My favourite albums of 2010 Part 3 (25-21)

December 24, 2010

25. Hot Chip- One Life Stand

Having never listened to Hot Chip before I can’t tell you how or why I ended up listening to One Life Stand in the first place, but I’m glad I did. The quirky electro-pop I was expecting but the exquisitely soulful vocals were a pleasant surprise, and it’s just the sort of music that has a feel good factor. The album starts strongly with four superb tracks, I Feel Better being the obvious highlight of the bunch, although there is a slight hint that some are a little too long. Then there’s a disappointing mid-album slump with some cringe-worthy ballads in Brothers and Slush, but things pick up again with We Have Love and stay strong through to the end. It’s most definitely flawed, but the positives definitely outweight the negatives and the top few tracks make it a memorable experience that I heartily recommend.

24. Shining- Blackjazz

Norwegian band Shining have had an interesting career: they began as an experimental acoustic jazz trio in 1999, and over the years and with various changes to the lineup they moved towards a more jazz-rock sound which gradually grew harder and heavier. In 2007 they toured with Enslaved, a black metal band also from Norway, the tour culminating in a handful of performances of the so called Armegeddon Concerto the two bands wrote and performed together. Then, returning to the studio Shining brought together everything they had learnt from the experience to record Blackjazz, an album that claims to bring together their experimental jazz roots with a black metal sound. The result is one of the heaviest, most intense and quite simply craziest release I’ve heard this year. The album starts with three prog/industrial/black metal crossover tracks with occasional saxophone solos that are ridiculously good fun, but then the structure starts to dissolve. The album’s centrepiece, the 11 minute Blackjazz Deathtrance, could be the closest to free metal that has ever been recorded. And just when you think things couldn’t get crazier they finish the album with their party piece: a cover of King Crimson’s 21st Century Schizoid Man that has to be heard to be believed!

23. Gil Scott-Heron- I’m New Here

I have to be honest with you, I’ve probably not given this album the attention it deserves. The sleeve urges the listener to turn everything off and give it their full attention, and even in today’s technology obsessed multi-tasking environment it should still be possible to do that for the whole 28 minutes of the album’s duration. It’s difficult to ignore though even if you intend to put it on in the background, the often quite minimalist blues and trip-hop tracks with spoken-word interludes draw you into the albums intimate and confessional feel. It has such a personal feel that it’s difficult to believe that a handful of the tracks are actually covers. The album title also says a lot: although he’s been around forever this is Gil Scott-Heron’s first album in 16 years, and a lot has changed in the musical scenery since then. I would imagine many who listened to this album would be new to his music (me being one of them), but it’s a perfect introduction to a remarkable career.

22. Lou Rhodes- One Good Thing

The singer from electronic group Lamb has now released three solo albums, and this one is quite a departure from what I had come to expect. Ditching the close knit band sound of the previous two, One Good Thing focuses on Rhodes’ solo guitar playing with occasional backing provided by strings. As a big fan of the old band, I didn’t really like this at first, and over time I began to see why. Rhodes’ lyrics, whether solo or with Lamb, have always been intensely personal and emotionally open, something that I do find a little uncomfortable at times, and now with much less going on musically there really isn’t anywhere to hide from the lyrics. In time I got over this and really began to enjoy the album: the songwriting is as strong as ever, and what works particularly well on this album is that although many of the songs are not exactly happy, there is a sense that she has come to accept sadness as a part of existence and there’s almost a sense of finding comfort in melancholy. It’s not all miserable though; many of the songs are bursting with optimism, if it is does come across as a little naive at times. As much as I now enjoy this album, I can’t help but feel that I might have enjoyed it far more had she stuck with the old band.

21. Squarepusher- Shobaleader One: d’Demonstrator

Tom Jenkinson (AKA Squarepusher)’s last studio album, Just A Souvenir, was a foray into progressive electro-funk territory that was written in response to a dream about a fantasy band playing a very surreal gig featuring a giant neon coathanger. Apparently (nobody has been able to verify this story) since the album’s release he was approached by a group of young musicians wanting to form the band from his dream. The result is Shobaleader One, and this is their first album. It’s a radical departure from Squarepusher’s previous material, featuring vocoder led futuristic RnB ballad type tracks, with occasional excursions into electro-funk territory. The possibilities for cringeworthiness are almost endless and the album doesn’t seem to have gone down very well with most fans, but despite the fact that my head wants to hate it my heart has other ideas. Listening to it just puts the biggest smile on my face, and repeat listens do demonstrate some of the twisted otherness you’d expect from the man who brought the world Come On My Selector and Go Plastic. Now I just can’t wait to see what he’s going to do next!


My favourite albums of 2010 Part 2 (30-26)

December 22, 2010

30. The Orb & David Gilmour- Metallic Spheres

Sometimes collaborations are much greater than the sum of their parts and sometimes they’re a big disappointment, but it’s actually quite rare for one to completely live up to reputation. This is one of those rare beasts: taking the ambient techno of the Orb and mixing in the guitar work of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour this album sounds pretty much as you might expect if you know both of the above. There’s enough variation on offer to make it an interesting listen over its 50 odd minutes, with little bits of Floyd-esque synthesiser swirly atmospheric bits (you must know the sort of thing I mean), beat lead sections, some dubby sound treatment, a section featuring acoustic guitar and various others, but all in all this is just one long ambient bliss-out that makes for lovely bed-time listening, but otherwise is hardly likely to rock your world in any serious way.

29. Polar Bear- Peepers

The fourth album from London based modern jazz group Polar Bear shows no sign of slowing their experimental drive, despite the number of side projects its five members are involved in. Lighter and chirpier than 2008’s somewhat droney self titled album,  Peepers occasionally veers pretty close to an almost pop sound, particularly in the title track and the delightfully titled Bap Bap Bap, and slower tracks The Love Didn’t Go Anywhere and closer All Here have some moments of real tenderness. This bear does have claws though, and elsewhere on the album you’ll find clattering electronic sounds next to free jazz saxophone squalls, but it’s all delivered in a playful manner. It is in some ways like a knackered out old funfair: it’s one hell of a bumpy ride, but if that sort of thing is your cup of tea you can’t help but leave with a big smile on your face.

28. Mount Kimbie- Crooks & Lovers

2010 marks the year that I finally started to listen to dubstep, somewhat late to the party as the rest of the world has now moved on to post-dubstep, whatever that’s supposed to mean. It’s a phrase that has repeatedly been attached to rave reviews of this album by the duo Dominic Maker and Kai Campos, names that I suppose might’ve meant something to me had I discovered the genre early. I thought I’d check out what all the fuss was about, so gave it a try. Throwing together fractured vocals, snippets of melody, laid back beats and groovy bass lines it’s the sort of album that always feels on the verge of coming together to create a garanteed dance-floor filling track, but it never quite gets there. The closest it gets is the penultimate track Mayor, but it happens so fleetingly that you might not even notice. Ok, so it’s not an album aimed at clubs then, but that’s not to say it’s not enjoyable. In fact, I really do enjoy it, although once it finishes I’m always left feeling a little short-changed. That said, I keep returning to it and keep finding new things to enjoy about it, and some of my favourite albums of all time are ones that for ages I never really loved but for some reason would keep coming back to until one listen where everything would finally make sense. So the signs are good then.

27. The Imagined Village- Empire & Love

I wrote a short review of this back in February which you can read here:

and to be honest, my opinions of it have changed little since then: it’s an incredibly musically accomplished album created by some of the most gifted musicians in the British folk circuit, but overall it doesn’t quite live up to the promise offered by their debut. That said, it has some wonderful moments: opening track My Son John is a humourous new take on a traditional song that encorporates references to Iraq and Afghanistan, their version of the classic Scarborough Fair could well be my favourite of however many dozen or so versions I already own, and the cover of Slade’s Cum On Feel The Noize is truly inspired.

26. Faust Is Last

Ok, bear with me on this: Faust were one of the original Krautrock groups from Germany back in the 1970’s. After releasing albums in Germany and later in England on the new Virgin Records label the band split in 1975. A partial reform in 1992 led to sporadic performances and a handful of new albums through the ’90s, before once again parting ways. Keyboardist Joachim Irmler carried on performing with a new band keeping the name, and then in 2004 bass player Jean-Hervé Péron (AKA Art-Errorist) formed a new band with drummer Werner “Zappi” Diermaier which he also called Faust. Apparently an agreement was reached where they would each use the name as both bands reflected different sides of the original Faust. Confused yet? Ok, so Faust Is Last is the latest (and rumoured to be final) album from Irmler’s Faust. Featuring two cds of pummelling industrial rhythms, stomach churning guitar and bass grooves and washes of atonal organ that recall those infamous live albums on which Miles Davis played while wearing oven gloves, it’s the sort of thing that I’d expect from either Faust and just love, although I imagine not a lot of other people would. Aside from a brief addition of an extreme vocalist on disk 2 and the catchy anti-consumerist anthem I Don’t Buy Your Shit No More there’s little to distinguish it from other similar releases, but that doesn’t stop it being a great listen for those who love this sort of thing.

My favourite albums of 2010 Part 1

December 21, 2010

It’s taken me quite a while to get around to doing this, but I’m finally ready to start my favourite albums list of 2010. I had initally planned to do a top 25 list like last year, but after cutting my long list of nearly 70 down to thirty-something I realised I had a list of albums that I really wanted to say something about so didn’t really know what else to cut out, and then I started discovering, or at least rediscovering some great albums! I’ve ended up with 35, 30 of which are going to be in some sort of order, albeit somewhat arbitrary in places, and I’m also going to mention 5 albums which I believe deserve to be a part of my list but I don’t really know well enough to accurately compare them to the rest. I’ll start with those, so here we go:

Grinderman- Grinderman 2

Grinderman is, if you weren’t already aware, Nick Cave’s side project with Bad Seeds Martyn Casey, Warren Ellis and Jim Sclavunos and this is their second album, as the name would suggest. I believe the main difference between Bad Seeds and Grinderman material is the way in which it is written: Bad Seeds songs are built around the lyrics which come first, and the music is often written over a long period of time, whereas Grinderman tracks develop from improvisation and jamming with lyrics added later. This gives the whole thing a much more spontaneous feel and often ends with tracks sounding harder and noisier. Perhaps I simply haven’t given this album enough time, but it simply doesn’t sound anywhere near as good as their debut. Only a few of the tracks are in any way catchy and the songwriting seems well below par. However,  a below par Nick Cave album is not to be sniffed at, and this is certainly a very entertaining listen if you’re up for some testosterone fuelled intensity, and maybe with a few more listens it could be up there with his better albums in my eyes. Maybe.

Babybird- Ex-Maniac

Babybird is proof that a one hit wonder is not the same thing as a band with only one good song. Everyone of a certain age will remember when You’re Gorgeous was everywhere in 1996. In fact, I’m fairly certain that there are radio stations that still play it fairly regularly. What a lot of people don’t realise is that the man behind Babybird, Stephen Jones, has been writing and releasing brilliant music for over 30 years under various names. Listening to Ex-Maniac, it’s easy to see why he’s never had another chart hit though: the album opens with the line “I will kill you said the five year old” and continues to tracks with titles such as Drug Time, Failed Suicide Club, or Bastard and not even the guest appearance of Johnny Depp on stand out track Unloveable gave it much mainstream attention. Despite the darkness of the themes of the album it’s all delivered with a smile, and if you weren’t paying attention to the words you might even convince yourself it’s quite a cheery album. It’s all a bit backwards looking though, reverting to the 90s indie that the band were riding the wave off at the peak of their success, but despite that it’s still an entertaining listen.

Eliza Carthy & Norma Waterson- Gift

The prize for the most adorable album of 2010 has to go to this mother-daughter combo if only for the simple but effective cover art. Bringing together two of the most distinctive female voices in English folk music together to record an album was always going to be a winner, even if this isn’t actually the first time they’ve recorded together, but perhaps the expectation of such a combination is always going to outweigh the end result. The album is touching and lovely, the voices work very well together, and the songs on offer are varied and interesting, but aside from a couple of standout tracks there’s just something about it that stops me from getting really excited. Again, maybe it’d just take a few more listens.

Robert Plant- Band Of Joy

As one of the millions of fans to miss out on a ticket for Led Zeppelin’s one night only charity gig at the O2 arena in 2007, I was further disappointed by Plant’s decision not to carry on with his old band and continue with his current projects. I begrudgingly accepted that he might be onto something good when he released the wonderful Raising Sand album with Alison Krauss, but this one has reassured me that he knows what he’s doing and I should probably leave him to it. It takes some of the country feel from Raising Sand and adds a sort of psychedelic rhythm and blues feel to create an album that has a timeless classic rock sound but also has a new modern take on it that I can’t quite put my finger on. A wonderful album, and one I certainly need to buy when I’ve got more money rather than just listening to online.

Chris Wood- Handmade Life

Chris Wood is an English folk musician and singer who has been going for god knows how long, popping up in various projects as well as releasing solo material, but has somehow managed to stay on the fringes of the scene with a relatively small following. I was only aware of him previously as part of the Imagined Village folk super-group, and had heard a few tracks off this album right back at the start of the year, but completely forgot about it until rediscovering it only a few weeks back but in that short time it’s made a big impression. With a tight-knit small band and a very subtle touch this is almost a folk equivalent of chamber music, and the songs, although initially sounding a little dense and difficult, when properly listened to are like being invited into a cozy little cottage, sat in front of a roaring fire and told wonderful old stories. Even if the stories are sometimes as humdrum as tending to an allotment plot, there’s something so fascinating about the delivery that you can’t tear yourself away. But it’s not all wholesomeness, with the standout track Hollow Point tells the story of the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes. Overall this is a stunning and intriguing album that I can see myself enjoying for years to come.

Albums of the year: A warmup

December 13, 2010

I’m repeating myself here, but I’m working on my albums of the year list and haven’t yet completed it. However this year I seem to have bought as many compilations as albums, something I never really used to do. I’ve found it a much more efficient way of collecting music for my radio show than buying albums, so decided to tell you about some of my favourite compilations released this year. In no particular order they are:

David Sylvian- Sleepwalkers

Although appearing to be a new album from the ex-Japan frontman and once voted most beautiful man in the world, this is actually a collection of collaborations Sylvian has recorded in the last decade. Since going solo in the mid ’80s, Sylvian has been behind some of the most interesting and esoteric recordings of what you could with a very broad stoke label as pop music, and no more so than with his collaborations. Sleepwalkers contains everything from lurching bluesy rhythms on Money For All and Ballad Of A Deadman that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Tom Waits album; a gorgeous electro-acoustic soundscape from Ryuichi Sakamoto, one time member of Japan’s answer to Kraftwerk, the Yellow Magic Orchestra; a simple but devastating acoustic reflection on depression on Exit/Delete with another Japanese musician, Takagi Masakatsu; right through to the solo instrumental final track Trauma, a shimmering ambience of guitar effects. As always with compilations the quality level is far from consistant, with a few too many tracks verging towards spoken word with weird noises in the background, but taken as a whole this is a fascinating collection of what one of England’s most interesting singer/songwriter/musician gets up to when he’s not working on his day job.

Palenque Palenque: Champeta Criolla & Afro Roots in Colombia 1975-91 (Soundway Records)

Soundway is a record label that releases compilations of world music records that have probably never been heard outside their country of release and might have been lost to history had they not been dug out of archives. Often the focus is on a time and place when a special set of circumstances led to a totally unique sounding musical style, and this compilation features Columbian music from the dates in the title. Inspired by Afrobeat records imported from West Africa originally played on soundsystems comparable to those in the Jamaican reggae scene played at gatherings where people partied for 24 hours or more at a time, a new style began to evolve when local bands would use samples of these records and improvise over the top in a style influenced by traditional Columbian music. This style was called Champeta and is the focus of this compilation. Did you follow all of that? The booklet with this compilation gives all of the background and makes for a fascinating read before you even get to the music! The music itself is utterly mental: often built around looping afro rhythms, frantic hand-drumming and chanted words it is completely hypnotic and drives the listener into a trancelike state where nothing matters but moving to the rhythms. And that’s without the use of chemicals! All I can say is their parties must have been wild! Perhaps the repetitive nature of the music could be seen as annoying, and most certainly will be completely otherworldly to people only familiar with western music which might be offputting, but to me this is just a stunning compilation of great music from a country and a culture that I only previously knew of through the music of Shakira!

Ninja Tune XX

Without a doubt this is my favourite release of 2010, album, single, EP, compilation or otherwise. Marking the 20th anniversary of the experimental electronic label set up by Coldcut, Ninja Tune have released what they’ve called a futurespective: not a retrospective that looks back at the label’s highlights, but a compilation that sets out where the label is right now and where it’s heading. There was a huge boxset that was unfortunately out of my price range, but thanfully two very reasonably priced double cd sets brought together a large portion of the music contained within the box.

As always with compilations there is a lot of variety in quality over the four disks, but taken as a whole this is an incredible statement of the strength of British electronic music today, if not British music as a whole given that not all of the content is strictly electronic. Brought together are most of the names you might be aware of from the label (as well as hip-hop sub-label Big Dada) as well as some big hitters from outside of their roster, and dozens of electronic sub-genres that I couldn’t even begin to name. The compilations feature quite a lot of hip-hop and what I might describe as the more urban end of genres such as dubstep, a fact that might have been off-putting for me had I known that previous to buying it, and I guess would be off-putting to others too, but with a few listens to get over the fact that I’m listening to stuff I wouldn’t normally expect to like it turns out I’m actually quite the fan of urban music, at least when it’s done well. Now I understand why some people have been raving about Roots Manuva (who features heavily) for years!

I could try to name some highlights from the four cds but there really are so many that I wouldn’t know where to start! And like I said earlier, rather than taking this a track at a time it’s best to take a step back and look at the collection as a whole. I would strongly recommend anybody who feels disenchanted with the state of British music, particularly those journalists who grumble about us having no answer to the Americans, to pick up a copy. This is just truly brilliant stuff! I just wish I could’ve afforded the boxset…

End of the year. Last year, that is…

December 13, 2010

Well, it’s that time of the year when I’m working on my top albums of the year list. I said something similar last year but it’s worth repeating myself: this is my list. It’s  a bunch of albums that have been released this year that I’ve listened to and put into some sort of order based on how much I’ve enjoyed listening to them. It’s anything but a definitive list of the best albums of the year, because that depends on taste. It won’t even be a definitive list of the best albums of the year as filtered through my tastes, as a lot of albums that have been championed by others as being the best albums of the year are ones I’ve not even listened to! I may love them. Who knows?

To demonstrate this I will draw your attention to two albums that were released in 2009 that would definitely have made my best albums of 2009 list had I heard them before I wrote it. There are probably more than two, but these are the ones that come to mind.

Led Bib- Sensible Shoes

Almost every year you can look at the Mercury Music Prize shortlist of albums of the year and find a single entry that could be described as jazz. Sometimes this token entry can be a little insipid and lacklustre, almost as if it’s been chosen to appeal to people who don’t think they like jazz and may warm to a bit of pleasant background noise. But not 2009’s jazz entry. Sensible Shoes by Led Bib is one of the most robust and full bodied examples of jazz I can think of: a full on assault lead by two saxophones, backed by a drum and electric bass rhythm section that have more intensity of most metal bands and a keyboard player who can play some beautiful stuff in the quieter sections, but mashes the keys like a man possessed at times. A quote on the album sleeve suggests that Sun Ra would be proud that his work hasn’t been lost on a new generation of musicians, and I can’t disagree with that.

Nancy Elizabeth- Wrought Iron

I seriously cannot say enough good things about this album. It may have been my top album of 2009, and would certainly have slotted into the top 5 despite the strength of the field I had at the time. Although it fits under the banner of folk music, this albums owes much to the near silent end of modern classical music: from the piano chords that open the album to the chiming sounds of the track Cat Bells every note is perfectly placed and works perfectly with Elizabeth’s delicate but captivating voice. That’s not to say the album barely raises about a whisper though; Here Comes The Hurricane whips itself up into an intensity worthy of the title, while The Act is a bluesy track where the brooding unspoken sexuality that drives the album overflows into fiery passion. What follows, Ruins, is the post-coital aftermath that is the highlight of the album and never fails to move me no matter how many times I listen to it. Nearly 6 minutes of piano and vocal with minimal backing and beautiful lyrics that is nothing short of stunning. The fact that she learnt to play the piano in between this album and her last, 2007’s Battle and Victory, is almost unbelieveable.

Seriously, just listen to this album. If I could afford to I would buy a copy for you, so strong is my belief in its brilliance!

Anyone there?

December 1, 2010

Wow,  is it really that long since I last posted here? I’d be surprised if anybody ever checks if I’ve posted something new.

Anyway, it’s reaching that time of year again when everybody seems to have written their best albums/tracks/bands/labels of the year lists. I always feel like it’s ridiculously early, but no doubt december will go by very quickly, and not a lot of music gets released around now (apart from singles aiming for christmas no. 1) anyway. Looking at what lists have been published I’ve got a feeling that like last year my favourite album of the year isn’t going to feature in anybody else’s top 100 even! I don’t claim that my taste is in any way superior to that of the people who have written these lists, but it’s just bloody frustrating that everybody seems to be overlooking what I think is a masterpiece, if only because they’re missing out on its brilliance!

But what album am I talking about? You’ll have to wait for me to compile my list to find out. I’d better start soon I guess!


April 7, 2010

If you weren’t already aware, I’m now presenting my own radio show on a little community station on wednesday nights. This has resulted in a number of positive effects, as well as negatives. First of all, actually presenting the show is great fun; I love it!

But actually presenting the show is only part of the task at hand: at a rough estimate I think I do about 3-4 hours prep for each show. This involves selecting music to play, working out potential running orders, burning everything to cd, doing a bit of research into what I’m playing and writing up notes on things for use when presenting. Then there’s the upkeep of the facebook page, and generally keeping people informed about the show. Not that I’m complaining; if you want to do something well you’ve got to put a lot into it, and no doubt that time will gradually come down.

What is weird though is how my listening habits have altered recently, partly due to other factors, but a lot to do with the show. I always used to be somebody who would worship the album format, and would very rarely listen to music a track at a time. Now, as track selection for the show is an ongoing process, I’m skipping through music looking for suitable tracks, often not even getting to the end of a track before moving onto something else, let alone listening to whole albums! I’m also listening to and buying more compilations than I ever used to. It has its benefits though; I’m listening to a far more diverse selection of music than ever before (at least at any one time), and am really enjoying digging out things I’ve not listened to in years. But I’m still not really happy with myself. There are albums that I bought months ago that I’ve still not got around to listening to straight through yet, which is totally unlike me! And I’ve not been buying much recently either as I’ve been saving money for my holiday to South Africe (I’m off next week! Where has the time gone?)

It’s not just the radio show though that has influenced my listening. I don’t seem to have stopped recently, and rarely seem to have the time to actually stop and listen to an album. There’s not a lot of work to do for my dad at the moment, so I’m not sat at my desk for hours on end, which is where I used to do a lot of my listening. I’m out of the house 2 days of the week doing voluntary work, and have had various other bits and pieces on which have kept me busy. And when I do get a chance to sit down in the evenings no doubt it’ll be for no more than ten minutes or so before I get a shout saying there’s something good on tv! And you’ll never guess what has just happened…

I shouldn’t complain I guess, but it is something that has been bothering me lately. Hopefully everything will calm down sooner or later and I’ll fall back into more normal listening habits. And if nothing else it’s got me to post on my journal that has fallen rather quiet of late.

New Year, New Music

February 14, 2010

Ok, so the year isn’t exactly that new any more, but it’s only now that I’m starting to sample the musical delights that 2010 has to offer; living at home I don’t buy as much as I usually would, as my dad seems to disapprove of packages arriving for me every other day. But I’m going into one of those phases where I want to listen to endless supplies of new music, and although Spotify is very useful, there’s nothing quite like physical copies in my opinion, so plenty of purchases have been necessary.

So I’ll write some reviews of stuff that has been released in 2010. I’ve been buying older stuff as well, but nothing of particular interest, and some things from last year that I’ve been a bit slow on the uptake with and might get around to writing reviews of them at a later stage.

Four Tet- There is love in you

I certainly can’t claim to have been there from the start, but I’ve been a big fan of Kieran Hebden for a good few years now. Whether it be with post-rock super group Fridge, his solo work as Four Tet, or his work with the jazz drummer Steve Reid he has barely put a foot wrong. So it was with great anticipation that I waited for his new album, and now it has arrived. Given that Hebden has been doing a lot of djing in London clubs recently, it is natural that the new album has a more dancefloor aimed feel to it than previous albums, although it does follow on quite nicely from the Ringer EP. I’m not trying to suggest that the songs would work on a dancefloor mind you, in fact they probably wouldn’t, but that’s beside the point. Fractured vocal samples drift through relaxed beats and warm electro-acoustic sounds, the tracks twist and turn as if building towards a big climax, but the climaxes are as subtle as the build-up. Tunes are anything but straight-forward, often built up through a handful of different sounds, and the production is masterful. It sounds like the 4 years since his previous album have been spent making sure this one is just perfect. I should love it, but somehow it just doesn’t quite do it for me: I enjoy listening to it, but more in a chin-stroking analysis way than anything primal, and once it finishes and I put something else on it completely dissolves from memory as if it was never there in the first place. I couldn’t tell you how any of the tracks go, other than vague comments. I hope it’ll grow on me in time, I really do, but at the moment it’s really not doing a lot for me. And based on reviews I’ve read, it really does just appear to be me…

The Imagined Village- Empire & Love

When the Imagined Village first burst onto the scene a few years back they caused a bit of a stir in the folk music world, splitting opinion right down the middle. Something of a folk supergroup, the collective featured a whole host of familiar faces, but it wasn’t the lineup that drew the attention; they had set out to redefine British folk music for the 21st century, rewriting traditional songs to reflect modern Britain and adding various different musical influences from around the world that are commonplace among Britain’s multicultural identity. Their second album follows in similar footsteps, although everything is a little less radical this time. After performing live shows there is now a core band structure, and this album features a lot less guests. This gives the whole thing a much more coherent feel and allows for some lengthier jamming. On the whole it at first seems a little disappointing as it is missing out on the fireworks of the debut, but the more mature musical approach makes this another great listen.

Jaga Jazzist- One-Armed Bandit

Jaga Jazzist are a 9 piece jazz super-group from Norway, and although you’re unlikely to know any of the names unless you’re particularly into Scandinavian jazz, the members have apparently contributed to somewhere in the region of 500 albums. Their sound (often nauseatingly described as nu-jazz by lazy journalists who stuggle to pin them down) lies somewhere in between jazz-rock and prog-rock, with a dollop of the inventive electronics of any number of their Ninja Tune label-mates. With that in mind, you’d be forgiven for expecting this album to be one of the most musically dense things you’ve ever heard, but one of the great things about it is the way it skips along nicely and very often melodically. There’s a lot of depth their as well that reveals itself over repeat listens, but it never gets bogged down, and when they want to they can pack quite a punch as well. In my opinion you’d be hard pushed to find another band as fiercely experimental that create music that is so refreshingly enjoyable. Just superb!


January 7, 2010

I’ve not written anything here for ages, so though I should just post something. Anything. Just a bit of a ramble about stuff.

I’ve been listening to a lot of Miles Davis over the last few days, in particular his ’70s funk albums. I’ve had Bitches Brew for some years now, which is the most famous of the period, but had never really looked beyond that. I didn’t realise quite how much great stuff he released! I think it’s probably time to invest in a few more of his albums, although perhaps getting the new box set of them all is excessive even if it is tempting.

At the moment I’m finding it difficult to think of much other than the new radio show I shall hopefully be getting in the near future. It’s completely changed the way I listen to music in that I now listen for potential tracks to play on the show. It’s really difficult to know what to play at the moment, because I haven’t really got any idea who will be listening, if anybody. If it’s just a few of my friends I’m fairly certain I’ll be able to get away with just about anything, but if not I’ll probably have to tone things down a little. I certainly won’t end up sounding like every other radio dj, that’s for sure, but I don’t think I want to be chasing too many people away by playing abrasive electronics and free form jazz either.

Also, I’d like a few suggestions, if that is possible? I’ve currently not managed to come up with a decent name for my show. My fall-back is Pick and Mix, but I’m not particularly happy with it. Any ideas? Also, what to play on my debut show? In particular, what will I open with? I want something that most people will probably know, but also something quite unexpected. I’d quite like to use some of the things that the BBC always has on in the background: Sigur Ros, more ambient Aphex Twin and other such stuff. The sort of thing that a lot of people will recognise but probably not know who or what it is. Any thoughts on that idea?

Will keep you updated as and when I know more about the show. I can’t wait!

An album review: Nurse With Wound- Paranoia In Hi-Fi

December 21, 2009

In 1973 the new record label Virgin Records released an album entitled The Faust Tapes. 50,000 copies went on sale for only 49p; the price of a single at the time. It was put together as cheaply as possible and no new material was recorded for it. Instead it was a cut and paste mix of tapes previously recorded by the Krautrock band Faust, and although it does contain a few coherent songs, it is mostly a fragmented mess of bizarre non-musical sounds and tuneless jamming.

In 1978, under the influence of Faust’s releases, a number of other experimental musicians/bands and some heavy drug use, Steven Stapleton formed the band Nurse With Wound. Over the thirty years that followed there have been hundreds of releases under the name, and among the half-dozen or so that have been released in 2009 is one entitled Paranoia In Hi-Fi. A direct nod to the Faust Tapes, the cd has been released for the price of 99p. The catch being that the album is only available from record shops; no copies will be sold through the band website, any other music website, or by mail order. As explained on the band website it is a drive to get people back into their local record shops, businesses that have suffered with the increase in internet shopping, not to mention the cheaper prices usually found online. The price is not meant to reflect the “value” of an cd containing nearly 80 minutes of music, but is merely an attempt to draw attention to the release and the band, as well as hopefully distribute the music to as wide an audience as possible.

I’d love to hear what people who picked up the cd without knowing Nurse With Wound thought of it, or at the very least I’d like to see their facial expressions upon the first listen. A spoken introduction to the album describes NWW as “a group that sounds even more remarkable than their unsettling name suggests”, and as an introduction to the sounds that lay ahead implores the listener to “think jazz, think punk attitude, then think anything that comes to mind”. What follows is a 78 odd minute noise collage featuring clips of various tracks released over the band’s 30 year history woven into a manic mash-up of sounds and styles, or as the booklet describes it: “Earworms 1978-2008”.

The album starts with 20 odd minutes of the band’s take on easy listening: bizarre jazzy grooves with sinister vocals and unexpected sound effects, and occasionally everything is mashed up into a freeform meltdown before reassembling as something new. It’s anything but an easy listen, but fans of the group’s unique sound may find themselves rolling on the floor with laughter at some of the more bonkers moments. From then on anything goes, quite literally. I’ve heard a fair amount of the band’s music and everything I was expecting was there, from the industrial noise collages to unsettling vocal samples, mesmerising drones, what sounds like a soundtrack to a very odd horror film, some deeply psychedelic rock, tribal drumming and loads more that I can’t even begin to describe, but there were still moments that completely threw me. Whoever knew the Stapleton had created a weird proto-metal type track with gibberish vocals? Or the almost straight-forward drum and bass bit that cuts in completely unexpectedly just before the hour mark. They certainly weren’t kidding when they said think of just about everything that comes to mind!

Musically it works rather well as an introduction to the phenomenal output of Nurse With Wound over the last thirty years. Love it or hate it I expect that anybody who picks up a copy, whether a dedicated fan or somebody just intrigued by finding a cd album for only 99p in the local record shop, will find this an utterly unique listening experience. Although the band has remained largely unknown throughout it’s existence they have influenced a great many experimental artists of recent years, and yet you would be hard pushed to find anybody else out there who sounds quite like this. Perhaps you think that is a very good thing, but regardless, I think that the mere existence of such a band should be celebrated, and what better way to celebrate than by the release of Paranoia In Hi-Fi?