) Tribute To the Works of Ivor Cutler (what it sounds like: Zac Pennington reëmerges with a set of covers of the late Scottish absurdist's oeuvre; with cover artwork by David Shrigley, no less); Seablite, Grass Stains and Novocaine (catchy indiepop from the Pacific Northwest, not that far from Rose Melberg's oeuvre); She Past Away, Disko Anksiyete (synthpop for goths, in Turkish; file alongside Cold Cave); Le Superhomard, Meadow Lane Park (lighter-than-Air Europop, like the aforementioned French Band fronted by Dusty Springfield or perhaps an ice-cool continental Saint Etienne; in places sounds like Dots And Loops-era Stereolab, in others, Apricot Records indiepop); U-Bahn, U-Bahn (angular Little Band-isms from Melbourne, with a tightly-wound DEVO-esque sensibility, though owing more to The Models than Kraftwerk's The Model); Vanishing Twin, The Age of Immunology (languidly hypnagogic, post-Broadcast, library jazz acoustic gtr, clunking bass, twinkling west-coast synths and Cathy’s vocals waxing Trishesque).

2019 was also a good year for rereleases; the obvious ones were Stereolab coming back from hibernation, reissuing their entire catalogue with generous liner notes and an abundance of bonus tracks (luxury vinyl optional) and touring it; though other than that, there was early-80s Melbourne new-waver Karen Marks' long-unavailable electropop gem Cold Café, queer pagan transgressives Coil's ice-cool club-techno soundtrack to the first (just about legal) gay sex education film made in Britain, and My Favourite's expanded version of the final album and arguable masterpiece of their first incarnation, The Happiest Days Of Our Lives.

Were I to designate a record of the year, it would be either Alice Hubble, or Jenny Hval.

There is a Spotify playlist here.

2019 cds lists music 0


As 2018 comes to an end, here is once again my list of records of the past year:

  • Belle & SebastianHow To Solve Our Human Problems

    This year brought another Belle & Sebastian album with it, and Belle & Sebastian fans know what to expect. gently folky moments (Fickle Season), groovy mood pieces (the bipartite Everything Is Now), soul strings (Too Many Tears), not to mention titles like “A Plague On Other Boys” (which sounds not unlike one would expect a Belle & Sebastian song by that title to sound; file this one alongside Lord Anthony and The Cat With The Cream).

    The album opens with Sweet Dew Lee, in which Stevie wistfully reopens the wounds of an unrequited crush twenty years on, tormenting himself with what-could-have-beens and parallel-universe hypotheticals (hey, we've all been there), over a bed of bossa-esque guitar and analogue synth fuzz. The second track, We Were Beautiful, which is sonically probably the closest we'll get to Belle & Sebastian's foray into drum'n'bass, continues the theme of wistfully looking back on lost youth. Meanwhile, Best Friend is a classic B&S comedy of manners about flat-sharing, adulting and trying not to fall in love. (At times, the Belle and Sebastian universe sounds like a terrifying place, with romantic love being everywhere, seeping through the cracks like a gas, every glance crackling with oddly chaste sexual electricity.)

  • Carpenter BrutLEATHER TEETH (Bandcamp)

    Carpenter Brut are, in a sense, the anti-M83. Both bands hail from France, a culture that stands apart from the currents of Anglo-American pop culture, engaging with them on its own terms, and both bands trade in a French-made vision of fantasy-America. Though while M83's America takes its cues from John Hughes soundtracks, with its pastel-hued high-school romances and subcultural cliques, Carpenter Brut's America is a darker one, made from 1980s low-budget VHS horror films and Reagan-era paranoia about Satanic cults. A trio comprised of a keyboard player (with a stack of analogue synths), a heavy-metal guitarist and a drummer, their music falls at the more dystopian end of the “synthwave” genre (as the name suggests, synthesist and horror auteur John Carpenter was an influence, though far from the only one); the closest comparison I can think of is San Diego's Street Cleaner.

    Some tracks on LEATHER TEETH have lyrics, whose sometimes stilted phrasing adds to their over-the-top shlock (sample: “beware the beast inside your heart, when you're dancing in the dark, and the night's desire is burning with the Devil's fire”), while others serve to soundtrack movie scenes left to the listener's imagination (those who see them live get a visual aid in the form of video projections of imaginary movie fragments, presumably filmed at considerable effort by the band and their collaborators; expect unrealistic fake blood, rows of high-school lockers and shots of lurid newspaper headlines). Leather Teeth is their second album, and includes collaborators including Ulver's Kristoffer Rygg.

  • DubstarOne

    Dubstar were one of those bands of the 90s that were often lumped in with Saint Etienne; each juxtaposing the programmed beats and loops of hip-house and club pop with the an very English Dusty-Springfield-meets-Emma-Peel retro-cool, in each case delivered with vintage sang-froid by a Sarah. Unlike their southern opposite numbers, though, they disappeared around the turn of the millennium, with Sarah going on to the electroclash project Client and a number of industriogoth collaborations. Now, after almost two decades, they're back.

    Musically, One starts more or less where they left off, give or take a few decades of life experience. They're a duo now, without the chap who did the drum/sampler/sequencer programming, and so their music sounds less sequenced. The subject matter has kept up with the authors' age, and themes of divorces, legal injunctions (actual and as a metaphor) and drama at school gates come up in the characteristically wry lyrics about stereotypically knotty situations. Blackwood's (possibly unreliable) narrator will be familiar from the “Not So Manic Now” era: wry and a bit intense; just the song titles (“Why Don't You Kiss Me”, ”You Were Never In Love”, “Please Stop Leaving Me Alone”) bespeak the persona of a romantic actor who pursues her interests with the single-minded drive of the Terminator and, when things have gone south, writes a postmortem for the dalliance, replete with arch wordplay.

    In any case, the songs are all as catchy and compelling as the best of their first run. It's hard to pick highlights, but some might include “I Hold Your Heart” with it's Northern-soul stomp, “Waltz No. 9”, in triplet-time and second person, describes the listener's disintegrating life and foretells their imminent downfall, and the icily synthpoppy “Locked Inside”, or the bracing bucket of cold water that is “You Were Never In Love”. The album ends with “Mantra”, a 6½-minute track building to a climax of repeated wordless vocals, fuzzed guitar; I bet they could get a few extra minutes out of it live.

  • Haiku SalutThere Is No Elsewhere (Bandcamp)

    Haiku Salut make lovely, subtle soundscapes, and their third album is no exception. Haiku Salut's combination of electronic and live sounds feels even more seamless than before; glitchy beats, warm drones, synth arpeggios and tiny fragments of sound of unknown provenance fuse with chromatic percussion, melodicas, horns and the Haikus' signature French accordion. The harmonies and melodies feel ever more intricate and evocative. Highlights include the pulsating The More and Moreness, the splendidly titled I Am Who I Remind You Of, a 7-minute journey through a soundscape of glockenspiel, accordion and electronic beats, and the closing track, the lovely, subtle Shadows. File alongside Mogwai, Amiina or Tortoise.

  • Kero Kero BonitoTime 'n' Place (Bandcamp)

    The third album for the London J-pop trio is a somewhat skronkier affair; the songs are still melodious pop songs, redolent more of Harajuku than the Bromley bedroom they were recorded in, but the super-smooth PC Music-esque affectations are replaced by something somewhat less clean; chunky guitar riffage, vaporwavey digital synths and the odd YMCK-esque chiptune arpeggio and digital noise breakdown, slathered with reverb and distortion. Which echoes the record's anxious themes: songs about identity crises in the Instagram-influencer era, depression and worries about the precarious future. Highlights include the retro-styled baroque pop of Dear Future Self and the third-wall-breaking Only Acting.

  • Klaus Johann GrobeDu Bist So Symmetrisch (Bandcamp)

    Swiss electro-funk, you say? With lyrics in German, no less. Propelled by clunky bass guitar, warm'n'fuzzy monosynths, jazzy chords, funky riffs and drums (both live and programmed), Klaus Johann Grobe don't so much straddle the line between kitschy and funky as saunter playfully across it repeatedly. Like smooth midnight boogie-groove R&B stripped back to one-oscillator basics crossed with post-Can skronk and a touch of Kraftwerkian electropop, they present a sort of polyester modernism, conjuring up images of retrofuturistic mitteleuropäisch nightclubs at some point in the past half-century. Highlights include Zu Spät, which is the smoothest thing in at least one parallel universe, and the closing track, An Diesem Abend, a mighty grüv juggernaut which brings das Haus down.

  • Kosmischer LäuferVolume 4 (Bandcamp)

    The fourth chapter of Drew McFadyen's Ostalgisch krautrock project, coming years after the first three, as we all began to despair of the prospect of finding any more of Martin Zeichnete's tapes. Were this a real rerelease of actual long-lost East German Kosmische Musik, we'd be faced with the prospect of all the good stuff having been released, and the remainders being off-cuts, fragments and curios. It's not, though, and so each volume improves on the previous ones. the main part of Volume Four follows the preceding volumes in themes, providing Cluster/Harmonia/La Düsseldorf-style electronic instrumentals, ostensibly conceived for the DDR's Olympic athletes' training; here we have motorik beats and the odd Kraftwerk-esque synthesiser melody, at a methodical 150BPM. The second half, though, takes the form of a visualisation programme, ostensibly to bring focus to the athletes' minds; in place of the propulsive rhythm are ambient synthesiser drones and arpeggios, with a female voice reading out instructions. As ambient music, it works rather nicely; and perhaps future discoveries of Zeichnete's works will be those in this vein?

  • Let's Eat GrandmaI'm All Ears (Bandcamp)

    The teenage duo's second album is somewhat more polished affair, though with their own distinctive authorial voice. While previously they did everything themselves, here they bring onboard collaborators, most prominently The Horrors' Faris Badwan and PC Music artist SOPHIE, learn the tricks and terms of art of mass-market pop music and turn them to their own ends. The latter's influence can be heard in the poppier tracks, such as the single Hot Pink, with its J-pop-tinged girl-power R&B, only somewhat askew and with a Norfolk accent.

    While they have embraced the polish and artifice of pop production and added it to their formidable repertoire, they have not been subsumed by it, either thematically or stylistically. Their songs avoid the standard pop clichés—the love ballads, party anthems and melodramas of heartbreak and betrayal—and instead use the pop-song idiom to their own ends, with word-pictures of an inner life, with its passing thoughts and feelings. Stylistically, some songs, like It's Not Just Me and Falling Into Me, play with the elements of electropop to varying extents; others find a different way, like the bluesy 6/8-time Snakes & Ladders. Cool And Collected, a meditation on the anxiety of admiring (or perhaps fancying) someone, starts off with arid guitarwork reminiscent of Pygmalion-era Slowdive; and perhaps the highlight of the album for me is Ava, an understated piano ballad about a friend struggling with mental-health issues, which shows that Let's Eat Grandma are not beholden to their well-honed maximalism. The closer is the 11-minute Donnie Darko, the long, vaguely Underworldesque track familiar from their live shows, its techno pulse now underpinned with guitar riffing.

    Also, there's the best use of a purring cat on a record since Loney Dear's “The Year Of River Fontana”, so there is that.

  • MonteroPerformer (Bandcamp)

    The new record from musician and illustrator Bjenny Montero, and his first since moving to Athens (Greece, not Georgia) embraces the luscious maximalism and all-analogue artifice of 70s-vintage soft rock, wedding it to the vulnerability of his comics.

    The first track, Montero Airlines, starts with eight bars of minor-key piano chords; then the big drums kick in and Ben's vocals, with a cry for help; “it's not good for me to be all alone right now”. By the time we get to the verse, we learn that part of him needs a part of you and not just any boy is going to do. Another verse and chorus, and then the song switches into the ending, a jingle for the titular airline, wrought into an epic build-up of chorused vocals, drum breakdowns and multiple chiming guitars. The second song, Aloha, is even more envelopingly lush, all chiming guitars, vocal harmonies and an key change that feels like taking off into the sunset in a seaplane.

    The album continues in this vein, with flangers, Frippian talkbox, electric pianos, Mellotron strings, and beds of backing harmonies. Montero, it seems, is both a connoisseur of vintage pop and a perfectionist in the studio, build up lavish pocket symphonies out of everyday anxieties and melancholies. Caught Up In My Own World starts with Rhodes piano and flanged vocals, the choruses blooming in an explosion of chorused guitar and vocal aahs. Running Race builds up a lush soundscape around a kernel of self-doubt (“deep inside of me, no-one's home”), ornamenting it with classic psychedelic pop. Tokin' The Night Away is basically what it sounds like, a stoner anthem realised as if on a 1970s recording budget; “Destiny” brings a somewhat goofy rock-opera bombast, sounding like the musical number in which the mephistophelian villain tries to convince the hero to join him. The closing track, Pilot starts with a funky bassline and bongo-led groove, and cruises smoothly along before soaring to a climax that brings the house down on the album. It is also probably also the only song ever written referencing both the lights of LA and “Desperate and Dateless”. In any case, Performer is smooth sailing, and the biggest (by some definitions) Australian psychedelic pop record since Tame Impala. There's none more shmoopy!

  • Moon GangsEarth Loop (Bandcamp)

    The first album-length release from analogue ambient electronic project Moon Gangs elaborates on the direction of his two EPs, though in a deeper, darker direction. Made with a bench of analogue synthesisers and sequencers played live, the result is luminous, foreboding cinematic soundscapes somewhere between Vangelis, Tangerine Dream and John Carpenter, replete with coruscating arpeggios, saturated sawtooth drones, skittering white noise and epic reverb tails. Highlights include Familiar Machines (which sounds like a more analogue Ben Frost) and the majestic Sea Circles, a 6½-minute megastructure of grandeur.

  • Them Are Us TooAmends and SRSQUnreality

    This year's twinned albums; the young Bay Area dreampop duo Them Are Us Too, tragically, were mentioned here in 2016, in the context of one of them, Cash Askew, having died in the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland. At the time, they had been working on new recordings; some time later, these were reworked with the involvement of surviving member Kennedy Ashlyn, Telefon Tel Aviv producer Joshua Eustis and Askew's girlfriend and stepfather; which eventually was worked into the Amends EP, and released this year. Ashlyn went on to a solo project, SRSQ, also releasing a record later this year.

    Both records have their roots in 1980s dreampop/sophistipop, with a sound somewhere between the Cocteau Twins and Julee Cruise, with perhaps fragments of other things (The Cure? Giorgio Moroder?) shining through. Amends feels the more whole, with Askew's dreamlike guitarwork floating over the synth pads and underpinning Ashlyn's Fraserequely aethereal vocals. It starts with the sublime Angelene, its icy synth arpeggios, filter-sweep pads, gated drum machine and judicious use of tape delay setting Ashlyn's soaring soprano in an ornate frame worthy of Laura Palmer. The velvet darkness starts to close in with Grey Water, which ventures deeper into Cocteaus territory. Floor, with its rapid-fire drum machine, jagged guitar lines and Ashlyn's vocals soaring like if Siouxsie had been an actual banshee, could have probably filled the floor of a goth club 30 years ago. The final, title track, with its reverbed drums, synth pads, Ashlyn's soaring soprano and Askew's sublimely jagged guitarwork, is a fitting ending, providing a pastel-hued sunset for Them Are Us Too's closing credits, and giving an illusion of closure.

    Closure, however, is not how the real world works, which is evident in Ashlyn's debut as SRSQ, an album haunted by loss (SRSQ's Bandcamp page describes the project as “griefwave”). The album feels like a journey: starting with FM bells, vast reverb and an almost Dead Can Dance-esque sense of the transcendent, before the familiar 808 snap and sawtooth arpeggios kick in, going through ethereal dreampop (Cherish, which sounds like a synth-driven Cocteaus, and the Badalamenti-esque Procession), descending into a valley of shadow, of plaintive vocal lines and electronic drones, before emerging with the soaring, luminous climax of Only One. Askew's guitars, of course, are absent; instead, there are rich layers of electronics (mostly lush, though in places raw and harsh) beneath Ashlyn's majestic soprano. There is, of course, a void and a sense of loss, but also, one feels, a sense of mystery and hints of the sacred encoded in the aural language of the record; beyond the FM bells, expansive 80s-style reverbs and overtone-rich analogue synth timbres reminiscent of pipe organs coalesce to evoke the sensation of a cathedral-like space, there are, echoes of the score for a certain TV show, perhaps our secular society's closest thing to sacred mystery. One gets the feeling that this is not so much stylised genre pop music, such as, say, “dreampop” or “synthwave”, as something more transcendent crafted from its elements.

  • Die Wilde JagdUhrwald Orange (Bandcamp)

    Die Wilde Jagd (The Wild Hunt) are a duo, originally from Düsseldorf, but now based in Berlin. Uhrwald Orange (“Clockwood Orange” in English) is their second album, and falls somewhere between electronic and post-rock. It is mostly instrumental, with half the tracks clocking in at over 10 minutes in length and none shorter than six, though a few with lyrics sounding not unlike a German Velvet Underground. The tracks tend to evolve and progress, like hypnotic meditations of layered rhythms and textures; slightly too languid to be labelled “motorik”, with pulsing synthesisers, sitars, spaghetti-western guitars and the odd field recording. Highlights include the 15-minute “Kreuzgang”, which starts off like a library-music take on Joy Division-style post-punk bleakness before setting the controls for an altogether more cosmic void.

With honourable mentions going to: Beach House, 7 (somewhat busier than their previous albums, though with the familiar dreamy haze; Pete “Sonic Boom” Kember was involved in the production), Blood Wine Or Honey, Fear & Celebration (psychedelic Afrobeat/Tropicalia-tinged party grooves from Hong Kong, of all places; sounds in places like NO ZU, only even more lit), Cale Sexton, Melondrama (808 and 303-intensive electronic grooves, with enough atmosphere to not get boring or require pills to enjoy; reminiscent of some of Aphex Twin's Polygon Window work in places, only dubbier), Camp Cope, How To Socialise & Make Friends (choppy/skronky yet melodious Melbourne indie rock fuelled by MeToo-era rage and knowing when to go rough-as-guts; reminiscent in places of Origami or Bidston Moss), Caroline No, Swimmers EP (understated rock'n'roll balladeering from Caroline Kennedy (of The Tulips and 90s alt-rockers Deadstar) and friends), Cavern of Anti-Matter, Hormone Lemonade (the follow-up to 2016’s Void Beats is literally a more stripped-back affair, built up over rhythms from Holger Zapf’s homemade drum machines, overlaid with layers of analogue synths, guitars and noise generators), Clue To Kalo, There's No Radio/In The All-Night Bakery At Dawn (a joyously maximalistic electropop song, reminiscent of Caribou or Panda Bear), Empty Files, Shadows (a.k.a. NIN goes to the hipster disco), Phil France, Circle (warm analogue electronic instrumentals, too chilled to dance to, but with more happening beneath the surface; not too far from Jon Brooks' analogue pastorals), Frankie Teardrop Dead, All You Need Is Love And Fucking Peace (above-average contemporary psych-rock, with above-average self-awareness (for one, they're not named “Underground Jesus” or “Acid Death Cult” or something); titles include “Joy In Division” and “Lost Member Of A Fake Boyband“; expect fuzzed-out guitar and chorused vocals), Fufanu, The Dialogue Series (The Icelandic electropop band's latest effort, originally released as several EPs; has its ups and downs, but some nice tracks like Typical Critical), Hatchie, Sugar & Spice (the début record from Brisbane teenager Harriette Pilbeam is a short slice of catchy shoegaze-tinged pop that evokes the likes of The Sundays; one to watch), The KVB,Only Now Forever (Reverbed vocals in an understated croon, the cold snap of analogue drum machines and layers of guitars and pulsing synths baked into a warm fuzz; combining the cold feeling of post-punk with analogue fuzz, The KVB deal in a sort of kraut-goth-psych-pop, somewhere between Darklands-era Jesus and Mary Chain and Joy Division at their most detached and motorik, with perhaps a nod to Berlin-era Bowie), Melbourne Cans, Heat of the Night (more Melbourne indie-rock, with shimmering guitars and vintage affectations; i.e., Heart Turned Blue, a slab of rock'n'roll noir not directly inspired by Twin Peaks, and the Be My Baby-quoting Followed Home), Midday Static, Dreamcatcher (guitar and beat-driven ambience from one guy in Tulsa, Oklahoma; if you like Robin Guthrie and Ulrich Schnauss, you might like this), New War, Coin (broadly in a post-punk vein, yet somewhat more expansive in tone; angular yet dubby with biting basslines, urgently yelped vocals, and more than the average amount of synth atmospherics; reminiscent in places of Dogs In Space), Örvar Smárason, Light Is Liquid (The solo début from Örvar, of renowned Icelandic bands múm and FM Belfast; chilled, glitchy beats, icy pads, warm electronics, leftfield techno and vocals chopped up, vocoded and processed to within an inch of their life; highlights include Flesh and Dreams and the closer Cthulhu Regio), Red Red Eyes, Horology (Laura from Betty And The Werewolves' new band goes into post-Lynchian territory; echoes of Death And Vanilla or Sir), Say Sue Me, Where We Were Together (fuzzy, jangly, indiepop from Busan, South Korea, evocative of C86/Sarah indie in places; Old Town could be twinned with Anorak City), Soft Regime, “Hard Feelings” (An EP of bright, hyper-saturated electropop songs about holidays in Europe, aging socialites and the magic of dance music; ⅓ of Soft Regime is Tim Benton, of indie-electro heroes Baxendale, and Dickon Edwards (of Orlando, Fosca and a renowned online diary) guests on one song), The Spook School, Could It Be Different? (their third record and first on Slumberland; melodiously skronky tweecore with a theme of defiant resilience and the power to fill indiepop dance floors), Tangents, New Bodies (dubby/jazzy/skronky post-post-rock atmospherics with live instruments and electronics), Tigercats, Pig City (Tigercats go deeper into afrobeat territory, with a record of largely kalimba- and horn-section-driven grooves, reinventing Limehouse as a sort of futuristic Nairobi-on-Thames, informal spaces in the shadow of concrete structures, pulsing with a tight beat and as antifa as Gritty), Mr. Twin Sister, Salt (the latest from the Long Island group, combines chilled electronics and soulful vocals (with, at times, stylistic amounts of AutoTune), covering a stylistic gamut between drum'n'bass, jazzy R&B à la Sadé, cyborg neo-soul and dub; impeccably smooth), Yamantaka//Sonic Titan, Dirt (The Toronto band’s third album manages to be both weightlessly ethereal and ultra-heavy, combining prog-rock intricacy with elements of metal and lovesliescrushing-esque shoegaze), You Drive, You Drive (impeccably cool synthwave pop, with luminous electronics and icily detached female vocals, from Nashville of all places).

As always, there were noteworthy things from previous years I only discovered this year. This year's ones were Cigarettes After Sex (whom I ignored the first time around, partly because their name made them sound like some kind of dumb hipster marketing gimmick, but was blown away by at Primavera; languid, atmospheric songs of contingent love, somewhere between The Velvet Underground, Mazzy Star and Slowdive) and Client Liaison (groovy 80s-style electropop, impeccably executed, with stage presence to match; also discovered at Primavera).

Were I to designate a record of the year, it would be either Montero, Dubstar or Them Are Us Too; it's a tough choice this year.

In any case, there is a Spotify playlist here.

2018 cds lists music 0


2017 is almost over, and so, here are my records of the year:

  • Alvvays - Antisocialites (BandCamp)

    The Canadian indiepop band's follow-up to their self-titled album turns up the polish, sounding in places a bit like a bolder, more expansive Camera Obscura. Weighing in at a slender 32 minutes, with 10 songs, Antisocialites brings catchy melodies and even catchier choruses, jangly guitars, driving riffs, the odd keyboard pad, and upbeat anthems seasoned with tasteful amounts of alienation and angst. Highlights include the jangle-tastic twee-pop-night floor-filler Plimsoll Punks, the gorgeously shimmering, almost My Favorite-esque melancholia of Dreams Tonite and the epic closing track, Forget About Life (hint: if someone gives you a mix tape ending with this, they almost certainly fancy you).

  • LCD Soundsystem - American Dream

    The surprise comeback from a band that came to both epitomise a certain strain of New York hipsterdom and dissect it, laying bare its contradictions; returning a mere handful of years after their definitely-final farewell gig in Madison Square Gardens. Was it the wisdom of David Bowie, with whom James Murphy worked briefly on ★, that made him change his mind? Was it all a cynical marketing gimmick, or perhaps even a meta-art project toying with the concept of “selling out”? In any case, it doesn't matter, as the record is as strong as anything LCD have done before.

    There are a number of standout tracks here: Call The Police is a driving 7-minute party groove with more than a passing resemblance to All Your Friends; How Do You Sleep?, a wrathful indictment of a former associate (widely believed to be ex-DFA partner Andrew Weatherall), builds up through five minutes of pounding drums and sparse synthesisers, before exploding into the usual LCD groove juggernaut. And then there's the title track, which broaches James Murphy's trademark subject, the plight of the aging scenester. This time, this takes the form of a midlife existential crisis, narrated in the second person, equal parts sympathy and mockery; the subject, one gets the impression, is an aging American Nathan Barley, in toxic, chronic denial about pretty much everything, not least of all being well over halfway into his metamorphosis into a bum from a Charles Bukowski novel. The track is just over six minutes long, and its synthesised rock'n'roll ballad stylings and crescendos give it a mock-heroic pathos that is just perfect. The album ends on a personal note with the 12-minute Black Screen, where Murphy lets his guard down and addresses his late hero, mentor and eventual friend David Bowie (“you fell between a friend and a father”). A welcome return.

  • Jens Lekman - Life Will See You Now (BandCamp)

    The long-awaited follow-up to 2012's I Know What Love Isn't is an upbeat record. Jens has been getting more deeply into the production of his tracks, and is now at the culmination of his journey from indie-pop minimalism to a sort of cut-and-paste baroque, applying the playfulness that goes into his wordplay and storytelling to stacking up beats, loops and samples, and you can tell that he's having fun. As well as the big disco buildups he loves (What's That Perfume You Wear?, because the cure for a broken heart is to get down on the dance floor like nothing else matters, and the epic How We Met, The Long Version, equal parts funk and romantic whimsy), Wedding In Finistère ruminates on the passing of life milestones over a South African township-style groove, and the opening track sets up a theme, knowing one's life's calling, with an anecdote about a Mormon missionary and the death of Princess Diana recounted over some Wham!-doing-Motown grooves, built up and playfully stripped back as he breaks the fourth wall. Lekman, it seems, is as much a postmodernist as he is a romantic. Thematically, though, he has moved beyond his usual comfort zone of romantic love and its absence; two of the songs on this album confront that timely theme, the toxicity in masculinity, or in particular, the way its rules cut those subject to them off from meaningfully connecting with one another.

  • Loney Dear - Loney Dear

    Swedish melancholist Emil Svanängen made a name for himself as Loney Dear, a purveyor of romantic (in a Sorrows of Young Werther sense), and sometimes enigmatic, chamber-pop; intricate miniature sonic dioramas of longing and inner anguish. His new album, the first since 2011's Hall Music, sees him move further away from the woodsily acoustic sound of his earlier work and dive deeply into electronic sounds; which is not as great a change as one might imagine, as he has always had a thing for intricate arrangements with multiple parts coming together. It opens with a flight into darkness in the frantic, minor-key Pun, its unusual time signature, descending basslines and chorus of disparate elements sounding almost Radioheadesque. The third track, Hulls, is a ballad about fraught, complex relations, driven by fraught, complex minor-key harmonies; it begins with a muted one-handed synthesiser line and Emil's plaintive vocals, and, as is often the case, soars to a crescendo for that brief moment when the narrator's inner demons are in harmony with the celestial spheres. It is followed by Sum, which combines layers of pulsing electronics and shuffling beats with enveloping harmonies like the Pet Shop Boys at their most classicalesque. Isn't It You? is another high point, a simple but lovely miniature of pure, ill-omened longing, like the most hopeful point in a tragic opera. The album ends on an upbeat note with the splendidly titled There Are Several Alberts Here, which sounds probably not unlike what you'd get if someone commissioned Sigur Rós to write a love song.

  • Briana Marela - Call It Love (BandCamp)

    Marela's follow-up to her 2015 album All Around Us is a more expansive, ambitious and complex affair. Warmly intimate, melodic pop songs about the permutations of friendship, love and their absence, built up from layer upon layer of processed vocals, subtle beats, programmed basslines and the odd bit of live drums. Most of the work is done by Marela's voice, passing through various layers of effects, loops and digital artifice, carrying melodies and harmonies and the odd instrumental accents, complemented by the odd subbass synthesizer or crisp drum machine loop. Marela explores the liminal spaces between intimacy and artifice, and has made a particular space—layered, textured, at once warm and pulsatingly luminous, ethereal and immediate, technological and human. Highlights would include the opening track, Be In Love, which arrives in a waterfall of synth arpeggios and vocal harmonies and then erupts into a groove driven by live drums and synth bass, and the title track, a driving, major-key M83-esque electropop number spontaneously forming from the haze of granular sound particles. Recommended to anyone who wished that Holly Herndon wrote pop songs, wondered what The Softies would have been like as a 2010s electronic project or misses Sally Seltmann's New Buffalo recordings. (Not recommended, though, if you're allergic to reverb.)

  • Milk Teddy - Time Catches Up With Milk Teddy (BandCamp)

    Five years on from their debut, Zingers Melbourne's Milk Teddy have honed their craft further and delivered a shimmering mirage of slightly off-kilter perfect pop. The opening track, New York Rhapsody, kicks off with chiming guitar chords evocative of The Sea Urchins' Pristine Christine and chorused vocals recounting subjective snapshots of the narrator's travels; by the time this has faded into Rock'n'Roll Cretin, a short, melodious slice of vintage radio pop, which, two minutes later, fades out through a recording of an Australian-accented radio announcer talking, for some reason, about pasta, to a surf-guitar instrumental, you get the feeling that you've slipped into a parallel world of indiepop, a widescreen, technicolor dreamscape, melodious and with a hyperreal vividness, displaced in time by some unknown and possibly unquantifiable amount from the flattened languor of Melbourne's recent crop of “dolewave” indie. Other highlights include Gothic Skyline, with its FM keyboard accents and FM-radio polish, the pop romanticism of Iron Rose and the impeccably named closer, Too Young To Vote Too Old To Cry, with its echoes of The Beach Boys. Not sure if this is as good as guitar pop gets, but, in any case, it has to be pretty close.

  • Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked At Me (BandCamp)

    A chronicle of mourning; recorded by Phil Elverum in the room in which his wife, Genevieve Castrée (a musician and songwriter in her own right, who recorded as Ô Paon), died of cancer, and recounting, plainly, the many sad milestones as someone close passes away, the moments shared falling further into the past. Neither affected nor embellished, nonetheless, this is the heaviest thing one is likely to hear; infinitely heavier than a thousand corpsepainted Norwegians cookie-monstering about sodomitic necromutilation and such. Forget all the posturing darklings, this is death, and loss, and abject human anguish at its most primal and inevitable. There is no comfort or closure here.

  • My Sad Captains - Sun Bridge (BandCamp)

    London's My Sad Captains have recorded three albums, finding a middle road between languid, sun-dappled Americana and gently propulsive krautrock. Their fourth sees them change tack slightly, opening with a synthesizer instrumental reminiscent of Tangerine Dream. Not to worry: the guitars, unhurried vocals and gently motorik percussion come back in the next track. The rest of the album goes on from there; layered, languid, enveloping and mildly psychedelic in places, with the odd synth pad or bubbling arpeggio fitting organically into their sound. A welcome return, and a promising change of heading.

  • Ride - Weather Diaries (BandCamp)

    Thames Valley shoegaze bands' comeback albums seem to be like buses: you wait for ages for one, and then two show up at once. Compared to their peers in what became the shoegaze scene, Ride's sound was always relatively clean and free of the usual reverb/delay. Consequently, 20 years on, their sound stands somewhat apart from the genre, and a listener unaware of their pedigree would probably not classify them alongside the likes of Pinkshinyultrablast, perhaps filing them under the catch-all of “psych”. For their comeback album, they recruited by Erol Alkan, the studio alchemist best known for transmuting scraggly indie-rock into something functionally equivalent on the dance floor to house music. The result is a sound that's tough and sculpted, with a clarity and solidity to it; there is some reverb and delay, but it is kept under control. Guitars, with varying degrees of fuzz (though no washes of delay) dominate, though chorused vocals, analogue synths and even the odd clunky drum machine, emerge in places. This is an expansive album, with a good amount of depth.

  • Slowdive - Slowdive (BandCamp)

    When the newly reunited Slowdive announced, in 2014, their intention to record a new album, there were doubts. How would a new album stand up next to, say, Souvlaki or the early EPs? The risk of it being an inessential appendix to the real Slowdive records of the 1990s was a real one. Fortunately, this did not happen; in fact, it's safe to say that they've hit this one out of the park. The new album, confidently self-titled, (mostly) does not radically depart from the style of their first act, but builds on it and achieves the rare feat of surpassing it and establishing Slowdive's reputation anew. The opener, Slomo, picks up where Pygmalion would have left off had most of the band not left, drifting in like a mist from the sea on a wash of processed guitars and vocals. Almost seven minutes later, it eases into Star Roving, which with its choppy guitars and driving percussion sounds like something off the legendary early EPs only more refined. Star Roving was the first single, establishing that Slowdive were back and in classic form. The second single, Sugar For The Pill, opens with a ringing five-note motif; by the time it reaches the chorus, with its synth pads and Neil and Rachel's vocal harmonies, it's as if they've reinvented 1970s soft rock via shoegaze. But it's the tracks in between that stand out for me: Don't Know Why and Everyone Knows, with Rachel's voice soaring over the harmonious maelstrom of howling feedback and chiming guitars, which bring back the sense of the sublime that one encountered upon first hearing Alison or Avalyn. The last track, Falling Ashes, departs from the familiar Slowdive-as-we-know-them sound; opening with a solitary piano line, some understated guitars, with drummer Christian Savill's granular-synthesis experiments subtly filling the empty spaces; there is perhaps a bit of Mojave 3 in the stillness. A return that exceeded its high expectations, overshadows Slowdive's earlier albums; even more intriguingly, there are apparently more Slowdive songs which sounded too different for the comeback album, which makes one intrigued as to what they do next.

  • Moses Sumney - Aromanticism (BandCamp)

    A concept album about, as the name suggests, abstaining from romantic love in a world that valorises it. Sumney's musical backings sound, in places, ironically romantic in tone, with lush string beds and bossa-nova guitars evoking old easy-listening records (and, for a moment, another act who, a quarter-century earlier, queered/queried the subject of romance and intimacy, Blueboy); elsewhere, it's adjacent to trip-hop and R&B, and, in places, could pass for Radiohead. On top of this, Sumney's voice soars in falsettos evocative at times of 78RPM blues record.

  • Warm Digits - Wireless World (BandCamp)

    A curious thing happened to the genre of krautrock, sometime after the term was coined: it became a mostly British phenomenon, eventually merging partly with hauntology (a term which originated in the writings of Jacques Derrida before becoming a byword for pre-Thatcherite institutional kitsch) and memories of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Warm Digits, from Newcastle, are another exemplar of 2010s British Radiophonic/Haunto/Krautrock spectrum (alongside the sequenced Ostalgie of Scotland's Kosmischer Läufer, the unironic retro-optimism of Public Service Broadcasting and the analogue pastorals of Jon Brooks), though this time leaning strongly towards the motorik end of the spectrum, with touches of disco. Two drummers propel the grooves forward metronomically, covered by synthesizer arpeggios, angular basses, taut guitar lines, and in some cases, guest vocals (Warm Digits don't include a vocalist, but have guests including Field Music, Devon Sproule and Saint Etienne's Sarah Cracknell), stacked layer upon warmly overdriven layer; the effect is somewhat stylised, if not mannered, though they do it well. As is often the case in this genre, the music is self-referential, being both stylistically and thematically about modernity, with songs like Always On and Fracking Blackpool touching on our dependence on technology and the bargains we make. If there were a highlight (and the level is pretty consistent across the album), it might be The Rumble And The Tremor, which veers into punk-funk territory.

With honourable mentions going to: Beaches - Second of Spring (a cavernous 76 minutes of psychedelic, motorik fuzz-rock from the Melbourne band) ¶ Boogie Idol - 音楽より遠く (described as “the perfect soundtrack to shopping for vegetables or riding an elevator”, this is a sort of Japanese vaporwave, influenced by 1990s Japanese commercial background music; to non-Japanese ears, it sounds exotic and somewhat retro-futuristic) ¶ The Bran Flakes - Help Me (the plunderphonic collagists return, with their characteristic playfulness; this is essentially the Generation X zine culture's analogue of vaporwave, brightly coloured sound sculptures made of the detritus of the 20th century) ¶ Jon Brooks - Agri Montana (Warm, Buchla-driven kosmische pastorals, inspired by vintage postcards and climbing hills in Wales) ¶ Children of Alice - Children of Alice (the surviving members of Broadcast, paying tribute to Trish with a track of eldritch, and very British, hauntological musique concrète) ¶ Even As We Speak - The Black Forest (the Sydney band, who were perhaps the most eccentric act to sign to Sarah Records, return after a few decades, with four tracks of sunny indiepop and a rocking cover of the Horst Jankowski lounge standard made famous by The Goodies' pirate radio episode; short but sweet, and hopefully a harbinger of more to come) ¶ Jakuzi - Fantezi Müzik (krautrock meets synthpop, in Turkish) ¶ Lindstrøm - It's Alright Between Us As It Is (the latest slice of bouncy good-time electro-disco from the prolific Norwegian producer; also features an appearance by Jenny Hval) ¶ The Luxembourg Signal - Blue Field (Moody post-punk indiepop from Beth Arzy (of the Sarah band Aberdeen) and friends) ¶ Makthaverskan - Ill (their third album shows the Gothenburg post-punk indie-pop combo polishing their sound further, with Maja's voice soaring over crisp guitars like something off a John Hughes film soundtrack) ¶ Kelly Lee Owens - s/t (ethereal vocals floating over sequenced Hackney-warehouse-rave electronics, with some interesting progressions; there's also a guest appearance by Oslo angsteuse Jenny Hval) ¶ Pasocom Music Club - SHE IS A (Japanese retro electronica, nostalgic for the vibe of boom-era Tokyo; sounds like electro-funk made with Korg M1 presets, which is, needless to say, not a bad thing) ¶ Hannah Peel - Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia (A short concept album about a fictional spacefarer, performed with modular synthesizers and a brass band, could have gone either way, though Peel manages to pull it off. Coruscating arpeggios, classical arrangements and the odd choral voice meld seamlessly into a beguiling whole.) ¶ The Radio Dept. - Teach Me To Forget EP (released on the back of their 2016 album, this nonetheless stands on its own due to a few excellent additions and an overall cohesion; I've written more about it here) ¶ Raven - The Night Is {dark,silent,bright,loud} (the full-length debut from the Sydney avant-gardist and cellist, a series of instrumentals, made with cello, piano, the odd field recording and digital processing; atmospheric, and in places discombobulating) ¶ She-Devils - She-Devils (the full-length debut album from the Montréal duo, recreating 1950s rockabilly/lounge grooves with loops and beats; vintage-styled fun) ¶ Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith - The Kid (Smith has moved in a more pop direction than her earlier works, though the songs here have a layered, psychedelic sensibility, like Pikelet with a Buchla) ¶ Street Cleaner - Payback 2 (a concept album, the concept being the incidental music from 1980s direct-to-VHS action thrillers, which was made entirely with synthesizers, as that was cheaper, and thus sounded incongruously crisp and futuristic; file alongside John Carpenter and 1980s video-game music) ¶ Tornado Wallace - Lonely Planet (chilled, funky electronic grooves falling somewhere in the space between yacht rock, Balearic electropop and incidental music for a travelogue, with perhaps echoes of Virgin Suicides-era Air. Sui Zhen makes a guest appearance. Smooth sailing, or perhaps a 747 taking off into a neon sunset somewhere near the equator.) ¶ Underground Lovers - Staring At You, Staring At Me (known briefly during its gestation as Melbournism, this album follows on from their 2013 return Weekend, this time not veering far from the Undies' art-rock stylings; Vince does get his TR-808 out on a few songs) ¶ VAR - Vetur (the Icelandic post-rock band's follow-up to their 2014 debut; sweepingly atmospheric as one would expect, and sounding in places like iLiKETRAiNS crossed with a heavier Sigur Rós) ¶ Jane Weaver - Modern Kosmology (the follow-up to The Silver Globe continues further along the kosmische-disco line, with analogue fuzz aplenty and echoes of Stereolab and Neu! in places; oh, and one of the members of Can shows up, but only to say something psychedelic about the cycle of life and death and such).

If I had to choose one record of the year, it be either Slowdive or Milk Teddy; two very different records, but both of them superb. I guess it would depend on whether one wants shoegaze or pop music.

As usual, there is a Spotify playlist here:

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Recently, I have been listening a lot to The Radio Dept.'s Teach Me To Forget EP, and have realised that, to me, it feels in many ways like an echo of a record from a quarter century earlier, namely, Momus' Voyager.

The similarities are both stylistic and aesthetic; in the tonal palette and the emotional gamut. Both have a coolly electronic feel, built on clean synthesizer sounds and programmed beats; understated and with an undercurrent of disconnection under the lights of the nocturnal city, and what Ralf Hütter once described in an interview as “cold feeling”. One could, if one were to, pinpoint where aspects of the older record reëmerge in the new one: Just So, with its dry synth-bass, quietly spoken vocals and sense of guarded futurity, is a tentative Cibachrome Blue for a more anxious age; You're Not In Love, with its funky bassline and cold, fast electronics, has an echo of Conquistador and perhaps Trans-Siberian Express. And the opening extended mix of Teach Me To Forget, itself reprising the nihilistic obliviousness in Voyager, segues neatly from the closing track of Voyager, the 2½-minute instrumental reprise Momutation 3, into its programmed club beats and minor-key tension, the 25-year gap disappearing in the crossfade.

Thematically, of course, the two records come from very different contexts. Voyager is a product of that particular euphoric moment as the eighties segued into the nineties; a confluence of the end of the Cold War and with it, some say, history, the arrival of computer technology in everyday life, and the rise of MDMA-fuelled club culture. Everything was connected, the world was waking up from history and, indeed, from the old certainties of pre-digital, pre-postmodern reality, into the Long Boom, or perhaps the Long Rave. Music could now be made with samplers, just as images could be made with Photoshop and grunged-up typefaces could be drawn on a Macintosh in Fontographer, and it's there that the idea of postmodernity, of all being artifice and simulacra, starts to leak from academic theory into everyday life. (In Japan, a country with which Momus' career was becoming increasingly intertwined, the discontinuity was even more profound, with the break between the Shōwa and Heisei eras in 1989 serving as a proxy for that entire gamut of changes, the one-way bridge between the analogue and digital, the modern and postmodern.) Voyager (the penultimate of Momus' six albums released on the then ascendant Creation label) rides the crest of that wave—the Ecstasy-infused club euphoria, the melting of genres into electronic club music, the MONDO 2000 cyberculture futurism of smart drugs and virtual reality—though not without ripples of unease. Momus picks out the analogies often cited at the time between this moment and the 1960s “Summer of Love” and posits an “electronic inwardness”; a trip into a vast, luminously pulsating inner space, and in this there is estrangement: We hear the bass talk, it's saying nothing. Love has left the arena and the lost psychonaut attempts to reach out from the gravity well of their trip. Soma Holiday, 1992.

Fast forward to 2017, and things are somewhat different. History has very noisily restarted itself, the balance between democracy and capitalism has tipped in favour of the latter and sinister actors have weaponised freedom, stirring unrest and catapulting extremists into power with swarms of social-media sockpuppets, covert ads and algorithmic manipulation (“nothing is true, we move like shadows across the stage”). In the ever-warming political climate (“there are thunderstorms, and the weather's wrong”), the thawing permafrost has released the bacilli of various anti-liberal ideologies long thought extinct, from theocracy to obscurantist arguments for absolute monarchy, to several dozen variants on fascism, including ones mainly concerned with video games and represented by cartoon frogs. In some ways the period from 1989 to 2001 looks increasingly, in retrospect, as a golden age; its buzzing, coolly luminous optimism replaced by a sensation of preapocalyptic anxiety.

The Radio Dept. were not initially a political band. Starting in the Swedish indie scene of the early 00s, their songs were hazy and ambiguous, both sonically and lyrically, consisting of fuzzy guitars, cheap drum machines and gently wistful melodies, somewhere between The Field Mice and The Jesus and Mary Chain. Somewhere around the 2010s, this started to change gradually; a sample of Thurston Moore ranting about capitalism here, a song titled Death To Fascism there (back when references to fascism sounded like Rik-from-The-Young-Ones-style hyperbole or kitsch), but still the same overall formula. Until their most recent album last year, titled, pointedly, Running Out Of Love. Gone was the haze: in its stead, sharp, cold electronics (they do love the TR-808 cowbell, it seems), sounding more Factory or Mute than Sarah or Creation, and a sniper-like aim at serious issues: the rise of the far right, the arms industry, and, perhaps above all, the comfortably apolitical, the “good people” who do nothing in the face of evil. Of course, being The Radio Dept., this was delivered not as protest-ready bolshie chants but with frosty understatement. Running Out Of Love was a timely return to form, won many accolades (among them, this blog's album of the year title), and spawned three EPs for its singles; the most recent being Teach Me To Forget, the subject of this post.

Voyager and Teach Me To Forget could be seen to bookend an era; the decade or so of the Closing-Down Sale of History and the Long Boom/Now, and slightly longer afterwards—before Trump and Brexit and the Sverigedemokraterna and numerous equivalent local phenomena—when people still thought that we may yet return to this, the natural post-historic state of loved-up transnational consumerist utopia; the coming out of the cold into the futurismic cyber-rave, and the cold crashing in with a vengeance, the party having become the Masque of the Red Death in the interim; a reëngagement with a resurgent reality.

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The British supermarket chain Sainsbury's is doubling up on the fashion for vinyl records. For a while, they (alongside their rival Tesco) have been selling a small selection of classic albums, repressed on 180 gram luxury vinyl, to shoppers who want to own a slice of pop-cultural history in its most authentic format, and to be at one with Led Zeppelin or Amy Winehouse or whoever in a way that those listening to the iTunes download can never be. And to think: all this at your local supermarket. And now, they're launching their own brand of vinyl-only compilation albums. Named Sainsbury's Own Label, the records, overseen by pop historian and Saint Etienne member Bob Stanley, will contain classic vintage tracks, and come enclosed in retro-styled monochromatic sleeves, for that extra dose of supermarket-fresh vintage authenticity. Two albums have been announced: Coming Into Los Angeles, which features Californian rock from the sixeventies such as Fleetwood Mac and The Monkees, and Hi Fidelity, which leans slightly (but never excessively) prog, with the likes of Mike Oldfield, 10CC and Roxy Music, and sounds like just the thing for putting that expensively restored vintage hi-fi system through its paces.

Which is an interesting business decision (and it's good that Bob Stanley is getting paid for his expertise), though I'm not sure it makes that much sense. From what I understand, the fashion for vinyl is less about its function as a sound carrier than its role as an ark of Authenticity, a token of connection to a legendary album, artist or era. Surveys back this up, showing that almost half of all vinyl bought is never played, and instead purchased to have something to keep whilst listening to a streaming service. In other words, a vinyl record is primarily a 12" collectible poster, representing the body of music one enjoys listening to or the artist one admires; that it contains a legacy sound carrier adds gravitas to the mystique, but is secondary. And as a sound carrier, vinyl records leave a lot to be desired; other than the bulk and the fiddly nature of putting a record on, as compared to queueing up a track on Spotify or YouTube, the sound quality of vinyl is objectively, measurably inferior to digital sound in a number of ways. Some of those shortcomings (the surface noise, the “warm” frequency distortion) can, to those who grew up with them, induce warm feelings of nostalgia, but that does not make vinyl's fidelity superior, as some of its champions are wont to claim, except, of course, at producing a characteristically vinyl-like experience. To claim that the experience of recorded music with the surface noise, distortion and constricted dynamic range and frequency response of vinyl is “better” or more “authentic” is a claim of subjective faith. (And then, there is the fact that the PVC that vinyl records are made of is pretty toxic stuff, impossible to recycle, and slowly emitting toxic particles as they age.)

It seems that what Sainsbury's are trying to do with Own Label is effectively sell the equivalent of Spotify playlists of “Classic Tracks”, only pressed to a stylish-looking vinyl record. Fair play that they slapped some modishly retro-modernist artwork on the cover, but it really does seem like the worst of both worlds: none of the collectibility of vinyl albums (except perhaps to a handful of people who fetishise commercial ephemera, and wish to get a head start on tomorrow's) and less convenient than listening to it on a computer or phone or digital system. Good luck to them, but I suspect this might not be a runaway success story.

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It's the last day of another year, and time to take stock of the year's musical releases once again:

  • ANOHNIHopelessness (BandCamp)

    Formerly known as Antony Hegarty (of The Johnsons), ANOHNI is back, and she's angry. She has swapped the wyrd-folk trappings of her earlier career for electronic beats (produced in collaboration with Hudson Mohawke); the result is an album of songs, each taking on a different target, such as global warming and climate denialism (4 Degrees), NSA mass surveillance (Watch Me), the US's attachment, alongside the likes of Saudi Arabia and North Korea, to capital punishment (Execution) and drone-based targeted killings (Drone Bomb Me); over beats and synthesizer sequences, she sings resonantly, embracing the evil with scathing sarcasm, at one moment imploring to be killed as a gospel singer would for salvation, and at another welcoming the mass extinction of entire ecosystems and the burning of the world with demented glee. Some tracks have stood the test of time less well, though; Obama, a scathing excoriation of the outgoing president's failures delivered in a low monotone set to stark electronic drones and pounding drums, will look like a grim joke in the coming years; even more so if one counts the possibility that its sentiment may have helped swing crucial votes away from Clinton. (Perhaps, once they round up all the liberals in America and put them in camps, this will play on a loop on the loudspeakers?)

  • The AvalanchesWildflower

    A herculean feat of crate-digging and mixing—hunting down countless tonnes of obscure vinyl, sampling elements from them, and blending them into just over an hour of seamlessly chilled groove-collages—that has been some 16 years in the making (though, to be fair, a significant proportion of that was probably sorting out of sample clearance rights). The result is a soup of breakbeats, flute trills, rich strings, clunking basses, orchestral segments and vocals, chopped, looped, processed with judicious reverb and the occasional touch of phasing or delay. Several of the tracks feature guest performances from rappers, including Oakland oddball Del Tha Funkee Homosapien. Also, this is probably the most American cultural product from any Australians not named Baz Lurhmann; there's nothing on the record alluding at its Antipodean origins; instead, there's a sort of displaced-nostalgic reverie for the fabled fifty states as imagined by Australian kids brought up on a diet of American television and music, a magical land of golden summers, cool cars, snappy dialogue and brightly coloured breakfast cereals. This Aussie fantasy-America is, due to being constructed from original materials, slightly more real than the neon-hued French fantasy-America conjured by the likes of M83, but nonetheless differs interestingly from the real thing, as places seen from outside tend to do.

  • beGunAMMA (BandCamp)

    beGun is a producer from Barcelona, and AMMA is 11 tracks of chilled sequenced melodic electronic soundscapes, building up out of layers of warm synth pads, bass lines, subbass drones, melodic lines, FM texture sparse beats and the odd thumb piano, field recording and vocal sample (mostly from African traditional music, it seems. If you like that sort of thing done well (and this is), check them out.

  • Cavern of Anti-MatterVoid Beats/Invocation Trex

    The new band from Tim Gane and Joe Dilworth of the massively influential Stereolab veers off in a post-krautrock direction; metronomic, hypnotic rhythms, patterns and electronic treatments (one of their members is synth wizard Holger Zapf). The opening track, Tardis Cymbals is almost 13 minutes of TR-x0x percussion and synth loops in ¹⁴⁄₁₆ time or similar, with processed guitars and synths coming in and out over that, and could easily have been ten minutes longer. Blowing My Nose Under Close Observation continues in the motorik/electronic vein, albeit is shorter and in the more familiar ⁴⁄₄ time. More familiarly Stereolabesque elements emerge in the third track Insect Fear, with its phased drum loop and overdriven Farfisa chords echoing something from the Transient Random Noise Bursts era, and later in Echolalia; one almost expects to hear Lætitia singing about the human condition. Of course, she doesn't, and to Cavern's credit, nor does any other French-accented female vocalist show up and attempt to fill her place. There are, however, other guest appearances; Bradford Cox of Deerhunter sings on Liquid Gate, taking it into New Order-meets-Doves territory, and perennial psychonaut Sonic Boom expounds impenetrable theories of planetary folklore, neat and through a vocoder, over layers of synth arpeggios and treated guitars and cymbals on the track titled, appropriately, Planetary Folklore. Much of the rest of the record consists of combinations of similar elements: synthesiser arpeggios, metronomic rhythms; texture and repetition, closing with the lullaby-like Zone Null. Void Beats/Invocation Trex plants its flag firmly in the psychedelic/kosmische space, though manages to avoid sounding derivative or too in thrall to any specific influences, even Stereolab. A good contender the psych/kosmische record of the year.

  • The Chandler EstateInfrastructure EP (BandCamp), and My Favorite, Christine Zero/Killed For Kicks (BandCamp),

    Two uneasy halves of the Long Island new-wave cult heroes My Favorite, who (in their original incarnation) broke up some ten years ago. The current My Favorite is the project of frontman Michael Grace Jr., a self-styled Sicilian-American Mod/Goth/Morrissey acolyte, and Christine Zero is coruscating new-wave synthpop about a recurring theme of his, the intense lives and deaths of life's misfits (Grace, in his vocal delivery, gives a nod to David Bowie on this record, as he did to Bryan Ferry on the single that preceded it). Meanwhile, The Chandler Estate is the new band of My Favorite's angelic-voiced former frontwoman Andrea Vaughn, breaking almost a decade's silence; the first track, Spies No More is like Homeless Club Kids Part 2, ten years later, and yet as urgent and poignant and aflame with the sublime anguish of being alive as always (“so with the kid on my hip I'm asking you to dance / let's put the kid in the crib, it could be our last chance”). Let's hope there is more to come.

  • David Bowie — ★, and Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker

    Of the titans of music who left the world in this year's musical Gotterdämmerung, Bowie and Leonard Cohen released albums shortly before doing so, and in both cases, the albums were, judged aside from their finality, local high-water marks of the artists' late periods; had providence seen fit to accord Bowie and Cohen a few more years each, both and You Want It Darker would have stood up solidly in their careers.

    ★ (or Blackstar, where Unicode isn't available), coming out three days before Bowie's death, raised eyebrows even before its significance became starkly apparent; eschewing the retro-rock nostalgia of its predecessor, the conspicuously self-quoting The Next Day, Bowie also broke from his regular collaborators, instead recruiting a then relatively unknown experimental jazz ensemble fronted by Donny McCaslin. The result is bold and uneasy; the titular opening track evokes a non-electronic Kid A for its first four minutes, then emerging into more melodically familiar, yet still lyrically oblique, Bowie balladeering. The secret the notoriously private Bowie was carrying emerges, in retrospect in places: in the claustrophobic edginess of Lazarus, and most obviously, the elegiac Dollar Days, where the New York-based Bowie laments the prospect of never seeing the English evergreens again, before telling the world (“I'm dying to... / I'm dying, too”); this is followed, chronologically and thematically, by the upbeat I Can't Give Everything Away, ending in a fade-out, as if truncated by circumstance before its time to end.

    Cohen's final album is less oblique or experimental, but nonetheless a bold statement from an artist in command of his great talents to the end. Varying in style from old-time soul/rock balladry (On The Level and the almost Lynch/Badalamenti-esque Leaving The Table) to darker, starker sounds (the sparse, bone-dry It Seemed The Better Way with its violin, Hammond organ and minimal bass guitar, and the titular opener, with its synagogue choir). Cohen's aged voice adds a smoky darkness and the gravitas of someone who has made his accommodations, on whatever terms, with the all-devouring Chronos; the subject matter tends towards the human condition; the complexities of relationships (Treaty), devotion (If I Didn't Have Your Love) and a foreshadowing of mortality (Leaving The Table). Cohen's wise way with words will be missed.

  • Kero Kero BonitoBonito Generation

    Kero Kero Bonito are a London-based trio, fronted by an Anglo-Japanese frontwoman, Sarah Midori Perry, and connected with the millennial club-pop powerhouse PC Music. Bonito Generation, their second album, is a polished affair, consisting of 12 playful, immaculately produced electropop songs, mostly in English, though with the odd verse in Japanese, about subjects like taking snapshots, graduating from university, the challenges and possibilities offered by big cities and the joys of idleness. The sound is crisp and glossy, shining like the neon of Shibuya, and borrowing heavily from the sonic language of Japanese pop and Shibuya-kei, down to the layers of 90s-era digital synths and autotuned choruses. (The veneration of smallness in the songs—about things like fish in bowls, getting out of bed in the morning—also feels very Japanese; though lyrics celebrating slacking off and subverting the surface meaning of a song about education (“I didn't learn a thing anyway”) remind us that this is a product of Britain, not superlegitimate Japan.) Highlights include the exquisite J-pop of Big City, the 2-step-infused floor-filler Lipslap and the punchy, euphoric pop of Trampoline. This is an album in bold primary colours.

  • Let's Eat GrandmaI, Gemini

    As the giants of music fell, one by one, over the past year, one could be forgiven for thinking that all that's left is X-Factor contestants, a thousand interchangeable forgettably tasteful hipster bands and Kanye West. Unless one sees Let's Eat Grandma, two 17-year-old girls from Norwich who have been making music together since they were 13, and who play about six instruments each. Well-versed in the idioms of pop music that they play with, they nonetheless do their own thing, unconstrained by commercial considerations; sometimes they eschew the standard verse-chorus-verse-chorus-middle-8-chorus-gear-change pop song structure in favour of multipartite songs with instrument swaps, tempo changes and layers of melody and countermelody, and sometimes they just reclaim the recorder as an instrument for use in dance-pop. The next best thing to seeing them live, their debut album is proof that the kids are alright.

  • Lindstrøm - Windings (BandCamp)

    Lindstrøm, along with his compatriot Todd Terje, are part of a new Norwegian school of house/electronica which is to mainstream dance music what the 1960s Batman TV series is to the big-budget cinema Batmen of recent decades; instead of the grim-faced muscularity of mainstream house and alpha-masculine swagger of brostep, there is a playfulness, a lightness of touch and a sense of palpable joy. His latest EP. Windings, is no exception; the three tracks, all between 6 and 9 minutes, motor on propelled by the 4/4 pulse of a vintage drum machine, into a landscape of analogue synth arpeggios, sequenced bass lines, sawtooth synth-brass stabs, filter pizzicatos and the odd keyboard solo, flowing and reflowing into melodies, all seasoned sparingly with the odd digital drum machine handclap and 808 cowbell for good measure. The three tracks, as the title suggests, wind their way through a sonic landscape at once familiar and novel.

  • Lush - Blind Spot

    In 2016, the 1990s shoegaze quartet Lush briefly came back, released a new EP, spent most of a year playing gigs and festivals around the world, and then spit up again, returning to the underworld of defunct bands. The one musical artefact of this revenance was this EP, containing four new songs that are unmistakeably Lush. As I wrote about it when it came out, it could almost be considered as an artefact from a parallel universe, one in which the conditions existed for them to have avoided the alternative-rock/Britpop hype whirlpool, instead building on their ethereal-yet-spiky sound to an audience of fans; in that universe, something like that could have some out some time after Split. In this one, however, it came out 20 years after they broke up, and so the key difference is that the songs are from that point of view. The opening track, Out Of Control, seems to be about the fraught complexities of the relationship between a parent and a child on the cusp of adolescence, written with the straight-talking intimacy that the younger Lush reserved for more youthful forms of intense emotion. Lost Boy, meanwhile, is a poignant tribute to their drummer Chris Ackland, who took his own life in 1996, (“I feel your fingers slipping out of my hand / now I've lost you, where'd you go to”), and the void his death left. This is a powerful record, among Lush's finest work, and the fact of its existence is a bittersweet one; it's great that it exists, but also sad that this is, finally, the end.

  • The Radio Dept. - Running Out Of Love

    The long-awaited return from the Swedish shoegaze-pop duo, last seen with an album six years earlier, aside from the occasional MP3 railing against fascism over electronic loops. As one might expect, the new album is a departure in several ways. Stylistically, the warm guitar fuzz and distortion-cooked beats have been (partly) replaced with cool, precise electronics (more specifically, with a reference point more specifically somewhere around Manchester, circa 1989); thematically, the wistfulness has been replaced by a righteous (if understated, in very Scandinavian ways) anger, at the rightward-leaning political situation, but also at their record label, Labrador and the injustice of recording contracts. (The latter has been resolved, the result being yet another imminent departure, for a label of their own.)

    The short opening track, Sloboda Narodu (Serbo-Croat, I believe, for “freedom of the nation”) sounds familiar enough, with its languid guitar licks and conga loop, but the familiarity doesn't last long. Swedish Guns addresses Sweden's huge arms export industry and its incongruity with the country's vaunted humanitarian reputation; it takes the form of a sarcastic marketing jingle, in minor key, set to dubby electro backgrounds like a more downbeat Ace Of Bass (which may be in itself a reference to fascism). We Got Game is a dubbed-out piece of pop-house, apparently about protests and/or police brutality. Occupied, sounds somewhere between James Figurine's wintry electronica and 1980s New Order at their most detached, all chilly synth pads, sequenced basslines and 808 cowbells. Can't Be Guilty and This Thing Was Bound To Happen are the closest to The Radio Dept's earlier works, albeit more electronic, and with the wistfulness feeling more, well, 2016 (as the album's title suggests, this is not the time for personal introspection), while Committed To the Cause takes a detour into Stone Roses/Happy Mondays-style baggy territory. The album's parting shot (at the comfortably apolitical, presumably) is Teach Me To Forget, (“So teach me to forget, 'cause baby you're so good at it”), icy sarcasm over a bed of cold gated synth pads.

  • The Second-Hand Marching Band & Benni Hemm HemmFaults, and ThrowsThrows

    Two vaguely folky British-Icelandic collaborations. The Second-Hand Marching Band are a large band from Glasgow that could be lumped into the broad category of “folk” if one isn't a purist, with the beards, vintage spectacles, stringed instruments, glockenspiels and accordions that the name suggests; here, they collaborate with Icelandic singer/songwriter Benni Hemm Hemm, producing a record of warm intimacy. Throws, meanwhile, are from somewhere near London, and have more soul influences, along with fuzzy analogue electronics; their self-titled album was, however, recorded in Reykjavík with a massed choir of beer-drinking Icelandic gents (at least if their performance at Airwaves is anything to go by).

  • Vanishing Twin - Choose Your Own Adventure (BandCamp)

    Vanishing Twin (for a while known, confusingly, as Orlando) is a band put together by Cathy Lucas, formerly of My Sad Captains and Fanfarlo. As the title suggests, this is an album of conceptual play, with pop meeting psychedelic improvisation. In some ways, Vanishing Twin is in the same fluid genre as Stereolab and Broadcast, only their end abutting the realms of exotica and library music. Highlights include the groove of The Conservation of Energy and the Yma Sumac-meets-Emperor Tomato Ketchup of the closer, It Sends My Heart Into A Spin.

With honourable mentions going to: Asher LevitasLit Harness (immersive ambient/industrial/noise soundscapes; uneasy listening about tranquility amidst chaos) ¶ Factory Floor25 25 (more minimal, x0x-driven electro-house music(k), going on as their debut started) ¶ Fatima al-QadiriBrute (the Kuwaiti-born New York electronica artist's latest release, a concept album about protests and their heavy-handed suppression, following stylistically from the arabesque dubstep of Asiatisch, only more, you know, 2016) ¶ The FireworksBlack And Blue (skronky post-C86 garage indie from London with attitude) ¶ GoatRequiem (the latest from the northern-Swedish masked “tribal” psychedelia combo, equal parts Rousseau and Amon Düül II) ¶ Hana MaruHana Maru (nice indie chamber-pop from Melbourne, with piano and violins) ¶ Steve HauschildtStrands (kosmische analogue electronic ambience, in a post-Tangerine Dream vein) ¶ I MonsterBright Sparks (a concept album, with booklet, about the history of analogue synthesizers, featuring the Moog, Buchla, ARP and Mellotron among others, and done rather well), Jenny HvalBlood Bitch (the follow-up to Apocalypse, Girl mixes deceptively nice-sounding electronic pop with themes of vampirism, menstruation, fraught romance and capitalism) ¶ Josefin Öhrn and the LiberationMirage (10 tracks of propulsive, motorik krautrock/psychedelia done better than most) ¶ The Julie RuinHit Reset (Kathleen Hanna's back with some righteously skronky garage-punk-pop) ¶ LadyhawkeWild Things (the LA-based Kiwi songwriter/producer turning her golden ear to late-80s FM-radio pop à la Diane Warren, with the electronic gloss cranked up and the occasional Millennial Whoop to remind us that it is 2016; somewhere between Taylor Dayne and Taylor Swift) ¶ The Leaf LibraryNightlight Versions and Versions (two variations on their last year's album, Daylight Versions; the former is drony instrumental takes; the latter, remixes by artists including Cavern Of Anti-Matter and Greeen Linez) ¶ MemoryhouseSoft Hate (the Canadian dreampoppers second full-length album goes bigger, with a more expansive sound, though keeping the understatedness at its core) ¶ MomusScobberlotchers (sonically leaning on samples of old Japanese records, as his recent albums have done, Momus engages with the rise of populist xenophobia and personal responses to it; titles include Neo-Weimar, Year Zero and What Are Facts?) ¶ Pascal PinonSundur (languid, minimal Icelandic folk-pop from two sisters, one of whom also is in Samaris) ¶ Penny OrchidsNo Maps (the London klezmerbilly quartet bow out in style) ¶ PikeletTronc (Surprising, comparison-defying songs crafted from wonky loops, improvised electronics, pianos and layers of voice) ¶ SamarisBlack Lights (the Icelandic chilled electronica trio's third album, and their first in English) ¶ She-DevilsShe-Devils EP (loop-based rockabilly-styled pop from two women in Montreal) ¶ ₩€$€‎₦ - ₩ALL OF PAI‎₦ (a boy-girl duo from Reykjavík, making an understated autumnal indiepop with electronic loops, keyboards and the odd acoustic guitar, sounding in places like Pipas, had they signed to a Berlin glitch label)

Were I to choose an album of the year, it would probably be The Radio Dept.'s Running Out Of Love, with Cavern Of Anti-Matter, Kero Kero Bonito and Lush as runners-up.

And then there were the 2015 albums I unfortunately only discovered this year, but which should have otherwise featured on a record: Josefin Öhrn's metronomic psych juggernaut Horse Dance was one such revelation, as is the indiepop yé-yé of Iko Chérie's Dreaming On and I was late in picking up The Spook School's rambunctious queer tweexcore opus Try To Be Hopeful and the darkly luminous Subcontinental dubstep of Aisha Devi's Of Matter And Spirit. But the most poignant member of this list would be Remain, from Californian duo Them Are Us Too. Their sound is somewhere between The Sundays and early-1990s American swirlygoth bands like Love Spirals Downwards, with maybe a bit of The Cure circa Disintegration; drum machines and synthesizers, immaculate processed guitars, the singer's powerful soprano voice and plenty of reverb, making for a work of ethereal beauty. Tragically, I only heard about them because one of them was one of the victims of the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland. Rest in peace.

There is now a mix of tracks from these releases on Spotify, here.

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A few days ago, the hipster-electropop duo YACHT posted a plaintive note to their Twitter feed; the note announced, in a sombre, contrite tone, that, some years ago, the duo (Jona Bechtolt and Claire Evans, who are also a couple) had made a sex tape for their own use; now, apparently, someone had stolen it and posted it online. The note ended, imploring YACHT's fans to respect their privacy and not look at it.

Only there was no sex tape; or rather, there was a contrived promotional video for the latest single, “I Want To Fuck You Till I'm Dead”, from their last album. The whole exercise was a publicity stunt; the following day, they were to, with feigned resignation, put up a website supposedly selling their homemade sex video, though one which always gave an error at the time of payment; ultimately the truth would come out, and fans would push the album to the top of the Spotify charts, all the while praising the artists' clever, subversive conceit. It was to be, in their own words, “a slowly-unveiling conspiracy”, referencing The X-Files and The KLF*.

Unfortunately, they miscalculated. What they weren't counting on was the mass outpourings of public sympathy at them apparently having had the privacy of their intimate lives violated. It turned out that the public, by and large, weren't grabby jerks hungry for celebrity skin; they were strongly susceptible to what millennials call “the feels”, and almost painfully empathetic with their sorry heroes. Which was a problem, as, all of a sudden, YACHT had committed the offence of obtaining sympathy under false pretences. Not quite in fake-cancer-blogger territory, but the difference is a quantitative, rather than a qualitative, one. As the truth emerged, they issued a weaselly non-apology, followed a day later by a genuine apology, for both the stunt and the non-apology. But the damage was done. Perhaps ironically, the exercise has left YACHT revealing a bit more of themselves than is entirely flattering.

While this is the most problematic of YACHT's public projects so far, it didn't come from nowhere; they have form taking hot-button issues and using them as superficial aesthetic elements, much like extreme violence in a Quentin Tarantino film. Witness their most recent album, I Thought The Future Would Be Cooler; it was in this blog's records of 2015, and it is a finely crafted piece of infectiously fun chopped'n'screwed electropop, albeit with pretentions above its station. As its title suggests, it is somewhat of a concept album about technological ennui; the actual execution involves taking a number of ideas about how our high-tech world, you know, kinda sucks, and mashing them together, like a selfie-stick-era We Didn't Start The Fire; thus, the Snowden revelations and extrajudicial executions by drone are mentioned within a breath of crappy ads on the web, corny Internet-of-things gadgets and Tinder being a bit lame, like a focus-group brainstorming exercise of some sort. (Needless to say, there is no time to discuss, say, the issues of privacy or trust in the digital age, the potential implications of data mining, or whether, say, the internet's convergence into corporate-run proprietary silos is bad for human development, democracy or civil society; this is pop music, not a Cory Doctorow blog post. Onto the next snappy soundbite!) The whole point of the song is that our technological age kinda sucks, in a nonspecific way that anyone can agree with. It's pretty close to content-free and a brilliant piece of marketing.

And marketing is YACHT's stock-in-trade. They appear to be relentless self-marketers, classic Frommian Marketing Characters, chameleonically superficial, as sexy, edgy or profound as you read into them. To the Marketing Character, depth is a liability that compromises one's ability to self-promote. This superficial engagement with the world in the mode of marketing also jettisons any distinction between critique and complicity; we have seen this with their marketing tie-in with Uber, making their then-unreleased album streamable when surge pricing was in effect; which is on one level a criticism of Uber's exploitative business model, and yet isn't, any potential critique being defanged into mere “edginess” of the sort ad agencies have thrived on since the days of OK Soda in the grunge era. Yeah, Uber, surge pricing, it says, with an affected vocal-fry of exaggerated ennui: but hey, have a listen to this awesome album! And I'm sure the edgily back-handed endorsement didn't hurt Uber.

From surge pricing to leaked sex tapes may seem like a leap, but it's not a huge one; in both cases, newsworthy exploitation is used as a vehicle for self-promotion; in the latter, YACHT don't merely reference the exploitation, with an edgy ambiguity that is well SugaRAPE, but actively concoct it, leaping onto a topical issue (revenge porn) and using it as a marketing gimmick. But hey, there's no such thing as bad publicity, right?

* Let's see: The KLF came up with a formula for gaming the pop industry, used it to score a hit, then when invited to Top Of The Pops the Brit Awards, got shock-metal band Extreme Noise Terror to play with them, and poured buckets of pig's blood onto fired blanks into the audience, and then finally incinerated a million pounds in banknotes, negating any business value their exploits may have had. I somehow can't see YACHT doing anything so gauchely self-destructive or blatantly anti-commercial.

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Late last year, the indie-music world was surprised by the announcement that Lush, one of the better-known lost bands of the 1990s shoegaze/ethereal/dreampop zeitgeist, were reuniting, and were not only planning to play gigs but were working on an EP of new material. On one hand, it made sense; with My Bloody Valentine having played sold-out gigs and finally released the Shoegaze Chinese Democracy, The Jesus and Mary Chain having played successful reunion gigs for a few years and talking about recording again, and Slowdive's expectation-bustingly successful comeback (and, again, an album in the works), if ever the time was right, it is now; though on the other hand, the fact that the end of Lush came after the suicide of their original drummer, Chris Acland, always seemed to rule out a reunion. Yet, after almost two decades, it was officially on the cards. A gig was announced at the Roundhouse in Camden for May; it sold out rapidly, and another was arranged for the following night.

I managed to pick up tickets to one of the May gigs, and have been looking forward to finally seeing Lush play live, even if doing so was from a distance in a large venue. So imagine my surprise when, flicking through upcoming gigs on Songkick just over a week ago, I found a new Lush gig on Monday week at Oslo Hackney, a much smaller venue, and that, even more mysteriously, it was not sold out.

I, of course, grabbed a ticket to this gig. Tonight, I went to it, and I must say it was great. The band went on a little after 20:30 (“No red hair, get over it”, said the now-brunette Miki, before they launched into their first song), and were in fine form, playing tightly and with energy for an hour and a half, doing mostly songs from between Gala and Split, with a cursory nod to their final Britpop-tinged album Lovelife. Above the driving bass lines, propulsive drums and the swirl and crunch of interlocking guitars (each through its own array of pedals), Miki and Emma's voices floated, as melodic and forceful as a quarter-century earlier. Anyway, the audience loved it, applauding rapturously; the band came on not just for the standard scheduled encore (3 songs, including Desire Lines), but for another subsequent unscheduled one.

There was, of course, a merch table, and alongside the usual T-shirts and a zine (Thoughtforms, glossier than the indie fanzines of old but the same concept) containing interviews, there was the new Lush EP, Blind Spot; a flat, oversized card package designed by V23 designer Chris Bigg, containing a semitransparent CD. I bought a copy and listened to it upon getting home, and it is very good indeed. Some are calling it a more mature version of Lush (which it is), though to me, it sounds most like a timeslip; an anomalous artefact from a parallel timeline, which somehow mysteriously appeared in this one. In its home timeline, Lovelife and the foray onto the Britpop bandwagon never happened; instead, Lush kept honing and refining their ethereal/dreampop sound, with Blind Spot, or something very much like it, coming out a few years down the track. That timeline is, of course, a very different world to the one we know.

In any case, I'm looking forward to seeing them again in a month or so, and hoping that this is the start of the second chapter of the Lush story.

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The buzz of my phone cut through the remnants of a fading dream this morning, a notification of something happening in the waking world. I picked up the handset and saw on its screen two items, from two different media outlets on opposite sides of the Atlantic, announcing the seemingly preposterous: two days after having released his new album (on his 69th birthday), David Bowie had suddenly died of cancer. Surely this cannot be the waking world?

It turned out to be real enough. In the minutes that followed, the trickle of incredulous queries turned into a torrential flood of mourning, commemoration and sombre celebration of an epic life. MetaFilter got its usual river of mournful .s. Facebook and Twitter were wall-to-wall Bowie all day. The Guardian ran a liveblog and a surfeit of articles and thinkpieces, with seemingly everybody other than George Monbiot giving their take on Bowie's significance. My Spotify sidebar was almost entirely Bowie (the sole outlier being someone in the habit of listening to their algorithmic playlists).

I had been meaning to listen to the new Bowie album, ★ (or Blackstar), today on Spotify, before probably buying a copy. It was officially a mere two days old, though had been completed months earlier. Much like his previous album, 2013's The Next Day, it had been made in secret, its release synchronised to Bowie's birthday. Though while The Next Day was perhaps necessarily backward-looking, from the Heroes-sampling artwork to its 1970s rock stylings, to the nostalgic melancholia of Where Are We Now?, Blackstar couldn't be more different. Recorded with entirely new musicians, from a jazz background, a shifting assemblage of sounds; a Middle Eastern scale here, some drum'n'bass-style beats there, the mood shifting between skilfully crafted pop and the ominous and unsettling; oblique references to executions, hospitals, being in heaven with invisible scars and never seeing the trees of England again, and a final track titled I Can't Give Everything Away. In the handful of days and weeks various people had to hear it before the truth came out, there was much speculation; was it a response to atrocities in the Middle East? Did it signify the dawn of a new late period of intense creativity on Bowie's part? If anybody had put the pieces together, they kept their mouth shut.

After the news got out, Bowie's long-time producer Tony Visconti, who had spent the past year working secretly on the album, revealed that it had been intended all along as a parting gift; Bowie, diagnosed with cancer and knowing that his time was limited, had recruited him and a few musicians and worked on it for a year. He had played fair, creating something that would be seen for what it is only in retrospect. David Bowie's final artistic work was the presentation of his death and transition to history. Even the title is a clue: in astrophysics, a black star may be a transitional phase between a collapsing star and a singularity; and the artwork, being the only album to lack Bowie's image on its cover; perhaps alluding to his imminent absence from the world. (I wonder whether the designer, Jonathan Barnbrook, knew the full story behind his brief.)

I was a little too young for David Bowie's music have been directly part of my formative experiences (my adolescence coinciding with the forgettable Tin Machine, rather than his liberatingly transgressive Ziggy Stardust/Aladdin Sane era, the monochromatic artistic explorations of his Berlin period, or even his early-1980s pop breakthrough), but Bowie was in the background, directly and indirectly. His big hit Let's Dance, angular and night-coloured, is a fixed memory, overheard in fragments hundreds of times in my childhood—in my fragmentary child's-eye perceptions, its staccato horns and woodblocks merge with punk plumage and rudeboy checks into a tapestry of edgy, transgressive early-1980s youth counterculture, vaguely forbidden with admonitions about drugs and criminality—and immediately taking me back (a honour it shares with Roxy Music's More Than This); other songs, from Rebel Rebel to Ashes To Ashes, also were familiar before I ever knew whom they were by. I would pick up the thread many years later, with the 1969-1974 singles compilation. I went to parties where his 1970s albums played in the background, put on by people who were older than me or who had inherited older siblings' record collections. (The influence of David Bowie was a constant in Melbourne from the late 1970s onward; see also: Dogs In Space.) The music I would end up listening to myself (and the first record I ever bought was a New Order 7") was influenced by him, (even though it generally emerged on the other side of that notional Year Zero known as punk; in reality, there is no such thing as Year Zero). With Bowie gone, the memories his music brings up suddenly feel a lot more distant, as if a thread holding them closer had snapped.

My feelings at the moment are a roughly equal mixture of shock (and reflection on the passing of time and the inevitable end of everything) and admiration for a person who died as he lived, using his own imminent death as art material. This week, I will stop by at Rough Trade and pick up a copy of Blackstar. For one, they are donating the proceeds from their sales of David Bowie records to Cancer Research this month.

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With 2015 drawing to a close, it's once again time for a list of the records of the year, so here it is:

  • Belle & SebastianGirls In Peacetime Want To Dance

    I have written more about this record here. In short, Belle & Sebastian continue to get more polished, add an EDM direction to a few of their tracks, and Stuart keeps his eye on the ladies. The rebetiko knees-up of The Everlasting Muse is probably the big surprise, though from sequencer-pulsed disco to string-saturated misfit melancholia, it's all good.

  • BraidsDeep In The Iris (BandCamp link)

    A new band originally from Calgary, Canada, Braids started off doing shoegaze but their sound has evolved since, taking more from the more syncopated and glitchy ends of electronica; Deep In The Iris combines grand piano, layers of electronic instruments and effects (reverbs and various forms of aliasing are used to interesting textural effect), breakbeats (and the drummer's amazing talent for mimicking a speeding MPC-1000 chopping up the Amen break, as evident at their live shows) and the frontwoman's voice, powerful and yet intimate. Highlights include Miniskirt, a piece of rage against sexism over layers of subtle yet glitchy electronics, which sounds like a post-rave Sinead O'Connor.

  • BridesheadNever Grow Up (BandCamp link)

    If you have fond memories of the previous post-C86 indiepop scene—not the recent Brooklyn-based one with its fuzzy guitars and mildly gothy affectations, but the circumbaltic one, with jangly guitars, trumpets, handclaps and naïvely upbeat lyrics about love, music, the love of music, and music formats as metaphors for romantic love—this record is for you. Brideshead, formed in the 1990s in Wiesbaden, Germany, and influenced by the wave of indiepop coming out of Britain in the 1980s and the Swedish indie scene of the 1990s), were one of the bands on the German label Apricot (who also had Spearmint and Eggstone on their roster), and their aptly titled 2015 reunion album recaptures the summery feel of that soberingly long-past zeitgeist. (They even have one song, At 45 RPM, using the vinyl recording medium as a metaphor for romantic relationships, which is perhaps the most indiepop song concept possible.) File alongside The Electric Pop Group, Math And Physics Club and other popkids who keep the sound alive.

  • Death And VanillaTo Where The Wild Things Are (BandCamp link)

    After having taken and perfected post-C86 indiepop, balearic electro, house music and synthpop, the Swedes turn their attention to that most English of genres, hauntology, or so the Ghost Box-esque cover art promises. The music itself follows that direction with some minor changes; there are no samples of old public-information films or received-pronounciation-accented voices saying unsettling things, and the mood is somewhere between Angelo Badalamenti's David Lynch collaborations and the brief and underrecognised wave of records that straddled the gap between trip-hop and hauntology (think Parsley Sound and the like). Death and Vanilla, the Malmö band responsible, have their roots in Scandinavia's black metal scene (and get their name from a Nick Cave lyric), though you wouldn't know it from the instrumentation; vibraphones, clunking bass guitar notes and fuzzy analogue synths underpin the sleepy valium-infused vocals.

  • Holly HerndonPlatform

    A leftfield record in several ways. Herndon (who has studied experimental electronic music at the graduate level) builds up tracks using samples of her own voice, as well as other sounds, processed through custom Max/MSP patches; chopped up, layered and reconstituted in a granular fashion. In some cases, the result is the popular song form by other means; in others, it's textural pieces. Sonically, much of Platform's palette consists of the human voice; sometimes it's reconstituted, chopped up and layered electronically into abstract forms; at other times, it's straight, (sometimes sounding more like choral, liturgical or early music; in particular, Unequal); the rest consists of abstract digital sounds (synthesizer drones, glitchy percussion) and fragments of samples, often ambiguously small. Don't expect something unlistenably difficult; while this is not, strictly speaking, pop (and it does make other leftfield pop acts like Björk and Grimes sound like Taylor Swift by comparison, by virtue of its unusual construction; though perhaps the hit factories of LA and Stockholm are retooling as we speak), the elements somehow coalesce, like a particle system of sound, to form some undeniably banging tunes. The themes also lean towards the leftfield: in Locker Leak, disembodied voices utter vaguely commercial-sounding nonsequiturs over Herndon's granular choral vocals and glitchy beats; Lonely At The Top, with ASMR artist Clare Tolan performing the vocals, is an imagined ASMR stimulation/therapy programme for oligarchs in need of relaxation, and Home touches on mass surveillance and the violation of having one's activities and innermost thoughts monitored by algorithms. Stylistically, though, Holly Herndon has invented a new futurism; the old ideas of what sounds cutting-edge no longer apply.

  • Julia HolterHave You In My Wilderness

    Subtle yet maximalist baroque pop; there's a lot happening, but it doesn't get overwhelming. Equal parts Björk and Laurel Canyon, with more than a touch of Jherek Bischoff—esque orchestral sumptuousity; the sonic palette mostly eschews overtly electronic-sounding timbres, in favour of the orchestral; pianos, harpisichords, double bass and a surfeit of strings make their appearance, with judicious use of reverb. Highlights would be the opener, Feel You, and and the languid Lucette Stranded On The Island.

  • Jenny HvalApocalypse, girl (BandCamp link)

    Norwegian avant-gardist Jenny Hval's latest album sounds like a therapy session set to music; Hval's vocal delivery varies from spoken-word to jazz vocals; she sings over electronic beats, sequenced synthesizer lines and other instruments; as the title suggests, the album deals with femininity, sexuality and the human condition, in a way that is wry, confessional and at times transgressive (example line: “I beckon the cupcake, the huge capitalist clit”). The final track, Holy Land, is sublimely lovely: well worth listening to the end of its 10 minutes.

  • Briana MarelaAll Around Us (BandCamp link)

    I had the good fortune of seeing Briana Marela play at St. John's in Hackney, following Let's Eat Grandma, and bought the record on the strength of that. Marela, from Seattle, builds up rather lovely pop songs with loops of her voice and adding beats, melodic lines and subtle electronics on her laptop, with judicious use of reverb and delay. The songs glow and shimmer; they are intimate, introspective and yet encompassing and enveloping; reminiscent somewhat of The Motifs, Pikelet and early New Buffalo, or perhaps what Rose Melberg might have done had she grown up with laptops rather than guitars.

  • New OrderMusic Complete

    Yes, without Peter Hook on bass, as the old joke goes, it's not New Order, it's The Other Two plus Barney; and the matter is complicated by Hooky suing the band essentially for going on under their existing name without him (they tried renaming themselves to Bad Lieutenant, but abandoned that plan in the face of a massive lack of interest). Nonetheless, Music Complete lives up to the cocky swagger of its title, and is perhaps the first New Order album in several decades to produce a palpable sense of excitement. This is mostly because they go back to what was their forte: combining ambiguous post-punk rock with copious amounts of euphoric electronics. The second track, Singularity recaptures the spiky edge of LowLife. After that, the album goes a bit Moroder, which, from New Order, can only be a very good thing; layers of precise electronic rhythms and textures like grids of coloured light. The midpoint of the album is Stray Dog, a tense instrumental, sounding like something off a film soundtrack, with a grizzled Iggy Pop delivering a spoken-word piece meditating on love and happiness, after which the guitars come back for a few tracks. The penultimate track provides a soaring climax, but the album is closed by Superheated, a breezy pop song whose staccato sequencer evokes early OMD. If you can live without Hooky's low-slung, high-played basslines, you may find this to be New Order's strongest album since the 1980s.

  • Oh Peas!Difficult Second Chair (BandCamp link)

    “Sausage roll in the glovebox on the 2:01 to Bristol, the driver's looking at the road”, the opening track, Broke Yr Tv, begins over reverb-drowned guitar, before the song kicks in, a choppy strum, a Field Mice-esque bass guitar and drum machine and a Casiotone keyboard accompanying Rosie Smith's bell-clear soprano. The rest of the album consists of lo-fi skronk, new-wave angularity, echoes of vintage rock'n'roll, the odd nice pop melody, layers of multitracked bedroom-pop instruments, introspective spoken-word and a panoply of quotidian observations and clever plays of words (“the loneliness of the long-distance bus journey” being one example, and, indeed, the title being another). With her earlier work, she managed to catch the attention of no less than Euros Childs, and not only ended up playing support for his gigs, but getting him to sing and play Casio keyboard on one of the tracks.

  • Tame ImpalaCurrents

    The new album from the Australian psych-rock project which has been rocking festivals for the past few years is a lushly produced affair, combining elements of funk, dance music, yacht rock and perhaps even Bollywood scores in with its acid-bleached guitar and synth fuzz. Thematically, it is very much in the psychedelic tradition of being about internal, subjective experiences; Kevin Parker, the veteran psychonaut buffeted by the swirls and eddies of life, piecing together his seared psyche and writing catchy pop songs about it. Let It Happen foreshadows some ambiguous yet momentous change just under 8 minutes motorik beats, processed vocals and layers of synths; the second track, Nangs, is like an impressionist painting rendered in prog-psych electronica. Yes I'm Changing is a letter to someone (a friend? a partner/lover?) outlining why he must move on, half bidding goodbye, half inviting them to come along. Past Life is the album at its Bee Gees-esque apex of too-slow-to-disco smoothness; a song about unexpectedly seeing an old ex in the street shattering one's contentment with one's present-day routine, extended into four minutes of synth arpeggios, finger snaps and chorused and pitch-shifted vocals. (One could draw comparisons to Hissing Fauna/Satanic Panic-period Of Montreal, only without the perviness and period stylings.)

  • TigercatsMysteries

    Tigercats' second album is a more polished and (slightly) smoother affair (the B-side cover of Fleetwood Mac's Everywhere they did before recording it perhaps having foreshadowed the shift of influences). The opening track, Junior Champion, sets the scene with a shaker and two guitars leading into a languid ballad, using chess as a metaphor. Later, the groovy, synth-driven Wheezer goes further towards making a case for Tigercats as the true heirs to Architecture In Helsinki, and Sleeping In The Backseat is the album's big pop single.

  • YACHTI Thought The Future Would Be Cooler

    YACHT are the late-period Boing Boing of electro art-rave; very LA, compulsively futurismic, playful, somewhat cartoonish, and mixing subversiveness with unapologetic commercialism. Their latest album is no exception: gorgeously produced, multi-coloured, multi-layered chopped'n'screwed post-DFA electro-rave brain candy. The theme, as the title suggests, is technomalaise, partly in a where's-my-rocket-car Jetsons-kitsch sense, and partly in a Google/Facebook/NSA/email-spam weltschmerz sense. On listening to it one does get a sense of cartoonish flatness, of mashing up various levels as if they were semantically neutral ingredients; hence we get lyrics referencing Tinder ennui and drone strikes alongside each other. Because of this flatness, it's hard to tell where the boundaries between irony and sincerity, and between critique and complicity, lie; as one example, the album was promoted by being made available whenever the much-criticised predatory transport broker Uber had surge pricing in LA; whether this was a cross-promotion, critique, the former disguised as the latter or vice versa, is an open question. The album has its highlights: the opener, Miles And Miles, is an eight-minute electro juggernaut; War On Women suspends the postmodern irony to make a serious point, and I Want To Fuck You Till I'm Dead (in which Claire waxes poetic about her intentions for the second person, who, one gets the impression, is a really hench yet soulful twentysomething “creative entrepreneur” of some sort in London) has the playfulness of a lost Talkshow Boy song.

Honourable mentions include: AlpineYuck (the Melbourne band move from the Scandinavian-Balearic sounds of their earlier work towards a more laptop-R&B vibe), Beach House - Depression Cherry (lush and enveloping; a fine successor to Bloom; BandCamp), BjörkVulnicura (an exorcism of the sundering of her relationship with her long-time partner, from the first doubts to the terrible, numb aftermath—the whole Kübler-Ross; lush yet harrowing), The Catenary WiresRed Red Skies (Amelia Fletcher and her husband and long-time bandmate Rob Pursey's latest project eschews the indiepop shimmy and skronk for a more understated and (dare one say) mature vibe, somewhere between old country 78s and the Go-Betweens; Throw Another Love Song On The Fire would be the standout track), Courtney BarnettSometimes I Sit And Think And Sometimes I Just Sit (wordy indie songwriting in a distinctly Australian voice over real rock riffs, somewhere between The Lucksmiths, Pavement, Sonic Youth and a coolsie Chisel), CuusheNight Lines (an EP of tastefully chilled electropop grooves from Japan's Cuushe; BandCamp), Desperate JournalistDesperate Journalist (taut new-wavey indie-rock by numbers; reminiscent of early My Favorite in places), East India YouthCulture Of Volume (a bit more pop than his debut; Carousel stands out as the highlight), Fever DreamMoyamoya (some fine shoegaze à la Chapterhouse/MBV from a young London band to watch), Four TetMorning/Evening (a 40-minute 2-track EP/album, combining Indian vocals with kosmische analogue synthesizer pulses and making an entrancing work; BandCamp), GrimesArt Angels (interesting and idiosyncratic hook-laden electronic pop; highlights include Flesh Without Blood and REALiTi), GwennoY Dydd Olaf (Welsh-language haunto-pop, not too far from Broadcast), Haiku SalutEtch And Etch Deep (the Haikus go on as they started, only (perhaps appropriately) a shade deeper, more intricate and more expansive), Jean-Michel JarreElectronica 1: The Time Machine (get your arpeggiator/sequencer/modular-synth fix here), The Leaf LibraryDaylight Versions (more languid and contemplative than their previous albums, eschewing (most of) the Stereolabesque motorik buildups of their earlier work in favour of a more pastoral, cozy feeling, with a warm, pre-used sound palette), Martin L. GoreMG (an instrumental affair, following on from his Vince Clarke collaboration, VCMG, only without the Clarke's dancefloor-friendly influences; i.e., 55 minutes of frosty, vaguely post-Depechey noodling with synths, beats and electronic effects; pairs well with ambiguous footage, ideally in black and white), PinkshinyultrablastEverything Else Matters (another good shoegaze record, this time from Russia), Purity RingAnother Eternity (more witch-house-tinged electropop from the Canadian duo), Sleater-KinneyNo Cities To Love (the riot grrrl pioneers return in fine form), Stealing SheepNot Real (playful electropop from Liverpool; the title track is my favourite), Teeth Of The SeaHighly Deadly Black Tarantula (not too far from Ben Frost, with its post-industrial drones, ominous moods and (perhaps scenery-chewing) obsession with the Burkean sublime that's evident in song titles like Field Punishment and Have You Ever Held A Bird Of Prey; the album closer, Love Theme From 1984, is rather lovely, somewhat reminiscent of New Order's Elegia; BandCamp).

Were I to choose an album of the year, it'd probably be Holly Herndon's Platform, with Briana Marela's All Around Us as a runner-up. There should probably also be a special mention for Björk; while her album didn't finish in the top this year, her influence is on at least three of the albums that did.

Anyway, here is a companion mix on 8tracks.

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The BBC has a new documentary series about the history of indie music, specifically in the UK; titled Music For Misfits, it follows the phenomenon, from the explosion of do-it-yourself creativity unleashed in the wake of punk, running throughout the 1980s like a subterranean river, largely out of sight of the high-gloss mainstream of Stock/Aitken/Waterman, Simply Red and Thatcherite wine-bar sophistipop, channelled through a shadow infrastructure of photocopied zines, mail-order labels selling small-run 7"s and reviews in NME and Melody Maker (which, it must be remembered, had countercultural credibility back then, and were run by people whose business cards didn't read "youth marketing professional"), surfacing in the 1990s into the new mainstream of Britpop (much in the way that its American counterpart, alternative music, had become a few years earlier with the grunge phenomenon), before finally coalescing into a low-energy state in the new millennium as the marketing phenomenon known as Indie, a hyper-stylised, conservatively retro-referential guitar rock sponsored by lager brands. Though by the third episode of this series (the 1990s one), the BBC seems to succumb to this very revisionism of the term "indie", and, as Emma Jackson of Kenickie points out, retroactively edits almost all women out of the story, presumably because otherwise it wouldn't jibe as neatly with what modern audiences understand "indie" to mean:

It wasn’t just the lack of voices but the choice of stories that were included. No mention was made of the Riot Grrrl movement. Including the story of Riot Grrrl would have easily linked up with the previous programme’s section on fanzines and C86. Riot Grrrl also complicates the idea that British indie was in a stand off with US music. Rather in this scene bodies, music and fanzines travelled across the Atlantic and influenced each other. Also, while in indie music ‘white is the norm’ as Sarah Sahim recently argued, the Riot Grrrl moment in the UK also included bands lead by people of colour such as The Voodoo Queens and Cornershop (who had a number one on the independent Wiija in 1997).
Some major players were also missing. You have to go some lengths to tell the story of Britpop and not mention Elastica, but that’s what happened in the programme. There was a very short clip of them that flashed by. Or Sleeper. They were huge. Or PJ Harvey. Or Lush. Or Echobelly. Or Shampoo.
Perhaps this is all a clever meta-narrative device, highlighting the issue of the blokeification of the term "indie" that is concomitant with it having ceased to be a structural descriptor ("indie" as in independent, from the major labels, from commercially manufactured pop music, the materialistic cultural currents/right-wing politics of Reaganism/Thatcherism, or what have you), and having become a stylistic descriptor (you know, guitars/skinny jeans/Doc Martens/Fred Perry/Converse/reverent references to an agreed-upon canon of "cool" bands from the previous half-century), and soon after that, a signifier of Cool British Masculinity, in the way that, say, Michael Caine, James Bond movies and various East End gangsters of old used to be. Perhaps it's a monumental oversight, inexplicable in hindsight, an oh-shit moment as the programme goes out. Or perhaps the original outline for the programme had sections on Bratmobile and Lush and Dubstar, which ended up on the cutting room floor after some risk-averse executive ruled that putting them in would weaken the narrative, confuse the audience or induce the Daily Mail to scream about "political correctness".

The equation of indie with retro probably didn't help. The seeds were sown in the underground 1980s, along with the rejection of the glossy commercial pop of the decade (which was partly a practical matter, with the kinds of high-tech studios the Pete Watermans of this world used to craft their chart-toppers costing millions, while electric guitars and Boss pedals were cheap), though became codified in the Britpop era, when journalist after lazy journalist equated the bold new age of British Guitar Rock with that last imperial phase of UK pop culture, the Swinging Sixties. Soon this became a self-fulfilling prophecy; things which didn't fit the narrative were pushed to the side, vintage Lambretta scooters and Mod roundels started showing up everywhere, and the Gallagher brothers, gazing down red-eyed from the heights of Snow Mountain, announced themselves to be the second coming of John Lennon, returned to bring proper rock'n'roll back to the people. Somewhere along the way, this retro rockism absorbed some of the retro sexism of the post-ironic lad mags of the time, marinated in the reactionary miasma inherent in the idea of a lost "golden age" (one before all this modern nonsense, when music came on vinyl and dollybirds knew their place was hanging on a geezer's arm, and so on), and so was born the New Lad Rock, whose name, in time, was lazily shortened just to "indie"; in its moribund terminal state, the Yorkie bar of music, right down to the "Not For Girls" label on it.

(Of course, the problem with looking backwards is often also the fact that those inclined to look backwards tend to fixate on forms rather than the processes that they emerged from (as the forms are the obvious thing to grasp, especially if one is not analytically inclined) and draw reactionary conclusions. For example, the fetishisation of the two-stroke motorscooter, a symbol of teenage freedom in the 1960s (it's probably no exaggeration to say that the Vespa was the MySpace Facebook Snapchat of its age), but a dirty, cranky, inefficient antique these days. Or, indeed, the actual careers of the cultural heroes. So, while the Beatles experimented with musique concrète and Mick Jagger subverted (to an extent) the meaning of masculinity, none of this is evident in the plodding, workmanlike homages to "proper rock" of their self-announced modern-day followers.)

The equation of stylised "indie" rock with a retrograde "lad"/"geezer" masculinity seems to be firmly embedded in the culture of this day; only recently the radio station Xfm, which originated back in the day with an indie-music format, was rebranded, explicitly, as a blokey-guitar-rock station, without too much loss of cultural continuity. The next logical step would be would be to introduce a musical segment into the upcoming reboot of men-and-motors TV show Top Gear (which, of course, is already to be fronted by a Britpop-era radio DJ), where, between the high-octane stunts, a band of lads with guitars and Mod haircuts take to the screen and play something that sounds like a stodgily conservative take on the Beatles/Kinks/Clash/Pistols/Stone Roses.

(via Sarah_Records) bbc carling-indie culture gender indie masculinity music revisionism rock'n'roll 0


There is an article in The Quietus (written by Pipettes svengali turned avant-garde impresario Bobby Barry, no less) about the recent revival of analogue modular synthesizers. You know; the room-sized hulking behemoths, last seen on stage some time around the mid-1970s being operated by becaped prog-rock virtuosos and soon to be displaced by Minimoogs, then the wave of compact non-modular keyboards from Japan, and finally laptops. Well, now there is a new wave of modular synthesizers. Unlike the modulars of old, the components are standardised (based around a standard named Eurorack), strictly analogue (at least in how they interface with each other), and selling like hotcakes:

Carlo Krug from Schneider’s Buero reckons that the last few years have seen a three- or four-fold increase in the amount of manufacturers bringing out Eurorack modules. One poster on the Muff Wiggler forum, where various correspondents have been trying to put together a timeline of Eurorack history, suggested that the number has risen so sharply in recent years that, “in 2045 the curve will go completely vertical. The modules will start making themselves.”

Other than being more compact, the Eurorack wave is not your grandfather's Moog in other ways. Advancements in technology have made it easier to develop more complicated modules, meaning that those not wedded to a Moogian subtractive-synthesis purism are free to go wild with all kinds of hitherto unimaginable modules:

Even back in the 60s, there was already a division opening up between the so-called ‘East Coast’ approach to synthesis, epitomised by Moog, and the ‘West Coast’ school of inventors like Donald Buchla and Serge Tcherepnin. The former tends to be based on ‘subtractive synthesis’, where ... (t)hings tend to have one function and one output and it’s largely eared towards being played with a keyboard. Buchla and Serge did things differently. They made synths controlled by touch pads and joysticks with weird and wonderful modules bearing named like ‘Multiple Arbitrary Function Generator’ or ‘Source Of Uncertainty’. Such machines have always been crazy expensive but, according to Lynch, new manufacturers like Make Noise and Wiard are “making the Buchla end of things more available now.”

In fact, there's probably no reason why the modules would have to remain analogue internally; one could conceivably fit in, say, an Arduino-based sequencer, or if one was sufficiently perverted, a Raspberry Pi running a Pd patch or something.

The new modules (and the synths one builds from them) also cost less than their distant predecessors, with the falling cost of electronics, at least in monetary terms, though they're still not cheap; simple modules might cost around £60, with more complicated ones going for hundreds, and the cost has a way of building up as one buys enough to build a viable synthesizer. A more pressing constraint, however, may be space (especially in cities like London, where the Invisible Hand Of The Free Market is aggressively adjusting the amount of space available to ordinary people ever downwards, and where the London Modular shop is reportedly doing a roaring trade). A modular synthesizer, by its nature, takes up space (physical space, the old-fashioned kind; measured in square metres, not megabytes).

In the Berlin of recent years, with its cheap, spacious squats in the hollowed-out ex-Communist east and abundant low-cost slack, one could conceive of taking up a hobby of playing with modular synthesizers, and keeping at it long enough to make some minimal techno which looks as impressive as it sounds. In white-hot oligarchical London, one does wonder who is buying all these Eurorack modules. I wonder if their profligate bulk does not make themselves a status symbol in and of themselves, making them attractive to a certain type of young finance alpha-predator seeking to demonstrate to his Tinder conquests that (a) despite working at Goldman, he is still a bohemian creative spirit at heart, and, more subtly, (b) that working at Goldman enables him to afford the living space in which all those blinkenlights can be set up, tastefully overlooking the city skyline. Or perhaps an older target market; with middle-aged executive types who spent their youths necking Es at raves buying them, in the way that one might have once bought that expensive, beautiful-sounding electric guitar one was fated to never have the time to actually learn to play. (It has been commented that, these days, the modular synthesizer is the Harley-Davidson of electronic music, more showpiece than workhorse.) One or two may end up in the foyers of creative marketing agencies, or perhaps at some point Foxtons or someone similar will buy a job lot and array them in their offices, as part of a campaign about how, you know, edgy and creative and hip London is. In any case, I wonder what proportion of the modular synthesizers sold in London will actually end up being played for any non-trivial amount of time.

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It is an early afternoon during the Easter bank holiday weekend, at an indiepop weekender at an art venue in Cardiff. A band is playing on stage, fuzzy guitar lines, drums and female vocals mixing together. The audience, or those who have arrived early, are standing and watching; they tend to be in their mid-30s and older; women wear hair slides and floral/polka-dot dresses, while the Mod Dad look, with Fred Perry polo shirts, short hair and sideburns, is popular among the menfolk. In front of the stage, what might have once been the mosh pit is now a children's play area, replete with LED-illuminated balloons. about four or five young children run around, squealing and bouncing the balloons. Wearing ear protectors, they appear to be unaware of the grown-ups on the stage holding guitars, the relationship between them doing this and the sound coming out of the speakers, or that there would be any reason to not run around in front of the stage. The concept of a “gig” seems to be alien to them. Elsewhere, smaller children bop gently up and down in time to the music in their mothers' hands, animated by parental enthusiasm; they gawp bewilderedly, their faces showing only undifferentiated emotion. The squawls of babies fill the gaps between songs and add a novel accompaniment to the jangly melodies. Occasionally, a musty odour fills the air and a balding guy in a faded Milky Wimpshake T-shirt leaves hurriedly, carrying a discomforted-looking infant to a baby-changing area.

Once upon a time, pop/rock/alternative music consumption was strictly for teenagers; you got into it when the adolescence hormones hit your bloodstream and you needed something that was yours and not your parents', spent a few years spending your pocket money on 7" records and dressing in a way your grown-up self might later find as embarrassing as your parents did at the time, and dropped it just as quickly when you Grew Up, got a job, married and had kids of your own and were saddled with the burden of adult responsibilities which you would carry unto the grave. Gradually the boundaries got pushed back, and a whole market of “adult-oriented rock” emerged; engineered to soothe the nerves of stressed Responsible Adults whilst providing them with just enough of a hit of what excited their younger selves a quarter-century earlier, it tended to a sort of soaring, platitudinal blandness; a weak substitute for what had been forfeited. Though over the past few decades, the idea that one must check one's musical/subcultural identity at the door of adulthood has been eroded even further. The pioneers may well have been the Goths, who stubbornly refused to Grow Out Of It well into middle age and beyond; though soon, the commodification of cool into cultural capital opened the doors further, until soon we had shops in trendy areas selling Ramones baby clothes and lullaby renditions of The Cure and Nirvana, and bands classified, back-handedly, as “dad-rock” or “dad-house”. This isn't completely universal—after all, supermarkets flog millions of records by the likes of Coldplay and Ed Sheeran for people who either never were into music or else vaguely remember what it felt like but have no desire to regress to that phase of their lives—but one no longer has to be a fringe-dwelling bohemian to remain particular about music

Of all the genres and subcultures, though, the indiepop scene seems to have become uniquely small-child-inclusive. As a critical mass of indiepop kids hit middle age and have kids of their own, they are more likely to bring them, en masse, to gigs and festivals, and adapt the events themselves for the kids; songs with rude words are dropped or bowdlerised, balloons are provided, and the gig becomes a mass playdate first, and a musical performance only tangentially to this. Flocks of toddlers run around, yelping and shouting gleefully, and it is seen to be their right to do so; anybody who objects to this getting in the way of their enjoyment of the music may as well be a fascist or a Tory or something equally unspeakable. The music's almost just a side product for the parents' benefit. Elsewhere, there are indiepop baby discos, acclimatising young ears to Belle & Sebastian and Allo Darlin' from an early age. Perhaps, elsewhere, there are pint-sized punks pogoing anarchically to toddler-friendly renditions of Anarchy In The UK, baby discos spinning gnarly brostep, or black-clad toddlers running around like swarms of ground-hugging bats at the Whitby Gothic Weekend, but such possibilities notwithstanding, this seems to be peculiar to indiepop. There are no boisterous toddlers at, say, shoegaze, psych or post-rock gigs; other festivals may have a few small children in attendance, but they are fewer in number, and where special provision has been made for them, it is away from the stages.

Why indiepop has, upon its members' parenthood, shifted wholesale into a toddler-friendly environment is not certain. Perhaps it's a natural outgrowth of the “twee” signifier, which originated in the 1980s as a rejection of the hypermasculinity of hardcore and/or post-punk rock, instead embracing, with varying degrees of irony, the signifiers of childhood. Much in the way that things that start as ironic appropriations often end up shedding the irony and continuing with some degree of sincerity (as seen, for example, with the “ironic” sexism of 1990s “lad” magazines), a scene whose zines and button badges copied old children's books might transform from a subculture questioning the inherent conservatism in the childish/mature dichotomy to a subculture tailor-made for small children and their parents.

It'll be interesting to see whether the toddlerification of indiepop changes the subject matter of it more than removing the word “fuck” from lyrics. Thematically, indiepop songs do tend to hover around adolescence and its long decay envelope, with themes of crushes, break-ups and being in or out of love cropping up disproportionately often. These days, this is even more so than in, say, the C86 days, as “twee” became stylised and codified into a somewhat excessively fey, cupcakey aesthetic, and some of the oddness of 1980s-vintage indie has been replaced by chaste adolescent romance like a plot from an Archie comic soundtracked by vintage Motown girl groups. Perhaps as the under-5 demographic at indiepop gigs swells, these themes will be displaced to some extent by songs about dinosaurs, monkeys, pirates, rocket ships, monkeys who are rocket-ship pirates, poop and other things more likely to appeal to actual small children.

Secondly, it will be interesting to see what a generation of kids who were brought up listening to twee pop from birth end up doing when adolescence, and the need to individuate themselves, hits them.

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My impressions of the new Belle & Sebastian album:

  • The disco/club/EDM direction. It's not all over the album, but in enough places (and lurking in the background elsewhere; i.e., the subtle pumping synth pad underpinning Nobody's Empire, a piece of layered indie-pop à la B&S played otherwise straight), and it works convincingly. This wasn't Belle & Sebastian's first foray into dance music, of course; not counting the synth noodlings of Electronic Renaissance, there was the DFA-pastiche of Your Cover's Blown. And it works convincingly; they seem to get the idioms and work with them competently. The Party Line is essentially Your Cover's Blown II; following it, The Power of Three is reminiscent of Saint Etienne in its combination of sixeventies popular song and dance/electronica, without sounding very much like them, and Enter Sylvia Plath goes into eurodisco territory; sounding a little like Geoffrey O'Connor hypothetically covering ABBA's Lay All Your Love On Me.
  • There has always been something very male-gazey about Belle & Sebastian; Stuart Murdoch, in his musical practice, has always had an eye for the girls, photographing them for cover artwork and telling stories about them, their inner lives and their struggles with faith, sexuality, social issues and body image, in his lyrics. (One can imagine an alternate universe where, by some bizarre twist in the time continuum, Belle & Sebastian signed to Sarah Records, but ended up parting ways with the label after a heated argument over cover artwork.) This record is not an exception. Granted, Murdoch is a middle-aged man, and in some cases, the girls his gaze rests on have aged with him (“now I look at you, you're a mother of two, you're a quiet revolution”); in other cases, such as The Everlasting Muse, the subject of his medusa-like gaze is that classical cliché, inspiration as feminine object of desire, or perhaps any one of a number of a succession of ingenues. And then there's the question of whether The Power Of Three is itself a mildly pervy double entendre, in the Carry On-esque vein of Step Into My Office Baby.
  • Belle & Sebastian never were, nor claimed to be, a band from the radical vanguard of indie music, preferring instead to find subtleties in the quotidian. Publicly Christian (though in a thoughtful, soul-searching sort of way, with neither fire nor brimstone) where others leaned towards Marxism, Situationism or the heady brew of continental philosophy, studiously apolitical, and emphatically heterosexual, in a way that manages to eschew any trace of swagger or machismo, in a scene where, between Blueboy and riot grrrl, heteronormativity was anything but a given. In any case, this has positioned Belle & Sebastian well to comment on the everyday, and Perfect Couples continues this, ever so gently skewering the discreet charm of the Waitrose-shopping bourgeoisie, and weaving a wry narrative of marital boredom and that cliché, the mid-life crisis break-up.
  • The big surprise, musically, is not so much the disco elements, but the Balkan groove of The Everlasting Muse, whose chorus sounds like a thigh-slappingly good knees-up in a Greek taverna.
  • The gentle, wistful melodies B&S are famous for are still there, i.e., The Cat With The Cream and Ever Had A Little Faith; now, of course, filled out with string arrangements which work nicely without being overwhelming. And the closing track, Today (This Army's For Peace), echoes the rustic languor of Yo La Tengo at their most mellow.

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I am writing this on a train to London from Birmingham, where I have spent the past two days at an academic conference about the electronic music group Kraftwerk. There were some 175 people in attendance; their ages varied from those who had not yet been born during Kraftwerk's heyday to a sizeable contingent of (mostly) men of a certain age who had been at various legendary shows back in the early 80s. The conference, whilst theoretically an academic conference, was open to the general public, and the talks presented varied from critical-theoretical analyses of the signifiers in various records to autobiographical monologues.

The conference began with Stephen Mallinder, of Cabaret Voltaire, talking autobiographically about his own experience of Kraftwerk and how they inspired his and his bandmates' own music-making; he mentioned that, back in the 1970s, he and his mates would refer to traffic cones as “kraftwerks”. Later, Nick Stevenson talked specifically about Cabaret Voltaire, the Sheffield scene, their use of Dadaist techniques and Burroughs' cut-up technique, and the themes of “the control culture” in their music. Other than that, the rest of of the first day was occupied with going through Kraftwerk's early career and first few albums, as well as the “archaeological period” of the three pre-Autobahn albums one gets the impression Ralf Hütter would rather were struck from the historical record. David Stubbs, author of the recent Krautrock book Future Days, talked about this period, tracing the band's history from their shambolic start as The Organisation (which, in surviving footage of live performances, looks like an “on-the-nose parody of Krautrock” in all its scruffy, hippie shambolicness), through the first three albums—Kraftwerk 1 (whose pastoral sound prefigured what Boards Of Canada would do several decades later), Kraftwerk 2 (where the potential of drum machines first appeared) and Ralf & Florian (which, in its title and cover photograph, showed the artists starting to make themselves part of the artwork, perhaps echoing Gilbert & George, who had visited Düsseldorf in that period). This was followed by a talk by David Pattie, a Glaswegian academic, elaborating on Ralf & Florian and from that, the question of Kraftwerk's relationship with Germanness. Among other things, Pattie pointed out a progression in the works of Kraftwerk and other West German bands (Can, Popol Vuh, Tangerine Dream, Neu! and Kluster/Cluster) through the early 70s; a divergence from pure rhythm and/or noise and rediscovery of melody in subsequent albums, and put forward the theory that all these bands had initially set out to reject the musical heritage of their forefathers, and gradually come to an accommodation with it.

In the afternoon, Melanie Schiller (from Düsseldorf, via Groningen) examined Autobahn and its cover artwork, examining the use of space in the sound and the past, present and future as depicted in the LP artwork, and the sense of forward motion, and of there being a start (the sound of the key in the ignition) but not an end (the road going on forever ahead; the self-referential lyrics referring to turning the radio on and hearing the song on it, forming a loop), and, of course, the Beach Boys reference alluding to the American car-song trope. This was followed by a talk by Hillegonda Rietveld about the Trans-Europa Express album; its theme of a borderless, unified Europe, the echoes of an elegant/decadent pre-war past (Neonlicht has a vaguely Weimar feel to it), and its musical antecedents (such as Pierre Schaeffer's 1948 Musique Concréte sound-poem etude aux chemins de fer, and parallels with railway rhythms in the blues in America). The final talk of the day, by Uwe Schütte, about Die Mensch-Maschine, and the idea of the Man-Machine, was rich with details and connections; he tied in Soviet structuralism (the cover artwork drew heavily on El Lissitzky's compositions), a notorious (though in today's climate, quaintly tame) 18th-century atheist pamphlet titled L'Homme-Machine, musical automata throughout the ages, a French novelty act named Les Robots Music, E.T. Hoffmann's 1817 Romantic novel Der Sandmann, Karel Čapek's Rossum's Universal Robots, Fritz Lang's Metropolis, and the evolution of Kraftwerk's own stage robots. After this, former Kraftwerk member Wolfgang Flür was to read from his memoir, I Was A Robot, but was somehow unable to make it; in his stead, Rüdiger Esch (formerly of electro-industrial band Die Krupps) spoke about his book Electri_City, about the history of the Düsseldorf music scene.

The second day of the conference had a few more interesting talks; Pertti Grönholm spoke about the nostalgic retrofuturism in the music of Kraftwerk, specifically singling out the Autobahn B-side Morgenspaziergang, a short pastoral tone-poem of sorts, and Radioland, with its nostalgia for childhood radio listening. Ulrich Adelt (an academic from Hamburg based in Wyoming) talked about Amon Düül II and their unsuccessful Made In Germany novelty record, Faust (who played with the whole idea of authenticity by projecting footage of their guitarist playing a solo while he stood still), the leftist squatter blues-rock/proto-punk band Ton Steine Scherben (who never made much of an impact outside of the German-speaking world) and the Kosmische Musik movement and their prefiguration of what would later devolve into the New Age genre, finally finishing by boldly attempting to reclaim Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer for the Krautrock genre. This led into a monologue from Rusty Egan, former Blitz Club DJ and drummer from new-romantic synthpop band Visage, Camden nightclub proprietor and currently still a working music producer and DJ. Egan was not so much an academic speaker as a force of nature; attired in jeans, turtleneck and leather jacker, all black, his hair slicked back, he went on for over an hour, pacing the stage, showing photographs on his laptop, playing fragments of tracks he had worked on recently, and telling anecdote after anecdote, often framed with sound effects, funny voices, hand gestures and beatboxing. One gets the feeling he could easily have gone on for another few hours, had it not been time to adjourn for lunch.

After the break, there were three more talks: Heinrich Deisl (who edits an Austrian music magazine titled Skug, which is a little like The Wire, only in German) talked about the metaphors of the Autobahn and the German forest in the music of Kraftwerk, Wolfgang Voigt and the Detroit techno project Dopplereffekt (who, like most Detroit techno artists, are African-American, but affect a stylised Germanness in their art; one of their albums is titled Gesamtkunstwerk). Alexei Monroe spoke about Laibach, their own relationship to modernism and problematic history, and their engagement with dystopian ideology. Finally, Alexander Harden talked about the topic of post-human authenticity, and the question of how one can ascribe authenticity (or its absence) to an act like Kraftwerk.

One theme that kept emerging in the talks was that of Kraftwerk's (and, to a lesser extent, other bands') relationship to the idea of Germany and Germanness, and the country's problematic history. In the late 60s and early 70s, the trauma and shame of the Third Reich and World War 2 was still relatively recent; most night porters in Düsseldorf hotels (as Rusty Egan mentioned) had missing limbs, the British music press made crude Nazi references when faced with the idea of there being bands from Germany, and the youth of the nation were waking up to the idea of post-war denazification having been largely unsuccessful, and of people in positions of power having done terrible things. The idea of Germany was contaminated by Nazism, and so was a lot of its much-vaunted culture, to which music had been central. There was the very real idea of Stunde Null, hour zero, of there being nothing before 1945 worth salvaging; and, indeed, a lot of the Krautrock bands started partly with this assumption, rejecting both the Western classical canon and the Anglo-American blues/rock-based sounds that were filling the airwaves, and venturing outward, to the extremes of experimental noise, the “ethnographic forgeries” of Can, to heavy psychedelic experimentation or the sounds of an imagined Cosmos. But, of course, that is not sustainable forever; and even if one does keep it up, one only has to venture abroad to be put in one's place as one of the Krauts.

Kraftwerk's work, at least from Autobahn (their own Stunde Null) onwards, attempts to answer the question of what is to be done with the past. For all its futurism, it is deeply nostalgic, albeit for the forward-looking pulse of modernism, the future that never was; in part for the Bauhaus-era modernism that was so brutally cut off (as evident in the video for Trans-Europa Express, with its 1930-vintage turbine train model zooming past Metropolis-style buildings), though partly also for the 1950s Wirtschaftswunder years of their own childhoods. What is to be done with the terrible years in between? Well, as much as in one sense, Kraftwerk strive to close the gap, their works are peppered with references which German audiences can pick up, alluding to the unspoken time before Stunde Null: the radio on the cover of Radioactivity, for example, resembles those distributed by the Nazi authorities to households, and indeed, the Autobahn system itself was bound up with the Third Reich (who did not initiate the programme though greatly extended it). As for audiences abroad, rather than seeking to escape German stereotypes, Kraftwerk took them and played, mischievously, to them; becoming the stiff, deadpan robot-men, and throwing in the occasional ambiguous turn of phrase like “total music” or the “mother language”, as if to see if they can jar the foreigners into Mentioning The War again. But Kraftwerk have, discreetly, the last laugh.

Kraftwerk's significance in popular music is hard to overestimate; on their shoulders stand not only electronic pop music (from the early synthpop bands of the late 70s to today's commercial hits), house, techno and dance music, but also much of hip-hop, via Afrika Bambaataa. As Heinrich Diesl quoted, “Before Kraftwerk, German pop music was perceived as Schlager; afterward, it was perceived as Techno”. And, because of their position at the intersection of various historical currents, there is enough to discuss about them to fill an academic conference. Speaking of which, the organiser, Dr. Uwe Schütte, says that, if all goes well, there should be an academic conference about Krautrock at Aston University in a year or two.

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Once again, the year is almost over, so it's time to look back on the music of the past year; and so, here are the records of 2014 (in alphabetical order):

  • Ben Frost, A U R O R A

    Frost's most recent album sees him put aside the processed electroacoustic sounds he has used on previous records and instead start experimenting with electronic/dance-music instrumentation (as alluded to in one of the track titles, Diphenyl Oxalate, after the chemical used in glow sticks); though, by the time they've been put through his production process (whose details are a closely-held secret), the sounds are almost unrecognisable, Frost also collaborates with two drummers, who play in tandem. The result is layers of vaguely distressed textures; slow build-ups, often of corroded timbres, and intricate soundscapes, punctuated by bursts of searing, cathartic noise; contrasts between vast spaces and overwhelming intensity. Highlights include Venter and the closing triptych of No Sorrowing/Sola Fide/A Single Point Of Blinding Light. Sublime, in the Burkean sense of the word.

  • East India Youth, Total Strife Forever

    William Doyle, aka East India Youth, juggles the hats of songwriter, minimalist composer and producer of bangin' choons; as such, Total Strife Forever could be summed up, somewhat reductionistically, as two parts Hot Chip to one part Philip Glass. The opening track, Glitter Recession, seems to have begun its life as a piano piece in the Glassian vein, before being given a doing-over in Ableton Live; the result is an atmospheric buildup, easing into a more typically dance-music second track, albeit with an unusual 5-bar loop. Track three, Dripping Down takes it into more mainstream club-ballad territory, combining beats and basslines, a chorus of “soulful” gospel-via-Radiohead backing vocals, and lyrics with asomewhat introspective and soul-searching theme (as befits the inner-space exploration that so often happens when electronica meets songcraft). This segues into Hinterland (a rather good bleepy techno banger that transports you to a sweatily euphoric basement rave in Hackney), possibly the highlight of the album, before Heaven, How Long, (a techno-ballad of chemical alienation morphing, in its chorus, into a club floor filler), and Looking For Someone (which sounds like a spiritual for millennials). Doyle's more avant-garde tendencies reëmerge in tracks like Midnight Koto and Song For A Granular Piano, as well as the four-part title track interleaved throughout the record.

  • Fatima Al Qadiri, Asiatisch

    A relentlessly postmodern, multilayered cross-cultural mashup like something out of a William Gibson novel; a Kuwaiti-raised, Brooklyn-based producer's concept album about the futuristic Far East, titled in German for some reason, and executed in a dubstep/grime idiom. Asiatisch starts off with the appositely-titled Shanzhai, a knockoff of Sinead O'Connor's cover of Nothing Compares To U, performed on synthesized choir pads, with the vocals replaced with nonsensical lyrics in Mandarin. The interlude Loading Beijing ramps the cyberpunk up to 11, as affectless machinelike voiceovers seemingly announce the initialisation of the virtual reality that is Al-Qadiri's gritty, high-tech new Orient. Other tracks, with titles like Forbidden City, Dragon Tattoo (its very title a semiotic layer-cake, juxtaposing Orientalism and cyberpunk via a recent Swedish crime thriller; the song itself sounds like M.I.A. reinventing Warm Leatherette) and Shanghai Freeway, combine oriental (and occasionally Middle Eastern) scales, synthesized shakuhachis and subbass drones to create an impressionistic sound-painting of something sprawling, neon-lit and aggressively futuristic.

  • I Break Horses, Chiaroscuro

    The Stockholm electropop duo's second album is a decidedly darker affair than its predecessor, seemingly having picked up DNA along the way from witch-house, coldwave and/or the recent wave of neo-goth synthpop like Former Ghosts and Cold Cave, and having an brooding, elegiac majesty to show for it. The opener “You Burn”, with its heartbeat rhythm, slow minor-key piano chords and measured vocals, sets an ominous mood; this is followed up eight tracks, alternating icy detachment and urgency over layers of coruscating synth arpeggios, bass drones, pulsing sequencers, gothic/industrial drum machine patterns and cathedraline reverb, with titles like “Faith”, “Denial” and “Disclosure”; the album is bookended with “Heart To Know”, knowingly weary vocals over a stripped-back piece of dusty, distorted ambience somewhat redolent of Polygon Window (i.e., Aphex Twin)'s Quino-Phec.

  • Makthaverskan, Makthaverskan II

    Technically a 2013 release, but it was released outside of Sweden this year, so it scrapes in, and if anything qualifies, this does. Among some of the better C86-almost-meets-shoegaze indiepop of recent times, sounding in places somewhere between The Sundays and The Cure's poppier mid-80s moments, with tight bass lines, choppy processed guitars and punchy, reverb-drenched female vocals; a highlight is No Mercy, which burns with righteous energy.

  • Oh Peas!, Shades Of Intolerance (BandCamp)

    Welsh multi-instrumentalist Rosie Smith, who is also one half of post-punk duo Totem Terrors, makes an impressive solo début with a collection of varyingly askew yet technically meticulous bedroom-pop songs, a few spoken-word pieces and the odd instrumental, layered from a variety of instruments (guitars, keyboards, melodicas and such) and lyrics alternating between pop idioms, quotidian observations, and the odd touch of wry surrealism and clever wordplay (example: “take a book of poetry to your best friend's birthday party, read them every poem about love, hate, war or death”, “you're so much sexier since I found out that you had dyslexia”). Highlights include the opening track Thick Like Snow, the Casio VL1-and-skronk punk-pop of Peanuts And Pickled Onions (which almost reinvents the key concepts of Ninetynine's Wöekenender from first principles), and the closing track Warm World, which is sweetly romantic and yet not cloying, not unlike early Mirah. This record manages to be at once uncontrivedly sincere and technically accomplished. Look for Oh Peas! to go places.

  • Penny Orchids, Worse Things

    London's Penny Orchids theatrically straddle the spaces between the scabrous end of rock'n'roll and older, though not necessarily more salubrious, traditions such as sea shanties and outlaw balladry; one could compare them to the likes of Tom Waits and Nick Cave, though the artists they remind me of the most are two antipodean bands, The Paradise Motel and Mikelangelo And The Black Sea Gentlemen. It starts off in fine form with One More Drink, a nautical murder ballad of sorts, and then goes on from there. About half of the album is themed, being the story of an Irish immigrant named Maloney who falls in with old New York's Jewish mafia; it's set sometime between the late 19th century and the Prohibition era, and adopts a klezmer idiom, which the band manage to pull off respectably (indeed, if one were to coin a genre name for this album, it would be “klezmerbilly”). The album closes with Shell Beach, a wistful piano ballad sung by the Penny Orchids keyboardist Kate Dornan, whose voice sounds a little bit like Sarah Blackwood of Dubstar. Dornan has been doing more singing in new, yet-to-be-recorded songs, which can only be a good thing.

  • The Royal Landscaping Society, s/t (BandCamp)

    Another new band from Spain's increasingly vibrant indiepop scene, The Royal Landscaping Society wear their Sarah Records influences on their sleeves, and combine that with more electronics. This year, they played at Indietracks and released their eponymous début EP, on French online label Beko. The opening track, Goodbye, starts off a little like The Field Mice's Five Moments; the Sarah comparisons continue in the third track, La La La, which doesn't sound too far from The Orchids or similar bands; other tracks (such as Frost) lean more on the synthesizers and drum machines, though often adding a guitar, not unlike bands like Kuryakin. The EP proper ends on a mellow note with Early Sunrays, all guitar arpeggios and synth strings, but this is followed by three remixes, from other Spanish indie artists. As this sort of classic indiepop goes, there are few better examples from 2014.

  • Todd Terje, It's Album Time with Todd Terje

    They like to have fun with their house/disco/electro/whatever up in Norway, and Terje Olsen, aka Todd Terje (his pseudonym itself a tongue-in-cheek reference to Chicago house DJ Todd Terry), is no exception. The album comes with playfully colourful, retro-styled cover artwork, and starts with a short theme tune, followed up by two tracks (Leisure Suit Preben and Preben Goes To Acapulco), which sound like TV-show themes and surf the fine line between cool and cheesy. The pace steps up into an unselfconscious 80s-flavoured retro-disco with Strandbar (which means “beachable”, I think) and Delorean Dynamite, before suddenly dropping the pace with a cover of Robert Palmer's anthem of middle-aged coupled ennui, Johnny and Mary; it's glazed over in soft, glossy layers of mid-to-late-80s overproduction (listen to those delayed drum-machine handclaps!), and sung by a weary-sounding Bryan Ferry, who could be the sharp-suited, melancholy drunk riveted to his barstool at the end of the night, his tie loosened and a cigarette burning to a stub in his fingers. The highlight, in my opinion, is the bipartite Swing Star (whose first part, all ambient synth arpeggios and drones, manages to sounds uncannily redolent of the Reload (The 147 Take) remix of Slowdive's In Mind, and whose second part reprises this with beats); finally, the album ends on a high with the bouncy disco anthem Inspector Norse.

  • Jane Weaver, The Silver Globe

    Jane Weaver was hitherto known mostly as a “folk” singer in a Wicker Man-esque vein; her new album is a surprise in its maximalist intensity; a densely cosmic, psychedelic affair, stacked with propulsive grooves, analogue synthesizers and lush textures, and not too far from Broadcast or Stereolab. The opening (and title) track is 47 seconds of ambience, all analogue synths and tape delays, easing into the metronomic kosmische grüv of Argent; a Krautrock juggernaut which motors along on a wave of pulsing bass, filter sweeps and choppy guitars. Weaver's ethereal soprano floats over this, weaving a tale of technological enchantment, and setting the mood and the theme for the rest of the album. Next up is The Electric Mountain, a prog-rock ballad built up over a Hawkwind sample and analogue synth riff, its story-telling vocals sounding somewhat like a more sci-fi-influenced Wendy Rule. Arrows (apparently based on a meditation on the cycle between the feathers from killed birds and the arrows used to hunt them) is a lovely, languidly ethereal piece, Weaver's vocals, singing a repetitive mantra, melting into a clunking bass guitar, wash of reverb over string machine and home-organ drums, before segueing into the Casiotone-driven disco stomp of Don't Take My Soul, with its circus-style melody and country-style falsetto, which would probably be the obvious radio hit. Cells has a dreamy languor about it, sounding not unlike Saint Etienne as heard from another room whilst still waking up; the tempo goes back up with the cosmic disco of Misson Desire, which one could imagine as the theme song from an obscure, infinitely cooler Barbarella-analogue filmed in, say, Yugoslavia or somewhere during the early 1970s. (There are undoubtedly layers of reference and allusion throughout this work; Weaver's husband and partner in music is the arch-obscurantist curator Andy Votel, after all.) The album eases to closure, with a few more mellow, though no less intricate, tracks, before bidding adieu with Your Time In This Life Is Just Temporary, its reverbed barroom piano courtesy of BC Camplight. In any case, this is a record which reveals more with each repeated listening.

Honourable mentions include: Aphex Twin - Syro (his long-awaited return from the wilderness, with a collection of twelve tracks—apparently the more approachable material he has been working on, with several discs of other things waiting in the wings—makes this 2014's m b v; the tracks, with their layers of analogue synthesizers, sequencers, beats and the odd processed sample bridge the gap to James' earlier works; they tend towards the busier end of his oeuvre, rather than the more ambient), The Drink - Company (BandCamp) (Dan and David from promising post-rock combo Fighting Kites hook up with vocalist Dearbhla Minogue (apparently from the Irish branch of the family). The result is a combination of angular post-punk guitar/bass, between Life Without Buildings and Future Of The Left with touches of Congolese groove here and there); the thing that stands out is the vocals, which eschew the untutored, melodically constrained shoutiness that has been a marque of authenticity since punk rock, in favour of a melodious soprano more reminiscent of traditional folk balladry; perhaps this is a hitherto unexplored side of the collapse of the equation of lo-fi with authenticity? In any case, the effect works), FourPlay String Quartet - This Machine (BandCamp) (their first album entirely of original compositions, without the covers they started their career doing; their compositions have always been good, and here they grow even more sophisticated, whilst still keeping their sense of humour; higlights include the Romany knees-up of Moon Over The Moldau, the vaguely Middle Eastern Anti-Occident (remember, this is a band whose first album was titled Catgut Ya Tongue?) and the driving Space Party Awesomeness), Future Islands - Singles (new-wave angularity with “soulful” vocals vaguely reminiscent of Gnarls Barkley's cracked bluesman persona), Goat - Commune (freaky cosmic psychedelia, vaguely reminiscent of a more polished Amon Düül II), Hookworms - The Hum (psych-rock meets krautrock, done well; not too far from Wolf And Cub or The Assassinations), Momusmcclymont - Momusmcclymont II (Momus and David McClymont's second collaboration, combining funky grooves and sardonic wit, not to mention their anthem to the birth of the independent Nordic-socialist Scotland that was not to be, Yes), Mr. Twin Sister, s/t (having prepended the "Mr." to their name, the band formerly known as Twin Sister ramp the smooth maximalism up, going between deep house and late-1980s R&B; highlights include opener Sensitive, which goes from dreamlike arpeggios to a slow-jam like something Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis could have produced around 1989, and the Underworld-esque propulsive techno of Twelve Angels), My Favorite - Second Empire/Dance With A Stranger (only a 2-track single, and not strictly the original My Favorite—Andrea's still nowhere to be heard, which may be a dealbreaker for some fans—but a promising comeback; very much in a synthpop vein, with Michael Grace Jr. wearing his world-weariness with panache), My Sad Captains - Best Of Times (the Captains' latest record sees them perfecting their mix of pastoral laconicism and motorik repetition, and even getting funky at one point), Geoffrey O'Connor - Fan Fiction (the themes of glamour and desire are similar to Vanity Is Forever, but the yacht-rock trappings are replaced with Pet Shop Boys-esque synthpop stylings, and O'Connor comes across as less of a seducer and more of an observer who, were he not so discreet, would have explosive stories to tell), Samaris - Silkidrangar (the Icelandic trio's second album, combining sparse, chilled electronics with lyrics from Icelandic poetry, and building on their self-titled début last year), Spearmint- News From Nowhere (the veteran indie band's return sees their songwriting take on more mature themes, with wistful reflections on what could have romantically been replaced by pieces on vegetarianism, environmental degradation and the failures of past idealisms), Takako Minekawa and Dustin Wong - Savage Imagination (1990s Shibuya-kei star Minekawa is best known for kawaii pop songs like indiekid mixtape favourite Fantastic Cat; her return, made in collaboration with Dustin Wong (formerly of Ponytail and Ecstatic Sunshine) is a glorious katamari of joyous melody, with track titles like Pale Tone Wifi and Dioramasaurus), Woman's Hour - Conversations (possibly the smoothest indie record released this year; late-80s digital synths and a Berlin-meets-Sadé vibe). And, as far as rereleases go, the standout title would be St. Christopher's omnibus retrospective, Forevermore Starts Here.

The album of the year is, of course, Taylor Swift's 1989, but were it not, it'd be Jane Weaver's The Silver Globe.

As far as the gigs of the year go, the highlight would be a tie between the Slowdive gigs I saw; they were all great, but I'd say either the very first one at Hoxton Bar (for the “I'm watching Slowdive play live!!” factor), the one at Primavera, for its epic scale and energy, or the very last one at the Forum (by when they had had half a year of live gigs under their belt and some appropriately psychedelic visual projections to boot); they were all magnificent. I'll just say that watching them play what their cover of Syd Barrett's Golden Hair has grown into—a sonic cathedral of coruscating majesty—is the musical equivalent of watching the most breathtaking sunset one has ever seen, until its very last rays disappear below the horizon into the velvet night.

This, of course, is a very hard act to follow, but the very strong runner-up was seeing Loney Dear play with the 22-piece Norrbotten chamber orchestra in the north of Sweden (I caught the first two dates of their tour, in Luleå and Haparanda). They played a raft of new songs and a few familiar ones (though Loney Dear's songs tend to evolve as he plays with them; Harsh Words, for example, has since grown an intro of analogue white-noise percussion). The orchestral arrangements worked really well as well; they were good, without being too pretty. Honourable mentions would probably be the Icelandic post-rock band For A Minor Reflection, seen at ATP Iceland, the FourPlay String Quartet soundtracking Neil Gaiman's The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountain at the Barbican, and Ben Frost, seen at St. John's Church in Hackney.

For your listening pleasure and/or curiosity, there is a streamable mix taken from the records mentioned above here.

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Last week was the annual ritual the year's iPhone launch. It followed the usual routine: new models (with larger screens and a new iOS version), new technologies (Apple Pay, a contactless payment system) and a preannouncement of an as-yet unready product (the Apple Watch, which, to all appearances, doesn't quite work yet, hence the carefully managed demo). And then, another surprise: Bono, that Tony Blair of adult-oriented rock took to the stage, looking particularly greasy and ratlike in his trademark rock'n'roll sunglasses, and, through a scripted “spontaneous” exchange with Apple CEO Tim Cook, announced that his band U2 have recorded a new album, and that Apple have bought each and every one of their users a copy; it would be showing up in their record collections whether they wanted it or not. And, soon enough, it did. Those whose phones were set to automatically synchronise with iTunes Match found the new U2 album waiting on their phones.

Of course, not everyone was happy with having a record shoved into their record collections; even without it being by a band with such a sketchy reputation (musically and otherwise) as U2. The similarity between Bono's rationale—that those finding the music on their computer may listen to it and may like it, and if they don't like it, they can delete it—and the rationalisations of old-fashioned email spammers, was pointed out. Though, actually, you couldn't even delete it; you could remove it from your computer, and meticulously scrub it from all your Apple devices, but it would always be waiting for you in your list of downloadable purchases on the iTunes Store, like an unflushable jobbie, taunting you with its noisome presence every time you lifted the lid. The most you could do with it was “hide” it, as you would a mildly embarrassing drunken binge-purchase; but you and Apple would know it was always there, mocking you.

This was not so much the “turd-in-a-can” business model of lowest-common-denominator consumer capitalism as the “unflushable turd” business model; or “now you have our album in your music collection; deal with it”. A bit like the Los Angeles band who blocked a freeway with a truck and treated the trapped motorists to a live gig from a stage on the back, only scaled up to the size of Bono's messianic ego and international-level schmoozing abilities. When you're Bono, it seems, you can push your music to millions of people. As for Apple, could this mean that their hubris about knowing their customers' needs better than they know themselves has extended from which controls a user needs in an app to what sort of music the user likes, or ought to like?

After considerable kvetching and sarcasm on social media and the web (and undoubtedly a number of complaints to iTunes Support), Apple relented, and created a world first: a dedicated web link for removing U2's Songs Of Innocence from one's iTunes collection; a privilege (if one can call it that) that no other musical act has merited, or is likely to merit any time soon, with the levels of hubris, influence and public antipathy required to pull off such a feat.

Apple surely have statistics about how many people have availed themselves of this link, and expunged the most recent U2 album from their record collections. It's unlikely that they will publish them. It would be nice if this whole episode had been a lesson in humility for Bono and his people, but, somehow, I suspect that's too much to hope for.

There is, however, some hope from this affair; it seems that, after all, enough people to be counted and listened to still consider their music collections—the recordings they have chosen and curated themselves—to be a personal artefact, rather than just another advertising billboard. Sure, Facebook may abridge our friends' party photos and emotional dramas and squeeze in ads pushing weight-loss plans and financial services in the spaces freed up, Twitter may season our (now similarly algorithmically winnowed down) feeds with “sponsored tweets”, Shazam may turn our phones into micro-billboards for the new Justin Bieber record when we hold them up to check what the bangin' track the DJ is playing is, and Spotify may bombard us with gratingly obnoxious ads until we relent and become paying customers, but both our record collections and our not-inexpensive, non-ad-subsidised, devices are off limits; and woe betide anyone who messes with them.

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They call me Wayne Kerr, and if there's one thing I hate… it's records that are available only on LP with a download code; with no CD, and no option to buy just the download.

On one hand, this is an improvement on the previous state of affairs: records being available only on vinyl, with no downloads or digital copies whatsoever, so if you were the kind of weirdo computer-nerd to whom the words “download” and “MP3” meant something, your options would be to rig up one of those USB turntables, play your newly-bought record through them, recording to a WAV file, trim it to the separate tracks and do your best to EQ out the inherent suckiness of vinyl so you'd have something approximating what a hypothetical digital copy would sound like. Or if you don't have a USB turntable or reasonable Audacity skills, you would illegally pirate the digital copy from someone who does. At least with download codes, there is an audio file which hasn't been through the vinyl-transfer wringer. On the other hand, though, you can't have it without also accepting the slab of vinyl it comes with, because Authenticity.

The existence of the download code mockingly acknowledges the shift in ways of listening to music, the fact that not everybody owns a turntable or is willing to partake in the vinyl ceremony (taking the record gingerly out of its anti-static sleeve, placing it reverently in the middle of the vinyl shrine, sitting down cross-legged exactly between the two speakers and, for the 22 minute duration of a side, reverently contemplating the gatefold artwork with a joint in one hand, as one's forebears did in the prelapsarian Sixeventies, when love was free, weed was good and rock was the real thing), and that, with the rise of digital audio and portable sound players, the vinyl record has metamorphosed from the humble, utilitarian carrier of most convenience it was in the age of the teenager's Dansette into a fetish object; one part collectible trophy, one part quasi-religious totem of Authenticity. The denial of downloads on their own affirms the primacy of the cult of vinyl: you will take the vinyl record, it dictates, and you will regard it with quasi-religious reverence, as it is a sacred relic, a splinter of the True Cross, in which is embodied Authenticity.

The cult of vinyl-as-ark-of-Authenticity is a sort of conservative (with a small 'c') reaction to, and attempted brake on, the hurtling pace of technological and social change, which, in less than a lifetime, has rendered ways of engaging with music obsolete. The way people consume music has changed as the amount of music has increased and the price has plummeted; consequently, one has considerably more music at one's disposal than one's parents (or even one's younger self) would have, saving up for a few months to get the new LP by their favourite band and then listening the hell out of it. (A few years ago, Jarvis Cocker said that music has become something like a scented candle; something consumed casually in the background, without one's full rapt attention. Of course, Cocker's reaction to this phenomenon is coloured by the contrast with his own formative experiences in the early 1980s, which in terms of the culture of music consumption, were an extension of the Sixeventies.) Meanwhile, with the world's rising population (there are roughly twice as many people alive today as in 1970) and urban gentrification, the size of the typical residence (i.e., one affordable to one of ordinary means) has shrunk; as such, a nontrivial collection of music in physical format is increasingly becoming a luxury only wealthy eccentrics and rural hermits can afford; and this goes doubly so for space-inefficient formats such as vinyl records. The upshot is that each piece of recorded music in one's collection can expect both less attention and less physical space than might have once been the case. Which is why digital files come in handy. But, of course, that wouldn't be Authentic; when you listen to an MP3, you're not really listening to the recording and having the authentic experience of the music; you're a ghost, alienated from your own music-listening life, listening to a ghost of the music, having a ghost experience that doesn't really exist, not in the way that your dad's experience of the Stone Roses did. Or so the narrative of the vinyl mandate goes. Which is why we are stuck buying a slab of vinyl, opening the package, pulling out the card with the download code, and then putting the actual slab of vinyl in the gap behind the IKEA BILLY bookcase with all the other votive icons of Authenticity, its grooves doomed to never be touched by a gramophone needle. Time goes on and the mass of reluctantly adopted household gods grows.

The vinyl mandate is the product of a Baby Boomer elite (and, to a lesser extent, the Generation X that followed it and absorbed some of its superstitions and prejudices), having aged into seniority and cultural power, staring into the abyss of its own mortality, feeling the chill of rapid change having made its own formative experiences obsolete, recoiling before the sublime terror of one's insignificance in the face of the march of time and desperately clutching for the conditions of its own long-gone youth and virility; since these involved listening to rock'n'roll from vinyl records, it is decreed that the way that they consumed music (record player, reverent contemplation, possible recreational substance use; definitely not with a pair of white earbuds at one's desk or in the gym, and absolutely not sacrilegiously shuffled with the rest of one's collection of music) is the one true, Authentic way of truly connecting and engaging with the music. Granted, many of the artists and label owners who enforce this mandate are too young to have invested in this myth first-hand; perhaps they are motivated by a Couplandian displaced nostalgia for the golden age of authenticity they weren't born in, or perhaps such is the power of cultural transmission that values get propagated beyond the rationale from which they sprang. In any case, the myth persists for now, and we're stuck with piles of vinyl records which will never be played, all for want of a download code.

As for physical artefacts: could they not be something more practical? Personally, if I'm at a merch stand, I'd rather buy a band T-shirt or button badge with a download code affixed to it than a vinyl record with one.

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A report in The Verge from a conference in Las Vegas about the business side of electronic dance music (EDM). EDM is not to be confused with the electronic dance music that older readers will remember; the 303-heavy acid-house played in underground clubs in Chicago and New York in the 1980s, the rave-techno that crusties dropped E to in illegal (and definitely undermonetised) raves during the Second Summer of Love, or even the glossier house/trance that superclubs played in the 1990s and 00s, but is a new phenomenon, as different as rock'n'roll was from jump blues. Having moved to Las Vegas, cut its name down, Diddy-fashion, to three VIP-worthy letters, and replaced the loved-up Goa-beach hippyisms with some high-octane all-American shock-and-awe, EDM has had an extreme makeover, and in doing so, not so much sold out as absorbed the whole concept of commercialism and monetisation and become one with it. The fans, apparently, couldn't be happier with it (or so the boosters of the brand synergies say, of course); on some level, being part of a super-hot marketing demographic is this generation's equivalent of the distinctly shabbier solidarity of being a Mod or a punk or whatever your grandparents did because there was nobody around to sell them energy drinks or LED jewellery.

Not surprisingly, people who love electronic music also love electronics. They have "a high propensity to purchase high-tech devices versus other genres, making them ideal for partnerships in the mobile and tech space," Simonian said. They’re more likely than other music listeners to purchase songs after hearing them in an ad. They’re also 50 percent more likely to buy energy drinks and 18 percent less likely to buy diet soda — presumably because they spend too much time dancing to worry about calories, Simonian joked. They spend more of their music money on live events, and they’re trendsetters — EDM listeners are generally regarded as "key influencers" among their peers.
Festivals also offer fertile ground for millennials, a generation entirely unfamiliar with the concept of selling out, to engage in "brand immersion." Swedish House Mafia pioneered the trend when they partnered with Absolut in 2012, releasing a single called "Greyhound" — named after the popular combination of vodka and grapefruit juice — that featured the trio behind a roboticized race dog on its cover. The move successfully cast the cocktail as an EDM staple, and the band incorporated the digital dog into its visuals for an Absolut-sponsored tour. Simonian says Nielsen’s research has revealed that electronic music fans "want brands to sponsor artists." If this concept sounds like "selling out" to you, your problem might be that you were born before 1990, or that you were raised on some form of punk rock ethos that requires strict division between creativity and capital (I’m guilty of both). Selling out is an alien concept in the EDM market — when Simonian says that fans want brands to sponsor artists, it might just mean that fans are happy to see their favorite producers making a decent wage to create amazing music.
So when I hear Skrillex in a Best Buy commercial, hear Calvin Harris teaming up with Rihanna, or a mediocre deadmau5 rip-off while I’m browsing through the underwear section of Target, I can only smile contentedly: finally, the sound I wanted to hear everywhere when I was growing up is actually everywhere. EDM has become the first "voice of a generation" that openly accepts a partner all other types of music bristled at: unabashed capitalism.
Well, there was such a thing as “commercial dance” in the 1990s, but the word “commercial” in that case cast it as a lesser form of dance music; something churned out by hacks in Germany and the Benelux countries to sell to mobile-phone ringtone companies, undiscerning preteens and those too hammered on flavoured vodka to know the difference. In this case, though, the big, well-hyped megastar DJs are the hypercommercial players, and the pervasive commerciality of EDM goes unremarked; the phrase “commercial EDM” would, indeed, sound awkward and ungainly, like “water fish” or something.

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An article enumerating the eight mistakes that rock music critics make:

I’ve made some mistakes along the way. We all have: it’s a learning curve, this rock-writing thing. First we imitate Christgau and Bangs, then we imitate Spin and NME, then we forget what the hell we were trying to do in the first place, then (after several hundred reviews) we find our own voice. Well, some of us do. Some bail out; others turn to writing press kits. Some stalwarts continue hyping, lying, mushmouthing, and being generally annoying. Still, I’d like to say I’ve learned from my mistakes, and that’s the purpose of this column. Here are the Eight Biggest Mistakes That Music Critics Make, intended to supplement Lankford’s own list on how we critics can bring out our inner asshole. And yes, these mistakes: I’ve made them all. In fact (for all you pomo kids out there) I believe on at least two occasions I make the mistake while writing about it, below. Keep your eyes peeled.
This may sound absurd, but writers with Good Taste are inevitably the worst critics. Yes, yes, all critics have “good” taste, or at least they have faith in their own idiosyncratic eardrums. But Good Taste is something different altogether: it’s a combination of middlebrow sentiment, political correctness, multicultural blandness, and moral jitters. Fear of violence and speed and sex and cusswords are somewhere in there, too. Good Taste is what makes a critic love Lauryn Hill but fear Li’l Kim. Good Taste means putting Willie Nelson ahead of David Allen Coe in the country-music canon. The only way to be a truly discerning critic is to brave the elements: slap on albums by ANTiSEEN, Def Squad, Cyndi Lauper, Anal Cunt, Commodores, Star Death, Pink & Brown, Voivod, Johnny Paycheck, Ja Rule, Iron Maiden, Hanson, .38 Special, Blink 182, and see what you like. (Just for the record, I like all of ‘em except Ja Rule and Anal Cunt). Don’t stick to the safe critically received Beck’n'Wilco mulch or you’re gonna dull your ears too fast. Good Taste is for brainless elites. Go for bad taste first, then work your way up.
(Though I emphatically disagree with his dismissal of Yo La Tengo's And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out as an "ether-soaked gauzepad"; sure, it's no balls-to-the-wall rock workout, but it is in my opinion among their best albums. Hey, if you want shock and awe, buy a Skrillex album or something.)

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On occasion of a Women In Rock mini-festival on Melbourne radio station 3CR, Mess+Noise got Ninetynine's Laura Macfarlane and the members of the all-female rock trio Dead River to interview each other:

Laura: Overall I think things with gender equality in music have improved slightly but it still needs more work. There could be more female presence in the technical side of music. For instance there aren’t many female masterers still. It also varies a lot between countries. Ninetynine has played in countries and cities where being a female musician is still a novelty. Those shows always stick out in my memory because usually one female person in the audience will come up and tell you that they really appreciate seeing female musicians. Maybe they were thinking of starting their own band, but hadn’t seen a live band with women in it. It is always special to feel like maybe you have helped encourage other women in some small way.
Laura: Although Ninetynine does not exclusively reference Get Smart, we do like a lot of things people relate to the name, including agent 99. She’s great. We also wanted to use a number as a band name because it can work well in countries where people don’t speak a lot of English. I think the The Shaggs would be my favourite ’60s girl group.
Dead River: Despite plenty of evidence that women are capable and creative masters of their instruments and gear (PJ Harvey, Savages, Kim Gordon, to name a few), there are prevailing paternalistic attitudes that continue to undermine women in music. I’m sure many female musicians can relate to the experience of a male mixer walking on stage and adjusting her amp or telling her how to set her levels. Or being asked if you’re the ”merch girl” or “where’s your acoustic guitar?” after you’ve just lugged an entire drum kit or Orange stack through the door.
Meanwhile, the members of Ninetynine have recorded a song to raise funds for protests against the East-West road tunnel, under the name “Tunnel Vision Song Contest”. It sounds like Ninetynine at their most Sonic Youth-influenced, though is a bit light on the Casiotone and chromatic percussion.

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It's official: Slowdive are reuniting. Their first announced gig will be at Primavera in Barcelona, though in an interview with The Quietus, Neil Halstead said that the original plan was to record some new material, with the gigs funding the recording.

Certainly, if one looked closely enough, one could spot hints of Halstead's former hard line against a Slowdive reunion softening, from conciliatory remarks in more recent interviews to last year's not at all folksy Black Hearted Brother album.

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Today, I cancelled my iTunes Match subscription.

I subscribed to iTunes Match as soon as it became available in the UK, because the idea of being able to upload my music collection into The Cloud™ and access it without physically shlepping it around seemed very useful. Over the next few weeks, I embarked on the project of uploading the contents of my music collection (which, in its unabridged form, resides on a small Linux machine running mpd); manually copying it to a MacBook, dragging it into iTunes and waiting for it to sync up with the servers and verify or upload my music. Slowly but surely, a virtual copy of my music collection took shape in the cloud, accessible remotely wherever I have my iPhone and an internet connection. And then, towards the end, I hit the 25,000-song ceiling, and no more songs would go on.

iTunes Match, you see, has a limit of 25,000 songs per user, not counting purchases from iTunes. This is a hard limit; there are no premium tiers which will bump this up to something more generous for those outliers on the right-hand side of the music-collection bell curve, not at any price. Well, you could always repurchase part or all of your collection from the iTunes Store, freeing up slots for out-of-print rarities and CD-Rs bought at gigs and such, but that kinda sucks. It is not clear why Apple did not offer any sort of reasonable option for prolific music collectors; perhaps the various music rightsholders, long used to the role of the dog in the manger, decided that those people could pay extra and demanded extortionate prices, or just flat out refused to allow it, because they could. Perhaps Apple thought that having different usage tiers broke up the elegance of their iTunes offering, that 25,000 songs was more than enough for the typical user (whose music collection consists of about two dozen albums, among them Coldplay, Skrillex, a few albums of classic 90s alt-rock and the obligatory stylishly understated European indie wallpaper music), and that the tiny minority of power users who need more aren't really the kinds of clients they are interested in. Perhaps this is simply a cynical ploy by Apple and/or the RIAA to arm-twist the punters into repurchasing their record collections in another format (namely a digital file much like the one they already have, but with the option of accessing it on iTunes Match for free). But in any case, the upshot is that one is stuck with the 25,000-song hard limit.

For a while, I made do with the limit. My plans were downgraded from “get everything into iTunes Match” to “get most of it into iTunes Match”. I scanned my iTunes collection, performing triage, coldly relegating albums into a second tier: non-essential; not to be uploaded. The non-essential albums were deleted from my MacBook (there is no way to mark part of your iTunes collection as “yes, I might want to listen to this, but please don't waste any of my 25,000 iTunes Match slots on it”); should I wish to listen to them, I would have to do so at home, on the small Linux box in my living room. Initially, only a handful of albums got relegated, with the rest squeezing in at somewhere over 24,000 tracks. And all was, if not perfect, then acceptable for the time being.

Time went on and, as I bought CDs (some at gigs, some in record shops I visited, and some just because they had artwork and packaging the digital copy was not privy to), every now and then I'd run out of space in iTunes Match, and would do another sweep of my collection, finding more records to consign to the outer darkness. As the low-hanging fruit disappeared, subsequent sweeps became more difficult, until, at some time last year, I resigned myself to not having any new music in my iTunes Match collection, unless it had proved itself so good as to be worth killing something else for; Album Deathmatch.

And so, when the email from Apple came in, notifying me that the renewal date for iTunes Match had come around and I would be billed £21.99 for another year of a flawed service, the choice was clear. Enough was enough, and so I cancelled the renewal. As of now, Apple's systems will have undoubtedly deleted the obscure Australian indiepop tracks that iTunes uploaded some two years earlier.

I would have kept iTunes Match, had it had one of two changes: ideally, the option of a higher limit. Or, if the limit is, for some reason, not negotiable, the option of keeping tracks in one's iTunes whilst keeping (or taking) them out of iTunes Match. The “I like this, but not enough to want to get to it from my iPhone” option, if you will; a no-brainer when dealing with a scarce resource one has paid for.

So what comes next? Well, all the rival services, such as Amazon's and Google's ones, seem to also fall short with large numbers of tracks. I suspect that my next music locker will be a USB flash drive I carry with me; there are 256Gb flash drives on the market now, and while they're expensive, their price will inevitably drop. It's not implausible that, by the end of the year, they will cost less than £21.99.

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As 2013 draws to a close, it's once again time to look back on the records of the year, and so here is this year's list (ordered by artist name):

  • Beaches - She Beats

    The second album for the Melbourne indie-rock combo features kosmische legend Michael Rother guesting on three tracks. Musically, it straddles the boundaries of shoegaze, post-rock and the more impressionistic end of rock. Layers of guitar fuzz drive forward, propelled by metronomic drumming, as bass and guitar lines interweave and play off each other and reverbed vocals float ambiently over the mix; at times, it sounds like the bastard child of Joy Division and My Bloody Valentine, or possibly the first Wolf and Cub album. The overall effect is vaguely mesmeric.

  • Black Hearted Brother - Stars Are Our Home

    A surprise collaboration from Neil Halstead (originally of shoegaze legends Slowdive, though ploughing folkier furrows in the decade or two since), his producer Nick Holton, and Mark Van Hoen (of IDM outfits Seefeel and Locust), which dropped late in the year on US indiepop label Slumberland, though sounding anything but twee, or, for that matter, folky; instead, we are presented with a coruscating slab of kosmische prog-disco, space rock and more than a hint of shoegaze; maximalist music which is not afraid of layeredness. Stars Are Our Home opens with the title track, a portentious minor-key electronic instrumental one would expect to have been brought into being on a modular synthesiser the size of a room (in reality, it may well have been made on a MacBook running Ableton Live like every other track these days, but such is modern life); this leads into the most Slowdive-esque track, the gloriously fuzzy (I Don't Mean To) Wonder; the rest of the album consists of a mixture of Halstead's languid vocals and honed songwriting, underpinned with combinations of strummed guitars, analogue fuzz, bold, crunchy drums and electronics both subtle and bold, often building up into layered, gleefully multitracked crescendos reminiscent at times of Caribou/Manitoba. One of the highlights was My Baby Just Sailed Away, a cut of supercool kosmische disco that motors through the darkness in a haze of analogue synth arpeggios and guitar crunch.

  • Factory Floor - s/t

    Factory Floor, a trio who originated in the industrial/noise scene in East London, purvey an album of ecstatic electro workouts which meld the icy cool of early-1980s New York disco à la Arthur Baker with the minimal club scenes of Berlin and Cologne and just a hint of Throbbing Gristle-style menace lurking beneath the glossy surface.

  • Haiku Salut - Tricolore

    The début full-length album from the band that formed from one half of The Deirdres treads a far less rambunctious, and slightly less twee, path. Eschewing the handclaps-and-glockenspiel mayhem of indiepop, Haiku Salut venture at times into cinematic chamber-pop reminiscent of Yann Tiersen (Los Elefantes, Lonesome George), Múm-style glitchy dreampop (Leaf Stricken) and the more pastoral ends of the post-rock spectrum (Rustic Sense of Migration), alternating between piano, classical guitar, various percussion, accordion and electronic beats.

  • Kosmischer Läufer - Volume One

    This year's faux-Krautrock record comes with a backstory of being a compilation of tracks composed in the 1970s and 1980s by "Martin Zeichnete", a young East German sound engineer who, because of his illicit listening to West German Kosmische Musik, was drafted by the Stasi to create training music for the DDR's athletes. Which is a more interesting story than it having been made by two guys in Edinburgh in 2013. With a bit of suspension of belief, this record creates a semi-convincing alternate-history Krautrock fantasia, like a less fanciful Endless House. Besides the implausible story and even more implausible digital crispness of the recording, it is a compelling and listenable piece of motorik electronica; if you like music self-consciously rooted in 1970s Germany (and aren't too fussy about it citing the wrong Germany), you might find this to be an enjoyable homage.

  • The Magic Theatre - The Long Way Home

    Seemingly tailor-made for those missing Isobel Campbell's Gentle Waves project, The Magic Theatre (from two of the members of indiepop cult heroes Ooberman) delivers a package of immaculately retro-styled and impeccably artful chamber-pop. Released on credible Madrid indiepop label Elefant, The Long Way Home has the widescreen Technicolor sheen of high-end 1960s productions, with sweeping strings and woodwinds and nary a distorted guitar to be heard. Of course, in 2013, making a record that sounds like this is a deliberate decision, and some would say an affected one. The record nails its stylistic colours to the mast at the outset with The Sampler, a fairy-tale account of making a dress for a ball, sung over sweeping strings and sugarplum bells; this is followed by It Was Glorious, an paean to a youthful summer and/or a soundtrack to Jack Wills catalogue photography. (There are vaguely posh undertones to much of this album, perhaps echoing él Records' faux-aristocratic indie in the 1980s.) Festival of Fire veers in a Bollywood-via-Wes-Anderson direction, while Cathedrals Of The Mind, a whir of erudite references, explores the complexity, and ultimate futility, of civilisation, with more than an echo of Windmills Of Your Mind to it; this song in particular seems written for the end credits of a vintage spy thriller. The highlight would be the lovely I Want To Die By Your Side, which sounds like a synthless Dubstar and will undoubtedly end up a fixture of many mix tapes and indiepop kids' weddings. The closing track, which is also the title track, ends the record on a high.

  • Samarís - Samarís, and Cuushe - Butterfly Case

    This year's odd couple of albums; this time the shared theme being chilled-out electropop from volcanic islands. Samaris hail from Reykjavík, Iceland; their self-titled album actually consists of two EPs released last year, but those were not widely available prior to being rereleased as an album this year. They make a sort of low-key electronic dream-pop, with subtle subbass, skittering beats, artful use of dub delay, the odd arpeggiated synthesizer and quiet vocals in Icelandic; I was reminded a little of GusGus' 1997 album Polyesterday; not so much by the sound, but by the feel of it. Meanwhile, Cuushe, who hail from Kyoto and Tokyo, are slightly more upbeat and (for want of a better word) electronic-sounding; though sharing the IDM influences; there are slightly more layers of synths, the tempos are a bit faster, and the overall impression is a bit more urban. Their vocals, often multitracked and layered, are in English on all but one song, and sound slightly reminiscent of Múm.

  • Underground Lovers - Weekend

    It has been a long time between records for the Underground Lovers; their last album was 1998's Cold Feeling, a homage of sorts to their influences (Suicide, the Velvet Underground, Neu! and New Order are all in evidence there). And those who waited 15 years would not have been disappointed; this album has all the elements one expected from the Undies' 1990s heyday; the skronky too-cool-for-school alt.rock guitar lines married with slightly obsolescent dance-music electronics (no wubwubs or mad drops here), the mild incongruity adding texture. The Go-Betweens' influence can be felt in places in the record, in some of the more wistfully reflective songwriting (such as in the almost shoegazey Haunted (Acedia)), and more explicitly in the track Riding, recounting a party in the bygone days of a scene. The lushness of the production is particularly evident on the quieter tracks, including the opener Spaces, and the stylish dream-pop of Dream To Me, which is a Bacharachian trumpet accent away from being a Birdie song. The album closes with The Lie That Sets You Free, a motorik workout on a par with Cold Feeling's Feels So Good To Be Free. This record carries its weight in years, as befits a band of the vintage of the Underground Lovers, and does so gracefully. All in all, a fine return, and hopefully not the last we'll hear from the Undies.

  • Veronica Falls - Waiting For Something To Happen

    The best New York C86-revival band to come out of London, Veronica Falls hone their chops for their second album, which is a somewhat more tightly-coiled, groovy and melodic affair than the affable scruff of their début, whilst maintaining a similar theme of stylised teenage drama executed in boy-girl vocal harmonies.

  • T.R.A.S.E. - Tape Recorder And Synthesizer Ensemble

    Not a new record per se, but a new find, consisting of demos and experimental recordings made by Mancunian teenage synth boffin Andy Popplewell in the late 70s/early 80s on synthesisers he built himself; abandoned for a few decades, it surfaced when Popplewell, now a middle-aged tape-restoration consultant, used his old tapes as an experimental subject for restoration, and then happened to chance upon obscurantist cratedigger Andy Votel, who was getting some tapes restored for his Finders Keepers reissue label. A lot less rough than one would expect; highlights include the proto-shoegaze of Harmonium, the beats of Electronic Rock and a cover of Gary Numan's We Are So Fragile.

And this year's honourable mentions go to: Beachwood Sparks - Desert Skies (summery Californian retro guitar-pop; formulaic as all hell, but done decently; a stylish haze of displaced nostalgia), CHVRCHES - The Bones Of What You Believe (2013's hipster-friendly electro smash; like a more euphoric, less witchy Purity Ring), Crocodiles - Crimes of Passion (Crocodiles' most poppy record so far, produced by Sune Wagner of Danish rockabilly pop combo the Raveonettes), Day Ravies - Tussles (a promising début from a new Australian band in a lo-fi/shoegaze/skronk vein; this will take more listening), Fuck Buttons - Slow Focus (a worthy follow-up to Tarot Sport and their Olympic opening ceremony appearance, albeit in a darker vein), Mazzy Star, Seasons Of Your Day (another in 2013's crop of comeback records, this time from the pastoral dreampop combo), Momus, with two releases; the stripped-down almost bluesy Bambi and MOMUSMCCLYMONT, the funky self-titled début of his collaborative project with David McClymont, the now Melbourne-based bassist of Scottish indie legends Orange Juice, My Bloody Valentine - m b v (a worthy and intriguing follow-up to Loveless; now let's see what they do next), Neon Neon - Praxis Makes Perfect (a concept album about an Italian Communist book publisher during the upheavals of the Years of Lead, executed in electropop/yacht-rock style), OMD, English Electric, and Pet Shop Boys, Electric (two similarly titled albums from two veteran synthpop acts bring two different approaches; OMD bring the gravitas of High Modernist heritage to the genre, as evident in tracks like Metroland, while the Boys take it to the dancefloor with some hard grooves and their usual wry lyrics), The Paradise Motel, Oh Boy (the Motel's concept album about Australian masculinity sees them change into a band almost unrecognisable from the haunting Tasmanian Gothic of their early EPs; this record starts with a ballsy, bluesy growl and goes on from there), Pikelet, Calluses (loop-pedal wizard Evelyn's latest goes into loose-limbed mutant-disco territory than Pikelet's previous works, with funky basslines and coruscating synth arpeggios melding with the exotic tonalities one has grown to expect), Still Corners, Strange Pleasures (Still Corners' second album is a brighter affair, with more of a spacious 80s dream-haze thing going on), Yo La Tengo, Fade (YLT's latest is a warm, layered and subtly idiosyncratic affair, building on their legacy, and doesn't disappoint), various artists, I Am The Center: Private Issue New Age Music In America, 1950-1990 (forget the airbrushed dolphins-and-rainbows kitsch and cynically made cash-in attempts for sale in crystal shops, this is a compilation of original compositions by various inspired individuals and eccentric experimentalists, complete with biographical liner notes, and, musically, is a lot more interesting and nuanced).

Nothing immediately jumps out as a record of the year, though Samarís and Underground Lovers are strong contenders; had Black Hearted Brother come out earlier, it could well have given them a run for their money.

My gigs of the year would be:

  1. Loney Dear, Majornas Missionsyrka, Gothenburg, 5 October; Loney Dear performing a number of songs, including some classics and a few new ones, accompanied by a chamber orchestra, in a rather lågom church next to a Gothenburg tower block. The orchestral arrangements were exquisite, and the whole experience was worth the flight to Sweden.
  2. Kraftwerk, Harpa, Reykjavík, 4 November; not having managed to see them in London or New York, I jumped at the opportunity when they announced a show in Reykjavík, making my second trip to Iceland of they year. The show was spectacular; more about it here.
  3. Haiku Salut, St. John's, Bethnal Green, 12 October; Haiku Salut playing in a church, accompanied by several dozen electronically controlled lamps that lit up in time with the music. A great show and a somewhat twee spectacle.

For your listening pleasure, there's a streamable mix taken from the records of the year here.

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This weekend, I went to Indietracks, which, as previous years, was ace. Highlights were:

  • Bis, who headlined on the first night, playing an energetic set (even with Manda being in the late stages of pregnancy). I saw them the night before at the Lexington, but preferred the Indietracks set, as the crowd at the Lexington had a macho, aggressive vibe (a big chunk of the front of the audience seemed to be muscle-shirted Rollins-wannabe meatheads looking for some action), which the twee pop kids, bless them, didn't have.
  • P1320636The Secret History, the New York cult heroes (mostly) formerly known as My Favorite, playing on the main stage; they did two My Favorite songs (Absolute Beginners Again and The Suburbs Are Killing Us), which was great, along with songs from their current incarnation's two albums.
  • Haiku Salut, doing a set in the intimate setting of the church, accompanied by an assortment of MIDI-controlled lamps, which waxed, waned and blinked in synchronisation with the music. The effect was quite spectacular.
  • Flowers, a promising young band, playing on the main stage on Sunday. They're well worth seeing; I'm looking forward to their album.
  • Factory/Sarah veterans The Wake were amazing. Probably the oldest band there (I imagine they could claim a modicum of seniority over The Pastels), who made a return last year after a 17-year hiatus; their 2012 album was in my list of favourites of that year. They played some songs from this album, but mostly older material from their Factory years (which, if you liked Joy Division and the first New Order album, you'll probably like as well); and it sounded every bit as stark as on the record only far more vivid. Meanwhile, the bassist kept stealing the show with his moves; one cool cat.
  • Still Corners closed the festival as the sun went down over the stage.
  • Sets on the trains: London ukulele-pop combo Owl And Mouse did a great set on Saturday. On Sunday, Harvey Williams of Another Sunny Day played on the train, though there were a lot of people who didn't manage to squeeze into the parcel van it was in. Harvey did manage to do a second set in the workshop tent later.
I didn't get to see everything, of course; I missed, among others, Monnone Alone (whom I did manage to catch in London recently, though) and most of the Pastels' set, among innumerable others.

I have posted photos here; I'm also uploading some videos I took here.

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The Quietus has a piece on the decline (if not reversal) of the equation of rock'n'roll with youth, as evidenced in the recent milestone of a 70-year-old Mick Jagger fronting the stage at Glastonbury:

Most of my predictions as a music journalist have come to grief in the near three decades I've been practising the art but one at least, which I first made 25 years ago, has successfully come to pass – that rock groups would still be touring in their 70s. Others demurred at this – we're talking about a time when a 45-year-old John Peel was considered unfeasibly senior still to be hauling his old bones to Fall gigs, like some old tennis pro ill-advisedly hitting the tournament circuit for yet another hurrah. This was a time when rock & roll still just about considered itself youth culture and the first crease had yet to be ironed into its jeans. In the 80s, the mid-20s was considered some significant cut-off point. When Q magazine was launched, it was aimed at what it considered an audaciously senior, Jeremy Clarkson-style demographic – the over-25s. Still earlier, it was still worse. In 1964, Melody Maker ran a concerned editorial about the ageing Beatles drummer entitled “Ringo – Too Old To Rock At 24?”
It's not so much that the old guard of artists have necessarily redeemed themselves, or rediscovered their old powers, it's that the critical mood has changed. The iconoclastic scepticism of the punk generation gave way, in the conservative, nostalgic, Oasis-dominated 1990s to a reverence for wealth, prestige, superstardom, a longing for the old days of mega-mania, rather than interesting, diverse, locally sourced clusters of new music. This has gradually intensified, as a sense grows that the mainstream rock narrative has run its course, the smoke is clearing, and we can look back at the legends of yore with renewed biographical clarity, their often trite sayings and doings regarded with utter fascination, their present day activities reviewed with slavering, uncritical awe.
Rock'n'roll's focus on youth was itself an anomaly amongst established genres; in other genres such as jazz and blues, artists have often created work, and often groundbreaking work, well into advanced age (the article mentions Duke Ellington and Sonny Rollins); rock, however, started as a commercialised adaptation of the blues, packaged into 7" singles and marketed at teenagers, and remained tied to youth until its intrinsic momentum as a genre overwhelmed the scaffolding of commerce and/or a generation of middle-aged people refused to give up rock'n'roll and start listening to something more age-appropriate like, say, Mantovani or Harry Belafonte.
There are countless examples from the avant-garde world that old age doesn't dim the creative powers and reduce them to a twilight of tea and biscuits, Max Bygraves and the 'Semprini Serenade'. Musique concrète composers like Luc Ferrari, Henri Pousseur and of course Karlheinz Stockhausen were still operating on the ultra-radical fringes of music before they died of eventual, natural causes early in the 21st century. The same can be said of Derek Bailey, vigorous and active and expanding the guitar lexicon way beyond the confines of rock until his death, aged 75.
Quite simply, music isn't sport. You can perform to the physical level required well into your senior years. Your faculties, health permitting, are quite capable of seeing you through the flails and thrashes and moves like Jagger. This is an extremely gratifying spectacle because, of course, the rock audience itself is growing older year by year, and is most pleased to see that while death will claim us all, old age (as lived out by previous generations sometimes from about their mid-30s onwards if old photos are anything to go by) need not. And so it will go on. I predict rock groups touring and working into their 80s, maybe 90s, with the 70+ brigade, currently a relatively select group, a commonplace band filled out by the likes of Prince, Elvis Costello, Dexys. No one stops. Why would they? Why should they?
The article also mentions David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney, and finishes with taking Jagger to task for taking the easy way out and resting on the laurels of mega-celebrity rather than pushing boundaries:
And so, happy birthday, Mick Jagger. You truly deserve your slice of cake. You are, after all, Fucking Mick Jagger. Never mind “Sir” Mick Jagger; you should replace the “Sir” with “Fucking” and insist, at all times on that far more appropriate mode of address. You should have a party. Only, don't invite the Kate Mosses, Chris Martins and the rest of the showbiz kids – you know they don't give a fuck about anybody else. Invite your own contemporaries, who deserve their slice of cake also. Invite Leonard Cohen. Invite Alan Vega, who just turned 75 but whose group Suicide have never enjoyed the good commercial fortune their innovations deserved. Invite Hans-Joachim Roedelius, whose birth in October 1934 is the very first event on the krautrock timeline, whose work with Kluster and later Cluster is foundational in the histories of noise and ambient respectively, and who is still cutting it, as shown in his very latest release Tiden. Invite Irmin Schmidt and Jaki Liebezeit, surviving founder members of Can, whose continued inventions (on the Cyclopean EP for example) are a discreet counterpoint to Kraftwerk's more widely feted Touring Synthpop Museum. Invite Joni Mitchell, who might have a thing or two to say about why women aren't necessarily granted the same indulgence to carry on being rock stars into their senior years as their male counterparts. Happy birthday and rock on – we know you will.
Meanwhile elsewhere, how Guns'n'Roses' Chinese Democracy made possible the current wave of comeback albums, including albums like My Bloody Valentine's m b v and the new Kraftwerk, Stone Roses and Smiths albums we'll almost certainly hear over the next few years.

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From an interview with Michael Grace Jr., of The Secret History and My Favorite in a Swedish web publication:

I think the record is the equivalent of an honest, expressive film or novel…something people can spend a bit of time inside. I know it’s good. But those are not the kind of attributes that a lot of the Pitchfork side of indie culture values. They mostly want clever abstraction of a good idea or aesthetic from the past. Which is like the same thing say… a trendy clothier does. Presented by skinny young white people whenever possible. Which is also what a trendy clothier does actually. I mean all artists explore what’s been done before, that’s WHAT ART IS, but ideally on top of a foundation of intention, something with a bit of warm blood in it. Music like DIIV seems to just aggregate other good records and blur the meaningful bits that aren’t quite as easy to ape. Youth as the best car commercial ever. VICE on the other hand just promotes what I call ”transgression tourism”. Nothing entertains rich kids quite like the fucked up things poor people, or better yet, poor people of color do. But beyond that, people aren’t really looking to take chances with what they expose. Thus you get coverage for a whole label, with the same publicist whom essentially do the same thing. Honestly, soon we will only be thinking in 7 second intervals and real art will be something exchanged in the shadows like cigarettes or Levi jeans in the 60s Soviet Union.
So our plans are to try to get people to give a listen, and our dream is to be part of a wave of groups that starts a discussion about the state of ”overground” music in the boutique subculture. Capitalism has finally alienated us from our music. Rock n’ roll was actually one of the success stories of capitalism in the 20th century. But no longer. We need to demand poetry.

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It seems that yesterday quite a few notable people died; among them:

  • Kim Thompson, co-founder of venerable independent comics publisher Fantagraphics, who championed both the publishing of new alternative voices and the translation of European bandes dessinées into English; aged 56:
  • Melbourne urban planning expert Professor Paul Mees; a tireless advocate of improving public transport in a city running on a 1950s-vintage American vision of wide freeways, one car per adult and public transport as something nobody who can afford a car would use (and thus inherently unworthy of taking Your Tax Money, Suburban Liberal Voter, to fix up for the bums who use it). It's sad that he died so young (at 51), and that in his last months, he would not have seen any signs of his vision coming any closer to realisation; if anything, the signs would have pointed the other way, with the PM-in-waiting announcing that “we don't do urban rail” in Australia and pledging to double up on freeway building.
  • Country singer Slim Whitman, whom your parents and/or grandparents may have had in their record collections; he was 90, and while his creative peak was in the early 1950s, his last new album came out in 2010.
  • Character actor James Gandolfini, best known for his role in Mafia-themed TV drama The Sopranos; in Italy, aged 51.

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Power, Corruption and Lies, New Order's second album (and arguably the first true New Order album, with Movement being more a tying up of Joy Division loose ends) has just turned 30:

There's a strangely cheery energy to the album as well. This is something that would be a hallmark of the intertwined dance that New Order and The Cure would perform over the next couple of years. This was to the extent that it sometimes seemed the distinguishing factor of a song wouldn't emerge fully until it was clear if the singer was Bernard Sumner or Robert Smith. However The Cure always possessed the sense of a singular voice going through eternal moods of structure and collapse in equal measure, wooziness and queasy pirouetting. Whereas by this point the rigorous structure of what was New Order remained crucial, especially that sense of being something not too far removed from Can, Kraftwerk and other Teutonic proponents of total focus. And now this sound was more openly underscored by the electronic disco rigour that continued to flourish worldwide.
Sumner (or his narrative voice) opened the album confessing that he doesn't necessarily want to have to say what his desires are. This is an apt statement from the singer for a band who hadn't even wanted the job. But then he has to spend an entire album - for the first time ever - teasing a lot of things out song for song, however guardedly, however flippantly, however metaphorically. So why not write a song revolving around an image of lonely souls on deserted islands, except avoiding the kind of approach that the Police had dealt with a few years previously on 'Message In A Bottle' say. So Sumner, who heard so much desire for connection from Ian Curtis, came up with a much better lyric than Sting ever could. And he did it in a less mannered fashion, in a way that actually didn't want to resolve into easy romantic sentiment, on 'Leave Me Alone'.
Power, Corruption and Lies is an album I have listened to a lot, mostly in the 1990s; first to a dodgy Indonesian cassette copy, adorned with a cut-out photograph of the album cover and padded out with tracks from other albums, which I picked up at a flea market, and then to the official Australian CD release, padded out with Blue Monday/The Beach. I lived in the outer suburbs of Melbourne then and thus spent a lot of time driving, and a cassette of Power, Corruption and Lies would often spend time in the car stereo. I haven't listened to it as much over the past decade or so (taking it out occasionally, but that's it), but I still know the lie of the album like the back of my hand. (Though, the Power, Corruption and Lies I was familiar with segued from 5-8-6 into the 12" mix of Blue Monday, before easing back into the more languid, resigned Your Silent Face, a flow which, despite its historical and authorial inauthenticity, made perfect sense to me.) Anyway, Power, Corruption and Lies remains my favourite New Order album (though in my opinion, they drop off a bit after Low-Life, a close follower), and Leave Me Alone is probably my favourite of their songs.

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Sad news: Christina Amphlett, frontwoman of post-punk rock band The Divinyls, inspiration to many, first crush to many more and arguably the archetypal Australian Rock Chick, has died in New York, aged 53. The Divinyls are best known outside of Australia for I Touch Myself, though in their career had many more hits, including Pleasure And Pain, Back To The Wall and Science Fiction, through the 1980s and until their generation was displaced by the JJJ Grunge Revolution (many of whose key players, like Adalita from Magic Dirt, were inspired by her).

It's fair to say that Amphlett lived the lifestyle. Born in industrial Geelong, she left home in her teens and spent time busking in Europe, at one point being imprisoned for three months for singing in the streets; she was born at the right time to be there when punk broke, and her artistic career embodied its values—aggressively forward, unapologetically raunchy and cuttingly honest, expressing both toughness and vulnerability; her voice certainly did.

Amphlett was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2006 and breast cancer in 2010; had it only been one of the two, she'd probably had more of a chance, but apparently the MS made radiotherapy impossible.

There is more coverage, including quotes from other musicians who knew her, here

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A new book, How The Beatles Rocked The Kremlin, makes the claim that the Beatles contributed greatly to the collapse of the Soviet Union (or at least to the collapse of the legitimacy of the communist regime among its youth; whether glasnost, perestroika and the disintegration of the USSR would have happened as they did without the Beatles is a matter for historical inquiry):

The book's main character, the Russian writer and critic Art Troitsky, makes the claim that: "In the big bad west they've had whole huge institutions that spent millions of dollars trying to undermine the Soviet system. And I'm sure the impact of all those stupid cold war institutions has been much, much smaller than the impact of the Beatles."
A grand assertion, maybe – but widely shared. "Beatlemania washed away the foundations of Soviet society," explains Mikhail Safonov at the Institute of Russian History. And the Russian rocker Sasha Lipnitsky – snowflakes falling on his beret as he talks to Woodhead in a park bandstand – insists: "The Beatles brought us the idea of democracy. For many of us, it was the first hole in the iron curtain."
The Soviet authorities didn't quite know how to respond, and alternated between trying to co-opt the new fad and attempting to stamp it out, but to no avail; once music fans contrasted the music with the authorities' denunciations of it, they became more sceptical of the official party line:
Indeed, the repression and harassment of the music ebbed and flowed as the party controls lapsed or intensified. "It went in waves: sometimes you could be approved for an official recording, and sometimes you were banned, losing your job or education. It must have driven them insane," says Woodhead. He not only excavates the minds of the rebels but also the propaganda machine at work. He recounts how a school staged a mock trial of the Beatles – broadcast on radio – with a prosecutor and denunciations in the manner of Stalin's show trials of the 1930s. A critical bulletin shown on state TV, entitled Pop Quartet the Beatles, told the story of how "these gifted guys could be real cash earners" while, "struck down with psychosis, the fans don't hear anything any more. Hysterics, screams, people fainting!" So ran the TV commentary, accompanied by shots of dancing fans intercut with images of the Ku Klux Klan and dire poverty in the American south. "Keep on dancing, lads, don't look around," the programme taunted, "You don't really want to know what's happening. Keep going, louder and faster! You don't care about anyone else."
The article also mentions the USSR and its satellite states' interaction with other forms of countercultural and popular music, some deemed less threatening than others. (Disco, it seems, is OK because it's easy to contain. By then, the sclerotic Brezhnev-era USSR must have given up on trying to inspire its youth with Leninist zeal in its vision and was merely hoping that their recreations would remain safely apolitical, and, dare one say, bourgeois.)
Looking through the other end of the telescope, it is enlightening to find what the Soviet authorities approved of. They "positively encouraged" disco music – the Bee Gees' Saturday Night Fever, Abba and Boney M (though Rasputin was officially banned) – because, says Woodhead, "it was musically rigid and could be contained within the dance floor, it wasn't going to spill out on to the streets".
Why the Beatles? There is no hint of the Rolling Stones or the Who in all this. In Czechoslovakia, the underground was being inspired by dark dissonance in the Velvet Underground and Frank Zappa. "I think the Czechs had that recent memory of democracy, before the war," reflects Woodhead. "And their culture has roots in Kafka and the surreal. But Soviet taste was more melodic, they like tunes above all, even a little sentiment, verging on the beautiful – and there, I'm describing a McCartney song, not hypersexual rock'n'roll, or Street Fighting Man.

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In Boston, the local police are cracking down on unlicensed hardcore punk shows in private homes, and to find them and shut them down, have been attempting to infiltrate online message boards looking for details, often doing a laughable job of it:

“Too bad you were not here this weekend,” “Joe Sly” wrote. “Patty's day is a mad house I am still pissing green beer. The cops do break balls something wicked here. What's the address for Saturday Night, love DIY concerts.” He might as well have written “Just got an 8 ball of beer and I’m ready to party.”
You don’t have to be a local-music Agent Smith, though, to tell that some of these emails smell pretty fishy. “Hey there, local P native here,” wrote one probable imposter to a local band, (who probably meant to type JP, slang for Jamaica Plain). “What is the Address for the local music show tonight?"
Granted, whilst these profiles do look laughable, the police have successfully shut down a lot of shows before they happened, presumably from intelligence gathered elsewhere; whether that was done by more successfully impersonating punk rock fans or from obtaining warrants to intercept the email/Facebook messages of known organisers. Meanwhile, in a climate where one knows that narcs are about, it's hard to promote shows and yet make sure that only the right people hear about them:
As a result of efforts like this, promoters and houses have become much more cautious when they receive requests out of the blue for information about shows. And this kind of caution may be, in its way, a kind of success for the BPD initiative. It's kind of hard to put on a show when you can't tell anyone ahead of time where it's going to be. In that sense, the cops seem to be succeeding through another tried-and-true Internet tradition. Trolling is almost always transparently obvious, but when it's unflagging and endlessly annoying, it can be extremely discouraging. Troll a group of people hard enough, and they may end up saying, like famed Boston Beat Gang punk Joe Sly, “What's the point?”
As such, requests for information that sound like they're obviously from clueless cops may be exactly the right tactic; they're not meant to catch the prey, but rather force the prey to keep their heads down, because there are predators about.

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Backseat Mafia, a music blog from Sheffield, has an interview with Clare Wadd about Sarah Records:

I hate the term twee, loathe it. I think there was a lot of sexism in the abuse we got from the music press, we were girlie we were fey, we were twee, they were all bad things, but they’re feminine rather than masculine things. Most indie labels still are and were then run by men, I was co-running as an equal, we were called Sarah, & that was all a reason to put us down. Quiet concerning really. That said, I hate all the childishness side of twee that a few people embraced, I always wanted to be a grown up, felt required to be a grown up, I’m not a fan of escapism.
‘We don’t do encores’ your press statement said on ‘a day for destroying things’. does a little part of you, if only occasionally, think well……maybe if….
Not really, not now. It was weird at first, and someone said to me soon after “… didn’t you used to be…?”, but it’s 17 years since we stopped, I’m 45. One of the things I thought was good (although in some ways I guess it was bad) was that we were kids the same age as the bands, give or take, in that sense we could never be a proper record label.
It’s disappointing that nothing much seems to have changed, particularly with regard to feminism and the preponderance of bands or labels still to think the main role of women is decoration – a cool sixties chick on the sleeve or poster, some nice female backing vocal – and to fail to question what they’re doing and why. We tried to run the label we would have wanted to be consumers of, so we didn’t do limited editions or extra tracks or things designed to get people to buy the same record several times over, there’s a degree of respect for the audience and the fan that was completely lacking through a lot of the eighties and nineties – they were the little people essentially, and that’s a very Tory attitude.

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John “Menk” Doran on the last 10 years in music genres; it's not pretty:

Even naysayers would have to admit that new rave was MDMAzing when compared to what we have now: EDM or Electronic Dance Music. Despite its utilitarian, almost sexy nomenclature, EDM is utter fucking neo-trance bilge for those who can’t tell the difference between a nightclub and the Stanford Prison Experiment. So we’re talking David Guetta, Afrojack and that cunt with the big metal rat helmet. Seriously, America, what the actual fuck? Your boys (mainly gay and/or black but still your boys) invented techno and house in the fucking 80s and you decide to wait 25 years until some spray-tanned berk from France who looks like Owen Wilson in Zoolander does this to it before you’ll dance to it? It’s a fucking disgrace.
(Previously on “EDM”.)
Weirdly, despite arguably being the most sonically progressive and inventive mainstream genre of the last ten years, R’n’B doesn’t really seem to have thrown up any particularly memorable or clearly defined sub-genres. Much to the dismay of fans of Usher and Ciara, the indie kids and hipsters have been getting in on the act to bring you PBR&B or R-Neg-B, a smacky, bro-friendly take on 80s/90s smooth music, with Gayngs, Destroyer and the Weeknd being the best and worst of the bunch, designed to give the bromantic a broner, which then may require the attention of bromide. Or a court-sanctioned brostraining order preventing you from going within 100 metres of her house.
Elsewhere, the class system is as entrenched as ever with cakeeating aristocrats and the upper middle classes (hypnagogic pop), the students (chill wave) and the lumpen proletariat (glo-fi) all having different names for the same genre, which is not dissimilar to listening to Hall & Oates on a Walkman with a head injury while throwing orange-tinted Polaroids of your 1982 summer holiday to Morecambe into a swimming pool. The rest of the feral underclass had shit gaze, which, oddly, didn’t trouble the charts much.
It's not all shit, though; Doran has some good things to say about hauntology, ironically possibly the most redeemably original phenomenon of the past decade.

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A Parisian outfit named Rectangle Radio has an interview with Clare Wadd of Sarah Records, in the form of a podcast, in which she discusses the label's origins, history, end and legacy.

It was totally plucked out of the air; I guess you look back and I guess it was just on that cusp of, kind of.. lad rock, that whole kind of grebo thing, that then became the 90s Loaded thing; that's probably unfair on some of the grebo bands, but it was almost which side of the fence are you on. And record labels were run by boys as well, so I guess we were making a point about that. I ws reading “Emma” by Jane Austen at the time, so it kind of came from if a book can be called Emma then a record label can be called Sarah. It was never meant to be Sarah Records, it was just meant to be Sarah, but that was too difficult.
I think in a way, though, the thing I'm most proud of ... is the way we ended the label when we did and the reasons for doing it. One of the things that drives me absolutely crazy is when people think we went bust, or something like that. We always felt that there were about three or four ways to end a record label. One's to go bust, which happens reasonably often; two is to start putting out crap records and everyone stops buying them and you just kind of dwindle away. You could sell out to a bigger record label. We didn't want to do any of those. And then there's just getting to a nice round number ... throwing a big party, and taking out some ads in the press and saying, you know, we're basically destroying it. That I'm just so pleased we did, even though it was so hard to do.
Whilst derided, somewhat though perhaps not entirely unfairly, as twee at the time, and not getting much recognition in histories of alternative/indie music (Sarah Records is mentioned in a footnote in Richard King's alternative-music history “How Soon Is Now”, in reference to being even more idealistic and out of touch with commercial realities than the labels the book's about), Sarah seems to be finally getting its due, with a book about the label (by Canadian writer Michael White) due this year and a documentary in production.

Sarah Records as a label is gone, and definitely not coming back, but the name exists on Twitter; Clare uses it to post music-related items.

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The Grauniad has a piece on the heavy metal scene in Botswana, which combines the music and aesthetics of metal as we know it with local influences (cowboy hats, it seems, are big among Kalahari metalheads):

Dressed from head to toe in black leather, sporting cowboy boots, hats and exaggerated props, they draw some curious looks on the dusty streets. "People think that we are rough, evil creatures, but [metal] teaches us to be free with expression, to do things on our own," said Vulture, the vocalist of the band Overthrust. He says there is a long way to go before the genre is considered mainstream, but that audiences have grown steadily in the past decade.
Though attendance at concerts is small in comparison to the west, the scene has slowly built a steady fan base. To date, no western heavy metal act has performed in Botswana, and no Botswana metal act has performed outside the region.
And there are photos of some Batswana metal dudes, with sobriquets like Death, Warmaster and Maximum, here. I imagine wearing all that black leather in the Kalahari heat must be an even greater peacock-tail signal of commitment than being a Goth in Brisbane.

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This week, the formerly unthinkable happened: My Bloody Valentine released a follow-up to Loveless, simply titled m b v. It took them 21 years, and not much was heard of it until they announced that they finished mastering it late last year, on Mayan Apocalypse Day, and announced its announcement a few days before it came out. Anyway, you can buy it from their web site, either as a download or a download plus CD or vinyl, though I suspect that if you were holding out for a new MBV album, you have already done so.

The album itself follows on from Loveless, though diverges somewhat. It sounds like they've spent the first part of their exile from recording listening to a lot of other music; I imagine that I hear the influences of Stereolab and The High Llamas in a few songs (Is This And Yes sounds almost like it's a Beach Boys harpsichord line away from being a Llamas song), and he album ends with a track built up on a chopped-up Amen break through a flanger, a bit like that drum'n'bass thing that was big some 15 years ago. One gets the impression that this is not so much new material as material that has been in the works for two decades, finally wrapped up to make way for new material.

Meanwhile, in VICE, John “Menk” Doran posits the claim that MBV's absence from music-making is to blame for the rise of Tony Blair, the Iraq War and the grim meathook dystopia we're living in today. Presumably if Shields had hurried up, Britpop would have never happened and a charlatan like Blair could never have ridden on its Beatles-quoting, Union Jack-festooned coattails into No. 10, and thus we'd be living in a socialist utopia of some sort. (Either that or perpetual unvarnished Thatcherism, of course.)

When C17th Irish philosopher Edmund Burke said: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” he was thinking about Kevin Shields. For when MBV hung up their guitar pedals at the height of their fame, a terrible power vacuum yawned open. The field was clear to stripey-tousered, juggling wazzocks like the Wonderstuff and lycra wearing buffoons Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine to become famous – when in a more civilised age you wouldn’t even have bothered to cross the road to set fire to them. The absence of the most forward looking guitarist of his generation in the early 90s, also led to a slew of appallingly boring shoe-gaze copyists such as Chapterhouse and Slowdive, meaning guitar music was literally anyone’s for the taking.
This meant, the retro-head guitar owners got their first look in since the late 60s. Suddenly making your guitar sound like a sighing whale wasn’t an option any more, all the FX pedals and psychedelic drugs were swapped for Kinks riffs, cocaine and talking like a brickie from Bermondsey. Utter bullshit like Blur and Menswear were hailed as heroes.
(I don't agree with him on Slowdive, but he's on the money about Blur and Menswear, and much of the rest of Britpop.)
If only it had stopped there, though. Britpop itself ushered in the Cool Britannia era which erased the social and sonic progressiveness of the 1970s and 1980s in one fell swoop and culminated in the morally blank New Labour administration. (It is important to note that as soon as Tony Blair was ensconced into 10 Downing Street as Prime Minister, the first thing he did was to summon Alan McGee and Noel Gallagher, the singer of Creation’s biggest signings Oasis, to visit him. He wanted to be sure that Kevin Shields’ amazing drum and bass records would never see the light of day – literally the only thing that could have threatened his premiership at that point.)

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Wolfgang Flür, former member of Kraftwerk, recently saw a performance by the current incarnation of the legendary band, and wrote a review of it:

Remembering our appearances during the 70s and the 80s, so much had moved on. But I understand that today's Kraftwerk fans won't be able to sense this. We used to move; these robots don't. The non-performance of Kraftwerk Mark III made me yawn; the concert went on too long. Thirty minutes less might haved worked, perhaps. But performing as Kraftwerk seemed to offer no joy to the four people who had to be Kraftwerk.
The whole spectacle appeared to me like a farewell-tour for ever. The guy [Stefan Pfaffe] who replaced Florian three years ago has latterly been replaced with a figure whose name is hard to keep in mind [Falk Grieffenhagen], and the turnover of music-workers is becoming quicker and quicker. At Ralf’s age, if he has become Grot – the alerter of the machines in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis – he may find it hard to get new cogs who agree to examination. In some ways, Kraftwerk's story has become a bit like Goethe’s Zauberlehring, The Sorcerer's Apprentice. The sorcerer had activated something all those years ago, and maybe now he can't stop it. The musique is non-Stop. The Volkswagen runs and runs and runs and runs...

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In a play for the wallets of synth fetishists and authenticity-hungry hipsters, Korg have released a new edition of their MS-20 analogue synth. The MS-20 Mini is slightly smaller, has a USB MIDI interface and uses 3.5mm plugs for its patch leads rather than 6.5mm ones, but otherwise is identical to the 1978 MS-20, with the exception of a slightly cleaner voltage-controlled amplifier. It follows a number of software recreations (including an iPad app named iMS-20 and various softsynth plug-ins for use in music software).

Actual vintage synth geek Tom Ellard (of 1980s industrial electropop band Severed Heads) is less than impressed, precisely because of its authenticity:

There was a time slightly after the dinosaurs that I owned a small wall of KORG. There was two MS20′s, an MS50, a SQ10 and a billion of those short patch cables. And you know, it was pretty grand for 1980 something. For 2013, it’s… well… gee what a nice watch, does it tell the time?
But here we go again with a reissue of Old and Safe for the New Conservatives. Already been asked if I am going to buy a new midget MS20. I bought a MiniNova instead – maybe I made the wrong choice. Let’s be scientific about this:
Patch Management
MiniNova: there’s four banks of 256 patches which can be sorted into categories and saved back to a patch librarian over a USB connection.
KORG MS20: photocopy pages from the manual and draw the approximate positions of the knobs with a pencil.
Advantage: KORG for being legendary and analogue.
I keep reading the articles and hearing the talk and wondering if people use this stuff for making music. Or does it go next to the “Christmas Tree”? You know, that elaborate, expensive modular system that people build to look fantastic but sounds like a Roland preset that goes bwooooouuuw?

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An interesting article on the genesis of the Roland TR-808, and how Roland's famous line of drum machines owes its existence to an American musician and circuit-bending pioneer named Don Lewis:

Raised with a rich gospel tradition in Dayton, he brought his myriad musical talents to San Francisco in the ‘60s, where he was a staple in nightclubs. His one-man-band became known for its wild array of electronic instrumentation, which was still a novelty in those days — a small truckload of synthesizers and early rhythm boxes accompanied Don’s richly-vocoded tenor to make a sound no one had heard but everyone liked.
Don had been hired by the Hammond organ company to demo its products on the show floor. He was using an Ace Tone rhythm box (which was distributed by Hammond at the time) as his percussion section. "I had modified my Ace Tone to death, changed all the rhythms because none of them fit my style of playing. I also wired it through the expression pedal of the Hammond, so I could get [percussion] accents, which no one was doing then. After the show this man from Japan came up and the first thing out of his mouth was ‘that looks like my rhythm unit but it doesn’t sound like my rhythm unit! How did you do that?’" It was Ikutaro Kakehashi, the president of Ace Tone.
Kakehashi went on to found Roland Corporation, capitalising on Lewis' suggestion for a rhythm box with modifiable rhythms (or, what later became known as a drum machine), and hiring Lewis as an engineer, to work on projects including the CR-68 and, eventually, the TR-808.
On a visit to Roland’s Tokyo offices in the late ‘70s, Don was working with chief engineer Tadao Kikumoto. "That day he had a bread board of an 808 and was showing me what was going on inside — he sort of bumped up against the breadboard and spilled some tea in there and all of a sudden he turned it on and got this pssh sound — it took them months to figure out how to reproduce it, but that ended up being the crash cymbal in the 808. There was nothing else like it. Nobody could touch it."
The article also describes Lewis' homemade Live Electronic Orchestra, the complex of ancient synthesizers and other circuits which Lewis played live back in the 1960s, and which has been restored for a special performance at the NAMM music trade fair:
It’s a one-off work of art, a kind of who’s who of vintage synthesizers networked to one another through connection standards the industry has long forgotten but Don is still fluent in. A series of hand-built buffer boards and timing modules allow an Arp Pro Soloist to talk to a Promars Computronic and a Roland Jupiter-4. The Hammond expression pedal can control a variety of parameters for any of the sounds coming through the Boss KM-6A mixer, whose channels Don built a remote control panel for right into the body of the three-stage organ. It’s basically a 1977 copy of Ableton Live that weighs two tons, doesn’t have a EULA, and does a heart-melting rendition of "Amazing Grace."

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Dr. Amelia Fletcher, Chief Economist at the Office of Fair Trade and possibly the world's most high-achieving active indiepop musician, has just been appointed Professor of Competition Policy at the University of East Anglia. This is about three months after her former Talulah Gosh bandmate Elizabeth Price won the Turner Prize.

Professor Fletcher's current band Tender Trap released their most recent album, Ten Songs About Girls last year; it featured in The Null Device's Records of 2012.

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As America discovers rave culture, restyled into the contours of a synth-driven nu-metal, with the drug elements toned way down, and renamed as “Electronic Dance Music” or EDM, VICE UK has an open letter to America's EDM enthusiasts:

For the last 25 years, while you guys were buying Learjets and listening to Creed, Europe has been double dropping, reaching for the lasers and constantly asking strangers if they are "having a good night". You thought this made all of us homosexual, existentialist drug addicts (which may be partly true) and for years you resisted the charms of Mitsis, Ministry Of Sound and the music of Paul Oakenfold. Your party scene was content with smashing "brewskis", smoking "doobs" and blasting the music of Kid Rock and 2 Live Crew.
The letter goes on to gently offer advice, from the Americans “doing it wrong” (by insisting on having live drums and saxophones on stage and favouring hard-rock-style stage spectacle over the subtle progressions of UK club music to being in denial about the drugs thing) to the whole term “EDM”:
When I first heard the term "EDM", I wasn't sure what it stood for... What I did not expect, however, was something as blitheringly obvious as "electronic dance music". It seemed like calling a genre "guitar rock" or "trumpet ska". All dance/house/bass music is electronic. Just say it to yourself; Electronic. Dance. Music. It sounds like somebody's great aunt attempting to talk about Moby's new album, or a clueless country police chief answering questions about a rave he's trying to shut down. It makes you sound like novices, and stupid novices at that. So go think of something else to call Afrojack.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, this isn't nu-metal, guys. Bush is out of the White House, you're on the way to getting all sorts of European liberties, you don't need another Woodstock '99 and no one wants to see a bunch of gurning people getting trampled to death in a circle pit. I know getting pilled up and licking each other's ears doesn't fit in with that whole "rugged induvidualism" thing, but give it a try. The kinship you'll feel with your fellow man will come in handy when you're enjoying that socialist future you're all looking forward to so much.
To be fair, the article's assumption (that EDM is essentially British/European house/garage/dubstep/club culture repackaged for a new audience without significant changes) may be incorrect. There were rave scenes in the US (in the San Francisco Bay, for example) for decades, with blue hair, fluffy leggings, glow sticks and tonnes of MDMA pills washed down with energy drinks, though those didn't spread any further than groups of Anglophilic/Europhilic enthusiasts; partly because of the cultural difference and explicit exoticism (much like the way that Britpop, UK indie and swinging-60s Mod revivalism all tend to get mashed together into one sartorially immaculate Anglophilic scene when outside of Britain), and partly because of the War On Drugs, and the fact that doing anything that may construe probable cause of drug possession in the age of Instagram could be what they call a bad life choice. What made EDM ready for crossover to the mainstream was the fact that it is not your older siblings' rave culture: its presentation and format owe more to the live rock show than the communal rave, more the high-tech adrenaline-pumping spectacle than the pharmaceutically mediated collective experience in a darkened club or a field. And it took hard-rock veterans like Skrillex, the inventor of the American form of dubstep known as “brostep”, to successfully demonstrate that softsynths on a MacBook can rock harder and kick more ass than guitars through a stack of amps.

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The latest refugee in Australia's archipelago of detention centres: an Iranian heavy metal drummer, fleeing persecution by the theocratic regime:

The man wrote that he abandoned his beloved drums after authorities began to increasingly target music fans.''In an underground concert more than 60 fans were arrested, charged and locked up. Players were taken to Intelligence. Two teachers of mine were arrested also.''
He panicked. He sold his drums, moved to a new location and changed his phone number, cut ties with everyone but family and sank into depression. ''I deleted every history of my music from my life because of my fear of being arrested by the government who were intent on stopping this music. During this time six musicians that I knew were arrested in their training place. After that no one contacted each other, even on Facebook.''
The Iranian regime's war on popular music is old news: a documentary from 2009, Nobody Knows About Persian Cats, recounts the travails of an underground twee pop band in Tehran. If anything, heavy metal musicians would be singled out for particularly harsh prosecution, possibly even executed for religious crimes, as the unnamed drummer suggests. (Metal bands in neighbouring Iraq haven't fared well either recently; the country's one and only well-known band, Acrassicauda, fled via Turkey and sought asylum in the US.)

(It's interesting that Facebook is (a) not blocked inside Iran, and (b) avoided by those fearing persecution; which suggests that the regime has the means to monitor it, possibly using those forged SSL root certificates it is speculated to have, enabling it to carry out man-in-the-middle attacks on any SSL connections.)

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And now, as usual, here is my annual list of records of the year:

  • Aleks & the Ramps - Facts

    Melbourne's Aleks and the Ramps have made a career just on the music side of the border between music and comedy, being a bit like a Doug Anthony Allstars with a stronger focus on musical composition and arrangement. Facts, their first record in three years (and their first since the departure of Janita Foley) follows in this. It sounds slightly smoother and more polished, with layers of shimmering keyboards, guitars (ranging from languid slide to funky African grooves and the odd crunchy power chord), the odd banjo and ooh-aah backing vocals forming pop melodies that reach an almost loungey smoothness at times, serving as a bed for Aleks' laconic, deadpan croon, delivering a continuous stream of zingers like “it's hard to breathe in the back of a horse costume, or pay attention to the tension in the room”, “now he never leaves the house looking less than presidential, as he studies all the bridges for their suicide potential”, and “meanwhile back on the Serengeti, my shirt's still smelling all cigarettey". I'd love to see these guys on a bill with Tigercats.

  • Beach House - Bloom

    With Bloom, Beach House have transitioned to being the closest thing to a Cocteau Twins for the 2010s; they're different, of course (the guitar work doesn't sound quite like Robin Guthrie's, and the vocals are in comprehensible English), but subjectively, the experience of listening to Bloom is like that of hearing the Cocteaus' Victorialand was; the way that the songs come together, build up and envelop the listener. Beach House's previous albums didn't quite gel for me, but this is the one where it all comes together.

  • Crocodiles - Endless Flowers

    The latest from the San Diego garage-rock classicists, Endless Flowers; it's somewhat more light-hearted than the Dionysiac/Baudelarian darkness of their previous works, perhaps due to happy romantic circumstances in the frontman and songwriter Brandon Welchez' life; No Black Clouds For Dee Dee certainly appears to be dedicated to his new wife, Dee Dee from NYC86ists the Dum Dum Girls. Nonetheless, the Crocodiles do a certain kind of studied yet louche underground rock'n'roll really well, and got quite a few spins where I am. Highlights would include Electric Death Song, Sunday (Psychic Conversation #9) and Hung Up On A Flower, a paean to narcotic languor which ends with the drummer reciting poetry in German through a Space Echo.

  • Eccentronic Research Council - 1612 Overture and Purity Ring - Shrines

    Two quite different records with a few common themes running through them. Both are predominantly electronic, albeit in different fashions; the warm analogue radiophonica of the ERC contrasting with the icy autotuned crispness of Purity Ring. Both have a connection to the eldritch; 1612 Overture is a concept album about the Pendle witch trials, juxtaposing those with the inequities of Cameron/Clegg Austerity Britain, while Purity Ring's vocals juxtapose a Cronenbergian body-horror imagery with a sheen of airbrushed eroticised glamour associated with commercial pop music. And finally, both albums lift their forms from underground trends; The Eccentronic Research Council (who consist of two musicians–one of whom was in early-2000s Mancunian chilled-beat mongers I Monster, best known for the German lounge orchestra-sampling Daydream In Blue—along with solidly Northern actress Maxine Peake providing the monologues) borrow wholesale from the hauntology milieu pioneered by the Ghost Box label, with their faded retro-modernist cover art featuring geometric forms and Helvetica, and their name, like The Advisory Circle and the Moon Wiring Club, evoking a fantasy pre-Thatcherite Britain of ghost-haunted analogue circuits and a vaguely socialistic yet faintly ominous technological optimism. (And then there's the opening track being titled Autobahn 666, and starting with synthesizer arpeggios and sampled car sounds; I'm fairly sure I've heard something like that before somewhere.) Purity Ring, meanwhile, take the Witch House/goth-crunk trend that all the cool kids in Brooklyn were into a few years ago and run with it for a good distance.

  • Jens Lekman - I Know What Love Isn't

    The Swedish crooner and sometime Melbourne resident's first full album in five years, and a welcome return. It's less upbeat than his previous album, 2007's Night Falls Over Kortedala, with Jens having gone through a breakup before writing it, though this is welcome; as a songwriter, he does melancholy better than contentment. (I thought Kortedala was a bit too cheerful, and generally skipped the romcom-in-a-pop-song that was Your Arms Around Me when it came on). And while it is tinged with melancholy, Jens' pop sensibility manages to keep it from being a downer; there is a lushness to its arrangements, and, of course, to Jens' voice. Highlights include The World Moves On (a story of romantic (mis)adventure in Melbourne's inner north on the hottest day on record), I Want A Pair Of Cowboy Boots, and the bare, elegiac Every Little Hair Knows Your Name, which, along with its reprise, bookends the album.

  • The Rosie Taylor Project - Twin Beds

    Leeds' The Rosie Taylor Project made their appearance in 2008 with This City Draws Maps, an 8-track album of understated folk-pop songs for overcast days, all finger-picked guitars, breathy vocals and the odd trumpet and glockenspiel, somewhat reminiscent of Melbourne bands like Gersey or Sodastream. On their 2012 follow-up on London's Odd Box label, the sun breaks through the clouds as the band finds more of a groove. The first track is a two-minute quasi-instrumental, starting with synth pad, with a dubby bass guitar and drums joining in; the second track, For Esme, gets things moving, with an almost mariachi-esque trumpet. The rest of the album manages to combine the introspective lyricism of its predecessor with a more elaborate production and some catchy grooves, the height of which is probably Sleep, which almost reinvents disco from first principles. Keep an eye on these guys.

  • Still Flyin' - On A Bedroom Wall

    Not quite the full album of polyester-smooth yacht rock I was expecting after Victory Walker, though these guys sure know how to rock a party. On A Bedroom Wall sees Still Flyin' take a more electro/new-wave direction, almost meeting Cut Copy in the middle. If all the hipsters in your town were wearing cleats for some portion of 2012, this album could be the reason.

  • Tender Trap - Ten Songs About Girls

    It's fair to say that Amelia Fletcher is no underachiever; having co-founded the groundbreaking Sarah Records indiepop bands Talulah Gosh (whose other alumni include 2012 Turner laureate Elizabeth Price) and Heavenly a quarter of a century ago, she has maintained a presence in the genre all the while becoming the senior economist overseeing mergers and acquisitions in the UK, possibly making her the most senior civil servant with an active recording career. The latest album by her current band, Tender Trap, stands solidly alongside her earlier bands' classic output. Ten Songs About Girls is a record firmly in the Talulah Gosh/Heavenly style, honing and perfecting it and even in one song (Step One) laying down a template-cum-manifesto for it. Highlights include the opening track, Train From King's Cross Station (is that a nod to Betty and the Werewolves' Euston Station?), with its spiky punk guitars and bass and cupcake-sweet girl-group harmony vocals, Leaving Christmas Day (a song about breaking up with someone over his creationist beliefs, which will have a place on indiepop-for-atheists mix tapes next to McCarthy's Should The Bible Be Banned?) and the lovely, poignant Memorabilia, an account of a long-lost relationship in the past through a box of badges, mix tapes and letters. Unlike the works of other veteran indie acts (like, say, Tracey Thorn, The Would-Be-Goods and Saint Etienne), Tender Trap have eschewed writing songs set in later adulthood, staying in the boyfriends-and-girlfriends milieu of an extended adolescence set sometime between the heyday of C86 and now; this works well for them.

  • Tigercats - Isle of Dogs

    Tigercats have become one of my favourite London bands recently, and their début album captures the energy of their gigs as well as can be done. Their sound is a tightly angular, ecstatically rhythmic, Afrobeat-tinged post-punk party pop, in some cases shading into Architecture In Helsinki territory (such as Limehouse Nights). Highlights include the opening track, a manifesto for the gentrification-besieged Isle of Dogs, The Vapours, which gets its name from a dream of 1980s new-wave one-hit wonders, and the epic roof-raiser Banned At The Troxy. I'd love to see these guys on a bill with Aleks & The Ramps.

  • The Wake - A Light Far Out

    Glaswegian indie veterans The Wake's previous record was 1994's Tidal Wave of Hype, released by Sarah Records in the wake of Madchester and as Britain's indie underground was exploding into the marketing phenomenon known as Britpop. 17 years later, they return, opening the third chapter of their recording career. A Light Far Out does not sound like either The Wake's starkly monochromatic Factory material nor the almost baggy grooves of their Sarah material, though there are echoes of their material; their melodic basslines, synth pads and an air of wistfulness, augmented with subtle and skilful use of electronic music elements such as granular delays and glitchy loops. The opening track, Stockport, starts with a familiar jangly guitar and melodic bass sound, accompanied by subtle electronics, and soon builds up into something lusher, yet with a yearning quality not unlike The Field Mice, a combination which recurs on If The Ravens Leave, the contemplative Methodist and the layered instrumental Faintness. Carolyn takes over vocal duties on the gentle and yet almost sinister Starry Day, a song with a hint of the Wicker Man about it. A highlight is the 9-minute title track, which is given time to evolve, through gentle guitar arpeggios, vocals and then languid seascapes of synths, subtle electronic beats and, eventually, violins. All in all, a welcome return, and a very strong record in its own right.

With honourable mentions to: Jherek Bischoff - Composed (a nice set of instrumentals from the other guy from Parenthetical Girls), Carter Tutti Void - Transverse (two former members of Throbbing Gristle and up-and-coming electronic ecstasist Nik Void reinvent the idea of “trance music” along similar lines to New Order's Video 5-8-6), Dead Can Dance - Anastasis (DCD pick up where they left off, with just a little more electronics), DIIV - Oshin (driving, motorik guitar/bass/drums workouts, with reverbed vocals floating above; just barely missed the top 10), Dntel - Aimlessness (Jimmy's latest effort, which sounds more like Life Is Full Of Surprises than Dumb Luck to me), Greeen Linez - Things That Fade (1980s Japanese City Pop-flavoured hauntology from two English blokes based in Cambridge and Osaka), Heligoland - Bethmale EP (five subtle, gently shifting soundscapes from the Paris-based, Robin Guthrie-connected Melburnian shoegazers), Memoryhouse - The Slideshow Effect (Memoryhouse return with a fuller lineup and an album more in a rock/pop idiom than their EPs), Milk Teddy - Zingers (languid yet slightly dishevelled and somewhat leftfield guitar-based rock by a new Melbourne band), Momus - Bibliotek (One of Mr. Currie's two contributions this year, this one without a collaborator, in the cut-and-pasted electronic chanson style he now favours), Peaking Lights - Lucifer (interestingly dubby arrangements of lo-fi electronics, home-organ beats, tape delays and sparse vocals), Saint Etienne, Words And Music By Saint Etienne (the thinking indiekid's Kylie contemplate the meaning of pop music and the passing of time), Sunbutler - Sun Butler (Momus and Joe Howe's second collaboration following Joemus), Swans - The Seer (a record of brutal, transcendent ecstasy which makes Grinderman sound like Michael Bublé by comparison), The 2 Bears - Be Strong (in two words: “Dad House”; in more words: late-thirtysomething blokes who know more about dance music and cratediggers' classics than most flex their production muscles and have fun doing it), Ultraísta - Ultraísta (the Radiohead producer's own effort, which sounds like late Radiohead minus all guitars and Thom Yorke's new-world-order weltschmerz but instead substituting motorik rhythms, layers of warmly detuned analogue synths, fuzzy drones and hypnotic female vocals), WeShowUpOnRadar - Sadness Defeated (somewhat more stripped back than the Nottingham project's previous EP).

Had I to choose an album of the year, it would be either Tigercats' Isle Of Dogs or The Wake's A Light Far Out; two very different records it would be very hard to choose between.

The rerelease of the year would have to be Clag - Pasted Youth, which is more of a retrospective compilation of the Australian twee-punk band's releases and live gigs, long unavailable except on badly digitised MP3s, now remastered and accompanied with liner notes. Were there to be a track of 2012, it would be Peaking Lights' Lo Hi.

For your listening pleasure, there is a mix here.

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Merry Indie Xmas; some guys in New York performing various Christmas carols in the style of well-known “indie” bands (Interpol, Beach House, The XX) as well as, for some reason, Mumford & Sons. (I suppose they're there by way of the same American hipster Anglophilia that resulted in Coldplay being regarded as a credible indie band for a while.) Anyway:

Meanwhile, here is an 8-bit-style Christmas album from a Montréal-based chiptune collective named Toy Company.

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In Sweden, the generous welfare state offers benefits for various conditions, such as being really into heavy metal, to the point of not being able to show up for job interviews not dressed in full metalhead regalia or to work without loud music playing:

"I signed a form saying: 'Roger feels compelled to show his heavy metal style. This puts him in a difficult situation on the labour market. Therefore he needs extra financial help'. So now I can turn up at a job interview dressed in my normal clothes and just hand the interviewers this piece of paper," he said.
The manager at his new workplace allows him to go to concerts as long as he makes up for lost time at a later point. He is also allowed to dress as he likes and listen to heavy metal while washing up. "But not too loud when there are guests," he said.

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This is awesome for more than one reason: The BBC's R&D department has posted a web page recreating various vintage Radiophonic Workshop effects using the Web Audio API, complete with source code and descriptions, both of the historical equipment used and the modern recreation.

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Néojaponisme has a detailed five-part series on Cornelius' Fantasma, one of the defining albums of the 1990s Shibuya-kei genre of polychromatic, postmodern Japanese club-pop, looking at Oyamada Keigo's earlier work (with Pastels-referencing indiepop combo Flipper's Guitar) and subsequent work (which rejected the whole ethos of reference that Fantasma was about in favour of minimalism and introspection).

The piece starts off by placing Shibuya-kei, the movement Cornelius epitomised and helped define, in a specific historical context: the brief age of the music nerd, which arose after commodity rock'n'roll and ended when the internet made obscure knowledge instantly available, when knowledge of the obscure corners of popular music was a form of cultural capital:

The music nerd’s mission often boiled down to listening to what others did not, thus upsetting one of the art’s fundamental tenets. From ancient bone flutes to West African drum circles to jazz cafés to dancing the Charleston in front of blaring Big Bands, music had been a group activity for most of its existence. Music had always been social, yet the music nerd now mostly enjoyed it as a solitary pursuit. Hearing a song in the privacy of one’s own room was not even possible until the early 20th century, and not particularly common until the advent of the small transistor radio, the personal stereo, automobile speakers, and the Walkman. So between this technological change and a corresponding social one wherein pop music rolled over elite musical art forms like opera or ballet, the ingredients were there for the spontaneous genesis of thousands of music nerds. And as music fragmented to an unbelievable degree in the 1980s and 1990s, music nerds became even more intense and even less social.
The 1990s were the golden indian summer of music nerddom; the internet was already starting to chip away at the cultural capital of the obscurantists (there had been USENET newsgroups discussing genres and microgenres and meticulously detailed discographies in ASCII text files, though they hadn't made it out to the as yet non-computerised outside world), and within a few years, information hyperinflation would wipe out vast amounts of cultural capital; but in the late 1990s, the musical obscurantism bubble was at its peak. In the West, this manifested itself through the sampling, quoting and citing of artists like Beck, the Beastie Boys and Stereolab; in Japan, it found even more fertile ground:
There may be traditional aspects of national philosophy and educational theory that influenced Japanese pop culture’s particularly obsessive mode of learning and understanding, but the artistic practice of detailed study and imitation of form certainly reached its peak with consumer society’s insatiable interest in the West after the War. Youth wanted to do completely alien things like dress like Americans and listen to American music, and magazines had to take up the key role of explaining detail by detail exactly how and why to do such a thing. Holistic sub-cultures like Hippies and Punks got analyzed down to their respective quarks so that Japanese teens could build them back up again from a bunch of imported scraps. These days the otaku nerd gets all the credit for originating Japanese information obsession but this was just a structural outcome of the Japanese model of cultural importation. In the act of bringing one culture over to another, bit by bit, every single possible cultural category becomes a series of consumable lists, and as a logical extension, mastery and memorization of those lists ends up as the most worthy test of true fans, believers, and adherents.
The piece then continues with an overview of Oyamada's career, before and after Fantasma, a track-by-track examination of Fantasma and the influences it references, and a history of its release in Japan and the west.

Additionally, there's an older piece on the history, cultural context and legacy of Shibuya-kei here:

Shibuya-kei was ultimately an attempt to create a Japanese analog to the indie music cultures that had developed in the U.S. and U.K., but the Japanese artists ended up succeeding far beyond their international peers in impacting the entire Japanese music market. Shibuya-kei was not just the emergence of a new genre. The appearance of Flipper’s Guitar in 1989 was a pivotal event in the surfacing of “independent” culture into the Japanese mainstream consumer market during the 1990s, setting the stage for a wider cultural movement in media, fashion, art, and interior/graphic design.

(via MeFi) 1990s cornelius cultural capital culture history japan music shibuya-kei 0


Today in Extreme JavaScript: An original IBM PC, simulated in the browser. It has a CGA adapter and two simulated floppy drives, into which one can load a number of pre-supplied images, including several versions of MS-DOS PC-DOS, as well as VisiCalc and Microsoft Adventure. Not only that, but, if left to its own devices, it will run an order of magnitude faster than an original IBM-PC.

Anyway, the simulation is fully functional on all modern browsers (that I've tested). It's booting the original IBM PC Model 5150 ROM BIOS (no modifications), and it's loading the original MDA/CGA fonts. This configuration gives you more control, allowing you to toggle any of the SW1/SW2 settings to change the memory configuration, the installed video card (MDA or CGA), and the number of diskette drives. There's also a built-in debugger with lots of DEBUG-like commands, only better. And you can create your own configuration by tweaking the underlying XML file. I'll eventually do a write-up explaining how to embed it on your own web page and what options are available. The process is very similar to embedding the C1Pjs simulation that I wrote earlier this year--the XML is just a little different.
The author, a chap named @jeffpar, is now looking to add more features to his emulator, bumping up the display to EGA graphics, upgrading the CPU to a 286 and adding a serial mouse.

This is not the first PC emulator to be written in JavaScript; some two years ago, a chap named Fabrice Bellard wrote a JavaScript-based PC emulator capable of booting Linux on a JavaScript-emulated Pentium box. Bellard's emulator, though more powerful than a 1981 IBM PC, was purely text-based.

Also on doing cool things with JavaScript: Stuart Memo (who was in the 1990s Glaswegian punk/electropop band Bis) is now writing music tools in JavaScript, using the Web Audio API. He has a few demos here, and recently gave a talk at JSConf in Berlin titled JavaScript is the new Punk Rock, where he envisioned an open browser-based music-making platform.

awesome bis ibm javascript ms-dos music pc retrocomputing 0


Possible proof that we have passed Peak Retro: Japanese Collectors Face a Record Shortage of Obscure Music:

Consider the prize item in Japanese collector Takeshi "Ima-T" Imaizumi's cache: a promotional copy of the 1986 Rolling Stones record "Dirty Work," considered by guitarist Keith Richards the band's low point. The collector says he paid only $8 for it. "This is very hard to find," he says.
There are historical reasons why the Japanese in particular could be counted on to seek out obscurities ignored in the West:
The Japanese fascination with America's musical flotsam is a legacy of Japan's music business, which for years promoted U.S. and European rock bands that never took off or were declining in their own countries—a strategy aimed at avoiding competition with the U.S. music industry. That prompted fan cultures to sprout up around maligned American genres like 1980s pop-metal.

(via David Gerard) culture japan music retro 1


William Gibson talks about how the internet changed the idea of “bohemia” by eliminating the scarcity and locality of subcultures and scenes, instead replacing it with everything, everywhere, all the time:

(If punk emerged today:) You’d pull it up on YouTube, as soon as it was played. It would go up on YouTube among the kazillion other things that went up on YouTube that day. And then how would you find it? How would it become a thing, as we used to say? I think that’s one of the ways in which things are really different today. How can you distinguish your communal new thing — how can that happen? Bohemia used to be self-imposed backwaters of a sort. They were other countries within the landscape of Western industrial civilization. They were countries that most people would never see — mysterious places. You’d pay a price, potentially, for going there. That’s always cool and exciting. Now, where are they? Where can you do that? How are people transacting that today? I am pretty sure that they are, but I don’t have that much firsthand experience of it. But they have to do it in a different way.
Meanwhile, Justin Moyer of the band El Guapo writes about the Brooklynisation of indie music, and how a vaguely Williamsburg-flavoured global hipsterism has displaced the myriad different, wildly divergent local scenes that used to exist, literally or metaphorically “over the mountains”:
Regional music scenes differentiate Hill Country blues from Delta blues and New York hardcore from Orange County hardcore from harDCore. RMSes draw lines between KRS-One and MC Shan, Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker, Merseybeat and The Kinks, Satie and Wagner. RMSes are why I would almost never play a show that wasn’t all ages in D.C., but would only play Joe’s Bar in Marfa, Texas. RMSes make you think differently.
Like accents, RMSes are disappearing. Sure, record stores and record labels are dead or living on borrowed time. Sure, smart clubowners can’t afford to book a show for an unknown, out-of-town band instead of an ’80s dance party. But money’s not the problem—or, at least, not the only problem. RMSes are disappearing because everyone is starting to sound like everyone else.
The opposite of the regional music scenes is the globalised Brooklyn, based loosely though not entirely on the real Brooklyn, a place where the sheer concentration of hip, creative young people and potential collaborators absorbs talent from other areas, absorbing it into a melting-pot monoculture where everything is linked to everything else and there are no secrets:
Do not confuse Brooklyn with, well, Brooklyn—the New York borough that sits about 230 miles from Washington on the southwest end of Long Island over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge off of I-278. There are many Brooklyns. Los Angeles is Brooklyn. Chicago is Brooklyn. Berlin and London are Brooklyn. Babylon was the Brooklyn of the ancient world. In the 1990s, Seattle was Brooklyn. Young Chinese punks challenging Communism risk prison to make Beijing the Brooklyn of tomorrow. Some Brooklyns aren’t even places. MySpace is Brooklyn. YouTube is Brooklyn. Facebook is Brooklyn. Spotify and iTunes are perversely, horribly, unapologetically, maddeningly Brooklyn.
What this essay is saying: In Brooklyn, there is too much input.
What this essay is saying: If music wasn’t better before Brooklyn, it was, at least, weirder.
What this essay is saying: In Brooklyn, music comes too cheap. (Please note: “too cheap” doesn’t refer to price.)
What this essay is saying: A melting pot is not an aesthetic. Neither is a salad bar.
What this essay is saying: There is a tidal wave of generic, mushy, apolitical, featureless, Brooklynish music infiltrating the world’s stereos.
What this essay is saying: Beware what you put on your iPod. It might not be dangerous.

(via The Secret History) brooklyn culture hipsters media music psychogeography punk william gibson williamsburg 0


Recent empirical examinations of the past half-century of pop music have suggested yielded some interesting conclusions. On the one hand, according to a Spanish study of music from 1955 to 2010, the diversity of note combinations in pop music has consistently diminished over the past 50 years, presumably as commercially-inclined producers discover the ones that sell, and the range of timbres has also narrowed (which sounds odd; given the potential of electronic instruments, you'd think that there'd be more timbres than back when sounds had to be made with physical vibrations).

The researchers used a dataset of 464,411 music recordings to analyse what has changed – and what has stayed the same – over the past half-century of song. "Many of [music's] patterns and metrics have been consistently stable for [this] period," they wrote. "However, we prove important changes or trends related to the restriction of pitch transitions, the homogenisation of the timbral palette, and the growing loudness levels."
The research team also confirmed the existence of the “Loudness War”, the trend to crush dynamic range out of recordings in favour of music that sounds ass-kickingly loud enough to compete with the other ass-kickingly loud tracks on the market, and whose sonogram looks less like a waveform and more like an angry, ragged-edged rectangle.

Meanwhile, another study of recorded music over the same period has found that pop music has been becoming less jauntily upbeat and more sombre or emotionally ambiguous:

Schellenberg and von Scheve found that the proportion of songs recorded in minor-mode has increased, doubling over the last fifty years. The proportion of slow tempo hits has also increased linearly, reaching a peak in the 90s. There's also been a decrease in unambiguously happy-sounding songs and an increase in emotionally ambiguous songs.
Unambiguously happy songs like Abba's Waterloo sound, to today's ears, "naive and slightly juvenile", the researchers noted. And whilst modern songs in a similar style, such as Aqua's Barbie Girl, can still enjoy huge commercial success, they're usually seen as a guilty pleasure and savaged by critics.
(Or, to quote the Pet Shop Boys, “make sure you're always frowning; it shows the world that you've got substance and depth”.)

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The Grauniad has an A-Z of today's music genres, for the old codgers who stopped paying attention years ago at emo, twee pop or grime and started lumping everything into whatever superannuated genre it sounds most like:

Afrobeats: Not to be confused with the 1970s Afrobeat of Fela Kuti – although admittedly it is quite confusing – the addition of an extra "s" denotes a frisky, contemporary fusion of hip-hop, house and west African pop, as championed by London DJs such as Choice FM's Abrantee and 1Xtra's DJ Edu. Nigerian Afrobeats star D'Banj, recently signed to Kanye West's GOOD Music label.
Lazer funk: A convenient appellation for the thrillingly maximal brand of glitchy neon rave favoured by Rustie (pictured, above), Hudson Mohawke, Krystal Klear and their LuckyMe/Numbers pals. May sound daft but it's only slightly less ridiculous than some of the names they came up with themselves. See also: Aquacrunk, wonky house, glitch-hop, post-Dilla
Nightbus: A charmingly apt name for all of the sensitive poshboy quasi-dubstep pleasantness that's followed in Burial and James Blake's wake: too fey for the rave but ideal for when you're riding home – alone – on London's N68.
Voodoo house: A sturdier British response to the witch house fad, as practised by shadowy outfits Demdike Stare, Raime and the Blackest Ever Black clique. Combines eerie found sounds with faceless Detroit techno and Throbbing Gristle-style industrial mischief, plus a working knowledge of the occult, and a penchant for visuals borrowed from sinister instructional films of the 1950s and 60s.

culture music subculture zeitgeist 1


In honour of this being the Diamond Jubilee long weekend, here is an evaluation of a piece of critique from an earlier Jubilee, namely the Sex Pistols' God Save The Queen:

God save the queen
The fascist regime
We're not off to a good start. Even if one relaxes the definition of “fascist” (as some on the left of political debate are sometimes wont to), calling Elizabeth II's figurehead reign, floating above the governments of the day, mouthing their words and cutting ribbons, a “fascist regime” would stretch it beyond recognition. One could argue that the song referred to the government of the day, except that it was written in the days of a flounderingly ineffectual Labour government, long before Maggie sent her riot police to smash the unions and said nice things about Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.
She ain't no human being
If one's talking about the office of Queen, that could be considered to be true. Whoever sits on the throne occupies a peculiar role; wearing the title of an ancient absolute monarch, but serving as a mascot of sorts, and being on duty at all times, until she dies or abdicates (and the latter is not possible without scandal). Whereas an ancient monarch's freedom of opinion was limited only by their own power, the Queen has effectively given up the right to express opinions on anything consequential, lest they interfere with her official “opinions”, which change with the composition of Parliament and the will of Rupert Murdoch. (Her son, alas, has not received this memo, and is happy to give his loyal subjects the benefit of his expertise on fields as diverse as homeopathy and architecture.) So, half a point here; the office of the Queen is not human, though the occupant of it, biologically, is, unless you're David Icke.
There is no future
In England's dreaming
When there lines were written in 1977, Britain was in a political, economic and cultural malaise—there was the three-day week, uncollected rubbish was piling up; the Empire was gone, but its memory was still fresh enough that some people believed it wasn't. Ironically enough, one other person who would have agreed with Lydon that there was no future in England's dreaming would have been the aforementioned more-plausibly-fascist-than-the-Queen Tory MP, Margaret Thatcher.
God Save The Queen,
I mean it, man
This sudden lapse into a Californian surfer-dude voice is puzzling. Does Lydon believe that, as a rock'n'roll practitioner, he must adopt an American voice? How does he reconcile the showbiz fakery of rock'n'roll with the professed authenticity of punk as a voice of the people/youth? Or is he suggesting that a US-style Presidency would be preferable to a constitutional monarchy? (Which, a few years after Watergate, sounds implausible.)
God save the queen
'Cause tourists are money
Full points for this one; when motherhood statements about “timeless national symbols” and “bringing the country together” aren't enough, monarchists often follow up with “besides, they bring the tourists in”. Though, by some accounts, royal palaces aren't among the most popular of Britain's tourist destinations. Whether this was the case in 1977 is another question.
And our figurehead
Is not what she seems
Another one for the conspiracy theorists, it would seem; does the Queen sit at the apex of international organised crime (as US third-party political candidate Lyndon LaRouche claims), or are she and the entire house of Saxe-Cobourg-Gotha Windsor giant flesh-eating reptiles capable of shape-shifting into human form for camouflage (as former BBC snooker presenter David Icke asserts)? Or was Lydon suggesting that the figurehead is not really a figurehead and that the monarchy does involve itself in the running of the country as some sort of personal model train set?

authenticity giant lizards history jubilympics margaret thatcher monarchy music politics queen elizabeth ii sex pistols uk 3


K Records has a new interview with Rose Melberg of The Softies, Tiger Trap, Go Sailor and her new project, Brave Irene, in which she talks about the creative process behind her projects:

It was pretty formulaic; I’d pretty much write a song and then take it to Jen, and then we’d write her guitar part and harmony together. We’d never collaborate lyrically. One person would write, and so it was never super collaborative, but that extra guitar brought so much. Sometimes we’d actually write Jen’s part note by note by note. Like, I would point to the fret board and say, “That one!” because there was one specific note that I wanted to hear right at that time. Sometimes it took a while, because the parts were quite complicated and weird, seeing as they were just a series of notes. But I love her sense of humor about it. I know how difficult it must have been for her to deal with me trying to get these specific notes, so I appreciate that she can laugh about it now.
During the beginning of the Softies, our rule was that if we couldn’t recreate it live, we didn’t do it on the record. I hate the production end of songs, and a lot of what I do is more accidental. On the last Softies record [Holiday in Rhode Island (KLP119)], we made a conscious decision to add more things, but it was really just for fun. That continued with my solo stuff, but still I really just want the songs to be recorded.
Rose mentions that, while she has been playing instruments in other people's bands recently, she is still writing songs, and hints at new Softies material. She and Jen recently played the first Softies gigs in 12 years at the Chickfactor 20th anniversary shows in the US (subtitle: “Doing It In Spite Of The Kids”), and said that they enjoyed playing together again so much that they are thinking of writing and recording more songs together.

For what it's worth, there are videos from the Brooklyn leg of the Chickfactor shows here. For those in the UK, Rose will be playing at this year's Indietracks festival.

indiepop k records music rose melberg the softies 0


The record collection of another legendary British DJ been made available for fans to peruse online; this time, it's that of effervescent radio and TV personality Fearne Cotton, a collection with over seven records:

‘There’ll be information about all the records, including whether or not Fearne rated the album,’ explained a spokesman. ‘Cotton famously employed a meticulous 5-star rating system for her music, and every item in the collection was awarded the full 5 stars. Albums are accompanied by Fearne’s additional superlatives such as ‘mega’, ‘massive’, ‘most awesomest ever’, ‘cool’ and ‘really, really cool’.’
The virtual museum includes such rare curiosities as a first pressing of Mis-Teeq’s 2004 hit ‘Scandalous’, a Foo Fighters greatest hits compilation, and some stuff by The Kooks. It’s not all obscurities though, as the trend-setting DJ also found room for plenty of U2 and Coldplay.

(via xrrf) celebrity humour media music 0


The Quietus has an essay by Swedish writer Johan Kugelberg about the psychology and psychogeography of record fairs, and that peculiar combination of nostalgia that causes a subculture of men of a certain age and decrepitude (the “British psychedelic fatsos”, in his words) to seize on a moment from one of various golden ages of the rockist canon (typically the psychedelic moment of the late 1960s, though these days, often also punk rock and its immediate aftermath) and strip-mine it for its elusive magic:

When it comes to original copies of popular 60’s rock records, it seems as if the importance of the condition of the vinyl is contradicted by the physical well-being of the people who are safe-guarding their sixties memories through the collecting of artefacts. The records, posters and Beatles autographs are doubtlessly relics of the time of their lives, infused with such a potent voodoo of nostalgia that the psychotic amounts of emotional projection that is fixed on them is starting to be reflected by the stars themselves. One needs only to go to the grotesque Who documentary DVD Amazing Journey to hear a bunch of propped-up geriatric rockers inflict godlike self-importance upon the viewer, comparing their stage ass-wriggling and studio knob-twiddling with the people who actually did something actually important during the same era. That the sixties survivors believe steadfastly that what they did was for the better good of the world, instead the commodified expression of the spectacle that it was, is very sad. Autographs, posters, vinyl records in mint condition, saleable things infused with nostalgia, are not necessarily a bad thing. We drink a vodka drink and sing songs that remind us of our good times, but where the problem lies is where a period of time in your life is pin-pointed as the only one directly lived, and the remainder of your days being devoted to a representation of said times.
Our emotional projection on the artifacts that remain of our youth’s cartoon rebellion is supposed to necessitate our belief system of extended adolescent self-worth. The hedge-fund lower- upper- management aging hardcore kid spending upper four figures on Misfits test-pressings is battling the same laws of gravity that middle-aged women struggle against at the plastic surgeon or the cosmetics counter. This battle, masking as against grave and ageing process, and against gravity itself, constitutes one of the most necrotic abrasions into the body-fabric of our very existence: this perpetuated falsity that only certain years in our life-span really truly matter. That life in our youth is worth so much more as a commodity, that once youth passes us by, we are obliged to forfeit what we directly lived and recede into a representation of said years for the remainder of our actual duration. Our choice of appearance, our choice of the most meaningful artifacts we surround ourselves with, our choice of the record we place in double plastic bags in alphabetical order, all representing time we address as lived in qualitative actuality.
Q: Do we collect records awake or dreaming?
A: We collect them awake, but we hope that the records will make us dream.

Q: What does a record fair mean?
A: It means that alienated consumption isn’t that great.

Q: What happens at the record fair?
A: A lot of men venture further from their goal of having plentiful sex by looking for records that quite often sing about plentiful sex.

Q: Where does its powerful allure come from?
A: The physical impossibility of death in the mind of someone living.

commodity fetishism culture heritage rock music retro rock'n'roll rockism 0


A 1992 essay by Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys about the positive value of hatred:

That’s the thing about negative energy, about hatred. It can be positive. It throws into relief all the things you know you like. It tells you, by elimination, what you’re about. Sometimes you can only define yourself by what you hate. Hatred becomes an inspiration; it makes you think, “What I’m doing now I totally believe in, and I don’t care what other people say.” Guided by hatred, you don’t have to follow the herd.
Of course, these days it’s more fashionable to be positive. I hate positivity. The problem with positivity is that it’s an attitude that’s decidedly about lying back, getting screwed, and accepting it. Happily. It’s totally apolitical. It’s very, very personal and one-on-one. It’s not about changing society, it’s about caring about yourself. In fact, it’s totally about ignoring one’s economic role in society, and so it works in favor of the system. Just look at work years of personal consciousness theories have given us: those icons of the status quo, George Bush and John Major.
While this essay was written in 1992, when the World-Wide Web was confined to a particle physics institute in Switzerland, it is arguably more relevant than ever in today's relentlessly (and profitably) boosteristic online culture of Like buttons, Tumblr blogs, Pinterest and an online culture of comment whose language is lopsidedly positive, and much poorer in expressing hate, dislike or even a neutral interest without approval.
Positivity is fundamentally middle-class. It’s about having the time, the space and the money to sort out where your head is at. Therapy is just another side of positivity. It’s a leisure activity, a luxury for people who don’t have any real cares. It’s new age selfishness, the new way of saying that charity begins at home. And positivity makes the world stay the same. Hatred is the force that moves society along, for better or for worse. People aren’t driven by saying, “Oh wow, I’m at peace with myself.” They’re driven by their hatred of injustice, hatred of unfairness, of how power is used.
Tennant doesn't spare the pop music of his peers at the time:
Another thing I hate, and another inspiration for what the Pet Shop Boys do, is the way people misunderstand pop culture. It annoys me that after more than twenty-five years, Top of the Pops, Britain’s most important pop-music TV program, changed the rules so that you have to sing live. Why? Because the people in control are the kind of conservatives who think that in the ‘60s, everything was much more talented than they are now. It’s all about Rolling Stone rock culture, which is essentially a fear of the new. Rolling Stone’s idea of a musician is Jerry Garcia, from the 60s. Look at all the ‘new’ artists – Curtis Stigers, Michael Bolton, Lenny Kravitz – all of them living in the past. I think you have to live in the future. Or at least in the present.
One could argue that some progress has been made; that, while today's popular-music practitioners are expected to have at least the equivalent of a Master's degree in pop-music history, and to be able to produce an extensively footnoted mix CD of influences to lend support to their works, they are freer to mix and match influences from the past half-century or so of the pop canon, rather than slavishly retreading one particular epoch of rockist purity. Though that's possibly due to the rise of YouTube and Wikipedia, something that the backward-looking rockers of the early 1990s didn't have.

(via xrrf) culture hate music pet shop boys 2


Something to read: Momus speaks to The Quietus, on topics ranging from his past career and future projects to the role of the artist and the value of art in the digital age, and the question of Scottish independence:

I think a common theme is "aggression against normality", from the left wing terrorists in The Happy Family album through the Maoist intellectuals and fake homosexuals of Tender Pervert, the baby-hating, doppelganger-haunted narrators of Ping Pong, right up to the eccentric 'Thunderclown' on the new album, my characters don't accept the world as it is. The corollary is that they respect otherness, and try to model other ways of living: parallel worlds. I think of this as basically a (post-Christian) Calvinist mindset.
While I'm happy to see the Postcard era recognised - it was genuinely a very exciting and magical time - I think the whole problem for pop music now is that it's become paralysed with respect for its past. We're crushed by the archive, and every edition of Mojo magazine (a sad catalogue of the achievements of the geriatric and the dead) makes it harder for the young to break away and create genuinely new forms of popular music. I don't have strong feelings about The Happy Family archive. We weren't as good as Josef K.
I identify as a Scot, very much. When I'm in Japan and they ask where I'm from, I always say "Scotland", not "Britain". I'd like to see Scotland independent, because we have different politics and a different culture from the English. I wouldn't like to see it become twee, navel-gazing and trivial, though. I hope an independent Scotland would really respect its artists. I'd like to see a cosmopolitanism, an orientation towards Europe and Asia rather than the States, and a kind of new Scottish Enlightenment like the one we had in the 18th Century. Adopt the euro, become a republic, dump the royals, embrace socialism fearlessly!
In other news, Momus is tutoring an online course in songwriting, starting in April. At £55, it looks like a steal.

art culture momus music normality scotland 0


At the turn of the 1930s, recorded music was seen as an existential threat. Films with sound started appearing, and their prerecorded musical soundtracks started threatening the livelihoods of the musicians who, until then, had played accompaniments to silent films in cinemas. To wit, the American Federation of Musicians launched a campaign against the tyranny of “canned music”, which their advertisements depicted as a malevolent robot:

The campaign was ultimately unsuccessful, though recorded music was seen as a threat to live musicians for decades after that. In the 1950s, for example, when the BBC was establishing a studio for experimental electronic music, it dubbed the studio with the decidedly unmusical name of the Radiophonic Workshop, perpetuating the fiction that its function only peripherally touched on the kingdom of music, as to avoid antagonising the unions of the musicians who worked on other BBC broadcasts.

(via MeFi) history music recorded music robots technology 3


The BBC interviews Gerald Casale of US new-wave band DEVO on the Scottish independence referendum, and in particular, of the suggested middle option of maximum devolution within the UK, popularly known as "Devo Max". Casale appears to have been following the debate, and even suggests a rewrite of one of DEVO's songs for the campaign.

devo music politics scotland 0


Avant-garde electronic musician Matthew Herbert does an interview for Pitchfork's 5-10-15-20, a series in which they ask the artist what records they were listening to at 5-year intervals in their life so far, in the hope of distilling an artistic bildungsroman of sorts.

I was five in 1977. It seems like another world now. I grew up without a TV, so I was listening to an awful lot of radio, recording things with cassettes and putting the songs in some kind of order. It's going to sound like I'm a wanker, but I was listening to "The Model" by Kraftwerk at five-- I know that sounds like the coolest answer possible, but it was a big hit record over here. It was getting heavy rotation on the radio. In my own defense, I didn't know the song was by Kraftwerk until four years ago.
His entries for subsequent years show a not unusual progression: Tom Waits' satire of consumerism at 10 (in the springtime of Thatcherism and the rise of the age of fast, loud money), De La Soul at 15 ("Our local policeman was a sweet, nice man, and the idea of shouting, "Fuck the police!" at him seemed so totally absurd."), then into the stratosphere via acid house, techno and jazz, and then, at age 35:
I still feel that there is too much music in the world. I'm not convinced that we need to make any more music. I read this statistic that said 75% of music on iTunes has never been downloaded once. It's depressing, but it also makes you think that we should stop making music until we listen to it all, and then we should start again. We're in a bit of a muddle about the function of music, and why we're making it, and what we expect from our music. I mean, surely, everything has been said about love already by now. Presumably everything has been said about war already. It feels like people think they have a right to make music or express themselves in a certain way. I think you have a right to express yourself, but I don't necessarily think that there's automatically a right that people should be expected to listen.
Further reinforcing the idea that music has gone from something scarce whose value is as a consumable, to something abundant that is a byproduct of the valuable activity of its production.

art culture matthew herbert music 0


Data wonks at the social music-streaming site have been taking advantage of their vast repository of recorded music to correlate analyses of the music (made using cold, hard signal-processing algorithms, not anything more subjective or fuzzy) with data from sales charts, determining how the characteristics of popular music have changed in response to cultural trends. The results make for fascinating reading.

Among findings: by looking at how percussive tracks in the charts were (i.e., how strong and regular a rhythm they had, according to spectral analyses) they pretty much pinpoint the rise of disco in the mid-1970s, a change towards more strongly rhythmic tracks which has never been reversed:

The rise in percussivity was followed by a rise in rhythmic regularity in the early 1980s, when drum machines and MIDI came into existence. Unlike the increase in percussivity, though, this was a temporary hump, which waned in the 1990s, as people got sick of drum machines, grunge/alternative did to overproduced 1980s studio-pop what punk had done to prog, and/or simple 16-step drum machines were replaced by Atari STs running Steinberg Cubase, and equipped with more humanlike quantisation algorithms. Interestingly enough, the same study found that the hump in rhythmic regularity was accompanied by a rise in tracks with a tempo of 120 beats per minute, either out of laziness or from some folk wisdom about 120bpm being the optimum tempo:
Our first thought was that songwriters in the 80s must have turned on their drum machines, loved what they heard and wrote a song to that beat - without changing the default tempo setting of 120 bpm. I would love this to be correct, but I have a hunch that it's not, especially after having found this highly interesting manual for writing a hit single written by The KLF in 1988. They say that "the different styles in modern club records are usually clustered around certain BPM’s: 120 is the classic BPM for House music and its various variants, although it is beginning to creep up", and also, "no song with a BPM over 135 will ever have a chance of getting to Number One" because "the vast majority of regular club goers will not be able to dance to it and still look cool".
Time, as the KLF said, may be eternal, but time signatures aren't; dance music (which remained strongly clustered around 120bpm at the time of acid house and the Second Summer of Love) soon started creeping upward past 130bpm, while tempos of charting music in general moved down.'s DSP algorithms also pick out the rise of punk, with its simplistic rock'n'roll arrangements and emphasis on DIY enthusiasm over polished virtuosity, and the vanquishment of prog rock, glam and other more experimental genres; this manifested itself in a steep rise in the proportion of the charts occupied by records of low harmonic and timbre complexity (i.e., both simple melodic/chord structures and unostentatious selections of instruments) between 1976 and 1979, and map the Loudness Wars of the past few decades, as the rise of the CD and a competition for sounding louder and more kick-ass than all the music that came before conspired to annihilate dynamic range:

The percentage of loud tracks has increased from 10% in 1964 (by definition) to over 40% in recent years. So music has got louder. Well, isn't that in the spirit of Rock'n'Roll? Sadly, it isn't, because the increase in loudness has led to worse sound quality. Granted, it's louder, but boy is it flat!
Finally, another cultural trend that shows up in the data is the steady decline of the Truck Driver's Gear Shift (i.e., the tendency of songs to shift their key up one or two semitones before the final chorus, for some extra heartstring-tugging oomph) from the 1950s to the present day; presumably because that shit got old. When the incidence of gear shifts is plotted by month, however, few will be surprised to find that December has 2-3 times as many as the rest of the year; after all, 'tis the season to be cheesy.

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And now, here is my list of notable records of 2011:

  • Architecture In Helsinki Moment Bends

    With their previous album, released way back in 2007, AIH shook off the "twee" label and let rip with some nitro-charged machismo; now, four years later, they turn to the daggy side of the force. Moment Bends celebrates all the elements of mainstream pop that filled the airwaves in the 1980s by building them into a neon edifice to vintage electro-pop kitsch. It's all here: synth licks you swear you've heard before in a mid-80s movie soundtrack or album (is that Glenn Frey? And over there, you can just about hear Control-era Janet Jackson), shimmering arpeggios, a plastic reggae riddim here (in the opening cut Desert Island), some synth brass there, even the odd gear change and Clearmountain break for the sake of completeness. The word "chillwave" may come to mind, though AIH differ from the chillwave aesthetic in their eschewal of the gauzy haze afforded by shoegaze-style reverb and delay; everything here is clear and upfront, with the possible exception of the lyrics, which, in AIH fashion, would be a little too oblique for the 1980s-vintage Top 40. File alongside the new M83 double album.

  • Constant Light, Mag - Amplitude

    Released as a download on Constant Light's Bandcamp page, the Melbourne duo's debut, Mag - Amplitude consists of a mere six tracks, varying in length between 2 and 10 minutes, and falls somewhere in the post-rock/instrumental spectrum, driven by bass guitars, synthesiser patterns, processed guitar and layered textures. The influences range from the kosmische musik of 1970s West Germany to the monochromatic drone of 1980s New Wave (Factory Floor captures the mood of a certain Manchester label and takes it for a ride down the Autobahn). Half of the album is taken up with a three-piece composition, Dreams of Dreams Denied, which opens with languid acoustic guitar and harmonica figures, like Morricone meeting Mogwai, drifts through layers of shifting texture, motors on into a driving rhythm propelled by guitars and drums, before coming to rest in a glorious finale of coruscating synths.

  • Geoffrey O'Connor, Vanity Is Forever

    The capsule summary sounds almost like the punchline to a hipster joke: "Inner-Melbourne coolsie makes yacht rock album". On the surface, this is what Vanity Is Forever is: Geoffrey O'Connor, the fey, long-haired frontman of twee-pop combo Crayon Fields has come back with a radical image change. Gated drums, syrupy synth keyboards, and the kind of production that sounds like a million dollars in 1980s money; only the label (Guy Blackman's credible Melbourne indie Chapter Music) and year of release hint that this wasn't recorded in an bleedingly expensive studio in Aruba. As for Geoffrey, he has, well, "grown up" is perhaps not the right cliché, though as he himself puts it, embraced the artifice of it all; his previous sound of 1960s-vintage pastoral innocence, naïve almost to the point of childlikeness (itself arguably an artifice) has been buried beneath a sheen akin to Bryan Ferry in his imperial phase, with touches of Italianate chintz worthy of the San Remo Ballroom. Geoffrey's old façade of elfin faux-naïveté reappears in places (particularly in Like They Say It Does, where he pushes it almost to the point of self-mockery), though the album is in a much more adult mode, hinting copiously at the exhilarating heights of erotic passion with a new lover (voiced, in one song, by Melbourne's own Jessica Says), and mentioning offhandly that it's going on her indolent soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend's credit card. An intriguing change of direction, and a stylishly crafted album that picks its references well.

  • Hong Kong In The 60s, My Fantoms

    Their first full-length non-instrumental album (before they had an EP and an instrumental album), and it's as subtle as you'd expect, starting off with the dreamy Casiotone-driven ballad of When You Were Dreaming, and proceeding to the bossa-tinged, synth-accented You Can Take A Heart But You Can't Make It Beat, before foraying into a Les Petits Chasseurs Du Son, an instrumental interlude which sounds like Wendy Carlos scoring a Dario Argento film. The rest of the album is in a similar vein, mixing subtle pop with the odd cinematic pretension (such as Theme From King Of Chinatown), before drifting off with the ethereal Shadow Of The Bear.

  • I Break Horses, Hearts, and Korallreven, An Album By Korallreven

    Two albums, both from Sweden and exploring the spaces between electronica, shoegaze and what, for lack of a better word, may be termed "indie rock". Korallreven are the latest practitioners of the improbably-named Swedish Balearic Pop subgenre, and, for the most part, don't veer wildly from the footsteps of predecessors like Air France and Boat Club. (Swedish Balearic, for what it's worth, is somewhere between chillwave and the Café Del Mar chillout compilations that were big about a decade ago; think pulsing synthesizers punctuated with acoustic guitars, bongos and reverb-drenched vocal fragments; tropical-holiday-island imagery and a production sensibility informed by shoegaze.) Having said that, Korallreven (a duo, one of whom plays in Stockholm shoegaze-pop combo The Radio Dept.) are pros at it and do it well, doing for the subgenre what pop veterans Empire Of The Sun did for indie-dance in Australia. I Break Horses, meanwhile, started off as a duo and grew into a band; they're not part of the Balearic scene, though explore their own space a similar space; their album consists of layers of electronics, guitars and live drums, with songs evoking the likes of My Bloody Valentine, Suicide and New Order, as well as more recent bands like M83 and The Radio Dept.

  • The Leaf Library, Different Activities, Similar Diversions

    The long-awaited full-length début from the London motorik pop combo (available from their BandCamp page) alternates between driving rhythms backed with choppy guitars and washes of Casiotone keyboards and more languid moments of hushed vocals backed by layers of subtle instruments; equal parts Yo La Tengo and Stereolab with perhaps a hint of Aphex Twin in places. This album is understatedly lovely, and gets its beauty from artful arrangements of texture and repetition. It sits well alongside both Constant Light and Hong Kong In The 60s.

  • My Sad Captains, Fight Less, Win More

    Their début album made my list of 2009, and I've been eagerly awaiting their follow-up; I'm glad to say that it does indeed live up to my expectations. It doesn't depart far from their sound. Fight Less, Win More is an appropriate title; its laconic pop sound could scarcely be less combative, and its catchy melodies and literate lyrics are hard to resist. It stays mostly in an understated, vaguely pastoral indiepop vein, driven by clean guitars, drums, low-key vocals and the odd Mellotron, though toys with krautrock dynamics in places (the motorik crescendo of The Homefront Pt. II, and the rhythm that propels Heavy Lifting forward). Other highlights include the anthemic Little Joanne, the opening cut Orienteers, which evokes a number of pastoral pop groups from Melbourne, and Resolutions, which ends with fuzzy guitar.

  • Still Corners, Creatures Of An Hour

    One of the more intriguing bands to come out of London in recent years; Still Corners are equal parts Broadcast, early Paradise Motel and the Twin Peaks soundtrack; their debut album, released on Sub Pop, keeps true to the dreamlike quality of their 7"s and shows, with Tessa's lovely vocals floating spectrally over swirling organs, keening guitar feedback, clunking bass guitars and the odd drum machine. The whole album has a subtle, somewhat unreal quality; it doesn't sound like something belonging to any specific place or time. Highlights include the opening track Cuckoo, the previously released Endless Summer, with its Be My Baby-quoting opening, and the unseasonably summery The White Season.

  • Veronica Falls, Veronica Falls

    The latest in a decades-long game of transatlantic stylistic ping-pong: in 1980s Britain, the movement that became known as C86 reacted against expensive overproduction and/or the yuppie excesses of the Thatcher era by returning to the basics of guitar-and-drums pop music circa the 1960s updated for the post-punk era. (This was the 1980s, when synthesisers and studio effects cost real money.) A few decades later, hip bands from Brooklyn like The Vivian Girls and Crystal Stilts dusted off C86 and made it their own. Now, Veronica Falls (a band formed from veterans of several London and Glasgow bands) takes the New York sound and brings it back. The result is a slab of tight garage rock with choppy guitars, boy-girl harmonies and classic themes of love and death like something out of a pulp paperback from the 1950s. It doesn't break much new ground, but it does what it does well.

  • various artists, The Endless House Project

    Ostensibly a rerelease of the brief recorded works of an art collective, as short-lived as it was improbable, that flourished in a futuristic studio-discotheque behind the Iron Curtain in 1973, prefiguring kosmische krautrock and Detroit techno; in reality, almost certainly a more recent work of counterfactual history, presenting a fantasy view of a glamorous European avant-garde, with an almost Wes Andersonian unreality that could only be imagined from the splendid isolation of the English-speaking world. The Endless House Project works both as an exercise in hauntology (as long as one suspends one's disbelief about its geopolitical impossibility; which is where being British, and taking a vaguely orientalist view of the European continent as an exotic whole, might help) and as a collection of retrofuturistic analogue electronica. The opening track, Ostend (Invisible Cities) by one "Johannus Arpensium", starts with mighty, swelling synthesiser chords that soon break into driving, proto-Kraftwerkian arpeggios zooming down luminous highways with vocoded vocals. From there, we are led on a tour of retrofuturistic utopias and dystopias, expressed in analogue electronic music: ominous chords play over rhythm tracks of electronic clicks, as European-accented voices intone obliquely. Other tracks, meanwhile, (like Ernest Kantor's Jealousie (Escape To Outer Space) and Rasmus Folk's luxurious yet melancholic Coupe) are almost weightlessly breezy. the whole thing ends with the last work ostensibly played at the doomed Endless House, in which mastermind Jiri Kantor asks why it all happened so quickly and then leaves the stage, leaving the synthesisers to run by themselves and foreshadowing New Order's stage shows circa 1983. The album (sold only directly, in physical format, by an outfit named Dramatic Records) comes in an envelope with postcards giving capsule biographies of the ostensible composers of the pieces, a motley crew of European playboys and avant-gardists with names like Felix Uran, Klaus Pinter and Earnesto Rogers.

With honourable mentions going to: Evan Abeele, Lineage EP (an understated instrumental album from one half of Memoryhouse; subtly lovely), Amor De Dias, Street of the Love of Days (Lupe from Pipas and Alasdair from The Clientele's new project; languid bossa-tinged pastoral pop), Apparat Organ Quartet, Pólyfónía (the Icelandic kraut-pop combo's first record in about six years sees them get less heavy and more chiptuneish), Bachelorette, Bachelorette (the New Zealand electronica artist's final album under that name is a more organic affair than the previous ones), Brave Irene, Brave Irene (Rose Melberg (of The Softies/Tiger Trap)'s latest project goes back to an upbeat garage-pop style; should fit well alongside All-Girl Summer Fun Band), Girls' Names, Girls' Names and Minks, Over The Hedge (two bands doing a slightly gothy, in a John Hughes way, 1980s-influenced guitar pop), Greeen Linez, Greeen Linez (a revival of 1980s boogie groove as instrumental electronica; look for it in a mixtape or DJ set near you), Help Stamp Out Loneliness, Help Stamp Out Loneliness (Dee from the Language Of Flowers' new band, in a new-wave-tinged pop direction), Jens Lekman, An Argument With Myself EP (Jens' first recorded work in some years reveals a more Afrobeat direction; the title song also recounts a drunken walk across the north of Melbourne, and the somewhat maudlin reflections on said walk), Loney, Dear, Hall Music (slightly less bleak and more organic than the predecessor; the closing track, What Have I Become? is particularly lovely), M83, Hurry Up We're Dreaming (the latest instalment in their journey sees them put aside the John Hughesisms of their last album and sound more like Toto or The Police, all yelped vocals and gated drums, only with more synths), Memoryhouse, The Years (technically disqualified as it's a rerelease of last year's EP, with a few new tracks, tough it bodes well for their upcoming album), Ringo Deathstarr, Colour Trip and Spotlight Kid, Disaster Tourist (two great contemporary takes on classic shoegaze; the first from Texas, the second from Wales), Xander Harris, Contamination (a Bandcamp-released EP of synthesised instrumentals, which borrows from electro-industrial, ambient and kosmische musik and does so well), Zola Jesus, Conatus (with her pop melodies, electro-industrial synthpop backings and dramatic voice, Zola shows us the middle ground between Lene Lovich and U2).

Were I to anoint one title as my record of the year, the accolade would probably go to My Sad Captains.

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An interview with underground comic author Daniel Clowes, in which he talks about a number of things, such as the pitfalls of hipster parents trying wrongheadedly to introduce their kids to interesting culture (and, in the process, making it deeply uncool):

I think about that a lot with my son. I don’t want to inflict the stuff I like onto him. He’s only eight, so right now I could get him to like anything, pretty much, but when he’s a few years older I really don’t want him to respond to anything because I like it too much or not enough. I want him to sort of find his way into his own stuff, so it’s something I have to constantly modulate. I don’t want him to associate this music with me, I want him to discover it on his own and then I’ll go like, “Well, I happen to have all their records!”
In short, you may be hip and credible, but once you have kids, your position as a parent will, in the eyes of your kids, be like antimatter to all the cred you have carried forth from your bourgeois-bohemian extended adolescence. And so, a generation is produced to whom Black Flag and Pavement will be as naff as, say, Engelbert Humperdinck or something. Or, in the post-loungecore, post-Yacht Rock age after irony has folded in upon itself, perhaps it's the act of having opinions about music that will carry a patina of daddish uncool, with record collections and discographies being inherently cringeworthy; perhaps, to the hip kids, music will be, as Jarvis Cocker put it, like a scented candle, a ubiquitous low-value commodity beneath caring about.
And now is the era of the Cool Dad. I know lots of parents who I just think, like, “God, if my parents had been like that I would’ve been into all this cool stuff.” Luckily they weren’t, so I discovered all that stuff on my own and they sort of disdainfully shook their heads at the stupid stuff I was interested in. But there are a lot of things that I don’t respond to. I’m not into video games, so I can just see my son becoming, like, a video-game tester as his job or something. Developing video games.
Clowes touches on the mainstreaming of comic-book/nerd culture:
When I was in high school, if I’d gone up to a girl and said, “Would you like to go read some of my Thor comics with me?” they would’ve just thought I was the lowest form of human life. That would’ve been so unimaginable. I was actually on the subway in New York and saw this, like, Attractive Teenage Couple, and the guy was like, “Hey, wanna go see Thor tonight?” and the girl was like, “Yeah, yeah.” And I just thought, that is just blowing my mind that that is happening right in front of me.
And touches on the way that, by reducing the amount of friction required to discover something, the internet has reduced the value of merely knowing about cultural products as badges of belonging:
I could tell you right now about some obscure filmmaker and you could know more about him by midnight than I would’ve been able to find out in 10 years when I was your age. But I don’t know that it would mean much to you unless you really connected to the guy and kept following it and doing more and more research. It’d just be like, “Yeah, I know about that guy,” and then you’d move on to the next thing. There’s something about having it be like a mystery that you have to solve and figure out that really connected you to this weird culture back then.
It also used to be like, you’d buy an album by a recording artist and there’d be one or two good songs on it, and there’d be all the rest that were just kind of to fill up the album, and you’d work your way through that and learn to like the other songs after a while, and then you’d wait till the next album came out. And now it sort of feels like everything is all the greatest hits. You learn about a musician and you immediately can figure out what their 10 greatest songs are, and you just listen to those and you don’t experience the full breadth of their failures and mishaps and all that stuff. I feel like that’s how all culture is. And I’m as guilty as anybody else now—if I hear about an author or something I go straight for their most well-known book and read that first, and, you know, I don’t have that experience of kind of building up to that. You don’t wanna read the rest of their books after that because you figure, “Well, I’ve already read the best one. It’s not gonna be much better than that.”
The interview also touches on the settings of Clowes' works, the aura of alienation in his characters, and his aesthetic formative experiences having been a reaction to the cultural upheavals of The Sixties:
As a kid I loved the look of the early ’60s, kind of the pre-hippie era, just the haircuts and clothes and the way women dressed, it was really appealing. And then all of a sudden people started wearing, like, filthy clothes and messy hair and stuff. That seemed really hideous and horrible to me. It definitely relates to what was going on in my life at the time because, as with many kids who grew up then, my family was just disintegrating while all that stuff came in, so it represented this chaos that was entering my life. But I still have an affection for that pre-1968 look, that kind of saturated Technicolor look. That seems like the real world to me, or like the way things should be.

(via Kiyomi) 1960s comics culture daniel clowes hipsters history music subculture 5


It emerges that the "Mahna Mahna" song, that (in)famous earworm from the Muppet Show, was originally from an Italian soft-porn exploitation film titled Sweden: Heaven and Hell:

In the tradition of the shocking, factually questionable Mondo Cane, Heaven and Hell was styled as a documentary about Scandinavian sexuality, which provided a thin veneer of respectability for its leering exploration of lesbian nightclubs and meter maids who moonlight as nude models.
The song, composed by Piero Umiliani, was released as a novelty single under the title “Mah Nà Mah Nà”, and made it to number 55 on the US charts, which presumably led to a bohemian hepcat and puppeteer named Jim Henson discovering it; and the rest, as they say, is history.

Mah Nà Mah Nà was by no means the only piece of worthwhile music to emerge from the seamy European cinematic underworld. Before video came along, a lot of pornographic and exploitation productions were seen as canvases for experimentation and artistic exploration in everything from cinematography to music, which has led to highly prized soundtrack recordings from films such as Vampyros Lesbos and Die Schulmädchen Report. (After the VCR commodified porn and cut into its margins, such exploration seems to have moved to the rising genre of music videos.)

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An interview with Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris, in which they talk about, among other things, their reactions to Ian Curtis' suicide, Joy Division's metamorphosis into New Order, the (legendary though financially disastrous) Hacienda, and the origin and meaning of Blue Monday (capsule summary: it was inspired musically by an Italo-disco record and the famously enigmatic lyrics are rooted in the band's annoyance with the press, though is also about whatever the listener wishes to read into it):

James: Like retrospectively, you don’t even remember what they were about?
Bernard: I think I do. They weren’t literally about this but we were getting a lot of shit in the press at the time. The press has turned on us after Joy Division who could do no wrong. They were all against us and I felt a bit beleaguered and it was a kind of fuck you to the press really. That’s kind of what was in my head when I wrote it, it was a kind of a fuck you we can do it without you and we did, with that song.
James: When I was on the NME Len Brown wrote a great piece that is presumably wrong. He read it to be about the Falklands, he wrote a great piece about his brother committing suicide or was it about Blue Monday.
Bernard: Well we also have an attitude that we never explain what a song is about because people have their own interpretations, that’s equally valid. So I wouldn’t say that’s not wrong, it’s how you interpret a song and what it means to you and that’s why we never. Whenever I write lyrics it’s never a literal thing it’s just what’s on my mind at the time.

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This article looks at the malaise in indie/hipster culture, and places the blame squarely at the feet of 1990s proto-hipster Beck:

The two most common characteristics of the “indie” persona these days, at least in North America, are an aversion to overt seriousness and the ability to find everything “awesome”. These characteristics often intermingle and feed off one another, creating the voracious indie devourer who is able to simultaneously enjoy every kind of music while at the same time not particularly caring about anything. They are the ultimate consumer, willing to embrace and discard bands at a moment’s notice while never questioning what led them to lose interest in one band and embrace another. Awkward inquiries about almost any subject can be dealt with in a detached and deliberately ironic manner — following trends is awesome, selling out is awesome, being shallow is awesome, sweatshops are awesome. When it comes to fashion, trashiness battles against both vintage store retro and American Apparel chic as the dominant form, and everyone thinks that everybody but themselves is a hipster. How this persona was birthed is a relatively straightforward tale, as suburban America fell in the love with the vulgar commercial product of its youth. An ironic approach was already somewhat popular but something, or in this case someone, happened in the ‘90s to turn what was a mere aspect of American culture into the dominant personality trait of American teenagers, twenty-somethings and, at this point, thirty-somethings. That someone was Beck.
Cinema in the 90s reflected this shift in taste, with the ultra-violence of Quentin Tarantino’s movies creating a detached, cartoonish reality that allowed the viewer to feel unconcerned as to the repercussions of the savagery on screen. The character’s brutal transgressions are played out for entertainment and amusement rather than illustrating any kind of painful struggle. Tarantino’s movies were also filled with pop culture references that allowed the viewer to feel like they were part of the director’s insular self-congratulatory world. If America in the 70s wrestled with moral dilemmas and a diminished sense of individuality and reach, then pop culture mavens in the 90s merely wanted to be in on the joke. To music fans who imagined themselves to be more alternative in their approach, Beck fulfilled this need. His music basked in the mindset of trash culture and knowing irony, of sneering at seriousness, of adopting hip-hop beats to play up the now utterly commonplace “look at me I’m a nerdy white guy rapping about ridiculous things” persona that has managed to all but reduce hip-hop to a comedy sideshow for those who need an occasional break from their Arcade Fire or Vampire Weekend albums.
The ironic stance, the article argues, was a false victory, delivering the counterculture straight into the arms of the consumerist mainstream. After all, you can buy more crap if you're doing so ironically:
Consumerism thrives on people getting excited about, and buying, things that they ultimately don’t care about. In this sense the ironic persona is the ultimate gift to consumerism. Mainstream music revels in easy sentiment and soul-crushing banality and can only truly be enjoyed by not paying attention to the lyrics. Beck’s meaningless babble trained a generation of young ears to seek out amusing sound-bites over articulate content and in doing so helped break down the last vestiges of ‘alternative’ music by making it as equally meaningless as, and therefore all but identical to, mainstream drivel.
I'm wondering whether the rise to dominance of the stance of ironic detachment and the tendency of musicians and bands to define themselves publically by catalogues of their influences ("we're kraut-punk meets Afrobeat meets New Jack Swing") could not both be symptoms of a more abstract shift from directness and immediacy towards mediation and referentiality, an addition of levels of abstraction to the processes of culture, a tendency to see and do things from one step removed.

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Not many people defend authoritarianism for its own sake; those who don't abhor it generally regard it as a means to a specific end. Not so Prince:

"I was anti-authoritarian but at the same time I was a loving tyrant. You can't be both. I had to learn what authority was. That's what the Bible teaches. The Bible is a study guide for social interaction."
Sometimes he seems a little too fond of boundaries. "It's fun being in Islamic countries, to know there's only one religion. There's order. You wear a burqa. There's no choice. People are happy with that." But what about women who are unhappy about having to wearing burqas? "There are people who are unhappy with everything," he says shruggingly. "There's a dark side to everything."

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A few interesting links I've seen recently:

  • BBC Four recently aired a fascinating documentary titled The Joy Of Easy Listening, charting the history of easy-listening/light music from the 1950s onward. It's viewable on YouTube here.
  • Digital artist Joshua Nimoy worked on some of the visuals for Disney's Tron Legacy film, and describes how they were done, from the physics of fireworks simulations and the algorithms behind various clusters of digital-looking lines to authentic-looking UNIX command-line shots for a hacking scene. (The fact that we've gone from "UPLOAD VIRUS Y/N" screens and random equations/6502 machine code/cyber-Japanese glyphs to nmap(1) being seen as too much of a hacking-scene cliché suggests that computer literacy in the movie-viewing public has increased dramatically over the past few years.)
  • IBM's Executive Briefing Center in Rome looks like something out of a scifi film:
  • In epic feats of computing: the latest work by prolific technical genius Fabrice Bellard is a JavaScript-based PC emulator that's powerful enough to boot Linux. I repeat: it runs (a slightly cut-down, though fully native) Linux on a Pentium-class PC it simulates in your web browser, in JavaScript. Meanwhile, a high-school student named Jack Eisenman has designed and built his own 8-bit computer, including the CPU, from simple logic chips. The machine runs a machine code of Eisenman's own devising and can display graphics on a TV screen; Eisenman provides some games for it and full schematics, as well as a JavaScript-based emulator for those whose soldering skills aren't up to building their own.
  • Quite possibly the most awesomel wedding invitation in the history of wedding invitations would have to be Karen Sandler and Mike Tarantino's, a card which unfolds into a paper record player that plays a song recorded by the happy (and creative) couple. There are more details here.

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Simon Reynolds writes about popular culture's increasingly revivalist tendencies:

Head into the post-indie musical zones of NME/Pitchfork and most of what you encounter is "alternative" only in the sense of offering an alternative to living in the present: Fleet Foxes, with their beards and balladry modeled on their parents' Crosby, Stills & Nash LPs; Thee Oh Sees' immaculate 60s garage photocopies; the Vivian Girls' revival of what was already a revival (C86 shambling pop). In indieland too we're starting to hear 90s vibes creeping in, from Yuck's grunge-era slacker-isms to Brother's Gallagher-esque "gritpop".
Head into the post-indie musical zones of NME/Pitchfork and most of what you encounter is "alternative" only in the sense of offering an alternative to living in the present: Fleet Foxes, with their beards and balladry modeled on their parents' Crosby, Stills & Nash LPs; Thee Oh Sees' immaculate 60s garage photocopies; the Vivian Girls' revival of what was already a revival (C86 shambling pop). In indieland too we're starting to hear 90s vibes creeping in, from Yuck's grunge-era slacker-isms to Brother's Gallagher-esque "gritpop".
(I'm not sure I'd lump NME and Pitchfork in together; while each does convey a formula for what "indie" is, there's an order of magnitude of difference in how cynically formulaic it is. Pitchfork, whilst being a musical equivalent of Stuff White People Like, at least aspires to a demographic which purports to be somewhat more thoughtful about its aesthetic preferences. NME, meanwhile, has long ago abandoned any ideal of "indie" being driven by any sort of independence of tastes; its oeuvre is marketing-driven Indie® reduced to a cartoonish lowest-common-denominator of facile lad-rock in skinny jeans and striped deep-V T-shirts, the messages of the original source material reduced to a series of cool stances, with ads in the back for where to buy the uniform.)

Reynolds' contention is that popular music (and other aspects of popular culture; witness retro fashion, for example, or pixel art, or the prevalence of apps that make your smartphone simulate a stylishly crappy old camera) has increasingly become focussed on the past. The mainstream has all but stripmined the obvious things (garage rock, Motown, synthpop), turning them into pattern-books of conventions (I'm not sure if anyone has described 1980s synthpop as "timeless" yet, though it's bound to happen). Meanwhile, once bounteous treasure troves of leftfield cool and edgy weirdness such as krautrock and tropicalia now look as despoiled as Nauru's phosphate quarries, leading retro cool hunters to look further afield, from exploring foreign tributaries of the collective past recently opened by the advent of YouTube (apparently the next big thing among hipsters is Soviet new-wave post-punk known as stilyagi) to the cultural equivalent of tar sands oil extraction, digging up and reviving what was considered terminally cheesy (the yacht-rock revival could be considered in this regard), to the point where one considers whether we may, indeed, run out of past. And now, as the 1980s revival is exceeding the duration of the decade it revived, the revivalists are moving into the 1990s, with indie bands doing grunge and R&B/pop artists detuning their polyphonic synths and riffing off cheesy Eurodance.

The question is: does popular music really look backwards a lot more than it used to? Is it because, as recorded music (which, a few decades ago, was relatively new) has accumulated more past, it is increasingly difficult to do anything totally novel without referencing the past, or because recorded music is becoming an elderly pursuit, with the more forward-looking diverting their attention to newer endeavours?

Anyway, Reynolds (who has a new book titled Retromania out) is chairing a talk on the subject tonight at the ICA in London.

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The Guardian speaks to Charanjit Singh, a Bollywood session musician from Mumbai who, in 1982, bought a Roland TB-303 and TR-808 and decided to have a go at applying these sequencer-driven electronic instruments to traditional Indian music, creating something that sounded uncannily like acid house music that came out some five years later:

With some more gentle probing he explains that he was intrigued by the way he could use the 808 and 303 in synch with the Roland Jupiter-8 keyboard. He explains that he didn't know much about the machines when he bought them and that he had to spend time learning how to use them properly. "At home I practised with the combination and I thought 'It sounds good – why not record it'".
Having explained that much of the music that Ten Ragas is compared to comes from Chicago, we settle down to listen to the record that arguably started it all – Acid Trax by Phuture. Singh listens intently but seems unmoved by the pulsing, stripped down music – and the signature squelch of the 303. "It's quite simple" he concludes after around three minutes, gently chuckling at the idea that there are similarities between Acid Trax and Ten Ragas. "It's very simple this music," he says. "What I played are ragas – there's a lot of variation."
Singh's record, 10 Ragas To A Disco Beat, sank more or less without a trace when it was released, before being rediscovered a few years ago, and reissued on vinyl and MP3.

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London folk singer Emmy The Great has written a song in back-handed tribute to the Royal Wedding. Titled Mistress England, it is dedicated to the mothers of the young women whom Prince William didn't end up choosing as his future queen, and it positively drips with a very British, very measured wit:

The subject has inspired a touching, tender song. "Fold up your clean white invitations/ There is no need to keep them now," run the lyrics. "He found a Queen/ He chose another." The middle eight conjures distant churchbells, but in the Union Jack-decked garden, "no celebration here". "I'm two years younger than Kate Middleton," says Moss. "I honestly knew girls who applied to St Andrews to meet him. Presumably they're a bit miffed now."
"I keep trying to put myself in Kate Middleton's place," says Moss. "She did a degree, right, that's how she met him? I have never, ever heard it said what she studied there. But I do know what boots she likes to wear. That's a bit depressing, isn't it?"

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Science blogger Ben Goldacre points us to an interesting psychology paper (unfortunately paywalled), analysing changes over the past few decades in the subject matter of popular song lyrics:

The current research fills this gap by testing the hypothesis that one cultural product—word use in popular song lyrics—changes over time in harmony with cultural changes in individualistic traits. Linguistic analyses of the most popular songs from 1980–2007 demonstrated changes in word use that mirror psychological change. Over time, use of words related to self-focus and antisocial behavior increased, whereas words related to other-focus, social interactions, and positive emotion decreased. These findings offer novel evidence regarding the need to investigate how changes in the tangible artifacts of the sociocultural environment can provide a window into understanding cultural changes in psychological processes.
Compare and contrast: Hypebot's analysis of 2010 commercial pop lyrics, coming up with an example of perfectly generic pop lyrics, circa 2010:
Oh baby, yeah, Imma rock your body hard—like damn
Chick I wanna know, cause I get around now—like bad
Love gonna stop, Imma rock your body hard—like damn
Had enough tonight, I wanna break the love—like bad
I wonder how much of this is actually emblematic of a deeper cultural shift towards short-term values. A world in which everything is a dynamic market of novelty and possibility, and "love" just means a temporary arrangement for mutually negotiated gratification.

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The first two in a series of articles about the history of rock'n'roll-influenced pop music in Japan, through the 1960s and 1970s: Part 1, about the rise and decline of Beatles/Stones-influenced, tightly controlled "Group Sounds" bands and the rise of the psychedelic rock that followed, and part 2, about the rise of the Kansai underground protest-folk scene and its influence on Japanese rock:

In 1966, The Beatles came to Japan, playing a series of five concerts at Tokyo’s Budokan. In doing so, they transformed rock and roll into a phenomenon among Japanese youth. Within months, an unprecedented number of Japanese rock bands, each with their own take on the sounds of The Beatles or The Stones, were debuting. The Japanese press started writing articles about the new, controversial band boom, which they had termed “Group Sounds” (or GS). The Japanese music industry, however, was slow to adapt to Japan’s changing musical climate. Labels assumed a high degree of musical control, often forcing bands to record compositions by in-house songwriters instead of their own material. Only in live performances were the GS groups granted creative control. Many groups refused to preform their singles at all, instead playing from a repertoire of covers and original songs.
Okabayashi quickly became one of the most prominent members of the Kansai Folk movement. His 1969 URC debut demonstrates the level of freedom Takaishi’s label granted its artists. Watashi wo Danzai Seyo contained songs criticizing the Vietnam War (“Sensou no Oyadama”), Japanese labor conditions (“Sanya Blues”), and the perils of Japan’s capitalist aspirations (“Sore de Jiyuu Natta no Kai”). Okabayashi also wrote songs that explored taboo topics like the discrimination against descendants of Edo Japan’s pariah caste, the burakumin (“Tegami”). Although Okabayashi was often critical and sardonic, he expressed a great deal of hope for a brighter future in songs like “Tomo yo” and “Kyou wo Koete.” Okabayashi’s blunt lyrics about sensitive topics caused the JRIA’s standards committee to ban many of his songs from being broadcast on Japanese radio. The most infamous of these songs is “Kusokurae Bushi,” or in English, “Eat Shit Song.” Even after removing a verse concerning the Japanese Emperor, which centered around a pun between “God” and “[toilet] paper,” “Kusokurae Bushi” was banned from radio and recalled from record shops.
In the second article, an interesting point is raised about authenticity, with many in Japan's rock scene regarding rock-style music sung in Japanese, rather than English, to be inauthentic, thus framing rock as a specifically ethnic genre (much in the way that one might argue that, say, Balkan folk songs in English would be inauthentic, or possibly in the way that rap not performed in an American accent was regarded as "wack" for a decade or two).

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The New York Times has an article on Clyde Stubblefield, one of the most influential drummers of the recorded-music age, largely by virtue of him having drummed for James Brown, and particularly on a B-side titled Funky Drummer, whose drum break became one of the most sampled loops ever:

Born in Chattanooga, Tenn., Mr. Stubblefield was first inspired by the industrial rhythms of the factories and trains around him, and he got his start playing with regional bands. One day in 1965 Brown saw him at a club in Macon, Ga., and hired him on the spot. Through 1971 Mr. Stubblefield was one of Brown’s principal drummers, and on songs like “Cold Sweat” and “Mother Popcorn” he perfected a light-touch style filled with the off-kilter syncopations sometimes called ghost notes.
The technology and conventions of sampling — isolating a musical snippet from one recording and reusing it for another — also kept him from greater recognition. “Funky Drummer” didn’t appear on an album until 1986, when it was on “In the Jungle Groove,” a Brown collection that was heavily picked over by the new generation of sampler-producers.
...and the rest was history, with the entire hip-hop world, and then everybody from Madonna to Kenny G who wanted to grab some of that streetwise cool for themselves, sampling the Funky Drummer break to ubiquity. Soon the record labels and collection agencies got wind of this and started making demands for royalties (at one time, PolyGram apparently had four people working full-time, listening to new releases for uncleared James Brown samples). Unfortunately for Stubblefield, musical copyright law puts little weight on rhythm in ascribing authorship, and consequently he has received little in the way of royalties.

Stubblefield didn't stop with the Funky Drummer; a lifelong career musician, he has been playing in bands and on records ever since (fellow Madison, Wisconsin resident Butch Vig got him in on 1990s alternative band Garbage's first record, on the grounds that it'd be nuts to use a sample when the actual drummer lives nearby). Unfortunately, now his health is declining and, like many American musicians, he has no health insurance (in the US, unless you're either wealthy or a full-time employee, health insurance is generally unaffordable). To make money, Stubblefield has recorded a set of sampled drum loops, which may be licensed for 15% of any commercial sales, and also has a special edition of the sampling documentary Copyright Criminals. Or, if you want to throw him a few bucks, you can do so here.

(via MeFi) clyde stubblefield funk funky drummer hip-hop music sampling 0


There's some promising news from the world of music: US big-indie label Sub Pop have just signed Memoryhouse and Still Corners. Both bands are in an ambient vein, and could possibly be referred to as "dreampop". Memoryhouse are a Canadian ambient-pop duo who studied composition and photography, and, strangely enough, this comes through in their musical approach; one could imagine them signed to an earlier incarnation of 4AD. Meanwhile, Still Corners are a London three-piece with an understated sound, somewhere between early Paradise Motel and the Twin Peaks soundtrack, with a bit of surf-rock and Cocteau Twins for good measure; they have a few singles and an older album out, and have recorded a new album. Both bands' albums come out later this year, and should be ones to eagerly await.

A sublabel of Sub Pop has also signed Seattle C86-esque combo Seapony, who should appeal to anyone who likes Dum Dum Girls and Vivian Girls (the Brooklyn one, not the Melbourne band from 2000).

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The Quietus has an interview with The Human League, (who have a new album coming out, apparently skipping the whole 80s synthpop nostalgia circuit and focussing on making dancefloor-oriented electronic music). Anyway, the interview includes an interesting assertion that boring places (like Sheffield, allegedly) produce more interesting music than exciting places (like London):

(Joanne:) But Sheffield isn’t just about that; obviously you’ve got the Arctic Monkeys as well. It’s a very, very arty town. It’s a bit dull...
(Susan:) I think it is because it’s a bit boring. There isn’t much going on. You only have to go across the Pennines to Manchester and suddenly you're in a different world; it’s very cosmopolitan. You come back to Sheffield and it’s a bit... boring! And I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing because it creates creativity.
But that’s why good bands don’t come from London. Ambitious bands move to London to become famous but that’s not the same thing... even during punk and post-punk when you had a lot of people coming through, a lot of these bands were more associated with places like Bromley, which are satellite towns or else they came from squatted communities where people couldn’t afford any of the entertainment options that London offered.

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Andy Votel has written a tribute to Trish Keenan, and it's as splendidly illuminating as one might expect from him:

While transcending pop whims Trish's growing passions had recently found her moving into creative writing, fiction and sound poetry. Any single piece of Broadcast's 15 year legacy is omni-relevant and as a constantly evolving and challenging voice. It's devastating to think that she had barely even begun her creative journey. She was one of the only people to persuade me to release a financially doomed spoken word record, she emailed me her own personal review of the record when it came out which made it totally worthwhile.
This is why Broadcast in many ways act as a clearly annotated instruction manual to my own otherwise nonsensical record collection. Losing Trish Keenan is potentially like losing the bag of Swedish screws. But her legacy represents the glue in my misinformed musical penchants. Her varied sonic mood board of Czech cinema, random Indian and Malaysian charity shop finds, Italian library music and French sound poetry - when added to her inimitable kitchen sink optimism - proved how an open mind goes hand-in-hand with super-creative communication. Again Trish, unknowingly, wrote the rule book. For selfish reasons alone I'm absolutely heartbroken to have lost her.

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News of the untimely death of Trish Keenan, frontwoman of experimental library-pop band Broadcast, has sent shockwaves through the music community. The Line Of Best Fit has a thoughtful tribute:

If it was Stereolab who coined the term “space age bachelor pad music”, Broadcast were rewiring the room’s electrics to match the lush mood. The sumptuous elegance of Keenan’s coolly delivered vocals were key to installing the mood, sometimes gentle and wistful, fragile without being slight, at other times somnambulent, haunting and bold. Her lyrics could be cryptic, partly due to her occasional utilisation of automatic writing, but often bore weight as snapshots of love and society.
In the last few years Broadcast have been increasingly cited as an influence by pop-minded sonic adventurers. Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox recorded and toured with them in his Atlas Sound guise, of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes listed Haha Sound as his favourite album of the 00s when asked by Ragged Words, and Animal Collective booked them for their curation of All Tomorrow’s Parties this coming May after they played a stand-out set at the Matt Groening curated weekend last year.
And here is a roundup of some illustrious indie musicians' responses to the news.

Meanwhile, someone has posted a music mix in tribute here, consisting of 17 tracks in a sympathetic direction. Alas, there is no track listing, but it's largely in a psychedelic direction.

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A sad day for music: Trish Keenan, the frontwoman of Broadcast, has passed away from complications of pneumonia, after battling with H1N1 flu for two weeks. She was far too young.

The world will be a poorer place without her.

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It is now looking increasingly likely that the age of rock music is over:

The percentage of rock songs plummeted from a sickly 13% in 2009 to a terminal 3% – far behind hip-hop/R'n'B at 47%, pop at 40% and dance 10%, according to figures from MusicWeek.
("Pop", here, meaning not light guitar-based ditties, nor any niche genre (the "twee pop"/"p!o!p!" in the Orange Juice/Field Mice/Lucksmiths mould favoured by indie kids (many of them well north of 30), or the "futurepop" favoured by Goths who code) but specifically music without guitars or live drums, assembled in a studio to a commercial template.)
The news that the best performing rock song of 2010 was Don't Stop Believin', a 30-year-old track from the veteran rock act Journey made popular by US television show Glee, added a further nail to the coffin. "It is the end of the rock era. It's over, in the same way the jazz era is over," declared the veteran DJ and "professor of pop" Paul Gambaccini. "That doesn't mean there will be no more good rock musicians, but rock as a prevailing style is part of music history."
The death of rock, or at least its death as the dominant musical genre, has been predicted for a while, and demographically makes sense. Rock was a product of the post-WW2 boom, and the rise, in America and the West, of large numbers of middle-class teenagers with disposable income and freedom from adult responsibility, which conveniently happened when recorded music was the most promising entertainment technology of its sort. (Television was still too expensive for teens to have their own sets, and cinema is a more rarefied pleasure; you can listen to a record over and over again in a way you couldn't watch a movie.) When the same demographic phenomenon happened in South Korea and China, the teens jumped right over recorded music and got into multiplayer video gaming; instead of youth tribes, they got gamer clans.

Anyway, the warning signs have been around for ages. Rock first started lumbering towards middle age in the 1970s, the age of prog, being revitalised by the rise of punk, which was, essentially, just 1950s-style garage rock with more focus on urgency and rage than on musicianship (in fact, being too good a player would have been a liability, as punk led in the cult of lofi-as-authenticity that stayed with us until it was dispatched by cheap computer-based production tools on one hand and commodified pseudo-alternative music on the other). Throughout the 1980s, the commercial end of rock was showing definite middle-aged bloat, no longer being the anthems of teenage hooligans but rather of working stiffs and mortgage holders. The last major strands of underground rock to emerge into the sunlight and promptly get picked over by the forces of commodification were the alternative music genres that entered the mainstream in the 1990s, leading to shitty nu-metal in America, three-chord JJJ grunge in Australia and dire lad-indie in the UK. Meanwhile, hip-hop (and R&B, i.e., electronically produced soul infused with some hip-hop street attitude) and electronic dance music were growing, and a generation was growing up whose early memories of pop music were not of guitar-based beat combos but of Michael Jackson and Madonna. And when they started making music, it was often easier to pick up a laptop than a guitar. Where once it was given that a group of kids with music to make would rock out, now doing so is a deliberate retro affectation.

Another factor in the decline of rock has been the aging of its cohort, both the audience and the makers of the music:

There are rock acts still doing well, but it is the old guard: there is now, it seems, little new in rock. Bon Jovi was the highest grossing live act of 2010, bringing in $201.1m (£130.7m) in world ticket sales. However, its frontman is 48, and according to a report by Deloitte, 40% of the frontmen of the top 20 highest-grossing live acts in the US will be 60 or over next year; almost one in five acts will be over 50.
The first generation of rockers, those who made the music in the 1950s, is long gone; the second generation is moving towards retirement age, as are their original fans. (Does Pete Townshend still sing "hope I die before I get old"? Does he do so with a straight face?) As such, it's quite likely that rock's time as the dominant form of popular music is in its twilight. Of course, rock won't go away, in the way that jazz or blues (or, say, calypso or rhumba) didn't. Elements of it will occasionally reappear in whatever follows, but rock itself it will become a distinctly antiquarian pursuit.

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And as another year comes to an end, here is the obligatory list of records of 2010. Note that this time, the word "record" has been interpreted somewhat more liberally; as well as the usual CDs and occasional 7", some of the entries here are digital-only releases, and some were (and are) free to download. (The Null Device is not a rockist institution; we do not privilege traditional media or models of recorded music distribution for their own sake.) In any case, all of them were worthy of notice in 2010. And the records are, in alphabetical order:

  • Betty And The Werewolves, Teatime Favourites

    Arguably this generation's heirs to Tallulah Gosh and/or Lush, Betty And The Werewolves are a four-piece London band, who combine a punky garage-pop sound, sweet-but-not-too-sweet vocal harmonies and inspirations from classic romantic literature. They have had a number of singles out, and finally have released their début album; it's all pretty solid, and contains some standout tracks (Good As Gold, a slice of classic indiepop driven by a Be-My-Baby drumbeat, vocal harmonies, skronky guitars and almost psychedelic Casiotone filigree, and the hauntingly lovely closing track Hyacinth Girl are two which come to mind).

  • Crocodiles, Sleep Forever

    A new American band who channel Neu!, Suicide, the Stone Roses and the Jesus and Mary Chain in equal parts (along with a lot of 60s garage rock, I'm told), and do so well. The album hits the spots that The Horrors didn't; from the opening track (with its motorik beat and bassline, explosions of guitar noise and Roses-ish vocal melody soaring nonchalantly above it), through garage fuzz and reverb-drenched pop (Girl In Black sounds somewhere between a 1960s love ballad and the Mary Chain's Some Candy Talking), until the triumphantly defiant closer (All My Hate And My Hexes Are For You, which sounds like South Ambulance's Die 5times Times5 would have had the Stone Roses written it first). If you like London-based Brazilian psych-rock combo The Tamborines, you'll like Crocodiles.

  • The Electric Pop Group, Seconds, and The Radio Dept., Clinging To A Scheme

    Two Swedish indie-pop who bands who graced us with followup albums this year. Gothenburg's The Electric Pop Group's second album is, much as their self-titled first album and intervening EP, a janglepopfest that wouldn't have been out of place on Sarah Records. Don't expect radical experimentalism from these guys, but they do what they do very well. Stockholm's Radio Dept., however, depart a bit more from the mildly shoegazey indiepop of their first two albums, straying a little into the Balearic territory that the Swedes have recently made their own; there are more loops, house pianos and pulsing synths here, though the band's wistful, slightly melancholic voice still comes through.

  • Heligoland, All Your Ships Are White

    Produced by Robin Guthrie, and his trademark style fits nicely with Heligoland's sound, gilding its edges in a fine filigree of shimmering guitar ambience. Heligoland's records have been getting less languid as the band got more comfortable with the idea of rocking; if you imagine Heligoland's previous albums combined with Guthrie's solo output (such as Carousel or the Mysterious Skin soundtrack), you'll probably have a good idea of what to expect.

  • Hong Kong In The 60s, Places

    Hong Kong In The 60s are going places; earlier this year, they had a split single on Ghost Box's Study Series. They followed this up with an instrumental mini-album, Places, which they made available as a free download from their BandCamp page. Places is an intricately arranged and evocative piece of contemporary hauntological library pop, evoking old instructional films and unreliable travelogues, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, giallo soundtracks and early OMD/Human League. Download this, listen to it on repeat and line up to buy their (non-instrumental) début album which comes out some time in 2011.

  • Memoryhouse, The Years EP, and Tamaryn, The Waves

    I chose to write these two releases up as one entry because, despite the acts being unconnected, they can be seen as two sides of a coin. Both bands are within the realm of shoegaze/dreampop as it stands today, though cover different aspects of it. Memoryhouse is a Canadian duo consisting of a classically-trained instrumentalist and a singer who also takes moody-looking photographs (they also have a photo book/CD-R titled Choir of Empty Rooms out); they cover the more floaty, æthereal end, somewhere between early Piano Magic, Slowdive's Five EP, This Mortal Coil's first album and a more shoegazey Azure Ray. Their first EP, The Years, is available as a free download, and may be downloaded from here, and consists of four tracks, combining reverb-drenched shoegazey ambience, hints of alt-country, and layered electronic loops and samples. There are other Memoryhouse MP3s floating around the blogs, which are well worth tracking around; I particularly recommend Lately (Troisième), an even more æthereal alternate version of a track from The Years.

    Tamaryn, meanwhile, is a duo from San Francisco, fronted by the eponymous singer from New Zealand, and cover the grittier, fuzzier end of the shoegaze spectrum, sounding somewhere between early Lush and MBV, with hints of Kiss Me-period Cure and the Cocteau Twins (the latter particularly on Sandstone, a track which did the rounds of the MP3 blogs earlier this year). There are walls of fuzzy guitars and layers of reverbed texture, but they're underpinned by drums and driving baselines that keep it from floating away into the æther.

  • Ninetynine, Bande Magnétique

    The name suggests a homage to PIL's Metal Box, only this isn't the case, as this record is not actually available on magnetic tape; you can buy it on CD, or download the MP3s for free from the band's BandCamp page. In any case, it's a fine return to form; the songwriting is strong, and Ninetynine's characteristic angular-yet-melodic sound (Casiotone keyboards, chromatic percussion and skronky guitars all feature here, as you'd expect) is complemented with string arrangements, which work quite well. This is probably the last Ninetynine album for a while, though Laura is pursuing other musical projects.

  • The Paradise Motel, Australian Ghost Story

    The Paradise Motel were one of my favourite bands some 13 years earlier, with their sparse, haunting sound and Tasmanian Gothic (not to be confused with Goth) aesthetic; their songs were like faded postcards from lost people, the handwriting on the back hinting at tragic fates. Now, a decade after breaking up in London, the Motel reunited for a comeback (with a few new members; bassist Matt Bailey parted ways with the band a long time ago, drumming duties are now fulfilled by fellow Hobartian expat Andy Hazel, while frontwoman Merida remains based in London, collaborating with the rest of the band remotely). Their comeback album is a concept album about the disappearance of Azaria Chamberlain, a subject that's not far out of character for the band. Musically, it's not as sparse as the early EPs, and there's less distortion than in Still Life, but the elements are there: the Hammond, the twin guitars and Matt Aulich's string arrangements.

  • Zola Jesus Stridulum EP

    Zola Jesus is Nika Roza Danilova, a young woman from Wisconsin via L.A., with a remarkably powerful voice; and in her musical guise, she channels the electronic end of 1980s Goth (think Lene Lovich), and does it well. Stridulum is a six-track EP. It's very much in a minor-key gothic synthpop vein, and very listenable.

With honourable mentions going to: Beat Connection, Surf Noir EP (a nice piece of Balearic pop, not too far from Air France), The Bedroom Philosopher, Songs From The 86 Tram (mainly for Northcote (So Hungover), the last word on Melbourne hipsterdom), Best Coast, Crazy For You (yes, she only does one thing, but she does it well; it's more solid than the kooky backstory suggests), Dean & Britta, 13 Most Beautiful: Songs For Andy Warhol's Screen Tests (the Velvet Underground influence is unsurprising, the use of Autotune, not so much), The Depreciation Guild, Spirit Youth (their second album; anthemic shoegaze-meets-chiptune; the version of Dream About Me manages to improve on the already superb single version), DOM, Sun-Bronzed Greek Gods (another EP that surfs the chillwave with its layers of knowingly anachronistic 80s synths, ringing guitars and oddly androgynous vocals, this time assembled into party-rocking anthems for the American Apparel set), Faux Pas, Noiseworks (it may share its name with an Australian mainstream band of the 1980s, but it's not a piece of ironic pastiche, but rather an album of solid electronica; somewhere off the ambient end of house, and leaning towards dubstep in places), Peter Peter Hughes, Fangio (a concept album about a racing driver's second career as an international assassin; it sounds like New Order meets Ennio Morricone and works better than one might expect), Momus, Hypnoprism (Momus' latest album is a combination of glitchy cut'n'paste, knowingly old-fashioned vocals, surreal imagery and apposite observation; the title track and the superb The Charm Song are highlights), The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, Say No To Love 7" (between their first album and the singles from their upcoming second album, this is the Pains at their Field Mice-esque best; the Pains are the band people think The Drums are), The School, Loveless Unbeliever (the first full-length album from the Cardiff indiepop band; classic 1960s girl-group sound put together with Spectoresque precision; The School are the band people think The Pipettes are), Still Corners, Don't Fall In Love 7" (the A side is 60s-style pop with a Lynchian noir aesthetic, and the B-side, Wish, is a slice of sublimely æthereal dreampop not that far from Memoryhouse; judging by the band's live shows, their new album, coming out some time in 2011, is one to anticipate), Still Flyin', A Party In Motion (mostly for the two versions of Victory Walker, which may well be the last word on hipster-oriented yacht rock), Twin Sister, Color Your Life/Vampires With Dreaming Kids EPs (this intersection between chillwave and indie-pop is a grower; the euphoric All Around And Away We Go and the smooth-sailin' I Want A House are particularly notable). Not to mention this year's notable rereleases: Blueboy's three albums, rereleased with EP tracks and extensive liner notes on él Records (I imagine it's what Keith Girdler would have wanted), and The Bodines' much-underrated C86-era album Played, rereleased by Cherry Red.

If I had to choose a record of the year, it'd probably be Betty And The Werewolves.

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As a counterpoint to Everett True's today's-white-beardy-guy-music-is-just-noise-for-wasters argument, an insightful Pitchfork article placing noisy music on a spectrum between dreamy and alert, and speculating from there:

Popular indie rock has long had its own variety of noises to zone out to, and they're mostly washes of sound, not deep grooves or wailing solos. Feedback, reverb, echoes, repetitive loops, tape hiss, different textures of noise flowing over you. They split across a wide spectrum of feelings, too: there's a "bliss" end and a "confusion" one. Both feel stoned and hazy and encourage you to space out. But the bliss end is like a happy dream-- it wants to be gorgeous, angelic, ethereal-- and the confusion end is closer to a nightmare, cathartic and ugly.

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An observation I recently had about the way the various classes of "indie" music fall across the spectrum of class in Britain:


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David Cameron, Britain's Tory Prime Minister, has on occasion professed his love of 1980s indie band The Smiths, known for their staunchly left-wing politics and anti-Thatcherite proclamations. And now, Johnny Marr has replied, forbidding David Cameron from liking The Smiths:

David Cameron, stop saying that you like The Smiths, no you don't. I forbid you to like it.
less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone
And here is a piece from the Daily Torygraph, er, Telegraph's music critic, in defense of Cameron's uncharacteristically left-wing musical tastes, writing before the election, pointing out Morrissey's recently small-c-conservative views and claiming that at least Cameron was more genuinely into the music he professes a liking for than the New Labour politicians whose tastes are blandly focus-grouped:
Personally, I am tremendously heartened when a political leader actually demonstrates genuine and quite sophisticated cultural tastes, instead of getting spin doctors to compile their iPod playlists for them (with every song a political message). Or, like Gordon Brown, dropping clunking references to contemporary popular favourites such as the Arctic Monkeys and Harry Potter when we all know he is really ensconced in his study reading economic history and perhaps listening to a ‘Best Of’ classical compilation that his wife bought him for Christmas.
When I ran into David Cameron at the BBC once, I asked him what was the last CD he bought. Without a moment’s hesitation, he named a new album from an obscure American band called Modest Mouse, who had been working with Morrissey’s old Smiths’ collaborator Johnny Marr (who played every date on Red Wedge’s original tour). I am not sure what credibility it gives him to tackle global economic meltdown, but he is certainly the hippest party leader.
(Modest Mouse are obscure?)

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The Hummingbirds, arguably the greatest Australian indiepop band of the 1990s, are reforming for a one-off set at Sydney's Big Day Out on the 27th of January. Well, so far it's a one-off set; perhaps they'll do some other Australian shows. I imagine that them playing Indie Tracks or the Gothenburg Popfest would be a bit of a stretch, though.

Meanwhile, Mess+Noise also has a two-part retrospective on the Punter's Club, the legendary Fitzroy music venue which closed its doors in 2002 (1, 2), interviewing many of the people involved, who went on to work in other Melbourne live music institutions.

The Punters Club closing was so final, though. We knew it was going to happen and that another business was going to move into the building, so it couldn’t be saved. It might have indirectly inspired the SLAM rally and all the outrage about The Tote, because it proved that people actually give a shit about music venues closing. I actually think The Punters Club was more loved than The Tote, but over the years, people came to realise that they didn’t want to lose another venue.
In hindsight it’s sad, and we miss that venue, but Brunswick Street really sucks these days anyway. I’m pleased that I don’t have to go and see gigs in that area anymore. Johnston Street and The Old Bar is about as close as I want to get. I don’t want to be with all the hipsters there. It’s like the gentrification of St Kilda. I remember when Brunswick Street only had three or four cafes: Bakers, Rhumbarella’s, Mario’s and The Fitz. That said, Melbourne has an extremely strong live music scene, so for every venue that closes, a new one opens somewhere.
This weekend, for those in Melbourne, there is a series of Punter's Club reunion shows at the Corner Hotel in Richmond.

The spectre of closure, usually driven by gentrification and the increased rents coming from it, is seldom far away from live music venues; recently, Melbourne's favoured ex-neo-Nazi haunt turned band venue, Birmingham Hotel ceased putting on gigs, due to it losing money. Meanwhile, in London, increasing costs have forced the Luminaire to close at the end of the year. The Luminaire was one of London's better medium-sized venues; it will be fondly remembered, particularly the hand-painted signs on the walls informing punters in no uncertain terms that it is a music venue not a pub, and instructing those who wish to talk to their mates to leave.

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Today's big question: does country music increase suicide rates? The authors of this paper think that it does, and that country music fans are at significantly higher risk of suicide than nonfans, for reasons involving gun ownership, marital discord and the inherent job and financial stresses affecting America's working poor (which are often referred to in country song lyrics). The authors of this paper, however, dispute this, claiming methodological errors and that there is no evidence of country music making people more likely to off themselves than any other genre. (Whether music in general, or music with lyrics more specifically, correlates to depression or suicide risk, of course, is another question.)

(via xrrf) country music death music psychology suicide 0


When popular music (in the loosest sense of the word) is discussed, the axis of authenticity often comes up, in the context of determining where on it an act fits. Its usual construction is something like this: at the inauthentic end, one will find the usual suspects: manufactured pop groups, middle-class gangsta rappers and anyone using AutoTune. Moving towards authenticity, things get less polished, grittier and rawer (though that, again, is no guarantee; it's easy enough for a producer to make a group of models or reality-TV contestants sound "grungy"). The gold standard of authenticity, if there is one, would probably be old blues recordings from the 1920s and 1930s: made before both modern recording techniques and the rise of an entertainment-industrial complex geared to parting teenagers from their pocket money in large numbers, before postmodern irony, they're as real as recorded sound gets. The rawest, most basic rock'n'roll from the mythological Golden Age sacred to rockists can only reflect, imperfectly, the authenticity of the blues.

Except that now, it may be that even the old cornerstones of the blues may not be entirely pure of sophistry and trickery: new claims have emerged that the recordings of Robert Johnson (the legendary bluesman, best known for allegedly having sold his soul to the Devil at a crossroads in return for an unbeatable playing technique) may have been sped up by as much as 20%, either to fit them on 78RPM records or—horror of horrors—to make them sound more commercially marketable:

he theory, which may have started in Japanese collector circles (it goes back at least to 2002; I'm still hunting for the original source) and has been taken up by several people in the UK, most notably John Gibbens, a poet and musician who has researched the matter and produced alternate versions of the recordings in which he slows down the existing recordings roughly 20 percent. We still hear those amazing words and that tough, doomed voice, but we hear a dramatically different Robert Johnson: his voice sounds more like the masters who preceded him (Charlie Patton, Son House) and his guitar playing, while still intricate (Johnny Shines, another outstanding bluesman who travelled with Johnson for a time, once claimed Johnson used a bizarre seven-string guitar), is more deliberate and dour. He sounds older, nastier, as if the hellhound on his trail that he sang about had caught up to him already. He sounds, in essence, like a different man. Speeding up the recordings, if it happened, changes how we hear blues and rock history. If Gibbens is right, this would change the way we hear and understand the blues. Johnson's raw, on-the-edge voice? Fake. The wild guitar runs that made thousands of aspiring guitarists' fingers bleed? Ditto.

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Economist Robin Hanson presents a sustainability-based argument for derivative music:

Each new song sits somewhere in a range of originality, from very original to very derivative. The more new original songs are developed and marketed, the harder it gets to develop and market new songs that will be seen as relatively original. Song writers then become more tempted to develop and market recycled versions of old songs. As the supply of original songs is slowly exhausted, the music industry slowly changes its focus from original to derivative songs. Since original music cannot last forever, we face a “sustainability” question regarding whether we are using up the supply of original music too quickly, too slowly, or just right.
So when you next see another ploddingly dull lad-rock band rehashing the Beatles or Joy Division once more, without feeling, or hear another cringeworthily trite song about being or not being in love, or roll your eyes at a hack lyricist rhyming "girl" with "world", perhaps consider for a moment that, rather than polluting the world with mediocre pap, they're wisely rationing the finite supply of original musical ideas by not using any. Meanwhile, if the space of original musical ideas is in danger of depletion, the musical snobs who turn up their noses at Robbie Williams or Oasis and listen exclusively to post-tropicalia glitch-hop mashups and avant-garde experimentalism are not so much laudably adventurous spirits as the cultural equivalent of the conspicuously consuming douchebags who drive Hummers and buy endangered animal products.

That is assuming that the space of new musical ideas is finite, of course, and that once it is depleted, there will be nowhere left to go; once every possible verse-chorus-verse song in a blues scale has been written, for example, that humanity will be doomed to listen to songs they've all heard before, rather than, for example, changing the rules of what constitutes (popular) music.

(via David Gerard) culture economics gedankenexperiment ideas music 8


10 pivotal moments in band/brand relationships, from the crude commercial tie-ups of the old days (the Beatles' disastrously naïve merchandise licensing deal and the Pepsi/Michael Jackson tie-up), through various milestones (Moby licensing every track on his album Play to advertisers, whilst saying no to firms he found ethically dubious, such as McDonalds; Of Montreal turning the sell-out into performance art by rerecording a song as an Outback Steakhouse jingle and pocketing lots of money for it (though, to be honest, they probably they probably stole the idea from New Order), and onto the current day, when traditional record labels are waning and savvy sponsors are acting more like the art patrons of the pre-capitalist era than the traditional merchandisers of yore, setting up free MP3 labels and free recording studios, letting bands do their own thing for a reflection of some of the cool; raising questions about the nature of authenticity and the idea of "selling out" (a concept by now as unfashionably anachronistic as boycotting Nike products). Is selling a song to an advertiser, and spending the money on projects one has creative control over, more damning than signing one's rights away in perpetuity to a major label owned by a hedge fund for a pittance? And if there's no such thing as purity, which ways of compromising are more acceptable?

(via MeiYau) authenticity branding capitalism culture marketing music 0


The Graun's Alexis Petridis looks at the one genre of 1970s musical entertainment not yet revived or reappropriated by anyone: cabaret pop, which, by his description, is a lukewarm broth of reactionary light entertainment aired on British television throughout the 70s. Cabaret pop pointedly ignored all the stylistic innovations of the past decade, and was so unabashedly naff that it makes Eurovision look polished by comparison:

These days, we tend to view the years 1965 to 1968 as a high watermark of daring creativity, greeted with untrammelled delight at the time: after all, who wouldn't prefer Jimi Hendrix to Gerry and the Pacemakers? Look at the charts, however, and the answer seems to be: loads of people. The shift from pop to rock, and all the things bound up with it – drugs, dissent, the rise of the counterculture – clearly horrified as many record buyers as it delighted, and they responded by buying music as far from the cutting edge as it's possible to imagine. The incident in which Engelbert Humperdinck's Release Me kept Strawberry Fields Forever off the top of the charts wasn't an aberration, it was part of a trend. By late 1969, the predominant style in the UK singles chart is reactionary gloop. The Stones' Honky Tonk Women and the Temptations' Cloud Nine are fighting for space not just with Englebert, but with Clodagh Rodgers, Ken Dodd, Joe Dolan and Karen Young.
You're struck by how utterly cut off all this music seems from anything else happening at the time. There's not the vaguest intimation of glam rock or soul or singer-songwriterisms about the artists' sound or appearance. Children's TV was packed with pop music in the 70s – Lift Off With Ayshea, Supersonic, Get It Together, Shang-A-Lang – but a decade after the Times approved of the Beatles' Aeolian cadences, it's clear that no one working in light entertainment considered rock or pop music suitable mainstream entertainment for adults. When the Three Degrees appear on The Wheeltappers and Shunters, all hotpants and inoffensive Philly soul, the audience look aghast and baffled: you'd have thought Kraftwerk had just come on and played Autobahn in its entirety.
Even more astonishing is the way the musicians have shut themselves off from pop's recent past. You might have thought at least the Beatles' oeuvre had swiftly attained standard status, that Yesterday or Something might be precisely the kind of thing the balladeers with the shag-pile sideburns would gravitate towards, but no: it's still clearly considered too racy. During my light entertainment marathon, I hear two Beatles songs. One is courtesy of Little and Large: Syd Little sings Till There Was You while Eddie Large interrupts him doing impressions of Deputy Dawg. The other is Can't Buy Me Love, performed by the Morton Fraser Harmonica Gang: three men huffing away accompanied by a dancing midget in a wig.
Cabaret pop's most lasting contribution to pop culture may well have been being an irritant which contributed to the welling up of rage that brought about punk and the explosion of rule-breaking creativity that followed:
From a distance of nearly 40 years, punk can be hard to grasp: not the music, but the spitting and the swastikas and the fuck-everything nihilistic rage. But when you're drowning in light entertainment pop, you start to get an inkling of why so many people were so eager not just to listen to the Sex Pistols – that's obvious – but to indulge in all punk's unsavoury gestures. It's partly because anything, even dressing up like a Nazi and coming home covered in someone else's flob, was more entertaining than staying at home and watching three men play harmonicas accompanied by a dancing midget in a wig, and partly because, judging by what constituted mainstream popular entertainment in the 70s, not one of the previous decade's supposed revolutions had affected wider popular culture at all. The youth culture of the preceding decade seemed to have failed: to anyone watching the TV, Britain still looked trapped in the 1950s.
It's not clear whether this will remain cabaret pop's only claim to historical significance, or whether it will end up, eventually, being reappropriated by someone. Perhaps it'll be an adjunct to wickerfolk or hypnagogic pop, the insipid blandness and lack of artistic significance compared to the other things revived (from 1970s folk revivalism to radiophonic library music) merely a red rag to the bull of hipster irony. Perhaps someone will sample it, and the white-gowned ladies and dancing midgets will enjoy a post-ironic new lease of life at festivals. (Stranger things have happened; the Australians reading this will recall Kamahl's transition from ultra-bland crooner to ironic Big Day Out performer.) Or perhaps cabaret pop, without the antediluvian cool of lounge music, the polyester smoothness of yacht rock or the subtle undertones of the outré that shade the folk and radiophonica of that epoch, is truly beyond redemption as a subject of sincere interest going beyond half an hour of cringing at fuzzy YouTube videos; one of those things there isn't enough hipster irony in the observable universe to redeem.

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There's a documentary in production titled "My Secret World: The Story of Sarah Records", giving an account of the legendary indie-pop label and including interview footage filmed at the Indie Tracks festival this year. Anyway, there's a teaser/trailer for it here:

(via Rob) culture history indiepop music sarah records video 0


Mess+Noise has an interesting interview with Bart Cummings, songwriter for classic 1990s indiepop bands such as The Cat's Miaow and The Shapiros, now working as a librarian in Ballarat (a provincial city an hour or two out of Melbourne; think, I don't know, Northampton or somewhere) and recently having released an EP, involving collaborations with the likes of Mark and Louis of the Lucksmiths and Pam Berry (of The Shapiros/Black Tamborine/Chickfactor zine), under the name Bart And Friends.

The last couple of years remind me of the early ’90s a lot, not just in the networking but the music as well.
A lot of that era’s sound has been coming back, thanks to bands like The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart. And Black Tambourine recently got a reissue.
Yeah, it’s funny. I emailed [Black Tambourine singer] Pam [Berry] about 18 months ago and said, “You know everyone’s dropping your name?” She [had no idea]. She’s in the situation as me: she’s got kids the same age and doesn’t go out that much.

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Today's extreme-reductionism funnies: @discographies, or recording artists'/bands' careers summarised in 140 characters:

Kraftwerk: 1-3 beta-testing; 4,6,11 motion simulators; 5,8 communications systems; 7 robots/sex/cities; 9,10 Dance Dance (post-)Revolution.
Interpol: 1 Find an old photo of Joy Division. 2 Xerox the photo. 3 Draw the Xerox. 4 Stare at the drawing: you'll never get Closer.
Radiohead: 1 not a novelty; 2 not "alternative"; 3 not prog; 4-5 not of this earth; 6 not budging; 7 not (conventionally) for sale.
Neu!: 1-3 derderDER. derderDER. derderDER. DER!DER! (Repeat with unchanging precision until the universe dies.)
The Clash: 1 thesis; 2 antithesis; 3 synthesis; 4 elephantiasis; 5 arteriosclerosis; 6 paralysis.

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Today, the Guardian's New Band Of The Day is Tamaryn, a San Francisco-based duo very much in a shoegaze/dreampop vein. The article, for some reason, takes the angle of drawing a dichotomy between Jimi Hendrix' guitar sound (said to be influential, though not really) and the MBV/Cocteau Twins sound (which can be heard everywhere these days).

The song titles – Choirs of Winter, Haze Interior, Cascades – are almost shoegaze parodying, but it's not all formless FX pedal fondling. Dawning, in particular, stands out as a fab pop song, like Slowdive doing a Fleetwood Mac cover. Stevie Nicks – now there's someone else who's been more influential than Hendrix lately.
I can vouch for the new Tamaryn album, The Waves; if you're into the Cocteau Twins, Curve or Ride, you could do worse than to give them a listen.

Also in the Graun recently: a piece on the 30th anniversary of the 4AD label, the seminal post-punk label whose monochromatic record sleeves and understatedly expressionistic records adorned the homes of the more sophisticated goths of the 1980s, alongside black and white poster prints and VHS tapes of Fritz Lang movies. Now, of course, it's no longer Ivo Watts-Russell's personal label but the Matador group's boutique imprint, though is still home to interesting artists.

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This is pretty awesome: The Wilderness Downtown, an interactive music video (to use the term slightly loosely) by anthemic indie combo The Arcade Fire, with technical assistance from Google's Creative Lab. The way it works: put in the address of the house you grew up in, and you will be presented with a music video comprised of prerecorded footage composed with animations generated from Google Earth and Street View imagery of your home. Well, I use the term "music video" loosely; it's an experience comprised of numerous browser windows opening at various times and places, presenting various combinations of imagery. Using Google Chrome is recommended. (Note that some plugins may interfere with its operation; if it doesn't start, try running it in incognito mode.)

There's a technical description here, and here is a WIRED piece on it, including an interview with the creators, director Chris Milk and Google tech lead Aaron Koblin.

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Tom Ewing's Poptimist column in Pitchfork has an A to Z of discourse in music criticism, which illuminates the current state of flux in the production and consumption of music quite tellingly:

E is for Excess: Not the rock'n'roll lifestyle, alas, but the sense we live in a time of musical glut-- reissues of old LPs now stretched across three CDs, legal download dumps of hundreds of tracks, even musicians getting in on the act (Wiley just gave 11 CD-Rs worth of tunes away). What's interesting to me isn't the decadence so much as how social listening strategies are evolving to cope-- the task of processing all this stuff is devolved to fans as a group, a sharp break from the single artwork meets single pair of ears model we've been used to for so long.
N is for Novelty: Novelty records-- gimmick dances, comedy songs, et al.-- regularly turn up in "worst song ever"-type polls. Their decline should have been a canary in the record industry coalmine, though: A track like "Macarena" got big by appealing to people who didn't usually buy records, which made them an index of the extent to which buying a record was seen as a normal thing to do. The market for novelties hasn't gone away, of course-- it simply relocated to YouTube.
P is for Pleasure: The "no such thing as a guilty pleasure" line ends up at a kind of naturism of pop, where the happiest state of being is to display one's tastes unaltered to the world. But the barriers to naturism aren't just shame and poor body image, it's also that clothes are awesome and look great. Performing taste-- played-up guilt and all-- is as delightful and meaningful as dressing well and makes the world a more colorful place. (This still isn't the full story, though-- see V for Virtue).
Y is for Year Zero: Grunge killed hair metal. Acid house changed everything. Punk saw off progressive rock. These dividing-line stories are always attractive, always useful for a while-- and then always revised. The grandfather of them all, though, has proved harder to shift-- the idea that something happened in the early-to-mid-fifties to mark a change of era and fix a boundary of relevance. The next 10 or 20 years, as the 60s slip deeper into unlived collective memory, will be crucial and fascinating (for historians, anyway!).

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Modern audio processing technology can work wonders, such as, for example, turning a song by manufactured pop star Justin Bieber into a 35-minute glacial ambient soundscape, in an Icelandic touristcore vein. Apparently the trick was slowing the original down by 800% with the right software. (Which makes me wonder whether or not that is, in fact, how artists like Jónsi make their music, or at least the backings.)

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Over the past few decades, the market value of recorded music has been declining, as music has gotten easier to make and distribute, to the point where there is a flood of music vying for one's attention, and the challenge is not finding it but sorting the worthwhile stuff from the dross and filler. Of course, this sucks if you're a musician trying to be heard, as you're competing for the limited attention of your audience with millions of others.

The latest outcome of this commodification: a British band calling itself The Reclusive Barclay Brothers has paid 100 people £27 to listen to their song, a jaunty little number titled We Could Be Lonely Together.

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Recently, Boing Boing posted a link to a video for an instrumental composition by an Icelandic band named For A Minor Reflection. The music and visuals are much as most people these days would imagine upon hearing the words "Icelandic band"; i.e., it sounds a bit like Sigur Rös. Perhaps more interesting is a comment on the page, by an anonymous Icelander:

Incidentally, in Iceland this style of music is now known as touristcore. That term refers to how it panders to the elves and northern light image promoted by the tourist industry while simultaneously rehashing the twee-drama-romantic music style that broke into the mainstream with Sigur Rós, Múm, Björk a good 12 years ago. People who insist on flogging that horse are forced to make it outside of Iceland as back there they can't be heard over the sound of rolling eyes and despairing moans.

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Your humble correspondent spent the past two weeks in Melbourne, on family business.

Whilst in Melbourne, I learned that long-time blog favourites Ninetynine have recorded a new album, and decided to release it for free. (I was actually contacted by Lachlan, a regular contributor, who was helping to put it online.) Anyway, the new Ninetynine album is now online; it is titled, perhaps ironically, Bande Magnétique, and may be downloaded here.

And Bande Magnétique is Ninetynine in fine form; it starts off with the sort of angular pop they do so well (the opening track, Guest List Girls, featured on a compilation last year), and goes on from there, with echoes of Stereolab and Sonic Youth. Interestingly enough, a few of their tracks feature string arrangements of all things, which work surprisingly well. The effect is somewhat akin to another veteran Melbourne band who recently released a record, The Paradise Motel.

If you want to buy a physical copy of Bande Magnétique, there will be CDs at gigs, and possibly in record shops. Though in either case, you can get it online for free, with the band's blessing. And I'm told that the rest of the back-catalogue will follow in due time.

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The Chipophone is an instrument for live chiptune performance (i.e., playing live music on a keyboard in the style of music generated by 8-bit computers and game consoles), made from microcontrollers and housed in the chassis of a 1970s-vintage electronic organ by a Swedish chap named Linus Akesson. There is a video of Akesson demonstrating the unit and its features, and playing some classic chiptunes live, here.

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Another reaction to the changing economics of recorded music: American indie band The Fiery Furnaces are protesting the falling monetary value of recorded music by declining to provide it; and so, an indie Atlas shrugs and, instead, releases a "Silent Record":

The Fiery Furnaces’ next album will consist of instruction, conventional music notation, graphic music notation, reports and illustrations of previous hypothetical performances, reports and illustrations of hypothetical performances previous to the formation of their hypotheses, guidelines for the fabrication of semi-automatic machine rock, memoranda to the nonexistent Central Committee of the Fiery-Furnaces-in-Exile concerning the non-creation of situations, Relevant to Progressive Rock Division, conceptual constellations on a so-to-speak black cloth firmament, and other items that have nothing to do with the price of eggs, or milk, or whatever the proverbial expression ceased to be.
Upon release of the record, the band will organize a series of Fan-Band concerts, in which groups of perfectly ordinary Fiery Furnaces’ fans will perform, interpret, contradict, ignore, and so on, the compositions that make up Silent Record. Write to to nominate your post office break room, truck stop parking lot, municipal arts center, local tavern, or what-its-name to host one of these ‘happenings’. By ‘happenings’ I mean, what will be in the future, perfectly normal rock shows. And propose yourself for Fan Band participation.

(via Ian W.) culture détournement fiery furnaces music the recording industry 2


An article in the Graun asks whether the internet and the rise of music blogs has killed the idea of a local music scene, replacing a world of local scenes from Merseybeat to Madchester to the Seattle Sound with something a lot less connected to geography:

The idea of the local scene has always been an attractive prospect, playing on tribal mentalities and a very human desire for order. It has helped define emerging music, and in so doing, endowed places with certain musical characteristics that come to be seen as inalienable (play musical word association, and see what comes after Seattle). But recently, local scenes seem to be dying out. With the advent of the internet, the way we consume and create music has changed. We still turn to genres to help define sound, but these days these scenes are often built on artists who share nothing in terms of geography – disparate bedroom artists such as Washed Out, Toro Y Moi and Memory Tapes find themselves lumped together under the "chillwave" banner by bloggers and internet communities drawing parallels in sound, though their bedrooms are hundreds of miles apart.
There have been non-local scenes before the rise of the blogs; the Messthetics DIY cassette scene of the 1980s, with geeky sorts making casiopunk jams in sheds all over the third-tier provincial towns of Britain and mailing them out on cassettes, was one; if you haven't heard of it, that probably says more about the impact the internet has made than anything else. Before the internet, finding like-minded individuals outside of one's own area was prohibitively difficult; a few isolated individuals may have struggled, mailing zines and cassettes (and, for a while, CD-Rs) to each other, but their numbers dropped every time one of them either managed to move to a culturally active area and became too busy going to gigs and jamming in bands to keep up or just stopped bothering and instead decided to watch TV or build model train sets, or else traded in one's studio and music-making time for the responsibilities of parenthood or one's career.

Now, of course, with music blogs at one end, self-publishing services like SoundCloud and Basecamp at the other and sites like Facebook and tying it together, participating online is not a sign of loserdom, a poor substitute for the real thing for those too far from the action, but is itself part of the action. (A similar destigmatization happened in the area of online dating over the past decade, and one could argue that a similar phenomenon is at work in online gaming; compare the mainstream social acceptability of FarmVille to that of traditional MMORPGs.) Even the cool kids in Williamsburg or Prenzlauerberg post their MP3s and animations online (not to mention Hipstamatic photos of them being ironically drunk-faced at the latest art party); and when it comes to making art, promising voices from outside aren't automatically shut out.

The other side of the coin is, of course, the ongoing process of gentrification. Music scenes become established in places which are geographically compact and cheap, and as they thrive, they attract hipsters, then non-creative but fashion-following trendies, and then purely materialistic yuppies, until finally the original artists are priced out, and the area soon belonging only to those with the means of buying their way in (look at Brooklyn, for example; according to Patti Smith, this renowned hipster mecca has closed itself off to the young and struggling and, if Gavin McInnes is to be believed, today's Williamsburg hipsterati are pretty much exclusively the scions of America's top stratum, doing a sort of combination grand tour/rumspringa of the artistic/bohemian lifestyle before taking their rightful places as captains of industry; Vampire Weekend are unique only in the extent to which they make this explicit in their lyrics and attire). As focussed inner cities become more attractive and expensive, pricing artists out, and technology obviates the need for proximity, is the future of art looking more atomised? Will creativity move out of the physical world and into networks of alienated bedrooms in impoverished dormitory suburbs or small towns, and the distribution of artists (by which I mean active contributors to artistic discourse, not creatively-attired scenesters and poseurs) spread out more uniformly over the landscape, in the way that, say, open-source programmers (also contributors to the creative economy, though not as likely to parlay that into social status or sexual success) are?

One good thing coming from this, though, is that, with the decline of geographically delimited scenes, bedroom musicians are freed of pressure to conform to local norms; when one's scene is a network of blogs, it's easier to move to a different scene (or be discovered by one). Physical scenes, however, tend to impose their values, and often exclude or actively scorn those who don't conform. Take, for example, the blues-rock monoculture in 1970s Australia, or the vaguely homophobic anti-synthesizer backlash of the early 1980s there; one could, indeed, adapt another Australian term to apply to this phenomenon, and call it the Tyranny of Proximity.

Kev Kharas of the influential blog No Pain in Pop believes that new music is purer as a result. "There is no pressure to conform to any kind of scene etiquette," he says. "It frees up people to get closer to something they want to do, rather than making music that's responding to staid ideas." While the music industry has been panicking over lost record sales from file-sharing and free downloads, a quiet creative revolution has been taking place behind the scenes.
Of course, not everybody's happy with this. Some grumpy old men don't like it one bit:
"When we were kids, we'd give our eye's teeth for a bootleg of an early Bo Diddley track," says Billy Childish, who has championed localism in north Kent as part of the Medway scene of garage rock bands and the Medway Poets. "Now, you can have everything you want just when you want it. We've got this massive problem where it's Christmas every day. It's difficult to find the edges."

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The Guardian's Dorian Lynskey on popular music artists with autoparodically distinctive styles of titling songs:

Ten years ago, my colleague on the soon-to-be-defunct Select magazine, Steve Lowe, had a good line in inventing fake song titles, spoofing the faux-profound contradictions of Oasis (Money Makes You Poor), the twee archaisms of Belle and Sebastian (Take Your Coat Off or You Won't Feel the Benefit) and the parenthesis-loving rock cliches of Richard Ashcroft (Standing Out from Everyone Else (Sure Is Hard)).
The article was prompted by a new Richard Ashcroft album with a track listing packed with clunky banalities, but soon explores further afield, mentioning fake track listings for unreleased albums and commercially successful artists' unintentionally comic lapses in self-awareness:
I'd like to think Primal Scream were sending themselves up on 2006's Riot City Blues with titles such as Suicide Sally and Johnny Guitar or We're Gonna Boogie, but I fear not. Equally, Christina Aguilera's Sex for Breakfast was probably conceived in the spirit of Sex and the City 2 rather than Flight of the Conchords. And Oasis's Don't Believe the Truth is every bit as stupid-clever as Money Makes You Poor.
And, as one might expect, the discussion turns to Morrissey, whose later material serves as a perfect horrible example:
I once made the mistake of telling Morrissey how much I liked the witty self-parody of How Can Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel and was rewarded with a withering glare. "It's amusing when you say it," he said unsmilingly. "I don't know why. Isn't it something we all feel at some stage?" The shrivelling of Morrissey's spirit since the Smiths can be measured by the fact that Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now is funny and How Can Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel is not.
And in the comment, Guardianistas inveigh with their own suggestions, one positing that the entire heavy-metal genre should be disqualified from contention because it has a monumental unfair advantage.

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The Null Device's somewhat cursory impressions of Eurovision 2010 (two days late, due to your humble correspondent's hectic schedule; BBC iPlayer, it must be said, is very useful*):

Some of the strongest songs this year seemed to be coming from the Balkans, with Serbia, Greece and Turkey putting on strong performances and Romania having solid songwriting. (Serbia's use of Balkan brass got them points in my opinion; it's always good when a country's entry references its local musical traditions rather than merely sinking into the mire of generic power-balladry or Eurodance.) Germany's winning entry was OK, though not spectacular; there was an element of cabaret there, which most of the commentators seem to have missed, focussing on the singer's (not entirely convincing, IMHO) attempts at a Lily Allen-esque mockney accent. Norway, Belgium, Ireland and Belarus fulfilled the quota of syrupy kitsch, and Russia's somewhat ungainly performance scored somewhat of an own goal.

Britain, meanwhile, richly deserved its last place; while Britain is the world's second-biggest exporter of recorded music, its Eurovision entries are invariably lowest-common-denominator dross; even if they recruit commercially proven middlebrow hitmakers like Lord Lloyd-Webber and Sir Pete Waterman, the inherent British disdain for Eurovision as an institution seems to shine through. This year, they seem to have dusted off and reheated one of PWL's offcuts from the 1990s and gotten a plastic-faced 19-year-old to front it.

One thing I have noticed was that few songs' writers' names seem to be typical of the song's country; there seem to be a lot of Scandinavian names popping up, and the odd Anglo-Saxon one (though some of those could be pseudonyms chosen for commercial reasons). Cyprus did one better, by hiring an actual Welshman to front their entry.

More detailed commentary on Eurovision can be found elsewhere on the web, in various liveblogs; No Rock and Roll Fun had one, as did a bunch of guys in Reykjavík.

* notwithstanding the inexplicable lack of an iPhone-formatted MPEG4 of the Eurovision final. In case you were wondering, Flash video playback on the Mac still sucks.

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The Guardian reviews the new album by The Drums (the NYC86 band everybody's comparing to The Field Mice), isn't that impressed:

Of course, to spurn the big, bad adult world in 1986 was implicitly political, hence C86's spiritual influence on riot grrrl and the Manic Street Preachers. It came with manifestos and passionate values. The Drums, however, echo only the sound and the wilful naivety. In interviews they champion "melody, sincerity and truthfulness" – a formulation so bland that you might hear from anyone from Noel Gallagher to Nick Clegg – and grumble about bands who are "overly clever", as if music's biggest handicap in 2010 were a surfeit of intellect.
But the Drums' charm is spread rather too thinly. Too many songs kick in with the same brisk, toytown beat and thin, high guitars. Like one C86 influence, the Groove Farm, who knew roughly as much about grooving as they did about farming, the Drums belie their name with a prosaic rhythm section that does little more than keep time. Pierce's little-boy-lost vocals begin to grate as well: just the way he sings "li-i-i-i-i-i-ife" on I Need Fun in My Life is enough to make you fantasise about bringing back conscription. Real teenagers tend to be turbulent, questing, contradictory, but the Drums' prelapsarian ideal seems to be a lovesick simpleton.

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For those who missed it the first time around: a Pitchfork piece from a few years ago recapping the history of the various music scenes of Africa over the past few decades. These scenes include the scenes of Anglophone countries like Nigeria and Kenya, in which was born highlife, a fusion of various imported musical styles and local rhythms, which in turn gave rise to the more politically conscious Afrobeat of Fela Kuti. Kuti's home country, Nigeria, had quite a vibrant music scene, with local forms of funk, soul and disco rising and the local subsidiaries of Western record labels pumping money in. Elsewhere, things varied in Ghana, between small shoestring record labels, centrally-planned systems of orchestras in Guinea, and the peculiar situation in Ethiopia where, for a short time between the thaw in of the state monopoly on music distribution around the late 1960s (Haile Selassie doesn't seem to have been a reggae fan; the bands that existed under his imperial imprimatur tended to have names like the Police Band and the Imperial Body Guard Band) and the brutal Soviet-led coup in 1975, the unique "Swinging Addis" scene flourished:

Ethiopian music can probably best be described as dark, psychedelic funk and soul. It's as though a group of highly skilled musicians were told what funk, rock, soul, and jazz sounded like without hearing any examples and then went and played all of those styles at once on whatever instruments were around-- horns, vibes, electric organs, electric guitars, piano, harp; all of it was fair game.
The article concludes with a list of labels selling African pop music of this period, and the track listing of a mix of notable tracks (consisting, somewhat uselessly, of links to, the service Apple bought and are shutting down).

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A few quick links to things recently seen:

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Legendary Pacific Northwest indie label K Records are launching a new, download-only singles club. From July, the K Singles Zip-Pak will give you at least two MP3s from established and new artists. The price is US$50 a year, though it's $45 if you sign up before the end of May.

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The Graun has an interview with James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, in which he talks about, among other things, the mechanisms of "cool" and pretentiousness:

"I actually want to write a treatise in defence of pretension," he says. "I think the word pretension has become like the word ironic – just this catch–all term to distance people from interesting experiences and cultural engagement and possible embarrassment. Pretension can lead to other things. You know, the first time I read Gravity's Rainbow, I did so because I thought it would make me seem cool. That was my original motivation. But now I've read it six times, and I find it hilarious and great and I understand it. You can't be afraid to embarrass yourself sometimes."

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The decline of physical media continues, as one of Melbourne's larger and more long-lived independent labels abandons the CD format; from now on, Rubber Records (home to Underground Lovers, among other acts) won't actually sell records but only digital downloads.

“Physical retail distribution is dictated by a business model that no longer works for either the customer, the artist or the label,” Rubber MD David Vodicka said in a statement. “It’s also anti-competitive. We can’t sell-in direct to the biggest national retailer JB Hi Fi, we have to go through a third party distributor with an account. Distributors take a minimum cut of 25 percent, and we have to pass that onto the consumer. There’s no point in engaging in this model as it currently stands. We’ll consider it in the future, but only if it works for us."
A final liquidation of stock is planned for 15 May.

(via Greg) economics media music the recording industry 2


This is what your internet access must be sacrificed for: an infographic showing how much money musicians actually earn from each means of selling music, in the form of how many units they'd have to shift to make minimum wage, along with how much the all-important middle man takes. While an artist could live (modestly) on 143 home-burned CD-Rs a month, they'd need to sell almost ten times that many retail CDs (if they have an exceptionally good royalty deal), or on iTunes. The scales get positively Jovian as we approach new streaming services like Spotify:

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Details have emerged that suggest that, had America had universal health care, legendary songwriter Alex Chilton might still be alive today:

Times-Picayune writer Keith Spera writes, "At least twice in the week before his fatal heart attack, Chilton experienced shortness of breath and chills while cutting grass. But he did not seek medical attention, [wife Laura] Kersting said, in part because he had no health insurance."

(via Pitchfork) alex chilton music politics usa 0


Pitchfork has a piece looking at government support for musicians around the world, in particular the Nordic countries (where governments plough a lot of money into supporting up-and-coming acts as a matter of principle; consequently, Sweden is the third biggest exporter of popular music and Norway, Denmark and Iceland punch well above their weight), Canada and the UK (Canada follows a vaguely Scandinavian line, more out of fear of becoming an American cultural colony than deep social-democratic principles; the UK still has some vestiges of the pre-Thatcherite arcadia—White Town's government grant-funded first single was mentioned—though apparently the golden age has been sacrificed to Blatcherite mercantilism, with art schools being more efficient assembly lines for producing employable human resources than the legendary hothouses of freeform creativity they were when Jarvis was flirting with Greek heiresses), and the US (where musicians struggle to get health care—something Obama's bill won't help much with—though, at least, they can console themselves that they're not in Iran or somewhere).

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Conceptual electronic musician Matthew Herbert's most recent project is titled One Pig. In it, he followed a pig, from its birth to its death and butchery, recording the sounds of its life. (Well, mostly; the death part was somewhat hampered by him not having been able to find a slaughterhouse willing to let him record the pig being slaughtered.) The recorded sounds would be turned into an album of electronic music, hopefully to make the listener reflect on the relationship between us and the animals we farm and eat. However, this was not a good enough justification for the animal-rights fundamentalists at PETA, who issued a fatwa, condemning Herbert and his project:

No one with any true talent or creativity hurts animals to attract attention … Pigs are inquisitive, highly intelligent, sentient animals who become frightened when they are sent to slaughterhouses, where they kick and scream and try to escape the knife. They are far more worthy of respect than Matthew Herbert or anyone else who thinks cruelty is entertainment.
Herbert's response to the condemnation is here; it reads as thoughtful and measured when contrasted to PETA's Talibanic zeal.
I eat meat. as I get older, I feel less proud of that fact. however, since I do eat meat, I think that I have a responsibility to understand the implications of that decision. as much as I didn't relish the prospect of witnessing the death of a pig I had seen being born and raised, I felt it an important reality to face. it seems utterly absurd to me that PETA's knee jerk reaction is to chastise me in public about the integrity of that process of enquiry without even bothering to ask me about the motivation or history of the project. in an otherwise distant and anonymous food chain, this one pig's life has been clearly and respectfully acknowledged.
I thought art and music was, in part, supposed to endorse the idea of challenge. isn't part of its core purpose to struggle in public with the compromises and frictions of its time? the implication of this statement is that PETA would rather artists and musicians stood quietly to one side whilst such a poisonous and corrupt system cheerfully multiplied, unseen, unchallenged, unheard.

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A US company is developing a system that models and replicates the styles of famous musicians. Details of how Zenph Sound Innovations' system works are scant (apparently "complex software" is used, which simulates the musicians' styles, and the resulting high-resolution MIDI files are played on robotic musical instruments; currently pianos, though a double bass and saxophone are in the works).

Currently, it is capable of reconstructing a performer's style of playing a specific work, from a recording of the work, and can be used to rebuild flawed recordings. It cannot yet play a new piece in a performer's style, though the developers are planning to work on that next.

“It introduces a whole bunch of interesting intellectual-property issues, but eventually, you ought to be able to, in essence, cast your own band,” said Frey. “You should be able to write a piece of music and for the drum piece, have Keith Moon, and for the guitar piece, you can have Eric Clapton — that is a derivation of understanding each of those artists’ styles as a digital signature. That’s further down the road, but initially, you’re going to have the ability for artist to create music and have the listener manipulate how they want to hear it — [for example] sadder.”
The intellectual-property implications alluded to are interesting; the prospect is raised of a new type of copyright, over an artist's style, being created, with the artist or their estate collecting royalties from replication of their style. While this is perfectly consistent with the copyright-maximalist ideology of the corporate-dominated, post-industrial present day, it ignores the fact that artists emulate other artists all the time. While initially, courts would exercise "common sense" and leave non-software-based copyists alone (i.e., Oasis wouldn't owe licensing fees to the Beatles), sooner or later, once the technology becomes the norm, this original intent would be forgotten and, after a few strategic court cases, a new precedent would be set, declaring styles, and the elements of them, to be licensable, much in the way that patents are, and requiring anyone taking them off to license them, much as anyone sampling even a split-second of a recording has to license it. (In the age of powerful rights-licensing corporations with political clout, intellectual-property law is a ratchet that turns only one way.) Soon, the different elements of musical style would end up aggregated in the hands of a few gigantic rightsholders with well-resourced legal teams, and musicians would be routinely slugged with heavy bills, itemised by stylistic elements.

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Weaponizing Mozart, an article on how classical music is being used in Britain's war on its own youth:

The weaponization of classical music speaks volumes about the British elite’s authoritarianism and cultural backwardness. They’re so desperate to control youth—but from a distance, without actually having to engage with them—that they will film their every move, fire high-pitched noises in their ears, shine lights in their eyes, and bombard them with Mozart. And they have so little faith in young people’s intellectual abilities, in their capacity and their willingness to engage with humanity’s highest forms of art, that they imagine Beethoven and Mozart and others will be repugnant to young ears. Of course, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The dangerous message being sent to young people is clear: 1) you are scum; 2) classical music is not a wonder of the human world, it’s a repellent against mildly anti-social behavior.

(via MeFi) authoritarianism culture moral panic music society the war on youth uk 0


Poptimist Tom Ewing has written a future history of the 2020s CD revival:

But for the fans, the music is still at the core. Unlike today's collaborative, crowdsourced, and automatically generated playlists, a CD's tracklisting is fixed, and the CD-burning scene is an opportunity for music lovers to show their deep individual loves of music, its sequencing and presentation. The 74 Sessions is one of many CD-burning clubs and groups-- some ban members from remixing or mashing up material, others ask people to theme their CD-Rs. Chantal Fielding, who runs the Prismatic Spray trading club out of Rochester, NY, loves the way CD-Rs make her focus her fandom. "You've got all this information, literally everything you look at you can find out everything about it right there, and for music that means there's no mystery anywhere. So saying no, you can't explore endlessly, you have to reduce it down-- it's powerful."
The romance of CDs in Ewing's 2020s world isn't just about working within finite physical constraints, like a sort of music-curatorial Lomography; while there is that, and undoubtedly an element of nostalgia as the hipsters and scenesters of the day relive hazy early childhood memories of the CD age (you've probably seen these kids, being wheeled through Stokey or Fitzroy in three-wheeled prams, dressed up in their Ramones onesies), a lot of the physical media revival would be driven by a backlash against the network-centric age of social software, recommendations, playlists and crowdsourcing, and the ever-hungry target-marketing apparatus beneath the surface. (Or, as one of the interviewed CD fetishists says, "when you can't see what the product is and someone's still making money, the product is you.")
While earlier physical-music movements fought to preserve analog formats in the face of digitization, CD revivalists see music's physical existence as a rebuke to a world where people's digital presence has overtaken their physical one. "It's not just about the music," explains Wolfe. "Words like 'social' and 'sharing' became absolutely twisted. It used to mean things people did together, now it's about how well you fit into algorithms. We leave snail trails of data everywhere, and all 'social' means now is that two trails have crossed and somebody's making money off it. Forcing people to collaborate for a fuller experience helps restore some of the real idea of 'social.'"
Wolfe sees CD-R revivalists as part of a 'post-social' wave of digital mischief-makers and situation-builders, in the tradition not of industrial or noise culture but of Fluxus and Neoism. He's sympathetic to "troll artists" like bot-creators and recommendation-scramblers. A friend of his was involved with the 'artificial hipster' Karen Eliot, a digital taste bundle whose infiltration of music friendship networks in 2020 caused scores of trusted playlist generators to start throwing in 00s tracks like "Starstrukk" and "My Humps".
Another dimension of CD revivalism would, of course, be the sonic characteristics of the medium; the brittleness of 44kHz 16-bit audio compared to what everybody's listening to in the future. Of course, the revival would take this even further; much as 2000s "electro" ramped up the electronicness of 1980s synthpop by throwing in anachronistically vocoded/robotised vocals, some participants in the CD revival will go beyond the limitations of the CD and start playing around with low-bitrate audio compression, with subsubcultures of hipsters settling upon a right form of crappiness as a cultural touchstone.
The sound on most CDs Wolfe releases is deliberately low-bitrate, with a glossy, uneasy, skinny sheen that's a stark contrast to the lossless warmth of most streamed music. Some fans call lo-bit music "ghostwave", because, as Hall Of Mirrors act Cursor Daly puts it, "you start listening to stuff that isn't there, phantom sound-- your ears are filling in the gaps. Below 128 kbps you're essentially hallucinating sound, no two people hear the same thing. Loads of CD nerds were neuroscience majors."

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Veteran Australian pop satirist New Waver has a new album, Bohemian Suburb Rhapsody, out.

New Waver's usual stock-in-trade in the past has been a relentlessly bleak neo-Darwinian pessimism, extrapolating the principles of neo-Darwinist evolution into a viciously competitive world, seen from the loser's perspective, and resulting in records like The Defeated and Darwin Junior High. Bohemian Suburb Rhapsody veers from this theme into an examination of the modern post-industrial age, casting a jaundiced eye over Richard Florida's concept of the "Creative Class" from the unaffordably gentrified inner north of Melbourne.

In the thesis of Bohemian Suburb Rhapsody, several phenomena of the past few decades (the shifting of industrial production to China, the move to a post-industrial economy and the rise of DIY art/music and internet-based user-generated content lowering the barriers to artistic creativity) have created a glut of "artists", with exhibitions and indie bands and bedroom music projects all over the inner suburbs. Artists have, as many have observed, congregated in undesirable suburbs hollowed out by deindustrialisation (at least in Melbourne; in Berlin, the collapse of Communism had the same effect), attracting hipsters, trendies, yuppies and ultimately the wealthy, aesthetically conservative haute-bourgeoisie, by then the artists having been forced out by rising rents. (In the words of a famous graffito in 1990s San Francisco, "artists are the shock troops of gentrification"; though it may make more sense to think of them as a sort of baker's yeast, whose job is to make the bread rise and then perish.) Meanwhile, the ease of creating (and copying) art, and indeed any sort of intellectual products, in the digital age has led to a rise in supply exceeding demand; not only is it harder to survive making art, but it is harder to get people to devote time to looking at your creations.

As with many of his previous recordings, New Waver expresses this thesis through the medium of cover versions of popular songs, assembled using General MIDI files. The opening track, Lugging For Nothing turns Dire Straits' anthem of the rock'n'roll dream on its head; in New Waver's acerbically realistic reworking, the people to be envied are the tradesmen, high-school drop-outs and cashed-up bogans, doing lucratively uncopiable physical work and spending their money on material luxuries. Like neo-Rousseauvian ignoble savages, impervious to the siren song of cultural engagement, they're happy to take the money of those afflicted by it (by renting them rehearsal rooms and such), while aspiring musicians infected by the rock'n'roll dream pack into small rooms and toil doing shitwork to pay off records and tours. The idea of cultural enagement as a parasitic replicator reemerges behind Media, I Gave You The Best Years Of My Life, which recounts the lot of the culturally engaged, struggling to afford to rent enough space to store their record collections and spending their spare hours discussing music and arthouse films on social websites; it is not difficult to square this with author Greg Wadley's well-documented interest in evolutionary psychology and conclude that the culturally engaged are the victims of parasitic memes, deprived of the chance to live a comfortable existence in a McMansion in suburbia, watching junk TV on their plasma screen and listening to whatever's on the radio by the terrible compulsion to impoverish themselves playing in bands, exhibiting art or otherwise trading time, wealth and effort for arbitrary signifiers of status, all the while helping to reproduce these memes.

Other songs touch on different, but related, themes; Party Like It's 1979 (a Prince cover, of course) looks at the resurgence of retro-styled indie music genres, from White Stripes-like garage bands to post-punk ("Fleetwood Mac's probably the most influential band today", "I got some classic rock released six months ago, some psychedelic folk, some white guys playing disco"), and the fetishisation of the vinyl format, reframing it as a cargo-cult commodity fetish, a subconscious belief that imitating one's idols will bring one their fame, wealth and sexual success. Inner City Drug Use, one of New Waver's older songs, is Queen's You're My Best Friend rewritten about the dependence on coffee, and My Memory Stick Weighs A Ton (a cover of a song by Melburnian 1980s post-punk turned suave crooner Dave Graney) about the glut of media produced by those who can be loosely categorised as "white-collar", and the declining likelihood of any of those items finding a willing audience. The closing track, The Cars That Ate Melbourne returns to the uncultured bogan "other", and this time to their habit of cruising around the inner cities in souped-up cars with blaring stereos; it does this by combining a house/commercial-dance beat, car engine noise and a porn dialogue sample; it is somewhat reminiscent of New Waver's 1990s commercial-dance track, "We're Gonna Get You After School".

The standout track, in my opinion, is "Hey Dude"; here, New Waver has taken the famous Beatles song and turned it into a missive from property developers and landlords to artists, hipsters and the creative classes, urging them to take a sad suburb and make it better by putting on exhibitions, opening cafés, organising events and looking hip, and reminding them that they carry investments on their shoulders. As commentary on gentrification, it is perfect. For what it's worth, there is a video here.

Consistent with its thesis, Bohemian Suburb Rhapsody is not being manufactured on CD or offered in shops (though there are rumours of a limited-edition memory-stick release), but is available for free downloading from New Waver's website. Which is not at all a bad deal for what will undoubtedly be one of the most apposite pieces of social commentary committed to the format of music this year.

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The Wall Street Journal has a piece on the ever-worsening shortage of band names; all the good names are invariably taken, and in this globalised age of MySpace, SoundCloud and MP3 blogs, it is no longer considered acceptable for every other city to have its own The Bumpin' Uglies. That and the increasing power of intellectual-property-owning corporations, keen on smacking down anybody so much as hinting at their trademarks without a licence, goes some way towards explaining the current fashion for impressionistically meaningless word-salad in band names:

Between takes in a recording studio, Mr. Jones brainstormed about names with his new band mates, including former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, then checked them online. Their first choice, Caligula, turned up at least seven acts named after the decadent Roman emperor, including a defunct techno outfit from Australia. Eventually the rockers decided on Them Crooked Vultures. The words held no special meaning. "Every other name is taken," Mr. Jones explains. "Think of a great band name and Google it, and you'll find a French-Canadian jam band with a MySpace page."
("Techno"? I thought Caligula were a Curve/Stone Roses knockoff.)
By 2006, they had come up with what they thought was the perfect country-music moniker: Jane Deere. It was simple, blue-collar and a little jokey. But after their lawyer registered the name with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the company behind John Deere tractors took exception. Moline, Ill.-based Deere & Co. asserted in filings that the Jane Deere trademark would cause "a likelihood of confusion" among consumers. The musicians backed down and the government officially canceled the Jane Deere trademark in January 2009.
Of course, in the US legal system, might often makes right, and you can nab someone else's band name if you're confident that you can afford better lawyers, as Kathleen Cholewka of another Brooklyn band named Discovery found out when the Vampire Weekend side project refused to relinquish her band name:
With the help of a lawyer friend, Ms. Cholewka sent a cease-and-desist letter to her rivals. After some initial communication from the band's lawyer, Ms. Chowleka says, she's gotten no further response. She doesn't have the money to hire a trademark lawyer, but she says she's willing to compromise: "If you want to buy the name from me, great."
The other Discovery have refused, saying magnanimously that there is enough room in the world for two bands of the same name. Of course, the fact that, should Ms. Cholewka attempt to exercise her right to ths name, she would find it impossible to promote her own project (even if she keeps the name, the amount of explaining she has to do would be tantamount to a de facto renaming to "Discovery—no, not that Discovery"), is not their problem, and winners are grinners.

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Jazari is essentially an automated, electromechanical percussion ensemble, controlled using two Nintendo Wii controllers. It consists of a MacBook, a bunch of Arduino boards and a room full of drums fitted with solenoids and motors, and software written in MAX and Java which parses input from the Wii controls and plays the drums. The software is also capable of improvising with the human operator, by imitating, riffing off and mutating what he plays.

Jazari was developed by a guy named Patrick Flanagan, who had been playing around with algorithmic composition, only to discover that people don't want to hear about algorithms, but do want to see a good live show. Anyway, here there are two videos: one of a Jazari performance (think robot samba float, conducted by a guy waving Wiimotes around; the music has a distinctly Afro-Brazilian feel to it), and one of Flanagan explaining how it works.

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From a Guardian piece on Massive Attack's artwork, this interesting fact:

"We can't use any of the Heligoland artwork I've painted for the posters on London Underground. They won't allow anything on the tube that looks like 'street art'. They want us to remove all drips and fuzz from it so it doesn't look like it's been spray-painted, which is fucking ridiculous. It's the most absurd censorship I've ever seen. "

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Pitchfork has an interesting roundup of the music scenes in West Africa today; these have little to do with the "Afrobeat" that is a hipster touchstone in the West, which is ancient history over there:

The picture is so selective, actually, that many of my West African acquaintances might not recognize most of the music their country sells on the world stage. To take one example, Ghana's most famous musical export r emains highlife, a calypso- and jazz-influenced concoction birthed in the 50s by big bands like E.T. Mensah and the Tempos. Today, E.T. and his contemporaries are rarely played, performed, or discussed in public in Ghana; highlife tête (old/classic highlife) instead refers to mid-80s drum machine funk stars like Daddy Lumba and Kojo Antwi, artists who crooned like Luther Vandross over ultra-slick productions.
Music in West Africa has moved at a rapid pace, fuelled by a baby boom eclipsing that experienced by America and Europe in the 1950s, and the availability of both high-end and low-end music-production technology (apparently Fruity Loops is huge over there). Of course, there's a panoply of scenes there, with different countries having their own scenes, and some scenes owing more to American or Caribbean music than others.
Ivoirian rhythms are so twitchy that crunk would have come like a tranquilizer on this dance-hungry, hyper-rhythmic nation. Some of the planet's best dancehalls and worst roadblocks are here, a testament to two of the country's nighttime priorities: clubbing and government extortion. The capital's CD shops are stocked with charismatic mic-hogs, loudmouths, and humor-mongers belting out tragic stories in the soothing tone of a drill sergeant. Military lockdown no doubt changed the way Ivoirians flow, the way their snare drums patter, the way their dance moves shake like the heebie-jeebies (e.g., the Bird Flu dance of 2006). This is post-traumatic stress rap. The explosive urban strain, the boastful comedy, and the displacement are all familiar. So too is the obsession with wealth and wealthier places that gave the genre its name: "Coupe Decale". In the Ivoirian French, it means to steal and run; to go out and explore the world, swipe a Parisian's pocketbook, then dash back to Abidjan.
And then there's the complex matter of the "Ghana Rap" contingent, the chunk that wants to be accepted as rappers-- members of the Black American experience-- first and Ghanaians second... It's tempting to write these guys off as social misfits-- bright minds in a struggling, post-colonial nation to compete for membership in a contest that doesn't even acknowledge their existence-- when they spend time channeling rap to imagine themselves as part of an American underworld they know little about. But there's plenty in it for their audience, too: There's something invigorating about hearing one's globally devalued local tongue voiced over a hip-hop beat, a real hip-hop beat with unpolished synth squeals, a reverberated handclap.
Perhaps because they don't deal with such a tiny, cash-strapped market, the Nigerian artists tend to be more confident, more refined, and more likely to cross the sea. Although the nation could do without more tired Internet fraud associations, I recommend most heartily Olu Maintain's "Yahooze"-- a single about scamming suckers online and wasting the money on Hennessey. More slick and more serious is Storm Records, whose roster has largely managed the nimble knack of mastering American idioms without being tripped up by the specifics (check out Naeto C, "Kini Big Deal", Ikechukwu, "Shobedobedoo"). These are the sorts of hits that don't demand the same kind of sociological preface that an Asem record calls for, and they could more easily travel.
The article includes a lot of embedded audio streams with examples of the songs mentioned.

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Swedish indiepop big band I'm From Barcelona have created a new triple album; well, sort of. Titled, simply, 27 Songs from Barcelona, it consists of 27 songs, one written and sung by each of the band's 27 members. From today, the entire album is being made available as a series of daily MP3 downloads on their website; the first track, Daniel Lindlöf's Lower My Head, is a guitar-driven pop song with leanings towards shoegazing, and may be found here. The entire album is available for purchase on triple vinyl from here.

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If you want to see where the musical zeitgeist was 18 months ago, look at what Goldfrapp are doing. Pop-cultural cool-hunters par excellence, they mine the rich seams of the underground, find trends with legs and repackage them for mainstream consumption, exploding them into the public consciousness, and have successfully held this niche in the music-industry ecosystem for over a decade. Their début, Felt Mountain, took Morricone-infused trip-hop sounds and moulded them into what became the soundtrack to every upper-middle-class dinner party in the UK. After that, they turned on a dime, discovering electroclash and dragging it into the mainstream in the form of not one but two albums of mildly sexualised glam-electro, before getting wind of the wickerfolk trend and new appreciation of the output of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, fishing it out of the underground and presenting it to the world as Seventh Tree (an album even whose title seems to have been a homage to underground freak-folk band Voice Of The Seven Woods).

Which makes one wonder what Goldfrapp were going to do next. I was thinking afrobeat or similar exotica. But no, it looks like their next album is going to be Empire Of The Sun-style glo-fi. The only problem with that is, of course, that Empire Of The Sun were themselves a project (a supergroup comprised of two musicians from successful major-label projects) repackaging trends from the underground (essentially Cut Copy-style indie-house with the somewhat dated New Wave/New Orderisms replaced with the recent "yacht rock" fad) for the mainstream, and to considerable mainstream attention. It remains to be seen whether or not they have scooped Goldfrapp by getting in first, or whether Goldfrapp will pull it off for a fifth time.

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Simon Reynolds writes in the Graun about the 1980s revival that lasted an entire decade and is still going; starting off with electroclash and new-wave/post-punk and now having gone up to "yacht rock" and the Hall & Oates revival:

Electroclash went from Next Big Thing to Last Little Fad within a year. But it didn't go away, it just slipped on to the noughties pop-cult backburner, biding its time as a staple sound in hipster clubs. By mid-decade the "clash" was long gone; people just talked about "electro". This was confusing for those of us who'd been around in the actual 1980s and for whom "electro" meant something specific: that Roland 808 bass-bumping sound purveyed by Afrika Bambaataa and Man Parrish, music for bodypopping and the electric boogaloo. In the noughties, electro came to refer to something much more vague: basically, any form of danceable electronic pop that sounded deliberately dated, that avoided the infinite sound-morphing capacities of digital technology (ie the programs and platforms that underpinned most post-rave dance) and opted instead for a restricted palette of thin synth tones and inflexible drum machine beats. "Electro" meant yesterday's futurism today.
As such Discovery anticipated a quite different uptake of 1980s pop that would occur in the second half of the noughties: the ecstatically blurry and irradiated style of indie that's been dubbed "glo-fi". Compare Bangalter's remark with glow-fi godfather Ariel Pink, who says his pop sensibility comes from watching MTV incessantly from the age of five onwards (ie only a couple of years after the channel was launched in 1981). Pink went so far as to describe MTV as "my babysitter". As a result, on the many recordings he's issued under the name Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti – two of which, Worn Copy and The Doldrums, are among my favorites of the decade – his reverb-hazy neo-psychedelic sound is haunted by the friendly ghosts of Hall & Oates, Men Without Hats, It's Immaterial, Blue Oyster Cult, Rick Springfield. It's an approach to songwriting and melody he assimilated as an ears-wide-open child.
("Glo-fi" seems to be related to what others have referred to as "hypnagogic pop".)

Reynolds also cites a number of other aspects of the ever-unfolding 1980s revival:

Another 1980s-invoking hallmark of the new sub-underground is its cult of the cassette. Tape has a double association here. On the mass level, it was the 1980s quintessential format: far more than the CD, it was the way most kids would have owned music. But cassettes were also the preferred means of dissemination for underground 1980s scenes like industrial and noise. Tape was the ultimate in do-it-yourself, because they could be dubbed-on-demand at home, whereas vinyl required a heavier financial outlay. Today's post-noise microscenes like glo-fi maintain the tape trade tradition, releasing music in small-run editions as low as 30 copies and wrapping them in surreal photocopy-collage artwork.
And sums up with a list of things not yet mined from the 1980s
As someone who lived through the 1980s – it was the first decade I was pop-conscious and alert all the way through, from start to finish – it's enjoyably disorienting to observe all these distortions and retroactive manglings of the period, from the vocoder fetish to the fact that I really don't recall terms like "Italo disco" or "minimal synth" having any currency whatsoever back in the day. But what's also interesting is how much of the era has yet to be rediscovered or recycled: the Membranes/Bogshed style shambling bands, the Redskins-style soulcialists, goth, Waterboys/Big Country-style Big Music, and a half-dozen other scenes and genres. But hey, it's 2010, the first year of the new decade, which means that – according to the 20-year rule of revivals – we really need to get started on the 1990s.
It looks like there's a lot left in the 1980s to revive, though time is running out as the inevitability of 1990s retro looms. (Aside: back in the actual 1990s, I wondered what "1990s retro" will be like; I imagined a Hegelian synthesis of cheesy commercial dance (Technotronic and such) and grunge-influenced three-chord alternative-rock. It'll be interesting to see how close I was.) As such, I wonder whether they'll manage to get it all out, or whether parts of it will be left behind to be subsumed into the anxious echo, and forever lost to everyone except for wilful obscurantists. And if the latter, I wonder what the fitness function will be.

Also, while we're on Simon Reynolds' articles, here is an interesting one about the decline of "indie" into the morass of crap guitar bands and the simultaneous rise of interesting music from the awkwardly ineffable we'd-call-it-"indie"-only-that-now-means-lad-rock sector.

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Much has been said about the alleged epidemic of random alcohol-fuelled violence outside Melbourne's night spots and its possible causes. Now, The Age's Fiona Scott-Norman suggests that it might be due to the boom in venues playing house music, once confined to Chapel Street, but now part of every venue aiming for the cashed-up-bogan dollar; in particular, to house music being poorly suited for facilitating social interaction:

And then there's house music. It's pretty much the ultimate "anti-romance" music. It's played loud, it's repetitive, it's not fun, it's unremarkable and unmemorable — even if you can make yourself heard over the top, it gives you nothing to talk about, and appears to be the first music ever created by humankind that bypasses the emotions. Again, fine if your aim is to dance like a maniac until 6am, or whenever you start coming down, but truly terrible if you're not on chemicals.
So the clubs are chock-full of young folk who can't talk to each other, can't touch each other, have zero opportunity for intimacy, and can only dance in their own little world and hope someone's looking at their booty. The only tools in their seriously denuded seduction kit are alcohol and shouting. So yet another night ends, they're disconnected and frustrated, back on the streets, and totally hammered. Gee, I wonder why there's so much violence.
Playing almost any other kind of music would reduce street violence. Doesn't matter if it's disco, funk, yacht rock, indie pop, Mongolian throat-singing, gypsy punk, neo-lounge or Latin, so long as it's not joyless, thumping background music.

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Another year is drawing to an end, and once again, it's time to look back on the past year in music. So here's my list of the top records of 2009, in alphabetical order.

  • Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion

    Animal Collective's new record, released at the start of the year, took their sound further away from their psych-folk roots and into the realm of dubby electronica, with the help of producer Rusty Santos. Expect washes of delay, percussive polyrhythms and soaring vocals somehow making their way through the electronic haze. They followed it up at the very end of the year with an EP, Fall Be Kind, turning up the layering and sampling the Grateful Dead.

  • Arthur & Martha - Navigation

    The London-based electropop duo's long-awaited album, combining the synthpop of New Order at their most Kraftwerk-influenced and guitar-led indiepop which (cliché warning!) wouldn't have sounded amiss on Sarah Records circa 1991. Highlights: there's the obvious Kraftwerk homage of Autovia, the vocoder-driven Squarewave To Heaven and the mighty electronic buildup of This City Life. It's all good.

  • Ben Frost - By The Throat

    This unanimously grabs the title of "best record of 2009 featuring the grim snarling of dire wolves". Adelaide-born, Reykjavík-based Frostí's latest album is an assemblage of frosty, shadowy ambiences, with stark electronic waveforms, minor-key melodies and processed field recordings (breaths, thuds and the aforementioned wolves), rounded off with references to The Cure and Twin Peaks. File under "dark ambient".

  • Cold Cave - Love Comes Close / Memory Tapes - Seek Magic / Rainbow Arabia - Kabukimono / The Very Best - Warm Heart of Africa

    Not so much a record as a clutch of four forming a trend; they're all electronic, a bit to the left of pop though not in the realm of "electronica". Cold Cave are a trio whose sound is a sort of synth-driven new-wave with nods to 1980s gothic rock (highlights: "Life Magazine"). Memory Tapes makes layered tracks, mixing electronic and organic sounds, building up and stripping down and building up again, and turns them into songs (highlights: pretty much any track; let's say Stop Talking). Rainbow Arabia are a US outfit who craft a sort of electronic exotica for the post-(new-)rave generation (let's call them "electroxotica"), celebrating the global other with exotic scales on synths, drum samples and song titles like Holiday In Congo and Kabukimono (highlight: let's say Harlem Sunrise). The Very Best is a collaboration between Malawian musician Esau Mwamwaya and French/Swedish/London-based (delete as applicable) production team Radioclit, and sounds like what 1980s electropop would have sounded like had it been invented in Africa (highlights: let's avoid the obvious bits—the Ezra Koenig and M.I.A. collaborations, the AIH sample—and say Chalo, which starts with an epic synth riff and follows through in appropriate fashion). Together, they fight crime form part of the sound of 2009.

  • Crayon Fields - All The Pleasures Of The World

    The long-awaited record from the Melbourne twee-pop combo; pocket-sized pop symphonies, most of them expressions of love for an unnamed second person (sample lyric: "I'd mess up my collar just to feel you correct it"), with ringing guitars and the occasional string arrangement; in places it sounds like a twee version of The Clientele. Without a doubt the most fey record in this list.

  • The Drums - Summertime

    Simple, summery guitar pop done well, with good melodies and harmonies. It's not groundbreaking, thematically or stylistically, but it's an old formula, slightly updated and done better than most. Highlights: Saddest Summer, perhaps.

  • Hong Kong In The 60s - Willow Pattern Songs

    A six-track EP by a band comprised of two librarians and a BBC researcher, playing Casiotone keyboards and guitars and citing Stereolab, Sean O'Hagan, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Dario Argento and 1960s Hong Kong pop as influences, and a brilliant one as well, reminiscent of early Minimum Chips EPs in its understated feel. I've listened to this one a lot this year.

  • Jónsi & Alex - Riceboy Sleeps

    Iceland's second entry in this year's list, from the frontman of Sigur Rós and his boyfriend. It's wordless soundscapes, though lighter and more blissful than Sigur Rós; one could say that this is the yin to Frostí's yang.

  • My Sad Captains - Here & Elsewhere
  • They're from London, but remind me more of Melbourne bands like The Smallgoods, Gersey and even the (sadly departed) Lucksmiths. Multilayered melodies and harmonies, plays on words and buildups of unassuming lushness, not quite threatening to go into shoegazing territory in places, make for a very listenable record, and a promising band.

  • The Pains of Being Pure At Heart - self-titled

    In a lot of ways, 2009 was the Pains' year. A New York band, though wearing their classic British indiepop influences on their sleeves and given to touring the UK with an almost suspicious regularity, the Pains released their self-titled album early in the year, with songs like This Love Is Fucking Right (see if you can spot the reference there) and Teenager In Love becoming cornerstones in the soundtrack to 2009. Not content to rest on their laurels, they followed this up with an EP, Higher Than The Stars, bringing more immaculate indie-pop, guitar fuzz and stories of young lives and fraught situations; nonetheless, they can only have one entry in this list, and it'll have to be the album.

With honourable mentions going to: Aleks & The Ramps, Midnight Believer (it's good to hear a new album from them, though a bit more understated than Pisces vs. Aquarius), Atlas Sound, Logos (nice summery ambient pop; the guest appearances by Panda Bear and Lætitia Sadier are particularly good), The Brunettes, Paper Dolls (the New Zealanders move further from their doo-wop retro-pop roots, in style if not in themes; they're still the band who sing about boys and girls holding hands and feeding ducks, but it sounds like they've been listening to a lot of Architecture In Helsinki), Decoder Ring, They Blind The Stars, And The Wild Team (the project, always hovering in the spaces between electronica and post-rock, moves further into post-rock territory), The Depreciation Guild, Dream About Me (only a 7", and sold out except in MP3 form, but a damn fine song for the shoegazers out there, with the same sort of dreamy romanticism as Slowdive's "Alison"), The Horrors, Primary Colours (though only Sea Within A Sea really grabbed me), Loney, Dear, Dear John (a darker record from Emil; where I could hear unrequited longing in the predecessors, in this one, time has run on, the flame has sputtered out and the cold shadow of death looms all too near; or at least that's what it says to me), Misty Roses, Villainess (more genre-movie-quoting loungecore from the transatlantic duo), Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (immaculately assembled pop from Paris), various artists, Dark Was The Night (a collaboration between 4AD and the AIDS charity Red Hot, consisting of indie bands doing folk standards and their own pieces; there's a thread of the longing for human intimacy running through the record, and perhaps an echo of This Mortal Coil in places). Not to mention three rereleases from significant artists: Another Sunny Day's London Weekend (on Cherry Red, with bonus tracks, including an entirely unexpected OMD cover), Spearmint's extended edition of A Week Away (weighing in at almost twice the original's length, thanks to the generous helping of bonus tracks) and, of course, Kraftwerk's magisterial box set, The Catalogue.

Were there a gong for the record of the year, it'd have to go to The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart.

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Australian post-punk guitarist Rowland S. Howard passed away today, after a battle with liver cancer. He was 50.

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In conjunction with fluoro disco merchants Modular, Tom Ellard (of Severed Heads fame) has put together a mix of underground electronic post-punk music from 1979, from Australia and abroad, with an accompanying online booklet (in Flash, alas). The mix goes for some 40 minutes and contains the likes of The Residents, Telex, SPK and Primitive Calculators, as well as, of course, The Normal and the Human League (pre-girls, of course). File this alongside the recent BBC "Synth Britannia" documentary.

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The New York Times has an article on the thriving indie music scene in Athens. Athens, Greece, that is:

The artistic director, Konstantinos Dagritzikos, who plays drums in the ’60s-influenced band Love Beverly, says he tries to maintain a balance between booking local independent bands and acts from abroad, like the London-based electro-punk outfit Publicist, which played at the opening, and the English D.J. collective Disco Bloodbath (traces of this group are still visible in the form of splattered fake blood handprints on Six D.O.G.S.’s graffitied facade).
Though musically diverse, the bands currently emerging out of the Athens scene like the Callas, Phoenix Catscratch, the singer-songwriter Monika, and My Wet Calvin, an experimental indie pop act that often performs in animal costumes, all share a commitment to wild, unconventional live shows and a high-concept, do-it-yourself aesthetic.
I recall that there was apparently an indiepop scene in Athens in the 1990s, informed by Sarah Records-style pop from the UK and El Records/Shibuya-kei-style bossa-pop, with acts like The Crooner (who, if I recall correctly, had a few songs on compilations from the German label Apricot).

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The vinyl record "died" in the 1980s, killed off by the increased convenience of cassettes and CDs (and the recording industry's drive to get people to buy their music all over again), though, thanks to hip-hop and dance-music DJs, enjoyed a vibrant second life. Niche labels started putting out vinyl, new pressing plants opened, and then the majors got back into the game. Now, it seems that vinyl's second life may be coming to an end; Technics have announced that they are discontinuing their iconic 1200 and 1210 turntables, as more DJs realise that digital DJing technology has improved spectacularly, and that the old arguments about it not being authentic or "proper DJing"* aren't getting any less tired than the ones about digital photography not being real photography. Indeed, while Technics scrap their turntables, their rival Pioneer have just released a new CD DJ deck which can play MP3s off a USB drive; though even such advances in dedicated DJing hardware are in part defensive actions against the onslaught of laptop DJing software.

* What's the DJing equivalent of rockism? Vinylism perhaps?

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The Guardian has a rare interview with Elizabeth Fraser, the singer from the Cocteau Twins, in which she talks about the breakup of her relationship with Robin Guthrie and the disintegration of the band, her subsequent relationship with Massive Attack's Damon Reece, and her gradual return to music:

She and Guthrie were lovers for 13 years, during which time the difficulties any relationship faces were compounded by being in a band together. "We were so close, but certain responsibilities were too much for us," Fraser says. The birth of their daughter Lucy-Belle in 1989 "didn't impact as positively" as she'd hoped.
There were resentments on both sides, she says. They were "outgrowing each other" and Fraser was increasingly unhappy in the band. She resented "doing what people wanted all the time" and began to break free, a process documented on the unusually direct lyrics of the 1993 album Four-Calendar Cafe. The situation was sharpened by Guthrie's dependency on alcohol and drugs, revelations (which came from him, after the band's split) that shocked fans. But Fraser's own unhappiness was unnoticed by her colleagues.
Reece understands that the process of putting her back together as a singer is an ongoing process. "I feel sorry for the general public because I hear her singing in the house and it's truly amazing," he says. "But she's absolutely genuine in every way possible. Which can be very frustrating, but is an amazing attribute to have. I've worked with many singers, and a lot of them are fake. The world is a sadder place without Elizabeth singing."

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Taking the concept of "minimal electronica" to a new level, a group of artists have created a collection of music tracks composed in only 140 characters of SuperCollider source code. You can listen to or download the tracks here.

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DJing term of the day: the "toilet track":

In rock club DJing, the "toilet track" is an established set staple – a song long enough to allow the DJ enough time to sprint to the loo and back. It's usually denoted by the appearance of the Stone Roses' I Am the Resurrection (8:13) for a quick dash to the urinal and Fools Gold (9:53) for a more lengthy seated engagement.
The smoking indie DJ has a new God – DFA. As if LCD Soundsystem's Losing My Edge doesn't give you eight minutes of precious smirting time, their remixes can see you through a cigarette break, toilet stop, bar visit and bouncer punch up, and still leave you with a few minutes to pretend you're mixing it yourself. I favour their 12-minute saunter through Dare by Gorillaz or, if I've really got to jog to Aberystwyth and back before the next track, their 13-minute go at Goldfrapp's Slide In. That one's so long, danceable and innocuous that you could put it on repeat for the full two hours and even Alison Goldfrapp herself would still pay you in full at the end.

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Two excellent recent BBC4 documentaries about music have shown up on Vimeo, for those not in the UK: Synth Britannia (about the rise of synthpop in Britain in the late 1970s/early 1980s, from early Kraftwerk-influenced acts like OMD, The Human League and Gary Numan to the wave of "fire and ice" duos), and Krautrock: the Rebirth of Germany (which features interviews with a number of German experimental musicians of the 1970s, from bands like Amon Düül II, Faust, Neu! and Can, not to mention Iggy Pop rambling on about asparagus).

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A few years ago, Yamaha released the Tenori-On, a radically designed electronic musical instrument in the shape of a tablet covered with a grid of lighted buttons. The problem with was the price: at US$1,200 (or around £700), it was only affordable to those with deep pockets.

Now, Yamaha have announced a more affordable Tenori-On. The TNR-O (the 'O' is for 'orange') differs from the premium model in that it lacks the grid of lights on the back (so your audience can't see the nifty patterns of light it's making), and the magnesium casing has been replaced by a moulded orange plastic case; otherwise, it does exactly the same thing.

How much more affordable it will be is not yet known, though rumour has it that it may not be much cheaper. Perhaps someone can persuade Yamaha to port it to the iPhone or some similar gadget (the rumoured Apple tablet would be a natural platform), in the way that Korg have ported their MS-10 modular synth to the Nintendo DS.

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Welsh rock musician Gruff Rhys' latest project is a travelogue around the Welsh-speaking colonies of Patagonia:

The film follows Rhys through South America performing solo concerts, tracing the Welsh community's movements, and searching for Jones's great grandson, a 1970s Argentine pop star called René Griffiths, who would arrive on stage on a horse and sing in Welsh.
This is only the backdrop to the personal journey at the heart of Separado!, which balances its weightier moments with a lurid visual style and a childlike playfulness. A dance sequence on a Welsh beach represents Michael D Jones's promise of a utopia; while a colour-saturated shot of Rhys jumping over a fence to escape an angry armadillo follows a recap of the excesses of the 1976 Argentinean coup d'etat. At one point, he performs for the elderly locals of Gaiman, Patagonia's most Welsh village, at their community hall. In this kitsch world of teahouses, chapels and daffodils in the middle of the desert, Rhys's experimental set is met with some understandable confusion.
"It's remarkable that I can play a gig of Welsh language songs in South America and they understand what I'm singing about, even if they find the music a bit suspect," says Rhys, failing to mention that he performed much of it in a red spaceman's helmet while singing into an orange plastic cup. "There are Welsh road signs in Gaiman. Even an Italian restaurant will have a Welsh menu. It's fantastical, but the fact that I was there at all felt fantastical – the film needed to reflect that separation from reality."

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A sound artist from New York, now based in the desert of Texas, makes neckties woven from audio tape, prerecorded with sound collages made from samples recorded in New York. If you dismember an old Walkman and pull the playback head out, you can run it over your tie, making noise.

If you want to order one (and live in the US), you can do so here.

(I can imagine this sort of thing going further. If one could make magnetic fabric, and imprint it with wave patterns, one could essentially make cloth that functions as a wavetable synthesiser, and fashion it into playable clothing.)

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A new documentary showing at the London Film Festival looks at Iran's underground rock scene. In this case, "underground" meaning not so much "uncommercial" as "illegal":

The threat of the police and authorities is all around. Bands soundproof secret rehearsal spaces and venues; one heavy metal band avoids arrest by playing in a stinking cowshed on a farm far out of town; members of another band talk about having their instruments confiscated. The police are often out of shot, however - perhaps adding to the omnipresent menace and what feels like an arbitrary exercise of power. When Negar's car is stopped and her pet dog taken from her, we never see the police officer who does the snatching.
The film, No One Knows About Persian Cats, was co-written by Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi, who was subsequently imprisoned by the Iranian regime.

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Art installation/commercial of the day: Soundville, in which Juan Cabral (the chap behind the Sony Bravia bouncing ball ad) converts the Icelandic town of Seyðisfjörður into a giant sound system, wiring it up with speakers, playing music and sounds through them for three days, and filming the locals' reactions. For this project, Cabral had enlisted the help of several people, including Múm and the team behind Sigur Rós' live concerts. More about it here.

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Simon Reynolds has a piece in the Graun about the history of synthpop in 1980s Britain:

In some ways the crucial word in synth-pop isn't "synth" but "pop". The British groups who took over the charts at the dawn of the 80s were catchy and concise. Here they followed the lead of Kraftwerk, who were not only the first group to make a whole conceptual package/weltanschauung out of the electronic age, but were sublime tunesmiths. It's righteous that Kraftwerk's long-awaited remastered catalogue is getting reissued at almost the same time as the long-awaited remastered catalogue of the Beatles, because Hütter & Co rival the Fab Four for both their transformative impact on pop and their melodic genius... Equally inspiring to the synth-pop artists was Kraftwerk's formality: their grey suits and short hair stood out at a time of jeans and beards and straggly locks, heralding a European future for pop, a decisive break with America and rock'n'roll.
Synth-pop went through two distinct phases. The first was all about dehumanisation chic. That didn't mean the music was emotionless (the standard accusation of the synthphobic rocker), but that the emotions were bleak: isolation, urban anomie, feeling cold and hollow inside, paranoia... The second phase of synth-pop reacted against the first. Electronic sounds now suggested jaunty optimism and the gregariousness of the dancefloor, they evoked a bright, clean future just round the corner rather than JG Ballard's desolate 70s cityscapes. And the subject matter for songs mostly reverted to traditional pop territory: love and romance, escapism and aspiration. The prime movers behind synth-pop's rehumanisation were appropriately enough the Human League (just check their song titles: Open Your Heart, Love Action, These Are The Things That Dreams Are Made Of).
"Electro" in the early-90s meant cutting-edge, the future-now; nowadays "electro" refers to the kind of sounds that lit up hipster bars in east London through this past decade and then went mainstream this year with La Roux and Lady Gaga, which is to say synthetic pop that doesn't use the full capacity of the latest digital technology, and is therefore almost as quaint as if it were made using a harpsichord.
The article ties in with a BBC4 documentary titled Synth Britannia, which airs next week.

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An electronic composer in Vienna has developed a means of reproducing the human voice on a piano. Recordings of speech are analysed and converted to frequency data, which is turned into MIDI notes. When played on a grand piano (using a system consisting of 88 pencil tops pushed by electromagnets or motors), it sounds intelligible, though otherworldly.

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The advent of the MP3 has changed the music-listening experience, as many musicians and old-timers will tell you; no longer do you sit on the floor by the Dansette meditating on the 12" square of lovingly designed artwork in your hands as the artists take you on a journey in the order they intended; no, you're free to listen to music a track at a time. Which, of course, has its upsides (for one, since the invention of the CD, the recording industry has been raking it in by requiring artists wanting that one good song to pay for the other 75 minutes of hastily cobbled together filler), but, on the other hand, the experience of the-album-as-totality is no longer there (and a folder of MP3s played in sequence isn't quite the same).

But now, Apple has launched a standard format for encapsulating the other bits of an album. Named "iTunes LP", it includes clickable artwork, lyrics and other media. An "iTunes LP" is downloaded with the AAC files when you buy an album from, you guessed it, iTunes.

A chap by the name of Jay Robinson has dissected this format, finding that it's basically a ZIP file containing HTML, CSS, JavaScript and other resources. There doesn't seem to be any DRM or code signing in use, so it's not unlikely that the .itlp format will break free of iTunes; that we may soon see artists rolling their own, and third-party software playing .itlp files. It'll be interesting to see what comes of this.

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Recycle: Joy Division & New Order; a record collector by the name of DJ £50 Note and a friend of his who specialises in sound restoration have set out to do what Rob Gretton was planning to do before he died, i.e., put out definitive editions of New Order's entire Factory-period output, sounding exactly as the originals did (and not "remastered", i.e., compressed for extra attention-catching loudness, as is the standard commercial practice now). He is doing this as a MP3 (well, .m4a) blog, with each release accompanied by meticulously restored artwork (with elements redrawn and reset as needed), and comprehensive notes, in which, for example, we learn that the choir sound in Blue Monday was sampled from a Kraftwerk track and comes from an extremely obscure instrument called the Vako Orchestron, and that a number of New Order/Joy Division song titles are film references derived from old posters in a rehearsal space, as well as details of how far back they had to look to find a copy in which the dynamics hadn't been crushed to hell.

(via Mr. Frogworth) factory records history joy division mp3s music new order the loudness wars 1


Melbourne music critic Andy Hazel takes apart The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band:

Ah. "The best". According to most modern rock historians this is the greatest album ever released (give or take the odd Pet Sounds, Dark Side Of The Moon, or, if last year's BBC poll is to be believed, Oasis's Definitely Maybe). Genre-redefining, archetypal, seminal, analysed to death and hyped to maniacal lengths by fans and writers; anybody who wonders where modern rock begins is told to start here. Sgt. Peppers has been long-heralded as the last example of the band working like a team, as the pinnacle of The Beatles' musical talents, song-writing abilities and the last example of unclouded communication between the members. It's the supreme model of analogue recording by pioneering producer / genius / 5th member George Martin and an album still mined by bands claiming to be representative of today's youth - if you want to be a musical success, start studying here. This is it, the first and best 'concept album' and the greatest collection of songs ever committed to vinyl or etched into disc, end of story.
This overblown testament to pomposity and slackly-edited grandiosity is a mockery of music and self-indulgence almost without exception. With George Martin at your side, a record label kowtowing to any whim, tens of millions of people agreeing with every grunt and suggestion you make and Abbey Road at your disposal, how could you blow it? Even The Beatles themselves realised how far up their own arses they had crawled by going back to basics for their following, untitled and infinitely superior album (later called The White Album). Take, for example, the ridiculously egotistical cover in which they place themselves amongst and ahead of Albert Einstein, Aldous Huxley, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Marlon Brando in some visual assessment of the 20th Century they had to be talked into doing (McCartney preferring an acid-drenched picture by Dutch art collective The Fool). It wasn't for nothing that one of their manager's last requests was "brown paper bags for Sergeant Peppers".
Hazel goes on and builds up a formidable list of charges against Sgt. Pepper's: from the hubris of the album's cover to the unenlightenedly misogynistic way women are objectified where they are actually visible, though coming back to the insubstantial, drug-addledly vacuous nature of the "innovation" on the album, and The Beatles' (and their label's) complicity in ushering in a leaden age of bloated, self-indulgent pomp that would only end almost a decade later, when the Sex Pistols poured petrol on the whole thing and, with a sneer, threw a lighted match:
While it's true the Beatles couldn't be blamed for who followed through the door they opened, they can be seen as the instigators of record companies handing over huge amounts of money to artists and (more often than not) managers using arguments along the lines of "well the Beatles needed 129 days and 10 times the usual budget to make a number one record, so do we." The nadir of 1970s self-indulgence was, in fact, a misguided reinterpretation of this album in film and soundtrack form featuring The Bee Gees, Peter Frampton and, mysteriously, George Martin a debacle that was deservedly, an unmitigated flop.

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According to his online journal, Melbourne-based Swedish singer-songwriter Jens Lekman has contracted swine flu:

I picked home one last souvenir from South America, it's called the H1N1 virus. Wrongfully known as the Swineflue.
I was crossing the Atlantic when things started getting really bad, the fever was hallucinogenic and shaking me like a leaf and I grabbed the sleeve of the Air France steward. "I'm not feeling well, I should see a doctor" I said and the reply came as a brilliant mix of death anxiety and french rudeness: "Uh, yes... Terminal D... go there maybe... when we land". After that the stewards and stewardesses took long detours. A ring of empty seats formed around me. Peoples eyes were kind but determined, they read "Poor you, I really wish you all the best but if you come near me or my kid I will have to stab you with this plastic fork". I got up and went to the bathroom where I fainted.
Now I'm in quarantine for ten days. I can see the summer through my window and it's just perfect. Summer is always best through a window.
I hope he makes it through OK.

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And now, a chap in an orange puffer jacket and plastic electro shades who goes by the name "Jetdaisuke" will demonstrate how to make a talkbox using only a Nintendo DS, a copy of Korg DS-10 and an ordinary drinking straw. It's in Japanese (with a few recognisable words like "sturo", "talkbox talking modulator" and "daftapunk"), but easy enough to follow from the video alone.

(via Boing Boing Gadgets) awesome computer music diy howto korg ds-10 music nintendo ds 0


The Official Chart Company, which runs Britains's music charts, is reviving the indie charts, updated to reflect the changing definition of "indie":

The initial criteria defined an independent release as any record which was released by a label with independent distribution, in an era when major record companies were self-distributed and smaller labels used alternative routes. Today, however, with even majors outsourcing their own distribution to independent operations, this criterion has become less relevant.
Under the new rules, a download or CD will be eligible for the Official Independent Charts if it is released on a label which is 50% or more owned by an independent (or non-major) company, irrespective of the distribution channel through which it is shipped or delivered.
So now joint ventures with the Big Four major labels are officially "independent".

I think, however, that they missed the big picture. When the word "indie" is used to refer to musical product (bands, labels, records), it seldom refers to the business model under which the product was released. Typically, when a band or record is described as "indie", this refers partly to what they look or sound like (which is to say, to a greater or lesser extent like the independent bands between post-punk and the rise of Britpop), but more saliently, to the target demographic. "Indie" means sort of what "alternative" meant in the 1990s; a conspicuous badge of not being "mainstream" that doesn't require any more effort to obtain than being in the mainstream would, with its sounds and styles (not to mention the word "indie") borrowed from the original independent bands, only stylised and streamlined for easy mass consumption ("Note: lose all that stuff about Marxism and Fluxus and existentialism, and pump up the sex.")

As such, looking at the ownership and distribution of a record label when assessing whether a record is "indie" is woefully inadequate. A more suitable criterion would have to be based on a points system, with bands or releases being awarded points if they fulfil certain criteria, i.e.,

  • band is on an independently-owned label: 2 points
  • At least 50% of the band wear skinny jeans: 2 points
  • At least one band member has an asymmetrical haircut: 1 point
  • 1 point for each of the following influences cited (with proof): The Clash, Joy Division, XTC, Gang Of Four, Neu! (maximum 3 points)
  • band's sound has been described by music critics as "angular" - 1 point
A score of 5 or higher is required for a band to be officially "indie".

To keep the criteria relevant, a committee of industry, media and marketing types would convene every six months to update these rules to take into account recent trends. (For example, in light of the recent trend towards hipster-folk, the committee might now be debating allowing one point for band members with rustic-looking beards, or for bands having ukuleles in their instrumentation.)

(via xrrf) a modest proposal business hype indie marketing music 7


Did you ever wonder where that musical riff used in popular songs to signify the Far East (typically China or sometimes Japan; think Kung Fu Fighting/Hong Kong Phooey/International Karate) came from? this guy did, and did a fair amount of research:

The little ditty above is what I call "the musical cliché figure signifying the Far East."

I would venture that a majority of music-culturally aware people would agree that there is such thing as "the stereotypical Chinese (or more generally Asian) riff." Most of them would also agree that the "canonical" form of it is the one notated above, typically instrumented with some kind of squeaky wind instruments playing in a pitch at least higher than middle C, and with some ticking-sounding rhythm instrument underlining the rhythm.

Anyway, the author of the site, Martin Nilsson, has compiled evidence of the Oriental Riff and its earlier predecessors going as far back as 1847.

(via MeFi) asia clichés culture history memes music musicology orientalism 2


Lullatone are a half-Japanese, half-American duo based in Japan who make music that can probably best be described as twee folktronica. And now, you can make it too with their Raindrop Melody Maker Flash web toy, which looks a bit like a pastel-coloured Tenori-On:

(via GordonHodgson) lullatone music web toys 0


According to the Lost and Lonesome Recording Co. website, Australian indie-pop combo The Lucksmiths are splitting up:

However, after sixteen lengthy years as purveyors of the well-crafted pop song, saddle-rash has finally set in, and sights are being set upon new horizons. Tali White, the band’s lead singer and drummer, has decided to further pursue his career as a primary school teacher, while Marty Donald, Mark Monnone and Louis Richter intend to head forth into new musical terrain whilst juggling parenthood, study and the fun-park ride that is casual employment.

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An Icelandic music website has put online streamable copies of the 100 best Icelandic pop/rock albums, according to a team of experts. These will be accessible until the end of the month (it's apparently part of a vote organised by the Icelandic state broadcaster); for those confused by the panoply of unfamiliar, oddly-charactered band names, MetaFilter has a guide to some of these bands.

(via MeFi) iceland music 3


Frieze Magazine has a piece on the cultural dimension of the use of Autotune, the vocal-processing effect heard on many commercial pop songs these days:

Lil Wayne records with Auto-Tune on – no untreated vocal version exists. In an era of powerful computers that allow one to audition all manner of effects on vocals after the recording session, recording direct with Auto-Tune means full commitment. There is no longer an original ‘naked’ version. This is a cyborg embrace. In Cyborg Manifesto (1991), Donna Haraway notes that ‘the relation between organism and machine has been a border war.’ Auto-Tune’s creative deployment is fully compatible with her ‘argument for pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and for responsibility in their construction.’
A few months ago I heard a song from the Côte d’Ivoire. Twelve minutes long, Champion DJ’s ‘Baako’ is built around a baby crying through Auto-Tune. The software bends the baby’s anguish into eerie musicality. The ear likes it. The mind isn’t so sure. ‘Baako’ is disturbing. The aestheticized cry no longer corresponds to any normal emotion. Before Auto-Tune, we had no melodious screams.
From the US to Mexico, Jamaica, Africa, and beyond – Auto-Tune usage has splintered, with different approaches from scene to scene and artist to artist. (It remains the most sonically extreme in Berber Morocco.) The plug-in creates a different relation of voice to machine than ever before. Rather than novelty or some warped mimetic response to computers, Auto-Tune is a contemporary strategy for intimacy with the digital. As such, it becomes quite humanizing. Auto-Tune operates as a duet between the electronics and the personal.
The article points out that Antares, the makers of Autotune, are working on a mobile phone version of their software.

Also, I wonder how much of what they call "Autotune" is really Antares' plug-in (which, as far as I know, is a black box that works in real time), and how much is other tools like Celemony Melodyne (an application which lets one edit the timing and pitch of recorded notes, and can be used for getting similar results).

(via MeFi) autotune computer music culture music tech 2


The Graun has a capsule review of the Arthur & Martha's début album:

[i]t's redolent of the C86 sound currently being revived, not just here but in the States. Only this isn't straight "shambling"/"anorak" indie copyism. What A&M do is a sort of cutie krautrock – if you want motorik credentials, their debut single was called Autovia – or tweetronica, using toy/playground electronic gizmos, battered old Casios and Korgs and cheapo drum machines to create gentle, tinny yet poignant pulsebeats that move their achingly pretty, minor-chord melodies along. Imagine, if you will, St Etienne in space, with Sarah Cracknell, who knows about celestial bodies herself, cooing interstellar lullabies through a vintage microphone, or Kraftwerk playing Field Mice-ish wan songs at a freshers' disco. No wonder A&M themselves call what they do "music for robots to dance to"; no wonder, too, they've been described as "Aphex Twin remixing the contents of NME's seminal C86 tape …"
They were going to title their forthcoming debut album The Microchip Tears, a neat way of encapsulating their analogue melancholy and silicon requiems, which were written by the pair in the aftermath of a series of failed affairs. Yet it's that old chestnut "upbeat misery" that you hear on tracks like Squarewave to Heaven, This City Life and Kasparov, which evoke images of undergraduate lovers in regulation Oxfam-wear transported to a distant galaxy where they dance like androids under a cherry moon.
And it is a pretty good album; a combination of quality indiepop songwriting and Kraftwerk-via-New-Order synthpop. The Graun mentions reference points such as Stereolab and Broadcast, though I'd cite more a recent generation of indie(synth)pop bands like Baxendale, Trademark and White Town. It's not in the shops until the end of June, though you can order a copy from the label today.

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Stereolab have called it a day.. Well, in a world in which bands routinely reform around the 20-year mark, they're being cautious and calling it a hiatus rather than the end of Stereolab forever.

As we recently made #51 with Emperor Tomato Ketchup in the Amazon 100 Greatest Indie Rock Albums of all Time we feel that our work is done for the moment.

We have had to cancel the last two shows that we were scheduled to play, apologies to all that had bought tickets, and there are no plans to record new tracks.

Duophonic are working on the release of Chemical Chords 2, we also have plans for a new Switched On and remastering of the back catalogue.

Stereolab fans will have to be satisfied with their existing output for the indefinite future.

(via xrrf) music stereolab 0


The next must-have gadget for the laptop musician could be the OP-1:

It's made of plastic, Nintendo-white, with rounded buttons and a colour OLED display, and works as a controller for music software and a standalone synthesiser/sequencer. It's still under development, by an outfit named Teenage Engineering (who appear to be a bunch of Stockholm hipsters, with a tendency to use conspicuous Japanese translations on their web site; they also make modular studio lights and downloadable papercraft models of Yamaha motorbikes). The product is said to be 10-12 months from release, with no price yet known.

(via Boing Boing Gadgets) computer music gadgets music op-1 0


With 1980s sophistipop group Spandau Ballet reforming, the Graun's Michael Hann puts the boot into them for being perfect avatars of Thatcherism:

Thatcherism was about more than politics. It was, obviously, also a cultural phenomenon that transformed British society. So while one can list any number of cultural trends from the 70s or 90s without linking them irrevocably to Ted Heath, Harold Wilson, John Major and Tony Blair, that's far harder to do with the cultural products of the 80s. City wide-boys; chrome-and-black-leather furniture; mobile phones the size of bricks; me-first attitudes: those are among the fruits of Thatcherism.
To be precise, one can't blame mobile phones the sizes of bricks for Thatcherism; Britain would have had those either way, unless perhaps the government was so radically left-wing that it banned such a rampantly non-collective means of communication for ideological reasons or something.
I loathed Spandau Ballet first time round; I loathe them equally now. More than any other musical assembly with the possible exception of Stock Aitken and Waterman, they are Thatcherism on vinyl.
But the link between Spandau Ballet and Thatcherism is about more than the personal politics of Tony Hadley. It's about the emptiness of Spandau, the aspiration to do nothing more than look good in a nightclub, the happy embrace of style over substance. Billy Bragg has even attributed his decision to become a performer to them: "One day [I] saw Spandau Ballet on Top of the Pops wearing kilts and singing Chant No 1 and something in me snapped. I was waiting for a band to come along to play the kind of music I wanted to hear, and none was forthcoming, so it was that moment I finally realised it was gonna have to be me," he said at a press conference in August 2003.
And we still haven't talked about the music. We haven't mentioned the sexless funk of Chant No 1. Nor the oddly fascistic undertones of Musclebound. Nor the dreadful wine-bar soul of True, which was No 1 for four years between 1984 and 1988. And that's because, really, Spandau Ballet weren't about the music, just as chrome-and-black-leather furniture wasn't really about sitting down.
If the values of a period are associated with its music and art, one can consider certain phenomena to embody an ideology, despite not being explicitly political. Thatcherism, in this case, seemed to be about a few things: lightweight pseudo-sophistication, acquisitive materialism, and the supremacy of the market as a metaphor for all (which includes disengagement from society outside of one's role as participant in the marketplace, exaggerated awareness of one's status relative to others, and a sharklike competitiveness). In short, the iron fist of the thuggish corporate raider couched in the velvet glove of mass-produced luxury, no sensitivity or intelligence required. As such, one has the obvious Spandau Ballet (and, indeed, one could make a case for the entire "sophistipop" genre being complicit), Stock/Aitken/Waterman (more for their business acumen than anything else; after all, the whole point of Thatcherite art is success and competitiveness), and in the visual sphere, Merchant/Ivory costume dramas (which combined visual luxuriousness with the middlebrow conservatism of the median Tory voter in the 1980s) and the musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber, similarly vacuous spectacles. As far as the literary sphere goes, one only need mention Jeffrey Archer.

When Thatcherism turned into Blairism (and it was more a generational change than a revolution), the former opposition became the new government. Musically, we got the trailing edge of Britpop, which grew out of culturally left-wing 1980s indie and into the mass market, much in the way that post-punk started with PiL, then turned into New Pop and ended with Duran Duran and our old friends, Spandau Ballet. Meanwhile, the 1980s pop of Stock/Aitken/Waterman gave way to the hip-hop-flavoured sounds of the Spice Girls and their numerous followers. (When I first heard "Wannabe", I thought that it was an old Salt'n'Pepa song.) The cycle completed itself Cinematically, film production company Working Title seemed to be the Merchant-Ivory of Blairism. Where the Thatcherite message was that everyone could aspire to luxury, the Blairite one was that everyone could aspire to coolness.

The cycle completed itself in the late days of Blairism, with bands like Coldplay and Keane, Nth generation facsimiles of the 1980s indie scene reconstituted into music for furniture showrooms; only this time, the furniture was a breezier New Labour variant, the black-leather-and-chrome fetish of the Iron Lady's reign replaced by bland, vaguely upbeat neutral tones.

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Electronic music project of the day: Tunnels; the work of a London Underground engineer and electronic musician who takes advantage of his job by recording sounds, from lift relays to electromagnetic brakes and rail cutting machines, and assembling them into electronic compositions.

(via london-underground) london underground music 0


Brighton-based singer-songwriter Monster Bobby (he's one of the people behind doo-wop indie firework band The Pipettes, but let's not hold that against him; his solo stuff is quite good, actually, and doesn't have the whiff of being made to a business plan) is taking a leaf out of Momus' book and accepting patronage for writing songs. £10 will get you a song about you, or the subject of your choice; or, as per the email:

finally, in homage to saint Momus, I have decided to take up a spot of 'patronage pop'. Basically, if you pay me a tenner, i'll write a song all about you, or any subject you choose. you will find a paypal button on my myspace page:
i will also need 500 words or so of text about yourself or your chosen subject. and if you go to my tumblr page you will find a link to Momus's essay about patronage pop. I would like to point out that when Momus did this, he charged a grand, so you're getting me very cheap.. actually if this takes off i may have to up my prices somewhat so, er, get me while i'm cheap!
Should you wish to take him up on his offer, the PayPal form is here.

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Jamie Zawinski went to SXSW, and reports that Austin, Texas has a music scene second to none:

Austin is a pretty amazing city. The density of music venues is like nothing I've ever seen. I know we're here during a gigantic music festival, but this infrastructure doesn't just go away. I wonder what it's like at other times of year. Even though the music part of the festival hasn't even begun yet, the nightlife is just crazy. We've hardly been to a bar or club that didn't have a capacity of almost a thousand, and they have all been divided up and laid out in totally sensible ways.
Right now I am looking at a street sign - a municipal street sign, presumably suported by an ordinance and everything - that says "Restricted lane, musician loading and unloading". I am not making this up!
San Francisco: You got served.
By Texas.

(via Gulfstream) culture music sxsw texas usa 1

The Pet Shop Boys' Neil Tennant enumerates the greatest people in British history in an interview with Johnny Marr for the Graun:

In the 20th century, looking at the people who changed the way we think, it would be the guy who designed the Apple computer, who's British, Jonathan Ive. The Beatles changed the world, as did the Rolling Stones and David Bowie. The Beatles' impact is possibly greater than Winston Churchill's. Before that, you might have the committee that translated the Bible because they created, more than Shakespeare, a musical kind of language that was probably one of the things that made us a musical country. And I would say Gilbert and Sullivan. So much modern British music has come from Gilbert and Sullivan. You could even say that rap music comes from that, with an incredible emphasis on rhyme and rhythm.

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The Independent had an article this week on how Stockholm has become a centre of web technologies and social software, from the likes of Skype and Spotify to more ethically ambiguous ones like The Pirate Bay, and why this is the case:

Rick Falkvinge is the leader of Sweden's most plugged-in political group, The Pirate Party. "In the rest of Europe," he says, "the internet roll-out was done by telecommunications companies, who had an incentive to delay it for as long as possible because it shattered their existing business model. When you put disruptive technology into everyone's hands, it changes public perceptions of what you can, and should, do with it."
Technology must be in the Swedish genes; in 1900, Stockholm had more telephones than London or Berlin. When Crown Princess Victoria announced her engagement last week, she did so via a video on the royal website. The weekend's biggest film opening was an adaptation of novelist Stieg Larsson's thriller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The heroine of the title is a young computer hacker with a flexible attitude to the law.
Sweden has long been held up as a model of social democracy. So is there something in the mindset that predisposes the Swedes to the provision of free, communal culture online? "There's a law [Allemansratten] that I think is unique to Sweden, about common spaces," says Andersson. "You can go out camping in nature anywhere in Sweden without asking the landowner's permission. That sort of attitude predominates here."
Which is not entirely true; England has the ancient "right to roam", which is still valid everywhere that's not owned by Madonna. However, Britain has more of the Anglocapitalist model of culture, predicated on intellectual property licensing and marketing, than the collectivist, Jante-compliant variety in Scandinavia. Were three Londoners to start a BitTorrent tracker in the UK, they'd be extradited to the United States (whose intellectual property, after all, it is) faster than you could say "Gary McKinnon".

On a tangent, here is an article from Spin magazine last year (sadly, presented only as JavaScript-viewable image maps, and not copiable, which is probably why you haven't seen it blogged much) about how Sweden became a musical powerhouse. It does have a lot to do with government investment, both in terms of teaching musicianship in schools and encouraging children to develop musically and in subsidising overseas tours by Swedish bands. And they're now setting their attention on "beating the Americans to China".

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Musicological concept of the day: the "Sensitive Female Chord Progression" (or vi-IV-I-V, for the musicians), which you have undoubtedly heard numerous times:

Let's call this the Sensitive Female Chord Progression, so named because . . . well, because when I first noticed it in 1998 (when I became keenly aware that Sarah McLachlan's "Building a Mystery" sounded an awful lot like Joan Osborne's "One of Us"), it seemed to be the exclusive province of Lilith Fair types baring their souls for all to see. Think Jewel's "Hands." Melissa Etheridge's "Angels Would Fall." Nina Gordon's "Tonight and the Rest of My Life."
So what is the Sensitive Female Chord Progression, exactly? It's simple enough for the music theory-inclined: vi-IV-I-V. No good? Well, for a song in the key of A minor, it would be Am-F-C-G. Still confused? Here's an easy way to see if a song uses the chord progression: Just sing Osborne's lyrics, "What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us?" over the suspect four chords. If it fits, you've just spotted one in the wild. Once you're attuned to it, you'll hear it everywhere.
Composer and conductor Rob Kapilow, who hosts National Public Radio's "What Makes It Great?," says the magic of the Sensitive Female Chord Progression lies in the way it can be played over and over and return smoothly to the first chord each time. "What this allows is for it to be very fluid. You're really not centered anywhere. What it does is not have that kind of resolution, that kind of firm, declarative 'We're here.' That's part of the appeal for rock. You want to just keep cycling."
It's not just the "sensitive female" artists who use this progression; one well-known piece is in Iggy Pop's The Passenger.

(via substitute) chord progressions culture music musicology 0


The Graun's Alexis Petridis is not impressed with the new Morrissey album:

At least the sound fits the lyrics, which are so horribly sour you could make cottage cheese by leaving a pint of milk next to the speakers while it's playing. Morrissey has been petulant and nasty before, but there was usually a mitigating hint of arched eyebrow, or a flash of wit. Here, there's nothing but vituperative clumsiness: "You lied about the lies you told, which is the full extent of what being you is all about."
It's not so much that you've heard what he has to say on Black Cloud or That's How People Grow Up before; it's more that you've heard him say it better. There's a compelling argument that Morrissey keeps attracting new, young fans because his apparently immutable worldview, in which it's always someone else's fault and everything is so unfair, chimes with their own adolescent experience. But it's difficult to hear him singing, "There's so much destruction all over the world and all you can do is complain about me," without thinking: is this any way for a man who's nearly 50 to be carrying on? Clearly, this thought has crossed Morrissey's mind as well. "I know by now you think I should have straightened myself out," he sings elsewhere. "Thank you. Drop dead."

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Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, the writer/artist team who brought us the history-of-Britpop-as-Hellblazer graphic novel Phonogram, have a new project coming out: a graphic novel based on the songs of UK indie band Spearmint, titled This Is A Souvenir.

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Remember Muxtape, the web site where you could upload MP3s of songs you liked to make a virtual mix tape to send people, until the RIAA decided that it was too useful for them to not get paid for it and shut it down? Well, it's back, sort of. Or rather, there is a new site at This time, you can't upload your stolen MP3s for anyone to criminally enjoy, but if you're in a band or make music, you can put your own music up for people to stream. Just like MySpace, only without the spammy Flash ads and generally atrocious user experience.

I was thinking that "Muxtape 2.0. Less sucky than the new Napster" would be a good slogan for it, but on reflection, this sounds needlessly sarcastic. How about: "Muxtape 2.0: less sucky than the new Napster or MySpace"?

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Young British graphic designer Olly Moss (perhaps best known for his Threadless T-shirts) has now posted Swiss Modernist-influenced alternate cover art for video games and similarly Modernistic, Helvetica-intensive alternative movie posters:

Meanwhile, Kyle Gabler, the composer of the soundtrack for the videogame World Of Goo has made it available as a free download. Go and get it; it's a nice piece of classic cinematic scoring, equal parts vintage Morricone/Herrmann/Schifrin and Danny Elfman gingerbread-house oogie/spookyisms.

(via Boing Boing) design helvetica modernism mp3s music olly moss threadless videogames world of goo 0


And here are my gig highlights of 2008:

  • The Tenori-On launch, San Francisco, 18 April

    I happened to be in the Bay Area at the time, and went along, with some friends, to the Tenori-On launch. At the San Francisco one, they had a number of North American artists, the most memorable of whom was I Am Robot And Proud. Formerly one half of Girls Are Short, he now makes ambient electronica under this name, and, given a Tenori-On, integrated it into his performance alongside a piano, to great effect. I still didn't spend US$1200 on a Tenori-On, though.

  • ATP vs. PITCHFORK, Camber Sands, 9-11 May

    The first ATP festival I've been to, and it was great. Highlights were probably Glass Candy's deadpan Italo-disco, Los Campesinos' on-stage mayhem, Of Montreal's psychedelic psychodrama (which keeps getting more elaborate with each show), and krautrock veterans Harmonia playing an hour and a half of ambient electronica to a hushed room.

  • Jeffrey Lewis, Scala, 18 September

    I went to see Jefrey Lewis play, having only heard the Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror song of his, and not knowing what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised; rather than just playing guitar and singing, he did things like present short stories in sequences of drawings as he sang, and towards the end, his band threw off the folk moniker and rocked out like Mogwai or someone. Also, he had some of his comics for sale at the merch stall, and they were quite good.

  • The Deirdres, The Vines, Derby, 7 Oct

    The Deirdres' possibly last-ever gig, before three of their members went travelling abroad; how could I not go? I caught the train to Derby after work and made it to the venue at about 8:30, and I wasn't disappointed. They went on stage, costumed as animals which hibernate, and played with their usual raucous yet deceptively tight musicianship, and a great time was had all round.

  • The Jesus and Mary Chain/Black Box Recorder, The Forum, 27 Oct

    The gig was a memorial for the frontman of Earl Brutus, hence the high-profile lineup at short notice, and the giant tinsel British Rail logo behind the stage. Black Box Recorder played mostly songs from England Made Me (i.e., their best album), and the Mary Chain gave a great performance, on a par with their recordings. British Sea Power also played, but they didn't grab me.

  • Parenthetical Girls, The Dome, 17 November

    A stripped-down rendition of Entanglements, but while it may have lacked orchestral instruments, it didn't lack dynamism from Zach, who kept going in and out of the audience. The cover of OMD's Maid Of Orleans was pretty good too.

  • I'm From Barcelona/SoKo, London/Brighton - 25/26 November

    Two gigs, one after the other. I'm From Barcelona was the usual euphoric experience, with balloons and confetti (this time fired into the air by a confetti Gatling gun), though now only 12 band members on stage. SoKo, however, stole the show, with her quirky songs and multi-instrumentalism. She's definitely one to watch.

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And now, here come the lists of things of the year. Starting with the top 10 records of 2008 (in alphabetical order of artist's name, as usual):

  • Animal Collective - Water Curses

    The futurefolk combo's follow-up to last year's Strawberry Jam, a 4-track EP further building on their textured yet organic sound. Highlight: Cobwebs, which sounds a little like something Björk might well have done.

  • Cut Copy - In Ghost Colours

    Australia's Modular label have been the toast of the electrofashionista elite of London and New York, and the core of a mass youth movement in Australia (one now hears disparaging descriptions of vast hordes of "mogans", unsophisticated fluoro-shirted teenage party kids from all over the suburbs and provinces of Australia, sharing musical tastes with the hippest of Shoreditch and Williamsburg's hipsters; how funny is that?), but they do release some good stuff from time to time. Case in point: Cut Copy's second album, which combines the vogue for 1980s New Wave stylings (cribbed both from international sources (listen out for the Peter Hook-esque melody lines) and Australian 80s top-40 sounds) with electro/house the way Australians like it (i.e., muscular, body-conscious and not too chi-chi or pretentious), and manages to make something quite listenable out of it, a collection of well-formed pop songs driven by coruscating synths, 4/4 dance beats, melodic vocals and the odd jangly guitar and glockenspiel. Highlight: the opening cut, Feel The Love, is a good start, starting as pop and morphing into something more clubby like a disco Transformers robot.

  • The Deirdres - Why Do My Glasses Give You The Heeby Jeebys?

    The Deirdres, a young unsigned band consisting of seven kids from Derby, are, in my opinion, one of the most exciting indiepop bands in the UK now. This self-released CD-R (the first versions had handmade photo-collage covers, and buyers got a raffle ticket to decide which one they got) shows that they're as good in the studio as they are at live shows, sounding in places like a more melodic Los Campesinos! or a much more compact I'm From Barcelona. These kids deserve to go a long way (and three of them are currently in Australia, gigging with The Motifs and Summer Cats). Highlights: Milk Is Politics is more typical of the exuberant pop mayhem of their live shows, and Rise And Fall is just sublime.

  • Eine Kleine Nacht Musik - s/t

    Another Modular release, this time from an American artist lovingly taking off the more electronic end of krautrock (think Harmonia, Tangerine Dream and such). With titles like Feuerprobe, Bardolator and Götterdämmerung, this album wears its inspirations on its sleeve, but it does what it does well. Highlights: perhaps the penultimate track, Das Regenecho.

  • El Guincho - Alegranza

    Influenced by Afrobeat, Tropicália and 1970s Canary Islands psychedelic rock, this record is a collection of loop-based Latin party music, assembled by a hipster from Barcelona. Imagine Panda Bear making party-rocking grooves, and you'll have some idea of what this sounds like. Highlights: Antillas perhaps?

  • Glass Candy - B/E/A/T/B/O/X

    What you get when some people from the DIY hardcore punk scene decide that Italo-disco is where it's at. As much influenced by cult 1970s Italian horror movies as 1980s Italian disco anthems, this brings a somewhat askew take to the genre. Highlights: Their cooler-than-ice take on Kraftwerk's Computer Love, followed by the Goblin-esque eerieness of Last Nite I Met A Costume.

  • Momus and Joe Howe - Joemus

    A collaboration with Glaswegian glitchcore mentalist Joe Howe (Germlin/Gay Against You), Momus' latest album sees a combination of influences; perhaps conscious of the youthful cutting-edge electronica Howe brings to the party, Momus digs into the past somewhat, covering a Cliff Richard teenage heartbreak anthem and a Ryuichi Sakamoto piece (the lovely Thatness and Thereness). This was somewhat overshadowed this year by Momus' decision to post the MP3s of his Creation-era albums online in his blog, but is still worth a listen. Highlights: Fade To White

  • Moscow Olympics - Cut The World

    The grey days of 1980s Britain, with their anomie and internal alienation, have become a golden age of indiepop to some; certainly, to Moscow Olympics, a group of kids from Manila, the Philippines, who plant their flag halfway between the Glasgow of Orange Juice, the Manchester of Factory Records and the Bristol of Sarah Records, with perhaps a slight lean towards Gothenburg. Cut The World, their debut EP on Swedish (where else?) indiepop label Lavender, sound for all the world as if they emerged from beneath the leaden skies of mid-Thatcher-era northern Britain with a defiantly optimistic song in their hearts, sounding like the Bodines with Peter Hook on bass and Keith Girdler (of Blueboy) on vocals. The EP continues in this vein for seven tracks, before shimmering away in a Slowdive-esque crescendo; this is as perfect a slice of C86-esque indiepop as one could hope for. Highlights: the opening track, What Is Left Unsaid is a good one.

  • Parenthetical Girls - Entanglements

    A lavish piece of 1960s-style symphonic pop splendour. The music is exquisitely orchestrated, wrapped sumptuously around finely-crafted words which, through baroque circumlocutions, tell a story of a torrid romantic tragedy, somewhere between Romeo and Juliet and Lolita, filtered through a sort of gauzy Technicolor impressionism. Highlights: the tango-infused cover of Windmills Of Your Mind is one.

  • Vampire Weekend - s/t

    Yes, it has been hyped to death. Yes, they're a bunch of privileged urban haute-bourgeoisie taking the music of the global downtrodden and crafting from it songs about the lives of the wealthy ("lobsters' claws are as sharp as knives"; see, a UHB's life is not without its hazards). But at the end of it, they do what they do quite well, combining Afrobeat influences, chamber-music strings, clever lyrics and good songs. Which doesn't mean you can't laugh at some of the toffishness. But who outside of a posh university would write a song titled Oxford Comma? Highlights: start anywhere on the album; the opener, Mansard Roof, is a good a point as any.

With honourable mentions going to Pelle Carlberg - The Lilac Time (with some great songs, such as the transparently B&S-esque 1983 and a song about how crap Ryanair is, how can you go wrong?), I'm From Barcelona - Who Killed Harry Houdini (their second album, which is not quite as exuberant as their debut, though still good for a fix), Los Campesinos - We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed (the limited-edition second album from the Welsh tweexcore combo; good, but next to The Deirdres, sounds a bit too shambolic in places), The Motifs - Cross Paths (most of the tracks on this came out last year, which is why it's not in the top 10; otherwise, it's excellent), Slow Down Tallahassee - The Beautiful Light (girl-group indiepop with attitude from Sheffield). I'd probably have added Fleet Foxes to one of these two lists, had I ordered their CD earlier. As for things which didn't make it: well, the new Hot Chip album didn't grab me as much as the previous one did, and 2008 was the year Of Montreal disappeared into a vortex of self-parody. Their live shows should still be good, though.

If I were to choose a record of the year, 2008's would be Moscow Olympics' Cut The World.

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I recently bought myself a Korg NanoKey. That's a tiny USB MIDI keyboard, about the width of a low-end MacBook, with two octaves of plasticky-feeling keys.

Laptop and Korg NanoKey
The NanoKey has received mixed reviews, with some admiring the concept and others complaining at how cheap it feels. I've only been using it for a week or so, but I'm extremely pleased with it. For one, it's tiny, which makes all the difference. It fits comfortably in a laptop bag, and is small enough to get out and use anywhere; I can take it out in a café without looking like some kind of attention-seeking weirdo, or even use it on a train (these have both been tested; the last one, in economy class aboard the Eurostar). Or, I can place it unobstrusively on the desk. The convenience factor is a big win; in contrast, I also have a 25-key Evolution MK-425C, which is about the size of a backpack, and has been gathering dust for ages.

Of course, as you can probably guess, the NanoKey is thin and plasticky. If you're guessing it feels cheap, kind of like a child's toy piano, you'd be right. No-one will mistake it for a Steinway grand any time soon. Though, given the convenience, that doesn't matter; it works well enough for what it does, which is sending MIDI notes better than the QWERTY keyboard. And furthermore, it is touch-sensitive; I was quite surprised to find this out.

It also came with a download code for the cut-down edition of Korg's M1 softsynth. Which is great should I ever need an Italo-house piano or similar.

The upshot of this is that I've been playing with music more, and when I do, in a more hands-on way; actually playing notes, rather than clicking and dragging. In any case, it was probably the best £45 or so I've spent in a long time.

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The Independent's Rhodri Marsden has an article about the Roland TR-808, the classic electronic drum machine which became a staple of everything from hip-hop to electronica, from post-punk rock to adult-oriented soft-soul, and now having lent its name to a Kanye West album (somewhat ironically, perhaps, as there is little evidence of any 808s having been used in the making of the album; those who bought it expecting to hear some sweet sidestick-and-cowbell action will probably have reason to be disappointed).

And once you know what you're listening out for, you'll hear the 808 on innumerable tracks. Unfortunately, one of its most widely heard manifestations is the cowbell effect that hammers away like a distressed woodpecker during "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" by Whitney Houston. "That noise is the bane of my life," says Simon Thornton, the producer of Fatboy Slim and countless other British dance acts over the past two decades. "It makes you wonder which person at Roland actually decided that it sounded any good."
But one man's trash is another man's treasure, and Jyoti Mishra, the self-confessed producer of "camp synth pop" and former singles chart-topping artist under the name White Town, considers the same noise to be iconic. "And so are the claves, and so are the handclaps. Of course, they don't sound like handclaps – but strangely, they have somehow become the sound of handclaps. Every drum machine produced since then has had to feature that same kind of noise."
By the mid 1980s, the 808 had helped rap artists such as Run DMC and the Beastie Boys to worldwide success – but it was also dusted off in studios to provide backing for more laidback tunes, such as Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" and "One More Night" by Phil Collins. "I got mine in 1983," says Mishra, "and immediately loved it. And those things it was criticised for – the limitations of its built-in sounds – are what ended up making it so popular."
The 808 pillow in the photo, incidentally, has nothing to do with the article per se, but comes from this article.

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Momus has decided to make the albums he recorded for Creation available for free in MP3 format, completely illegally and piratically:

Okay, this is quite a big decision, but I've taken it. Six Momus albums -- the ones I recorded for Alan McGee's Creation label between 1987 and 1993 -- are out of print. Creation doesn't exist any more, and in theory Sony owns the rights to these albums, but isn't doing anything with them and probably never will. In the meantime, only Russian pirates are profiting, charging punters for illegal downloads.
So, during the rest of December, I've decided to release mp3s of my six Creation albums here on Click Opera, for free. Think of it as a sort of Creation Advent Calendar, with a new old Momus album every couple of days. If you're the sort of person who likes to donate to the artist when you download, do it here. But it's not really necessary; these albums paid for themselves long ago. Think of this as a Christmas present. Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!
Over the next month, he will post them to his blog, with freshly-written liner notes. The first one, 1987's The Poison Boyfriend, is up already.

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The Graun has a piece on El Records, the artier-than-usual indie label set up in the the mid-1980s by Cherry Red's Mike Alway, which briefly counted Momus on its roster, and then went on to make meticulously art-directed records, its A&R people casting artists as one would actors in a play:

One of Alway's first castings was Simon Fisher Turner, a man whose life story includes child stardom in Tom Brown's Schooldays, taking Robert Mitchum to see Siouxsie and the Banshees, being "the new David Cassidy" on Jonathan King's record label and playing bass for Adam and the Ants. "I was making music in gallery spaces," says Turner, now a respected soundtrack composer. "But no one was really interested in a guy bagging up handmade cassettes with small bits of art and one-off collections of sweets and postcards and cheap toys. I wrote Mike a letter and sent him a cassette. He returned one to me fairly promptly and I went up to their office. He offered me a job [recording] as the King of Luxembourg there and then - I liked that. Instant. Very Jarman."
El revelled in its thrillingly sly upper-class style. His artists weren't knuckle-dragging gangs from rough backstreets: they were presented as languorous Vogue models, archbishops' daughters, royalty. There were songs about the British Empire, soufflés, choirboys and stately homes, but there was never the merest whiff of snobbery, just the crisp, lemony cologne of a delicious privilege shared.
"I used to buy lots of anachronistic magazines and trawl them for song titles," Always says. "I got the King's Turban Disturbance from a column in the Spectator. Cookbooks were good, too. People hadn't written songs about trivial things like soufflés, everything was drowned in this awful bombast. I wanted to move pop music's vernacular on a bit. We were anticipating a Britain yet to come, a more stylish place in line with the Italian and Spanish culture I loved."
El Records went on to be much more influential in Japan, informing the leading lights of the Shibuya-kei movement (and even inspiring a Kahimi Karie song titled Mike Alway's Diary; incidentally, on the same EP as the Momus-penned Giapponese a Roma), though was closed some time around 1990; though it has now been reconstituted as a reissues label, dealing with lavishly eccentric old recordings:
The new incarnation of El means near-forgotten recordings by Sabu ("The Elephant Boy") and Orson Welles, Roy Budd and Al "Jazzbo" Collins, Stravinsky and the Ink Spots. The majority of these artefacts date from a time when it seemed perfectly reasonable to lavish skill and money on an LP of questionable commercial appeal, and each one feeds neatly into Always' master vision of a better world where people dress more tastefully, read more widely, think more deeply and take an interest in the world outside their immediate environs. Four wonderfully odd CDs are released every month, each selling between 1,000 and 3,000 copies. Each is a gem.

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Melbourne's community radio station 3RRR now has a new website. The new site appears to look somewhat more polished than the previous one, both visually and in terms of the design. (The URLs, for one, are clean, rather than being PHP scripts with CGI arguments tacked onto the end.)

The playlists linked from the program guide now go all the way back to the dawn of time (or 2004, in any case). (They had those playlists online in the old site, but the only way to get at them was to manually try different numbers in the aforementioned CGI arguments; here, they're indexed in nicely paginated indices going as far back as necessary.) Here is the first International Pop Underground playlist they posted online; it's interesting to note that Carew played My Favorite's Homeless Club Kids and various Stephin Merritt-related projects that week.

Also, RRR's website will have a subscribers-only section, which will apparently include expanded audio archives. Not sure what exactly this will entail, or indeed what Australian copyright law will allow.

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glitchDS is a suite of (somewhat unconventional) homebrewed Nintendo DS music programs. They include CellsDS, a grid-based sequencer apparently modelled on the Tenori-On, only extensible using Lua scripts, as well as a gesture-based sample player named repeaterDS and the eponymous glitchDS, a music toy based on Conway's Game Of Life. Of course, you will need a homebrew card to use these, which may be illegal or otherwise difficult to acquire in some territories.

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Guess who has a blog? Tom Ellard, of legendary Australian electronic/industrial project Severed Heads. And his blog is one of those which tears down a number of targets, with no small measure of curmudgeonly wit; targets such as experimental laptop/noise music:

“PHONOPEDAGOGICA PRESENTS: From Japan - Famous Jazz Noise Hybrid Musics legend YamaWhama Obama will perform his entire 10 CD set of flinging forks across the room at a guitar while mumbling some shit about Buddhism. Completely unknown in his own land, he now lives on a couch in New York and knows somebody who knows Lou Reed’s chauffeur. Legendary transsexual poet, film-maker, interior designer and MAXmsp flouncer Hans Knees Whoopsidasi presents her new video made up of random selections from YouTube along with the coastline of Holland translated into a granular patch. Australian producer Ya Fuck of Fuckya Records will repeatedly bang his head against a pole until it bleeds. His Pole Dance album is due out next month on Neverheardofit Records in Berlin.”
“We also proudly present our new exhibit at Tragic Hipster Gallery - The Only Good Music From The Last Decade. Artists such as Opiate Stumblebum, Exotic But Bad DJ, Professor Phil Somebody, Shocking Rude Name!!, the French Chick I wish I was banging, Generic Japanese Noise Artist 34, West Coast Guy With Grey Beard and lots of Analogue Gear, The Wanker Improvisation Experience, Krautrock reflux etc. etc. may be heard in the proper gallery context where silence & respectful listening distance is enforced and visual arts traditions are appropriated (because we really wish we were painters).”
And the riddle of perceived musical "authenticity", in the context of supermarket promotional jingles:
Recently they switched to ‘cute girl with a guitar’. I am really very impressed by this, because the musicians have done an excellent job of recreating that warm, heartfelt, impassioned feeling that a girl gets when she picks up a guitar and sings a little song she herself wrote about fresh food. Damn. I wanted to punch the singer in the eye in about 5 seconds flat. That good.
Then it hit me. She has a speech impediment. PERFECT. She sings like this: We yah We yah Da Fwesh Food Pweepwel. Which is exactly the way REAL manufactured pop girls with guitars sing. They all have the vocal equivalent of cross eyes.
While you could just say - it’s supposed to be cute - and you’d be right, I need to elaborate on this because I am a tedious Media Academic. I have a theory. Have you seen what happens when people talk to cats? Their voices go up an octave and they start babbling shit like Aw Wook At Da Widdle Pussy Kitty. This is authenticity. This is people revealing what they would be like if toilet training, school and a long stretch in prison hadn’t sorted out their kinks. Here is the basis of a whole renaissance in the media industry - write your music and films as if you are singing to a cat and your success will be the stuff of legends.
Not to mention politics:
The people are invoked by every rat bag philosophy. Marx had a lot to say about the people, but so did Thoreau, Hitler and just about every applicant to rule a country anywhere. The people are always described as possessing some wisdom that come from walking barefoot on dirt - they are noble savages, you can only fool some of them some of the time. (The worst case is when white people talk about the native population of the place that they almost wiped out. Aboriginal Australians are for example psychic, can live off sand, stand on one leg for days at a time etc.) Having ridden public transport for some time I know from first hand experience that the people are one step up from the potato.
(he identifies as "libertarian", and blasts the Left, Clarkson/O'Rourke fashion, whilst hammering the US religious right (not exactly difficult; as O'Rourke himself said, making fun of religious fundamentalists is like hunting dairy cows with a high-powered rifle), and the other culture war, the one between Apple and Microsoft. Quite interesting, whether or not you agree with everything he writes.

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The shadowy phenomenon of product placement in pop music was thrust into the spotlight when culture jammers the Anti-Advertising Agency, who were running a virtual jeans-making sweatshop in Second Life as an art project, received a proposal from a product placement agency, offering to put his brand of jeans in a Pussycat Dolls song, which they published online

In the e-mail, Kluger (who has represented Mariah Carey, New Kids on the Blog, Ne-Yo, Fall Out Boy, Method Man, Lady GaGa and Ludacris) explained via e-mail that for the right price, Double Happiness Jeans could find its way into the lyrics in an upcoming Pussycat Dolls song. Crouse posted the e-mail on his blog at the Anti-Advertising Agency, an art project of sorts that's basically the philosophical mirror image of a traditional ad agency.
The Anti-Advertising Agency declined and has already drawn some attention to the practice of selling space in lyrics to advertisers through its blog. "Maybe Ludacris wants to rap about a luxury SUV, and is just looking for the right one," said Lambert. "We'll never know (everything about) how it works, because that takes the mystique out of it, and the mystique is one of the things that they can sell." But thanks to this e-mail, we at least have proof that the phenomenon is real.
Meanwhile, the agency, Kluger PR (who have emailed WIRED and disowned responsibility for the actual email) has asserted that when they place products in songs, they take every care to ensure that artistic integrity is not affected:
"We are just financially taking care of the people that should be taken care of," he told us via e-mail. "If an artist like Sheryl Crow has the same target audience as XZY brand, we feel it's nothing but a strong and strategic way to pinpoint a market.
"Now, we don't want an artist to write a song specifically to promote a brand, we just feel that if it's a product that's admired by the artist and fits his/her image, we now have the capability of leveling out the playing field and making things financially beneficial for all parties involved. 'Brand-Dropping' is the term that the Kluger Agency coined to describe discreetly advertising by product mentioning in song, and we feel we can make this the way of the future without jeopardizing any artists creative outlet or typical style."
I wonder how much it takes to arrange that your (virtual) brand of jeans is sufficiently admired by the Pussycat Dolls for them to (quite sincerely, of course) sing its praises. Which sounds like the artistic equivalent of the question of how much money it takes to win the amorous affections of a lady (or, indeed, gentleman) of negotiable virtue. In which case, would that make Kluger PR a pimp?

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Apparently, the youth of the Islamic world really like their heavy metal:

I first realised that my never-quite-abandoned adolescent taste for heavy metal had a political edge in – of all places – the Jaballya refugee camp in Gaza. I was interviewing teenagers about their strangled lives and expected to hear the usual Hamasnik lines reeled back at me. But instead, they kept using words from Metallica and Slipknot to explain how they felt. "I am dying to live/Cry out/I'm trapped under ice," one of them said. They showed me their carefully-stashed CDs and T-shirts – liable to be seized by Hamas-militia at any time – and begged me to send more.
At first sight, this seems bizarre. How did a style of music midwifed into the world by Ozzy Osbourne in the old English industrial town of Birmingham in the mid-1960s become an enemy of jihadism? How did a hard, brutal sound designed to mimic the factories of the Midlands become the soundtrack for the children of the Islamic revolution?
In a region controlled by senile dictatorships and fundamentalist faith, the unemployed young – who make up 65 per cent of the population – have very few windows through which to yell their rage. Metal gives it to them. Reda Zine, one of the founders of the Moroccan heavy metal scene, explains: "We play heavy metal because our lives are heavy metal." The point of the music is, he says, to rage against "the vampires of intolerance and superstition". The guitarist of Iran's hottest young metal band, Tarantist, agrees: "Metal is in our blood. It's not entertainment, it's our pain, and an antidote to the hypocrisy of religion that is injected into all of us from the moment we're born."
I wonder whether the dominance of metal (rather than, say, rap or industrial or any other musical genre suitable for expressing anger and grievance) among youth in the Islamic world also has its roots in the history of Asian Muslim migration to England's industrial heartland. Most people know that Birmingham got curry out of the equation, but what if the cultural trade was a two-way street, with Birmingham metal making its way to the underground bazaars of the Islamosphere via Pakistan and Bangladesh on a million bootlegged cassettes?

Similar territory is explored by a recent documentary titled Heavy Metal in Baghdad, chronicling the troubled career of Iraqi heavy metal band Acrassicauda, now in exile in Turkey.

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MP3 blog Systems of Romance has posted a copy of an LP by 4AD band The Happy Family. The album, The Man On Your Street came out in 1982; it was somewhat less monochromatically gothic than the average 4AD band of the time, and even quite funky in places (the post-punks, it seems, did like a good groove). The band was fronted by a young student named Nicholas Currie, from whom the world would be hearing more over the next few decades.

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A web site explores how often different body parts are mentioned in various musical genres:

It's interesting to note that the eyes dominate most genres, from country to electronica. Hands dominate gospel (naturally) and the blues, which also mentions the head prominently (as in "woke up this mornin' with an awful achin'", presumably). The big outlier there is hip-hop/rap, which is all about the booty.

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Veteran British music critic Everett True, one of the founders of Plan B magazine, has recently moved to Brisbane, Australia, and is not impressed with the Australian music press:

Australians don't have much respect for the music press - it runs counter to their culture. Australian rock is all about "Good on ya, mate - well done for getting up on stage and switching that amplifier on". The idea of anyone actually daring to criticise musicians for the sound they make is almost heresy. Everyone is treated equally, which means no knocking anyone back, however great the temptation. (That'll be why Australian rock is best known to the outside world for such musical abominations as Silverchair, the Vines and Savage Garden.) Sport is the predominant culture here, and music is similarly viewed as a leisure activity - it's all about "work rate", "dedication" and "goals scored". Unsurprisingly, Australians get the music press they deserve.
Recently, I was interviewed by a handful of street press writers to promote a show I was playing in Brisbane with ace pick-up garage band Young Liberals. The first question out the blocks every time was, "What do you do when you have to interview a band you don't like?" Excuse me? I don't understand the query. You're getting paid less than a pittance (if you're getting paid at all) for writing for a crappy free magazine given away on the streets of your city ... and you're interviewing bands you don't like? Why? What is the point? These magazines are free: their financial stability and continuing existence have nothing to with sales figures. Why not feature who the fuck you like? "Ah..." the "journalists" bleat. "It's because of the advertisers ..."
Simply, there are two types of advertiser. The first thinks that appearing in shitty free, badly-designed publications that nobody bothers to read and everyone throws away after glancing through the live ads is the best way to promote their clients' wares; basically, by supporting what amounts to paid-for advertorials. The second realises that their clients are actually far better served by appearing in "cool" (passionate/hip/intelligent) magazines because this coolness reflects back upon their client, and makes their wares seem far more attractive to the casual consumer.
Mind you, the Australians seem a bit unamused by True's prononcements, in particular a throwaway line rubbishing local Seattle-sound institution Silverchair and landfill-indie rockers The Vines. Whether it's the case that Australians are a bit chippy about Poms rubbishing their local boys, while it's acceptable (and indeed the done thing) for Australians to lop down their own tall poppies, they will circle around them and defend them if an outsider comes in and tries it, or just that True was pontificating from a position of ignorance (JJJ is not Melbourne-based, or at least it wasn't last time I checked), with no small measure of cockiness, is open to interpretation. And here is the Mess+Noise (i.e., a bit like a local Drowned In Sound, only with extra lolcats) thread.

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For those in the UK, BBC Radio has a 30-minute programme on single B-sides, their origins and decline, and the way different artists and producers have used the flipside of the single. It's listenable for about three more days, so you'll have to be quick.

(via ithinkihaveacat) bbc culture music 1


Good tidings come from Neukölln: Momus informs the world that his upcoming album is almost complete. A collaboration with Joe Howe of Germlin/Gay Against You, the album (initially referred to as "Joemus", though now probably named "Mr. Proctor") promises to be an intriguing melange of breakneck digital glitch mentalism and Momus' erudite, askew music-hall pop:

2. Widow Twanky (3.12): Basically inspired by Cliff Richard and big melodramatic 1950s ballads, this is the tale of a man who becomes a transvestite in order to incorporate the lost woman he loves. Joe blows a plastic sax solo in the middle. There's already an Idle Tigers cover version of this, though it's a bloody odd one.
12. The Man You'll Never Be (5.56): The newest song on the album -- written and recorded this morning, in fact -- is the one I like best at the moment (but the latest always is). Over a Pachelbel-like cycle of fifths, a woman (me in electronic voice drag, as I was in Widow Twanky) tells a man that she doesn't care who he is or what he does, because to her he'll always be "the man you'll never be". Because of the uniqueness of who he'll never be, she tells him, she loves No Other -- and No Other's brother, and the art school lab technician too.
13. Fade to White (4.28): Imagine an 80s Italian disco diva reciting T.S. Eliot while mouldering in an early grave. That's what this song sounds like. Stabbing, nagging synth riffs never sounded so decadent and delicate.

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The Times has an interesting article about pieces of music banned by the BBC at various times. There are, of course, the obvious examples (The Sex Pistols' God Save The Queen, Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Relax, John Lennon's Imagine during the Gulf War), but there are also far more bizarre ones, in which the BBC's Reithian paternalist tradition (now, seemingly, relinquished to Blairite market-pleasing) translated into a heavy-handed, stentorian authoritarianism, often quite arbitrarily:

If Celine Dion had been around during the Second World War, she would have been silenced by the Dance Music Committee. One 1942 directive read: “We have recently adopted a policy of excluding sickly sentimentality which, particularly when sung by certain vocalists, can become nauseating and not at all in keeping with what we feel to be the need of the public in this country in the fourth year of war.”
“The head of religious broadcasting was a bit of a tyrant,” Leigh says. “Don Cornell's Hold My Hand, which was a No 1 in 1954, was banned because he didn't think a relationship with a girl could be likened to the ‘Kingdom of Heaven'.
Equally sinful, in the committee's eyes, was having the audacity to reshape a classical tune into something more swinging. One barbarian at the gates was Perry Como: I'm Always Chasing Rainbows was his rendition of Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu in C sharp minor. “This is a bad perversion of a Chopin melody and should be barred,” the BBC snarled, and, even in 1963, they stopped Ken Dodd's cover version from being broadcast.

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A study recently published in the Australasian Psychiatry journal has found correlations between musical preferences and a variety of mental illnesses and antisocial tendencies, and recommends that doctors ask their teenaged patients what sorts of music they listen to. The study, by Dr. Felicity Baker of the University of Queensland, is not online, but these articles contain various points from it. Among them:

  • There are associations between listening to heavy metal and suicidal ideation, depression and drug use, while both metal and trance, techno and "medieval music" are connected with self-harm (though, apparently, only when associated with the goth subculture). Outside of the goth subculture, it seems, dance music is just associated with drug use.
  • Different forms of rap/hip-hop are associated with different levels of criminality and delinquency, as well as violence and misogyny; apparently the worst is "French rap". I wouldn't have guessed that enough Australian teenagers would understand French well enough to get into the sound of les banlieues. Could it be that teenagers are learning French for the street cred?
  • Those who are into jazz tend to be misfits and loners (one could presumably call this the Howard Moon Effect?) Is jazz a big thing among today's teens, or did they lump in a whole bunch of non-pop/non-dance genres, like post-rock, krautrock, Balkan/klezmer/gypsy and nu-gazer, with jazz?

(via xrrf) culture mental health music psychology stereotypes 1


The Independent has a pretty authoritative piece on the terminal decline of the genre of "indie" in the UK, from its origins as independent, defiantly noncommercial popular music (typically released on small DIY labels) in the late 1970s and 80s, through the Britpop hype explosion, and to the present day, when "indie" means formulaic, commercially-oriented guitar rock by image-conscious young Blatcherite careerists:

John Niven was an indie fan in the 1980s, an A&R man in the Britpopping 1990s, and is now the author of Kill Your Friends, a sadistic satire of the record industry of which he was once an enthusiastic member. "I was in Gap a few weeks ago and there was some sort of generic indie music playing," he says. "I was with a friend who's a promoter and a bit younger than me. After about three or four tracks I asked him: 'Whose LP is this?' And he said, 'No, it's a compilation.' Every track sounded identical. The guitars, the production; all these bands sound like they're made in the same studio with the same producer. It's such a ball-less, soulless, generic whitewashed indie sound. You could probably take a member from each band and throw them together in a new group and no one would be able to tell the difference. They're completely interchangeable. Scouting for Girls are like the sound of Satan's scrotum emptying. They're abysmal."
"[Britpop] was great fun," wrote the journalist Andrew Collins in a 2006 piece for Word. "But it wasn't indie, and it pushed a whole slew of workmanlike guitar bands centre-stage, where they were even expected to represent their rebranded country, giving the quite false impression that Cool Britannia was an Indie Nation. The essence of New Labour, indie was capitalism dressed up as revolutionary socialism."
These days the term 'indie' is little more than a generic sonic description for any band that plays guitars and probably wears skinny ties, skinny jeans, and skinny cardigans. Collins, a former NME writer and ex-editor of Q, says now: "'Indie' has become a meaningless term. It just covers guitar bands. But it was never meant to be about a type of music, it wasa spirit and an attitude. When I glance around the bands that are supposedly 'indie' today, I don't see any attitude. I don't see any content in their records, any political interest in the band members. They're a terrible generation, unfortunately, but they're becoming famous overnight and selling a lot of records. I've heard them called 'mortgage indie'. It's a career path – a way of making a lot of money very quickly. The Kooks did so well so quickly. Scouting For Girls, from a standing start, have become a really big band. The Fratellis have become massive in a remarkably short time."
Here's another term for the indie glossary: a "firework band". It means a widely touted young act whose label has a debut LP to sell. They begin their professional lives by exploding into the top of the charts, shine brightly, then drop out of sight. The turnover of new acts is terrifying. Parklife, lest we forget, was Blur's third album.
Also in the Independent, an apposite example of "mortgage indie" as a career move, in which a Cambridge indie band named Hamfatter turns to venture capitalism to bypass the recording industry. Which is something I have mixed feelings about: on one hand, from a business perspective, this is as indie in attitude as it guest. On the other hand, when art is seen through the jaundiced lens of business, with market research and venture capital, business plans and promotional campaigns, that is somewhat saddening. What happened to art made for the sake of art, without commercial calculation? Is there even a place for it in the post-Blairite marketing society? The new indie revolution may be about allowing the little guys to be as soullessly mercantile as only the old, huge record labels could afford to be.

(via musicman) britpop carling-indie commercialism culture indie music thatcherism-blairism 8

Jude Rogers writes in the Graun about Delia Derbyshire, pointing out that, for her achievements, she wasn't the only woman in early electronic music, not by far:

It's a myth that electronic music is a world populated by stiff-suited, horn-spectacled men, then – especially as Derbyshire wasn't the only female pioneer. Take Daphne Oram, who set up the Radiophonic Workshop in 1958. Last month, Goldsmiths College opened up a public archive of her music, and held a day celebrating her work at the South Bank. Then there's Maddelena Fagandini, who recorded under the fabulous pseudonym, Ray Cathode, and whose work was adored by Beatles producer George Martin. Later on, Glynis Jones created space soundtracks for the Workshop in the 1970s, and Elizabeth Parker was the last composer to leave it when it closed in 1998.

bbc radiophonic workshop delia derbyshire electronic music electronica jude rogers music women 1

I recently heard from a reliable source that Australian 1990s band The Paradise Motel has reformed. Well, not in its entirety; the lineup apparently includes Charles Bickford and BJ Austin, with a new rhythm section and Merida Sussex emailing in her vocals from abroad, and they're several tracks into recording a new album.

The Paradise Motel were, IMHO, one of the great underrated Australian bands of the 1990s; they made noirish pieces like something out of a David Lynch nightmare, with beautifully melancholy vocals, cinematic string arrangements (by Matt Aulich, who was, in all probability, a fan of Angelo Badalamenti), and sudden violent explosions of fierce intensity, when the mainstream market wanted (and the major label they got signed to specialised in) 3-chord grunge-rock. Most of their members came from Tasmania (with the exception of Merida, who was born in England and was discovered whilst working at the St Kilda public library), and brought the desolation, distance and dark, troubled undercurrents of this into their music. In an alternate universe, where they were signed by, say, 4AD, they could perhaps have fared a lot better. Unfortunately, their label was part of the Mushroom empire, then heavily invested into facile, populist JJJ alternative-rock, and didn't really know what to do with them. They released a few EPs (the starkly lovely Left Over Life To Kill and the atmospheric and somewhat experimental remix EP Some Deaths Take Forever), an album (Bad Light), and a few more EPs, before moving to England. Then they released a second album, which was more of a driving rock affair, and, around 2000, disbanded.

Anyway, it will be interesting to hear what their new sound is like; the chiaroscuro of "the violence and the silence" of Bad Light, the sparse atmospheres of the early EPs, the more conventional rock of Flight Paths, or something else altogether?

(via Andy) bands music the paradise motel 0


WIRED talks to Neil Halstead about the recent resurgence of interest in shoegazer, and it appears that he's still not keen to be part of it:

Halstead: No, there are no plans to get Slowdive back together. We had a lot of pedals, a lot of love and some good grass. When the love ran out, we sold the grass and smoked the pedals.
The article also mentions an upcoming documentary on shoegazer titled Beautiful Noise, whose production company's page is here, though contains nothing other than a rather apposite-looking graphic.

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A previously unknown cache of audio recordings made by BBC Radiophonic Workshop composer Delia Derbyshire has come to light. The tapes, recorded in the 1960s, include a sketch for a documentary score, using cut-up fragments of Derbyshire's voice as an oboe-like instrument. Most interesting, though, is a fragment, introduced by Derbyshire as "for interest only", consisting of a few bars of glitchy electronic beats in 5/4 time, with a pad sound. (The fact that all this was made without synthesisers as we know them, but with purpose-built arrangements of circuits, makes it even more impressive.) The fragment sounds like modern IDM; if someone told you it was a Warp release from the 1990s, you'd believe it. The world of the late 1960s, though, wasn't ready for IDM, hence Derbyshire's dismissal of it.

"I find it spell-binding," says Hartnoll. "I've got a shedload of synthesizers and equipment, whereas Delia Derbyshire got out of the Radiophonic Workshop when synthesizers came along. I think she got a bit disheartened and a bit bored with it all when the synthesizer came along and it all became a little too easy."

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Some music that I've heard more of recently than I would have liked:

  • Eddy Current Suppression Ring. Big dumb Aussie pub rock, sounding like a cross between AC/DC and something from Sunbury in 1972. They're's nothing particularly interesting about it, no musical innovation beyond the blues-based rock formula, nor any wry commentary or post-ironic cleverness in the rather lumpen lyrics (to think that your typical British Carling-indie lad band, for all that genre's knuckle-dragging awfulness, is ahead of them here puts it in perspective), it's just straight up meat-and-potatoes Aussie Rock. And yet all the coolsies think they're the best thing ever. (And I do mean all; if you aren't into them, you are, by definition, not a coolsie, and should consider deleting your Mess+Noise account if you have one and staying well out of Fitzroy/Newtown.) It's almost religious; Local And/Or General play runs of two of their songs in a row, which is one reason why I've stopped listening to Local And/Or General.
  • George Pringle. A nasal-voiced early-twentysomething from Oxford or somewhere who does spoken word over electronic beats. To be more precise, she does tedious, terminally self-indulgent spoken-word over monotonously repetitive beats. All her songs follow the same formula: the lyrics are about the narrator's mid-youth crisis, and alternate between enumerating her possessions/the contents of her music collection/the subcultural signifiers she repeatedly dons, Mighty Boosh-fashion, with the rudderless anomie of her life. A fragment might sound something like "I dyed my hair black then bleached it blonde then dyed it black again. Walking down the high street at 3PM, listening to The Clash and Girls Aloud on my iPod, smoking a cigarette. If you had any idea what it's like to be me..."* The beats sound like they were put together in 15 minutes in Fruity Loops, and, lacking any musical variety or progression, are as monotonous as Ms. Pringle's complaining delivery. After a few songs, you're ready to stick a biro through your eardrums to make it all stop. For some reason, though, Anthony Carew keeps playing her on The International Pop Underground (which, I must say, is otherwise excellent); perhaps this is because he has never sat through an entire set by her (as I did once, when she supported Emmy The Great).
* Actually, I just made that up, but you get the general idea.

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A lot of people thought we wouldn't live to see Chinese Democracy, but it seems that they were wrong. I'm of course referring to the fabled next Guns'n'Roses album, in the works since 1994, MP3s of which seem to have made it into the internet. The verdict seems to be unencouraging: The Guardian's columnist says that it's "like Coldplay meets Aerosmith":

Of the nine songs, only three - Rhiad and the Bedouins, If the World, and a track with an unknown title - had not previously leaked in one form or another. But all of these recordings appear more polished, with organ, tambourine or strings alongside screaming electric guitar and flourishes of electronics.
If the World is particularly indicative of the almost 14 years that Chinese Democracy has been in development. Many musical trends have born and died since 1994, and we get to hear a number of these alongside Axl Rose's familiar shriek. There's a vague industrial chug, ambient electronics, and a bass line that recalls Red Hot Chili Peppers - but more cringeworthy is the song's recurrent flamenco guitar, like a nightingale trapped in a studded leather bag.
Then again, perhaps the whole thing is a fake; perhaps there are a number of fake Chinese Democracies, made with or without Axl Rose's involvement, due to be posted to the internet, circulated, and then debunked or dismissed as early demoes, and "nowhere near as good as the final mix", further building up the myth of an elusive, unimaginably brilliant Chinese Democracy, somewhere just out of earshot; a Chinese Democracy which nobody has actually heard, but everybody knows someone who has, with each report being both wildly enthusiastic and wildly different. After all, if Chinese Democracy ever does come out as an actual sound recording, it can only be a disappointment compared to the myth that has built up in its absence.

chinese democracy guns'n'roses music the recording industry 0


A few controversies from the 8-bit music world: claims that electro outfit Crystal Castles ripped off the work of various chipmusic artists, violating the terms of their Creative Commons licence (though this Pitchfork article clarifies this, stating that the tracks in question were never actually released). Meanwhile, this documentary puts forward the theory that Michael Jackson (yes, that Michael Jackson) wrote the music for Sega's Sonic 3 video game on the MegaDrive/Genesis.

(via Pitchfork) 8-bit chiptunes copyright crystal castles michael jackson music plagiarism sega videogames 1


The New Yorker has a podcast, in which music critic Sasha Frere-Jones looks at AutoTune, the pitch-correction software used on many recordings. He does this by going into a studio with a producer and singing (not brilliantly), after which the producer demonstrates various AutoTune settings as applied to his vocal.

(via Boing Boing) audio autotune music podcast sasha frere-jones 0

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