Thursday, August 21, 2014

Misplaced optimism

From a letter that came through our door this morning from Better, the new operators of the White Horse Leisure & Tennis Centre over the road: "Whilst we are new to the leisure centres in Islington, we are very experienced at providing affordable and accessible community leisure facilities ... We are committed to working with the Council to improve the facilities and programmes at all the centres in Islington". This being Abingdon, either they're rather less experienced at and committed to proofreading and geography, or they're just so proud of their plans for Islington they feel the need to tell the world...

Quote of the day

"Cliff is a very close friend of mine and has been for a million years."

Thanks, Cilla - at least now we've got a better idea of how old the Peter Pan of Pop really is.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Know Your Enemy

"I wanted to compliment your mum for the wonderful way that she designed the decoration on the basement she lets you live in."

Gene Simmons shoots back at the Black Lips after they sabotaged his Huffpost Live online Q&A session, branding Kiss' music "misogynistic, sexist rock 'n' roll". It's a bit rich for the saboteurs to take offence - after all, they're no strangers to delinquent and provocative behaviour themselves. All just a ploy to get some free publicity, probably - in which case it's worked. Unfortunately.

Smart phone

Technophiles, may I introduce you to the latest must-have gadget, the noPhone - designed so that you "never again experience the unsettling feeling of flesh on flesh when closing your hand".

(Thanks to James for the link.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Quote of the day

"I'm a little bit surprised but very delighted. This is the second time I've won this award but I guess nobody loves a repeat more than Dave."

Tim Vine reacts to the news that one of his jokes has been named the best of this year's Edinburgh Fringe in a public vote run by comedy channel Dave.

Vine's status as a reliable source of pithy gags is evident from the fact that he won in 2010, and has also been runner-up the last three years. That said, as good as this year's effort is ("I decided to sell my Hoover ... well, it was just collecting dust"), for my money Mark Watson should have taken the crown for this: "Always leave them wanting more, my uncle used to say to me. Which is why he lost his job in disaster relief."

Monday, August 18, 2014

Parties over?

For a long time I was very tempted to buy a ticket for ATP's Jabberwocky - but now I'm feeling I dodged a bullet. The event was cancelled on Tuesday, just three days before it was due to take place, and the fall-out is proving very messy indeed.

In the initial statement announcing the cancellation, ATP cited ticket sales as the crux of the issue - although "healthy", their efforts "could not take those sales to the point that we needed to finally stage the event". The obligatory reference to "an increasingly aggressive festival market" will once again raise suspicions that saturation point might have been reached, but that would ignore the quality of the line-up. I wonder whether the fact that it clashed with Green Man - a well-established festival boasting a stellar bill of bands popular with the ATP demographic - may have been a factor. I also wonder whether having slightly fewer artists on what was an ambitious bill or charging a bit more for tickets (it did seem exceptionally good value for money) might have helped - only the organisers could answer that.

Either way, they say the decision to pull the plug was taken reluctantly, but that on this occasion simply pressing ahead and attempting to absorb the losses "would have 100% been the end of ATP". Even still, the cancellation itself has left the company - which has already bounced back from liquidation once, in 2012 - in a perilous position.

For a start, ATP's dispute with ticketing partners Dash has left punters confused about whether they will actually be able to get a refund. Dash have threatened legal action, but ATP are attempting to work with them to resolve the issue and ensure refunds are paid out. However, that won't compensate fans for the costs of any travel or accommodation booked, and they are naturally likely to be more hesitant to buy tickets for future events - such as the second ATP Iceland, which ATP has insisted will go ahead as planned.

Second, you'd imagine that lawsuits from Dash and PR firm Zeitgeist could both prove crippling to the company.

Third, while some of the bands invited to play were able to make alternative arrangements for gigs in London at the last minute, most will be left out of pocket by the cancellation. As with the punters, you'd suspect it will seriously damage ATP's ability to attract artists in future.

However, let's not dwell on the above - as ATP's follow-up statement pleaded, "If anyone out there says they believe in what we do; now is the time to support us more than ever, rather than letting others try and kick us while we are down". As a veteran of many ATP events, I certainly do count myself as a believer and have no interest in trash talk or spreading malicious rumours. Their passion is there for all to see in the evident hurt they're feeling at both having to cancel and the subsequent fall-out. The world is a much better place for ATP's activities and I for one sincerely hope they make it out of the wreckage in one piece.

Water way to go

All hail the mighty GWAR. More bands should give their deceased members Viking funerals - burning boat and all.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

We're all back from a summer holiday

Back from a week en vacances en France and emerging blinkingly from the dark cave of blissful ignorance into the full glare of news - it sounds as though our Cliff Richard calendar might have to come down, then...

On a related note, it seems disturbing images have indeed been found at his house.

Incidentally, I love the fact that the tabloids go to such lengths in their pursuit of detail that they've commissioned estate agents to value all of Richard's properties. I don't know about you, but I'd feel disappointed if I wasn't informed how much each gaff was worth.

(Thanks to Rea for the link.)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

From beyond the grave

In an interview snippet towards the end of A J Schnack's 2006 film Kurt Cobain: About A Son, its subject expresses despair at the state of music and concern that in twenty years' time it would be worse. 21 years on from that interview, grunge is back in fashion and he's being celebrated as an icon. He'd probably have been disgusted.

Unusually for a film of this sort, there is no narrator or talking heads - simply Cobain talking over footage and stills of the places in which he grew up and lived, with a soundtrack tracing the evolution in his tastes. That makes it feel all the more intimate and personal, if a little unnerving - the viewer getting a guided tour (geographically and historically) by a dead man.

The landmarks of Cobain's life are all covered: his twin childhood obsessions of art and music, his temporary homelessness, his move to Olympia, the early days of Nirvana and their rise to prominence. Despite initially telling Michael Azerrad not to expect him to be any more candid than for any other interviewer, he talks openly about his feelings on his parents' divorce, his teenage struggles with self-identity and fitting in (or rather finding other like-minded people who didn't want to fit in), his misanthropy and drug-taking, his relationship with Courtney Love, and his fury at journalistic invasions of privacy. Generally, he comes across as likeable, though certainly troubled and conflicted.

The interviews were conducted in late 1992 and early 1993 (for Azerrad's biography Come As You Are), but even then it was obvious he was looking for an exit - talking about escaping hounding from the press, wanting to record with people other than Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl, fantasising about once again being permanently in bands just on the cusp of popularity.

A year later, of course, he found a way out of sorts. Towards the very end of the film, Love can be heard asking him to bring up a bottle for Francis Bean - a stark reminder that when he did find that way out, it wasn't a clean exit, instead causing untold collateral damage.

Friday, August 15, 2014

You've got to have faith

Don't stop believing - or woe betide you if you do. That's the lesson of this eye-opening article on atheism in the US. It's staggering to think that, in the twenty-first century and in the (supposedly) most advanced and powerful country on the planet, only 2 per cent of people feel sufficiently brave and confident to publicly admit to being atheists - it's as much of a taboo as coming out as gay.

The fact that "no serving congressman or woman is openly atheist" indicates the scale of the issue - politicians are too fearful of how they'll be perceived by the electorate. The vital divorce of state from church is clearly some way off.

The article also sets the Christian Right in context. Often perceived by those of us in the UK as a lunatic fringe (albeit a powerful one), they are evidently not so very far removed from the mainstream of American opinion as we'd imagine or hope.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Unpromising beginnings

Some authors' talents are obvious from an early age - but, as this article on school reports underlines, others only shine in adulthood. The teacher who noted that Charlotte Bronte "writes indifferently" must have been left suitably red-faced by the publication of Jane Eyre - and it must have come as something of a shock to whoever described P G Wodehouse as having "the most distorted ideas about wit and humour" to discover that such ideas were actually extremely popular...

And it's not just some authors who get off to unpromising beginnings - sometimes the same applies to the books they write. Take The Great Gatsby, for instance - initially it rejoiced under the glorious moniker Trimalchio In West Egg. On the Oxford Dictionaries site, you can take a quiz to test your knowledge (or powers of guesswork) in relation to the working titles of famous works of fiction.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Art schooled?

So Jake Chapman thinks it's "arrogant" and a "total waste of time" for parents to take their children to art galleries because they just won't understand what they see. If anyone's arrogant, it's Chapman himself for assuming that art has to be comprehended to be appreciated. Cue Antony Gormley to spell it out: "Art is not to be decoded. It is to be felt. Feeling comes before understanding." I'd have thought an artist like Chapman whose work is often visceral would have realised that.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

When the music's over

When bands break up, those used to soaking up fans' adoration on stage are often forced to re-enter the humdrum of normal life. Thanks to this thread on the Drowned In Sound messageboard, I've learned that Mark Ibold of Pavement and Sonic Youth is or was a barman, that Seafood's David Line now works for a vineyard and that the Brighton Institute of Modern Music is a place to avoid at all costs if you don't want to bump into a member of Britpop also-rans.

Some bands soldier on, though - such as The Go! Team, whose Ian Parton recently took to the same forum to advertise for new female vocalists. I lost touch with the band after their Mercury-nominated debut Thunder, Lightning, Strike, but in the course of checking up on what they've been up to, I've discovered 'Buy Nothing Day', the single from last album Rolling Blackouts featuring Beth Cosentino of Best Coast. Glad I did.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Death of the author

Don't believe everything you read - especially if it's a misery memoir or celebrity autobiography. Sure, the content may be true, but the author name given on the cover may be duplicitous. Andrew Crofts' Confessions Of A Ghostwriter looks set to blow the lid on the whole charade, indicating that, for some, the life of a professional writer does still pay.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Gone but not forgotten

Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, Thurston Moore and Jim Sclavunos - all together on the same song ('Nobody's City' by The Gun Club)?! Blimey. It's testament to the cult status of Gun Club founder, the late Jeffrey Lee Pierce. The track appears on a tribute album called Axels & Sockets also featuring Mark Lanegan, Lydia Lunch, Pierce's former bandmate Kid Congo Powers and assorted associates of Cave (Warren Ellis, Mick Harvey and James Johnston), among others. Certainly worthy of investigation, though perhaps I should invest in the originals - starting with Fire Of Love - first...

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Child's play?

Lego have followed up their Architect Series with the Lego Architecture Studio - a kit specifically designed for architects. Well, it makes a change from assorted film cash-ins...

It'll be interesting to see what the take-up is from students and practices. In the era of CAD, the firm will be hoping that there's no substitute for hands-on tactile creativity, but, like the author of the article, I'm not so sure that it won't just be perceived as gimmicky and quirky.

Who's looking at you, kid?

Ever get the feeling you're being watched by inanimate objects? Some of these faces are really quite sinister - even the cheery ones look slightly demented. Kudos to whoever spotted the Cookie Monster, though...

(Thanks to Owen for the link.)

Friday, August 08, 2014

Fwends in high places

J Mascis, Moby, MGMT, Lightning Bolt, Maynard James Keenan, My Morning Jacket, Miley Cyrus: yep, the Flaming Lips have assembled quite a cast for their forthcoming full-length cover of the Beatles' Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - called, naturally, With A Little Help From My Fwends. Mascis and My Morning Jacket will be teaming up for the title track, while interestingly Cyrus will feature on 'A Day In The Life', rather than 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds', the track she's already recorded with Wayne Coyne and company.

Having worked with the Lips, it looks as though Cyrus may now be branching out with her alt-rock collaborations - if Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre gets her way. After Cyrus posted pictures of Hanna in her riot grrrl days on Instagram, Hanna contacted her on Twitter about "an idea for an album that only you are daring enough to make". Could be interesting (not least to see what Sinead O'Connor makes of it) - watch this space...

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Quote of the day

"In his legendary solo performance piece The Furtive Nudist, the late shaman-clown and zen-ventriloquist Ken Campbell claimed he was able to move around the world entirely undressed and entirely unnoticed, because the last thing anyone was expecting to see was a naked man, and therefore passers-by just screened the image out of the collective consciousness. Likewise, as I move among the ancient standing stones of the Wiltshire village of Avebury early on a Tuesday morning in June in the company of local resident Julian Cope, who is dressed as a cross between an '80s peace convoy anarchist and a WWII Nazi flying ace, what's remarkable is not how much attention he draws, but how little."

Stewart Lee meets Julian Cope for The Quietus, to talk about the latter's debut novel 131. Published by Faber, no less, it sounds mind-bogglingly mental and apparently owes a debt to D H Lawrence - that's my interest piqued, then...

Lee's also been talking to the Guardian about Fist Of Fun, as part of the paper's coverage of the Edinburgh Festival. Interesting to hear how much he hated the second series - I never noticed much of a difference in quality.

History lessons not heeded

"Humanity marks WWI anniversary with wars." The Daily Mash proves that there is much truth said in jest - sadly.

(Thanks to Tim for the link.)

Monday, August 04, 2014

SWSL Albums Of 2013

It's that time of year again. Or, rather, it was about eight months ago. As ever round these parts, you'll have to excuse my tardiness. Blame a desire to give each and every album reviewed below a reasonable amount of time to impress. Some didn't, but many did in what for my money proved to be an absolute vintage year for music - one of the best I can remember.

So, off we go... 

Exceedingly Underwhelming:

ARCADE FIRE - Reflektor
Reflektor was the most curious of albums: one that critiqued the superficiality and smoke-and-mirrors nature of contemporary culture while proving itself the embodiment of those same qualities. Gone (forever?) was the exhilarating, passionate, (dare I say it?) authentic howl of Funeral, and in its place came soft rock and cold, jaded, cynical sarcasm. It's tempting to blame this botched attempt at reinvention on producer James Murphy (certainly the ironic overtones bore his hallmark), but in truth this was the sound of a band who have, in Win Butler's own terms, gradually had their souls stolen by flashbulb eyes.
Taster: 'Awful Sound'

QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE - ... Like Clockwork
Six years after the release of the underwhelming Era Vulgaris, during which time Josh Homme had come close to death following surgery, came the ironically titled ... Like Clockwork. While not the longest overdue and most eagerly anticipated album of the year, hopes were nevertheless high that Homme and an ensemble cast including everyone from regular co-conspirators Dave Grohl and Mark Lanegan to Elton John and Scissor Sisters' Jake Shears would deliver an album worth the wait. Sadly they couldn't, ... Like Clockwork turning out to be a pedestrian affair that suggested they'd forgotten how to rock. Even its best moments were pale imitations of former glories.
Taster: 'My God Is The Sun'

EELS - Wonderful, Glorious
Pretty much every year Mark Everett releases a new album under the Eels moniker, and pretty much every year I succumb to buying it out of a desperate hope that he might yet have another Daisies Of The Galaxy or Souljacker in him. Sadly, the evidence that suggests he doesn't is mounting up, with Wonderful, Glorious - which was neither of those two things - perched atop the pile.
Taster: 'Kinda Fuzzy'

A true car crash of an album that not even the involvement of TV On The Radio's David Sitek on production duties could really salvage. The band members may have been pulling in different directions for some time, but up to this point that tension hadn't been exposed on record. 'These Paths' was an ill-advised diversion into techno, 'Area 52' was cringeingly bad and the artwork was horrible - and it was left to the slower tracks (and 'Despair' in particular - incongruously, one of their best songs to date) to rescue it from being a complete dud.
Taster: 'Despair'

Decent Enough But Evoking A Measure Of Disappointment:

!!! - Thr!!!er
All !!! albums suffer from a pretty unsurmountable problem - and that's not just where exactly to file them in the record shop. No, it's the fact that, however good they might be on their own merits, they're forever fated to be compared to the !!! live experience - a comparison that will almost inevitably be unfavourable. Thr!!!er, despite its brilliant title, proved to be no exception to the rule.
Taster: 'Even When The Water's Cold'

LOW - The Invisible Way
It had to happen at some point, I guess: a Low album that I've been genuinely underwhelmed by. Unlike, say, The Great Destroyer or Drums And Guns, The Invisible Way was tried and tested in stylistic terms - but unlike its equally familiar-sounding predecessor C'mon, it just didn't really have the songs to stand up to anything in the back catalogue. They are mere mortals after all, then.
Taster: 'Just Make It Stop'

MUDHONEY - Vanishing Point
Grunge may have blown up, died away and now stormed back into fashion, but here were one of its grizzled originals, right back where they started on Sub Pop as if nothing had ever happened (and, on the evidence of 'I Like It Small', quite happy about it). Vanishing Point was garnished with some trademark Mark Arm wit, but there was a part of me that wished he wasn't spending his time ranting about riders ("GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY BACKSTAGE! / I hate you chardonnay") and instead properly teaching the young pups a thing or two.
Taster: 'Slipping Away'

SEBADOH - Defend Yourself
As was the case with Lou Barlow's other outfit Dinosaur Jr, pressing play on Sebadoh's comeback album was like cracking open a time capsule or opening up a portal back to the early 90s. As ever, the tracklist's schizophrenic switching between Lou and Jason songs (essentially, sensitive v scuzzy) set up an interesting dynamic, but ultimately if they were going to break college radio indie rock out of its museum case, then you'd have hoped they might do something a little more memorable with it.
Taster: 'I Will'

NO AGE - An Object
Or (as the cover suggested) should that be An Object.? Or An Object!? Or An Object,? Or An Object?? Or "An Object"? No Age's fourth studio album was a meditation on the materiality and value of the work of art, and found the duo determined to make life as hard as possible for themselves, not only by deciding to create, print, package and manufacture 10,000 copies personally but also by dispensing with drums for some songs. However laudable their determination and punk spirit, though, the result was a bit of a mess (albeit one that made slightly more sense if, like me, you were listening to a lot of Wire at the time of its release). A stepping stone en route to something more completely and satisfactorily realised? Here's hoping.
Taster: 'Lock Box'

GHOST OUTFIT - I Want You To Destroy Me
With No Age apparently hell-bent on slinking off into the wings, the stage was set for a punk twopiece to step into their limelight. Manchester's Ghost Outfit made a valiant effort, scoring points for their choice of title (best of the year?) and doing a passable impression of the Californians' deliciously hazy, minimalist punk of yore, but just didn't quite have the songs to live up to their billing.
Taster: 'Words'

WAXAHATCHEE - Cerulean Blue
Widely and wildly lauded, and by friends whose opinions I value, but Cerulean Blue's charms largely escaped me - and Katie Crutchfield's listless, lifeless performance at Gathering in October hardly helped endear the album to my ears. Like Sebadoh's Defend Yourself, it harked back to a golden age of American indie rock, albeit of the sort emanating from bedrooms rather than garages, but did so without doing much other than paying an empty kind of tribute.
Taster: 'Coast To Coast'

LOCRIAN - Return To Annihilation
Black metal albums are like buses: you wait ages to buy one (your whole life, in fact) and then two come along at once. More of the second later, but Return To Annihilation was the soundtrack to your nightmares - occasionally brutal but more frequently atmospheric and sinister in its drone-heaviness. In small doses it was fine, but there's only so much I can take of being reminded what dread feels like.
Taster: 'Eternal Return'

At long, long, long last, the wait was finally over. A mere 22 years after releasing the seminal Loveless, My Bloody Valentine were back. When M B V dropped in February, with little prior warning, journalists and fans fell over themselves to acclaim its brilliance. But by the time the dust settled, all the hyperbole looked more than a little hasty, and it started to sound more like what it was: some old material reheated and garnished with new recordings.
Taster: 'In Another Way'

THEE OH SEES - Floating Coffin
2013 was the year I finally got round to dipping my toe into the water as far as prolific psych/garage types Thee Oh Sees were concerned - the obvious starting point being their latest offering. Floating Coffin did its job proficiently enough, but I couldn't help wondering what all the fuss was about. Still, at least you knew there'd be another album along in a minute...
Taster: 'Toe Cutter/Thumb Buster'

September Girls couldn't have been much better named - comprising five girls and sounding like September (the last vestiges of summer fading into the decay and gloom of autumn). While Warpaint were the obvious touchstones, the adopted Dubliners drew on 60s girl group harmonies, late 70s post-punk, C86 indiepop and a smattering of goth. Ultimately, though, Cursing The Sea was a bit of a blur, with nothing much standing out amid the echoes and gloom.
Taster: 'Heartbeats'

BOARDS OF CANADA - Tomorrow's Harvest
Sorry, Boards Of Canada, you remain an enigma - a joke that I just don't really get and that I desperately need someone to explain to me. Sure, I can appreciate the brooding, post-apocalyptic ambience of Tomorrow's Harvest, but if ever Mogwai finally make the fully electronic album they've occasionally hinted at, then I'd imagine it'd easily trump the best efforts of their fellow Scots.
Taster: 'Reach For The Dead'

MIDLAKE - Antiphon
When lynchpin Tim Smith walked out during recording sessions for their fourth album, the remaining members of Midlake decided to scrap everything and start from scratch, Eric Pulido replacing Smith as vocalist and offering a convincing impersonation of The Shins' James Mercer. The result was a record that set its sights on the niche formerly occupied by Grandaddy, but, while it had its charms, it never really took flight. Perhaps much-lauded second album The Trials Of Van Occupanther would have been a better place to start.
Taster: 'The Old And The Young'

TOMORROW'S WORLD - Tomorrow's World
Tomorrow's World found Jean-Benoit Dunckel of Air and Lou Hayter of New Young Pony Club teaming up to create music that drew on Suicide, the Shangri-Las and retro-futurism. Sadly, though, it was less than the sum of its parts, and all felt a bit phoned in - a shame, given the considerable promise the project held.
Taster: 'Metropolis'

A Bit Of Alright:

Four albums into their career and you might have imagined that Pissed Jeans would have mellowed with age. Even brief exposure to opener 'Bathroom Laughter' was enough to emphatically underline that you'd be wrong. The music was abrasive and confrontational, the lyrics biting and dripping with sarcasm and self-disgust. Honeys gave the lie to any suggestion that Sub Pop have gone soft.
Taster: 'Romanticize Me'

FUTURE OF THE LEFT - How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident
Sharing Pissed Jeans' steadfast commitment to musical aggression and lyrical obsession with masculinity were Future Of The Left, sounding more like Andy Falkous and Jack Egglestone's previous band Mclusky with each passing album. How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident also boasted an array of typically marvellous song titles ('Johnny Borrell Afterlife' and 'Future Child Embarrassment Matrix', anyone?) and, on 'Singing Of The Bonesaws', a monologue about Kim Kardashian being "chased through woodland by a giant bear wearing a mask which carries the visage of recently deceased film director Michael Winner"...
Taster: 'Future Child Embarrassment Matrix' (NSFW)

THOUGHT FORMS - Ghost Mountain
If an album comes with a seal of approval from Portishead's Geoff Barrow (by virtue of being released on his Invada label), then you can guarantee two things: it'll be good, and it probably won't be the easiest or cheeriest listen in the world. Ghost Mountain saw the Bristolian trio try their hand at everything from scratchy My Bloody Valentinisms ('Only Hollow') to hypnotic, doomy drone ('Burn Me Clean'). A stronger sense of individual identity lacking, then - but not considerable promise.
Taster: 'Burn Me Clean'

YOUTH LAGOON - Wondrous Bughouse
If Youth Lagoon's The Year Of Hibernation was aptly named, a solipsistic daydream of an album, then its successor found Trevor Powers daring to venture beyond the confines of his bedroom and share neatly crafted psych-pop songs that appeared shot through with a newfound if still understated confidence. The geek may yet inherit the earth after all.
Taster: 'Dropla'

ARBOURETUM - Coming Out Of The Fog
For the most part, Arbouretum's fifth album was an accomplished work of fuzzy, pastoral, bluesy Americana to file alongside Neil Young, The Cave Singers or the mellower moments of the Dead Meadow canon - but then, right at the end, was the elegant title track, an invigorating breath of clean, cool air that really did live up to its name.
Taster: 'Coming Out Of The Fog'

WHITE MANNA - Dune Worship
"If you're not into the whole brevity thing", to quote the great Jeff Lebowski, White Manna might just be the band for you - especially if you're getting impatient for a new Wooden Shjips album. The Dude himself is a confirmed Creedence man, of course, but you get the feeling he'd dig the tracks on Dune Worship, which drift along spaced out in a fug of weed smoke and at no point sound anything like The Eagles.
Taster: 'X Ray'

SAVAGES - Silence Yourself
An all-female foursome heavily influenced by post-punk: I suppose the Warpaint comparisons were as inevitable as they were for September Girls. But that's where the similarities ended, for on their debut album Brits Savages lived up to their name, and were urgent, focused and furious unlike their languid and ethereal US counterparts, who I don't imagine are nearly so enamoured of 4AD's 80s roster. Even if you'd never seen a copy of Silence Yourself, you could have guessed that everything would be in black and white - this is a band for stark realities.
Taster: 'Waiting For A Sign'

BEST COAST - Fade Away
For someone apparently plagued by insecurity and doubt (just check out those song titles: 'I Wanna Know', 'Who Have I Become?', 'Fear Of My Identity', 'I Don't Know How'...), Beth Cosentino doesn't lack assurance when it comes to the knack of crafting instantly earwormable hooks and melodies. Mini-album Fade Away was further proof, bittersweet bubblegum indie rock that wasted little time in working its way into my affections.
Taster: 'Who Have I Become?' 

DEAFHEAVEN - Sunbather
Safe to say that few people could have predicted My Bloody Valentine's unbelievably long-awaited return would be trumped by a black metal album bearing the hallmarks of their influence. The dense, shoegazey guitars and lurid pink album cover may have upset the purists, but then I never claimed to be one anyway. Sunbather suggested that Deafheaven couldn't have chosen a much more apt name, simultaneously assaulting your ears while transporting you to a higher plane.
Taster: 'Dream House'

DEAP VALLY - Sistrionix
If you had to guess what two women who joined forces after meeting at a crochet class might sound like, you'd probably imagine demure, fey, folk-inflected indie-pop. You probably wouldn't imagine anything like Sistrionix, the sound of blues in a push-up bra and as bold a declaration of female independence as you'll ever hear.
Taster: 'Walk Of Shame'

JENNY HVAL - Innocence Is Kinky
Opening lines of albums don't come much more arresting than "At night I watch people fucking on my computer / Nobody can see me looking anyway". Like Deap Vally, Norwegian Jenny Hval might be preoccupied with gender politics, but her avant-pop approach on the John Parish-produced Innocent Is Kinky is radically different, as challenging and idiosyncratic as you might expect from someone who's written a masters thesis on Kate Bush - but it's a record that rewards repeated listening.
Taster: 'Innocence Is Kinky' (NSFW)


HOOKWORMS - Pearl Mystic
While I didn't fall quite as hook-line-and-sinker hard for Hookworms' debut as many - partly because it didn't strike me as attempting to do much new and partly because the vocals felt incongruous - Pearl Mystic was nevertheless an extremely good record, evidence that Spacemen 3's fire continues to burn brightly in others even if J Spaceman's Spiritualized are increasingly lapsing into self-parody. Plus it was a real pleasure to see a release on tiny Nottingham imprint Gringo Records blow up.
Taster: 'Preservation'

One of those albums that sounded so fresh and yet so obvious that you couldn't quite believe no one had thought of doing it before - "it" in this case being to imagine what Pavement might have produced if dosed up to the eyeballs with coffee and given half a day to record a homage to '70s NYC punk. Light Up Gold managed to walk the apparently impossible tightrope between taut and slack, and did so with inventiveness, relish, no little wit and a strong contender for the year's finest individual track in the shape of 'Stoned And Starving'.
Taster: 'Stoned And Starving'

With each album Los Campesinos! appear to both lose an original member (they're now down to three from seven) and pack breakthrough single 'You! Me! Dancing!' and debut Hold On Now, Youngster even more tightly into a box in the attic marked "Juvenilia". No Blues was an exhibition of the sort of serious songwriting chops that hinted at a longevity their early critics could never have conceived, and found Gareth indulging his obsession with the beautiful game, even sneaking in a reference to one-time Leeds legend Tony Yeboah. 'A Portrait Of The Trequartista As A Young Man' was the perfect encapsulation of the two primary facets of his character: football nerd and pretentious (self-consciously so) literary student.
Taster: 'Avocado, Baby'

THE NATIONAL - Trouble Will Find Me
I may still not be quite as rabidly enthusiastic about them as others are, but The National just seem to be getting better with every passing album. Trouble Will Find Me found them aided and abetted by a growing cast of collaborators including St Vincent, Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, Sharon Van Etten and Arcade Fire's Richard Reed Parry. Its richer musical palette signified refinement rather than revolution, while Matt Berninger continued to plumb the seemingly unfathomable depths of his personal well of woe to memorable effect.
Taster: 'Graceless'

SIGUR ROS - Kveikur
Kveikur proved to be that most elusive of beasts, a genuine return to form. The previous two albums had been quiet, almost incidental, but departing founder member Kvartan Sveinsson appeared to have turned up the amps on his way out of the door. The new-found sinister edge to songs like opener 'Brennisteinn' and the title track was equally welcome, suggesting they're finally sick of being the go-to guys for atmospheric bedding music for TV programmes.
Taster: 'Brennisteinn'

Close But No Cigar:

If Kveikur signalled Sigur Ros' rediscovery of the beauty of noise, then Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - who had also lost a founding member, Mick Harvey - were moving in the opposite direction. While 2008's seedy, violent Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! bore the grubby fingerprints of Cave's ferocious mid-life crisis side-project Grinderman, Push The Sky Away was a much more restrained and understated affair, though arguably all the more menacing for the hushed tones that demonstrated subtlety is once again part of his musical vocabulary.
Taster: 'Jubilee Street'

DEERHUNTER - Monomania
Atlantans Deerhunter have been called many things in their time, but probably not "fun". Monomania - their first album with new bassist Josh McKay and additional guitarist Frankie Boyles - threatened to change all that, though, as they rummaged around in rock's dressing-up box and emerged clad in a number of outlandish outfits they just about managed to pull off. So it was that the Lockett Pundt-penned 'The Missing' - as classically dreamy a slice of prime Deerhunter as you could hope for - was followed up with 'Pensacola', what the Strokes might sound like if they were foot-stomping country rockers, and 'Dream Captain', a playful 'Bohemian Rhapsody'-quoting Bowie pastiche. Not dissimilar to Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Mosquito in its incoherent eclecticism, but a whole lot more successful.
Taster: 'The Missing'

JULIA HOLTER - Loud City Song
Probably the only concept album to have been released in 2013 inspired by the 1944 novella (and subsequent 1958 musical) Gigi, and most definitely the best. Holter's Domino debut Loud City Song could so easily have been dismissed as obnoxiously pretentious, if it wasn't for the fact that it was so utterly immersive, enchanting and otherworldly (even more so than its much lauded predecessor Ekstasis), capable of arresting time with its lush instrumentation and carefully crafted shifts of mood. With Kate Bush set to make her first live appearances since 1979, her natural heiress is already at the peak of her powers.
Taster: 'Hello Stranger'

FUZZ - Fuzz 
It's no reflection on the quality of Fuzz, rather a measure of the strength of 2013's field, that an album no worse than either of the Ty Segall records that ranked one and two in 2012 couldn't break into the top ten. It found Segall carrying on where he left off with Slaughterhouse - namely, raucous garage rock beefed up by someone eager to live out all of his heavy rock fantasies at full throttle and full volume. Thunderous riffs, ludicrous bass and drum solo breakdowns and ear-to-ear grins aplenty.
Taster: 'One'

To anyone familiar with the The Soft Bulletin and 'Do You Realize??', and aware of their recent whimsical antics with Miley Cyrus and other "heady fwends", The Terror may have come as a shock to the system. It was a dark night of the soul, a break-up album of the bleakest kind, characterised not by lachrymose singer-songwriter fayre but by profoundly unsettling dystopian synthscapes. The record was barely a few seconds old when Coyne, that indefatigable high priest of all things life-affirming, declared that "Love is always something / Something you should fear", and - as song titles such as 'The Terror', 'You Are Alone' and 'Butterfly, How Long It Takes To Die' imply - it didn't get any lighter thereafter.
Taster: 'Try To Explain'

And now, the Top Ten:

10. THE ICARUS LINE - Slave Vows
"Nihilism, volatility, hedonism, desperation, dysfunction, destructiveness". As descriptions of what The Icarus Line are all about, Stevie Chick's attempt - in his review of Slave Vows for The Quietus - would be hard to better. For me, the album wasn't quite the equal of 2004's magnum opus Penance Soiree, as Chick claimed, but in marshalling a similarly superb array of influences - The Stooges, Swans, The Birthday Party - it blew the lame coked-up swagger of its predecessor Wildlife to smithereens, melting your speakers in the process.
Taster: 'Marathon Man'

9. CHVRCHES - The Bones Of What You Believe
Two grizzled veterans of the Glasgow post-rock scene joining forces with a twentysomething journalist to produce 24-carat electro-pop with enough hooks to satisfy Radio 1 listeners and enough lyrical menace and depth to satisfy Radio 6 listeners? You couldn't really have made it up. The worry was always that they wouldn't be able to live up to the incredible early promise of 'Lies' and 'The Mother We Share', but happily The Bones Of What You Believe delivered in spades.
Taster: 'Lies'

8. YO LA TENGO - Fade
The curse of the January release strikes again. Fade was a very early frontrunner for the top spot, but as the year wore on it gradually, well, faded away. To Yo La Tengo aficionados like myself, used to remarkably eclectic albums, it came as something of a surprise: a more conventionally coherent collection of songs. Sober, considered, wistful, restrained, short (by their standards, at least) - and quietly very, very good indeed.
Taster: 'Before We Run'

7. FUCK BUTTONS - Slow Focus
Personally speaking, of all the things trumpeted as being part of the "legacy" of the 2012 London Olympics, Fuck Buttons being introduced to the watching millions via Danny Boyle's opening ceremony should be foremost. As Slow Focus' first track 'Brainfreeze' made clear, though, the duo weren't ready to capitalise on the exposure and actively court the mainstream. Rhythmic experimentation and a sense of menace marked it out from predecessor Tarot Sport, but euphoric noise - their trademark - still snuck in towards the end.
Taster: 'Hidden XS' 

6. THE BESNARD LAKES - Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO
Over the course of their previous two records, Montreal outfit The Besnard Lakes had elaborated their own unique vision of prog, a sumptuous amalgamation of slo-mo shoegaze, portentous drones, subtle orchestration, surf guitar and Beach Boys harmonies. Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO trod the same path, the only surprise being that they managed to sustain the same level of quality. Fuck Bon Iver - this lot are the real jewel in Jagjaguwar's crown.
Taster: 'Colour Yr Lights In' (NSFW)

5. SIX BY SEVEN - Love And Peace And Sympathy
And the prize for the unlikeliest and most spectacular comeback of the year goes to... Ever since 2002's The Way I Feel Today until their messy dissolution in 2008, Six By Seven albums had seemed like diminishing returns, debut The Things We Make and follow-up The Closer You Get towering over everything else. But then Chris Olley, reinvigorated by the recruitment of former Placebo drummer Steve Hewitt, reconvened the band, and the result was stunning - glowering, mesmeric, majestic. Six By Seven and I go way back, so it brought a lump to the throat - even if no one else was listening.
Taster: 'Change'

4. LANTERNS ON THE LAKE - Until The Colours Run
Just as I'd almost given up hope of ever coming across a band from my native Newcastle that I like, along came Lanterns On The Lake - all the more remarkable for the fact that it transpired they included my closest childhood chum among their ranks. Following the (in hindsight) tentative steps of folky debut Gracious Tide, Take Me Home, this was a beautifully constructed and nuanced album, one that set personal heartache and small-town angst against a stunning widescreen sonic backdrop that revealed them as keen students of label- and tourmates Explosions In The Sky.
Taster: 'Another Tale From Another English Town'

3. ICEAGE - You're Nothing
It was always going to take something special for me to forgive Iceage their utterly awful showing at the 1-2-3-4 Festival in 2012. And this was it - another stupendous album, as good if not superior to their debut New Brigade. Few punk bands are better on record than on stage, but Iceage certainly are; and few albums can justify a track called 'Interlude' only three songs in, but, in the wake of the blistering blitzkrieg attack of 'Ecstasy' and 'Coalition', this one could. Driven by nihilistic fury, You're Nothing was hardcore with a suitably experimental edge for anyone left disappointed by the No Age album. As for the faint whiff of dubious politics, if Matador are comfortable signing them, then that's good enough for me.
Taster: 'Morals'

2. THE DRONES - I See Seaweed
There's something seriously, seriously wrong with the world if this album is (as seems the case) only available on import. Like The Drones' 2006 masterpiece Gala Mill, it was bookended by two absolute behemoths, the title track's tale of environmental apocalypse and 'Why Write A Letter That You'll Never Send?', which worked itself up into a splendidly splenetic rant about everything from the Holocaust, bombing Mogadishu and Nazi popes while somehow retaining a disarmingly tender chorus. What came inbetween was hardly shoddy, either. Easy listening? No. Bitter, bilious, fire-and-brimstone country-blues, drunk on despair, disgust at humanity and (occasionally) romantic ideals? Absolutely.
Taster: 'I See Seaweed'

1. CHELSEA LIGHT MOVING - Chelsea Light Moving
I'm nothing if not predictable - and make no apologies for it. When the news emerged that Thurston Moore had a new album out, you could have put a pretty safe bet on it topping my end-of-year list. If 2011's solo effort Demolished Thoughts hinted that the fiftysomething might finally be reaching for the proverbial pipe and slippers, Chelsea Light Moving suggested the exact opposite, taking the trademark Sonic Youth sound and embellishing it with some seriously hefty metal riffage. All of a sudden, his previous band's demise didn't look like such a bad thing.
Taster: 'Alighted'

As ever, huge thanks to everyone who burned/loaned/bought me albums. It's your fault that this post is so long and late... 

And finally, lest we forget, the Top Ten for 2012:

10. BEST COAST - The Only Place
9. JAPANDROIDS - Celebration Rock
8. BEACH HOUSE - Bloom
7. TAME IMPALA - Lonerism
6. BAT FOR LASHES - The Haunted Man
5. TURING MACHINE - What Is The Meaning Of What
4. GRIZZLY BEAR - Shields
3. GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR - Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
2. TY SEGALL BAND - Slaughterhouse 
1. TY SEGALL - Twins

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Turning water into ... water?

So, Coca Cola set up business in my home town and immediately they set about manufacturing water. Yes, you read that right. In fairness, they are processing and adding to the natural resource this time, rather than just bottling tap water as they did with Dasani...

Quote of the day

"I made this and it didn't need to be made, but I did it anyway."

Artist Lucy Sparrow on the corner shop in Bethnal Green that she's stocked entirely with hand-sewn products made out of felt. "Why not?" is as good a reason as any.

(Thanks to Sally for the link.)

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Rusholme ruffian?

Morrissey potentially involved in a court case? Surely not. This time the lawsuit has been filed by a former bodyguard, Bradley Steyn, who claims he was sacked for refusing to maim David Tseng, who runs a Mozza fan site that has got up its subject's nose in the past. Morrissey promptly dismissed the allegations as "a vexatious lie", branding Steyn as a desperate moneygrabber and Tseng as "not someone who troubles me enough to even bother with". For his part, Tseng has been rattled by the rumour - even though he still counts himself as a fan of Mozza's music.

In need of a good education

Only in the US could an educator be fired by his employer - a language school - for a blog post on homophones, on the grounds that it might be mistaken for a reference to gay sex...

(Thanks to Del for the link.)

Friday, August 01, 2014

Dude: incredible

Steve Albini is probably better known as a producer than as a musician in his own right, so here's Pitchfork contributor Jason Heller's attempt to set things straight with a list of Albini's top ten records.

Big Black's debut Atomizer is at the top of the pile - not a band I've ever really been able to get into, even if St Vincent's cover of 'Kerosene' piqued my interest again recently.

There's fulsome (and richly deserved) praise for 1000 Hurts' opening track 'Prayer To God', and a superb description of Terraform, the one Shellac album I don't own but clearly need to: "like being lulled to sleep by the sounds of a meat-processing plant".

All in all, a perfect way to whet one's appetite for Shellac's forthcoming release Dude Incredible.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

"There is no way back"

David Byrne posts on his website an outraged email from friend Brian Eno condemning Israeli atrocities in Gaza, and then the more nuanced response of Eno's friend Peter Schwartz, which sets the current situation in the context of both history and other recent global conflicts and makes clear that Israelis aren't the only ones who have no right to occupy the moral high ground. You don't get this kind of thing from Kasabian, do you?

(Thanks to Laura for the link.)

Another quantum leap

Just when you think you might just have started to get your head around the fundamentals of quantum physics, along comes another astonishing revelation to blow your mind - most recently, that it's possible to physically divorce a particle from its properties, in this case its magnetic moment. At least they're talking about the discovery in terms of cats, though - a language everyone can understand...

No laughing matter

Welcome to Turkey, a country whose Deputy Prime Minister recently informed women that laughing in public is a sign of "moral corruption". Needless to say, Turkish women are refusing to keep a straight face.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Long time coming

There was something very reassuring about switching on the TV last night to find that not only was Josie Long making an appearance on Dave's One Night Stand, but she was also taking the opportunity to perform material about being a feminist while wearing her Sleater-Kinney T-shirt. Just a shame it was followed up by a hackneyed borderline-sexist routine from host Ardal O'Hanlon...