So I thought it might be an idea to pause and give a brief six month (or seven) run down of listening habits. I’ve decided to do it by listing specific tracks – and links – to the music in question and why it has been on mind this year, or simply why I like it. There are ten tracks in total, though the list was obviously once longer, with an additional eleventh reserved for one particular track that I especially dislike. They’re in no particular order.
My loving of this track is entirely nostalgic. It sounds like the Trail of Dead I listened to at the end of school and the beginning of college, as detailed in my Memory Top Ten. It has the classic submerged vocal and gradual build to guitar scrawl, but this time with an added looping synth line which slowly filters from muted to radiant as the expectedly raucous chorus/coda hits in towards the end. Tao of the Dead is apparently a concept album, which Conrad Keely wanted as a sort of homage to the stuff he listened to when he was younger, like Dark Side of the Moon and others, which combined individual tracks together to form longer suites spread over a whole side of vinyl. This I liked because I listened almost exclusively to this sort of prog when I was a kid; very unfashionable stuff – Wishbone Ash, old Genesis, King Crimson and Camel – which took me years to admit I adored.
I read an interview with Maus in Wire, and it was full of enjoyable contradictions and philosophies, which I believe he teaches (philosophy that is, not contradictions…though I guess these terms are interchangeable). The record took him five years to make – seems to me he pre-empted a whole gang of 80s synth troubadour-wannabes, though then took too long to get the record out. Still, it’s a good’un, made more enjoyable by having a song with lyrics as obvious as this. You get what you think you’ll get. What you also get is a chord progression on the chorus that sounds like Golden Brown by The Stranglers, the bit where they go in to ‘Never a frown…’
This was a mind blower. Incredibly rich and detailed, and I think I foolishly described it as ‘drone’ when I first mentioned it at the start of the year. Tom rightly flagged this…it’s not drone at all. It’s complicated and huge and all over the place. There are bubbling bits of half-percussion, organs, angelic vocals, some underwater sounding bits, distorted synths…all sorts. It’s brilliant. Aerial Sapphire Snow is the opener on The Capital, and the definite highlight on what is a strong contender for album of the year.
This is a weird one. It came up on a random play list on my phone, and despite having listened to the album a few times, I had no idea who it was. The strings are pleasingly disturbing, as is the paired back percussion, rounded off with a worrying vocal that sits nice and low in the mix. The cherry on top is the bass line, which sounds like it should be somewhere else. But then the song sounds like it’s put together with five or six completely dissimilar elements. They work though. Two and a half minutes in it all goes a bit Morricone. It also reminds me, in parts, of Dreadlock Holiday by 10CC and Red Right Hand by Nick Cave
This I love because it’s pretty demented. The tune itself has some crunchy little beats slipping in and out of consciousness, combined with a backing vocal that flits across the stereo channels like a hallucination. When the chorus hits it’s a proper saw tooth slap in the face. And then there are the lyrics. The saccharine vocal delivery makes it all the more terrifying when you actually listen to the words. Normally I’d say this isn’t my sort of thing, but there is something uncanny about House of Balloons, something in the combination of the sickly sweet voice and the rumbling menace of the music that makes me return to this song and this record over and over.
Chamber Force starts out like Dr Buck’s Letter by The Fall; it is as if that song had stuck with the opening, and followed it through a series of interesting experiments in de/reconstruction, pulsating with oppressive waves of noise and fleeting bass, before letting everything crumble four minutes in into a heart breaking string and synth finale. It’s unexpected and beautiful and bizarre.
This song reminded me of Future Islands, whose In Evening Air album was one of my highlights from last year. Again, the music is dense, though uncluttered – a number of fairly simply structures which break in to a chorus that has a perturbing bass line, combined with a distorted worrying vocal – and is firmly ensconced in the 2010/11 sound of the submerged (see also Ducktails and Holy Other, though they’re not that similar). For some reason it is a good song to walk to work to.
This guy loves his filters. The production is excellent, though perhaps a bit high end heavy in places, the compression all over the shop on the drums. The result is a kind of uber-playful Flying Lotus. You’d expect as much considering this was released on Lotus’ label. I guess I like it because it sounds fun. The whole album is like this too; jumpy, up and down, turning itself inside out in places. Cracking stuff.
Some people probably hate the way Gang Gang Dance have changed over the years (I saw them in Belgium in 2006 and I can’t imagine them playing this back then…they just had rototoms and some boxes of wires) but I think it has been an enjoyable progression. This opens with ‘It’s everything time’, and this song certainly sounds like that. Another song that pulls in elements from many differing places, and is confident enough to not kick in for over six minutes, allowing the various threads to coalesce at their own speed. It’s clearly composed, but done in such a way that when it all pulls together it’s not done in a dull or predictable way. Again, it’s fun. I’d considered including The Glorious Land by PJ Harvey, but this one won out. Why am I suddenly liking things that are fun?
By way of contrast, this is not fun. It is dark, sparse and sounds longer than it actually is, but it’s excellent. Primarily built on cello and vocals that slowly intertwine and detune, the overall impression is one of shredded nerves, the ethereal vocal floating above the primeval sounding bass of the cello. Apparently the record took four years to put together. I can see why. Getting this sort of delicate balance right is tough, and something I think I may have only done once, and even then it was by accident. The fact that this is then replicated over the rest of the album makes it all the more impressive. Perhaps not one to listen to on a nice summer’s day though.
The overall theme appears to be songs that remind me of something else, which is appropriate I guess considering that almost everything sounds like something and I’m looking at varying degrees of how/why this happens and what musicians are doing/saying by allying themselves with certain times and spaces. That and songs that are incredibly lush and dense production wise. Last, but by no means least…
A final mention goes to Bibio, who I have followed since way before his Warp days, and even had brief correspondence with when I tried to book him for Dislocation a few years back (he likes ale and finds it difficult to perform live because it involves dismantling his studio). His early output was all wistful distorted guitar, bringing to mind heady summer evenings followed by early autumn rain. Once on Warp he moved more towards the sort of danceable sounds that would be called IDM except the first letter is kind of redundant now almost everything is automated. Take Off Your Shirt is stultifyingly bad (I’m taking that as a phrase that makes sense), the sort of song that wouldn’t be out of place in the wig rock era, completed with a vocal tailor-made for the sort of pointless mumbling so prized by Galaxy FM drive time. A vacant spouting of random words strung together that might have meaning in the same way a horoscope does. I wish that the tune, the production, everything that contributes to this vapid song, could be exorcised from my mind but it can’t. The initial riff is catchy enough that I can recall it in an instant. Damn him. It’s even more annoying because there are some songs on Mind Bokeh that are actually alright – Saint Christopher, the closer, blends his older sound with a sort of Four Tetesque drum to good effect – and Take Off Your Shirt just protrudes uncomfortably from the middle like a bobbing turd left unintentionally in a friend’s toilet. Light Sleep is shit too, like half arsed funk mixed with The Advisory Circle lite.