And so we’ve reached the end of another year. It’s the worst time of year; it’s cold, dark and I’m left with an inalienable, amassing sense of dread with each one that passes that there’s surely not many more left to go now. Also not helping is the impression that I haven’t listened to enough music this year, as per usual.
Time is a ghastly concept, invented as a result of intellectual hubris but now solely working to make us do less of what we want to. In my case that’s sleep, write and listen to music, and a few other things which are best left unmentioned (killing disabled kids and fluffy animals aren’t two of them, honest). As per last year the only rule is there are none. The title of the column is disingenuous, as this list contains a mixture of new releases; be it albums, EPs or singles, reissues, mixes and even stuff released last year that I only discovered this. Put it this way – basically it’s not the best of 2014, but the best of 2014 that I listened to. And if that’s interpreted as being as self-serving and lazy as it sounds, then so be it.
This list appears in no particular order, as orders, especially when dealing with a diverse set of genres and types of releases are crudely assembled for the simpletons who just skip to the top ten – and just to clarify, I’ve never done this, I swear, honest.
Hailu Mergia & The Walias – Tche Belew
African bingo hall kitsch to heathen scumbags, sumptuous 70’s Ethiopian roots soul to others, isn’t it obvious which category I belong to? The brass takes it up a level from ‘Hailu Mergia & His Classical Instrument: Shemonmuanaye’ which was reissued last year, and is also excellent. After all, why do with one when you can have two?
Scott Walker & Sunn O))) – Soused
Walker’s enthrallment with the odd malaises surrounding the foibles and flaws of transcendent cultural figures, his random lyrical and conceptual juxtapositions, walls of sound and bizarre sound effects for added contextual effect continues. Sun O))) provide Walker’s narratives with a sound that’s immediately austere, but these textures are significantly less intimidating and complex than the canvases found on The Drift. Even so, this is still mostly Scott. There is simply nobody else like him. His work continues to fascinate.
Baader Meinhof – Baader Meinhof (Reissue)
Sure, including this one is a bit cheap. But it emphasises why Haines is to be admired, he never sold out, or played by the rules. So of course he wrote a quasi-fictional account of a polemic German extremist group (of the same name) who hated the burgeoning influence the capitalist bourgeoisie were having on post war West Germany. The timing of the reissue is pertinent, as many of the things the Baader Meinhof group were railing against, such as the obsession of the masses with consumerism helping to mask political lobbying, the war for cash syndrome, the media’s enabling of an endemic lurch towards centre right policies in mainstream political parties, and the dilution and erosion of people’s and worker’s rights, actually ended up happening on a grander scale. It also broaches the lie that is terrorism. After-all, comedy and tragedy often mingle hand-in-hand. Also contains one of the best songs of Haines’ career: ‘Mogadishu‘.
Luke Haines – New York in the 70’s
As with the Baader Meinhof reissue Haines’ great ability is to focus on a specific social or musical niche and or time and satirise it and its main figureheads accordingly. This time his focus is on 70’s New York. For me (and many others) that era is viewed through the prism of James Murphy’s truism of borrowed nostalgia, where superficial impressions of the era are formed through cultural tropes, be it movies like Taxi Driver or Dog Day Afternoon, David Bowie and The Stones being bigger than Japan, Blaxploitation, the legacies of the Velvet Underground & Andy Warhol still resonating and Punk and Disco prevailing. Enter Haines. The cultural lionisation of New York hedonism, aided by the revisionism of its own constituents; Jim Carroll’s drug addiction and its associated fables, the Studio 54 scene, the un-originality of the New York Dolls, Lou Reed’s deified status as trite and unwarranted, all get a drubbing, as does Alan Vega as an idea thief/blagger, that’s ‘too lazy to write my own melody’. Chances are you won’t agree some with it, but you’ll take it on board, and you’ll laugh.
Clouds Mix – Up North (ATTTKLFCO)
A mega-long mix inspired by the KLF (among others) and the various genres and scenes it influenced and that influenced it. I mean, look at the name and insignia of this blog, do I even have to justify its inclusion? Credit must go to the Quietus for putting me onto this, however, it is bittersweet, I’m glad I came across it, but gutted that I didn’t discover it a) myself and b) sooner.
Fat White Family – Champagne Holocaust
Yeah, I’m well aware that it was released last year, but this is my blog, and I’ve decided there are no rules, so deal with that. Better yet can you deal with this mob? Missing teeth, living above a pub, self-flagellation through intoxication, a pathological distaste of Thatcherism, a cream fluffer, bombing Disneyland, the slight stench of cynicism that the vagrancy phenotype and ‘fuck this and youse cunts attitude’ is all an act, but only if you’re one of cynical who they despise. Above all it tears through the recent insidious homogenisation and commercialisation of indie music, a genre which should challenge – through provoking, taunting and shaming, but no longer does. They and this album are a necessity.
Legowelt – Crystal Cult 2080
Goth inflected house music, but yet you can’t categorise it as one or the other, but trust me on this, it works. Bangers aplenty and it’s also awash with cheap horror movie samples. Earns bonus points as you invariably spend too much time trying (and failing) to figure out which movies or TV shows they’re from.
Jan Jelinek – Secret Thirteen Mix 101
Yes, the offerings from the Secret Thirteen project can be pretentious, and as a result extremely dull, which makes their intended ‘high’ value highly dubious. The occasional turd aside, in the main the mixes are interesting, none more so than this one, released last December from Jan Jalinek (who I’ll freely admit I’d never heard of before) which is rooted in the experimentalism of the Krautrock sensibility. It sways from the popular to the obscure, from era to era seamlessly, never losing its intrigue or accessibility, the toughest of balancing acts. It even piques your interest when it stumbles onto one of the few tracks you recognise, which then forces you to ponder what it was juxtaposed with and why. It also reaffirms that you can no longer live without Discogs and that people who cut mixes without supplying a tracklist should be lashed.
Aphex Twin – Syro
The clearly not crazy and quite well adjusted Cornishman returns under his best known pseudonym, and while it doesn’t offer reinvention, it does work as an overview of his career. There’s less emphasis on the crazed mania of the Richard D James album and the other releases of that time, such as Come to Daddy or Milkman. It’s less perforated and fractured than ‘Drukqs’ or abrasively opaque than some of his other side projects, such as Caustic Window (also reissued this year). It does have James’s quintessential sense of humour, ‘Produk 29’ features a Made In Chelsea-esque sound bite of vacuous touristy club hipsterdom; “fucking house, discussing ideas, like we were at the club, fucking whore”. Where Syro draws you in is its focus on his earlier works that built the brand and the rep; the melodic bases found on Windowlicker, the profuse use of rave and house sonics and the simplicity of his best ambient constructs, all work to create an album that’s approachable to the new generation, while satiating those already versed in the mania, well most of. The whinging twats of haughtiness hold him, and all trendsetters and innovators, to an impossible standard, and as such they were underwhelmed, as per usual. This is a superb album, especially loud and wearing your headphones, what more do you need? More to the point, what more do you need from an Aphex Twin album?
Xosar – Beats in Space Mix
Xosar is a superb DJ, a babe, who also occasionally releases acid inspired house music EPs, and if you don’t like that package and this mix, then we can’t be friends. Now if someone could give me a few pointers on where these tracks came from I’d be most grateful. The tracklist on the Beats in Space website is too vague for my laziness and lack of knowledge to overcome.
Sun Kil Moon – Benji
Trust Kozelek to give us this year’s most depressing release but also the most compelling. It’s an entirely personal account of early middle aged paranoia and displacement, ill at ease in a world that’s equally ill at ease with its own mortality. The message here is quite straightforward, and more importantly, true – it’s always the sense of hopelessness that leads to alienation, and that it’s death and the prospect of it that reminds us of this.
Alec Empire’s Baker’s Dozen Mix for The Quietus
The use of ‘sheeple’ grates, and I think much of Atari Teenage Riot’s output is a pool of lukewarm in bedpan granny pish, but this mix is as sublime as it is eclectic. Taste in tunes always gains much respect from me.
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata
Amid the ever increasing mixtape frenzy the best rap of the year was found on an auld fashioned album. Piñata was the best rap release of the year, don’t listen to anyone who says the Killer Mike album was better, it wasn’t. As per usual it’s best to simplify this argument by applying the acid test, which album did I want to listen to more and which album will I return to, in time? I will stop short of saying that this is better than Madvillainy, where we can be certain is that this is the best bit of production that Madlib’s delivered in a while.
FKA Twigs – LP1
There was some scepticism on my part that she could release a full length that stood up to her sublime second EP, the unremarkably named ‘EP2’, released last year. Her debut is also unremarkably named, ‘LP1’, but now you understand why, it provides us a truth, that in the main album titles are completely pointless and or have had little thought put into them.
And in this instance there are far more important developments to focus on. The fractured, jittery dubstep has largely been ditched, as have those Massive Attack lifts, which are less obvious (and necessary) as her whispered delivery ascends among synths that perpetually assail and prevail. Dare I say it but she’s succeeded in meshing the contemporary R’n’B pop aesthetic with her own eccentricities into a seamless package, the result? A song about masturbation that’s accessible and the brazen use of motherfucker, repeatedly, neither of which seems excessive or cheap, but just addictive and interesting pop music. There isn’t enough of it.
Surgeon Mix at Freerotation 2014
The first, last and only train to headfuck transcentral of meditation, verging on chin-rubbing pretentiousness, and liable to be liked by the worst kind of music snobs for the wrong reasons. But we have to get over it, recline, put the slippers on and relax. You’re now very relaxed while I describe something completely inane, esoteric or completely nonsensical. Is two and bit hours of this enough? And press repeat.
AraabMuzik – For Professional Use Only 2
A man who revels in vanguard of the awful, turning outright shite, or dire, drab mediocre efforts into addictive sleaze bullets laced with Red Bull and Caviar. This one’s a happy compromise between Electronic Dream’s aspirational Eurotrash rehab and his ode to Dilla – ‘Instrumental University’, where the grindstone hip-hop base material was far better, yet the results not as vivaciously gluttonous as ‘Electronic Dream’. Here soul, club, R’n’B, rap and pop samples are brought together at random, and somehow its mania manages to make more sense than the original sample material ever could.
Basic Channel – Q-Loop (EP)
When it comes to electro and dub oriented deepest house of house this is still the best you’ll get, even better, despite a twenty year gap this fits seamlessly alongside the other releases under the moniker. Is it too much to ask that we’ll be getting more releases in the near future? Not that the output of either Mark Ernestus and Moritz Von Oswald has been too shabby under other aliases in the interim, but a Basic Channel release is a Basic Channel release, if you know what I mean.
Klara Lewis – Ett
You’ll find Locsil and Kompakt series ambient on ‘Shine’, a cross between Black Swan drone and Autechre on ‘Untitled’ and Logo-esque sampling on ‘Altered’, all placed under the same umbrella with panache. Panache probably isn’t the right word, actually, precision might do it more justice. Precision in creating a sense of dread, it’s the soundtrack to Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’. The term Industrial is too trite to use here, instead I’ll say it’s minimalism is almost as engrossing as Monotonprodukt07’s maximalism. High, but deserved praise.
Skeepta (feat. JME) – That’s Not Me (Single)
Similar to a bag of Haribo Starmix, most Grime is usually cheap and cheerful and you end up regretting it later. But sometimes, man, you’re just in the mood, and when it’s good, sublime Grime, or Grime that is this sublime, cannot be denied. Every element of this is irresistible; the flow, the lyrics, the pace, that base track, the sincere simplicity of the production, all combine to put it right up there with ‘Jampie’ in the Grime pantheon. FACTmag has their detractors, and in the main their top fifty songs of the year list was absolute pish, but they had this at number one, and that’s spot on.
Grouper – Ruins
Widely lauded and ubiquitous on every end of year list you’ll find, and with good reason. Less fractured and more organic than her previous efforts, before the focus was on bewitching through subtle drone and distortion (and while we’re on the subject, check out Motion Sickness Of Time Travel for material of a similar vein), here empty space, her voice, delicate ambiances and a solemn melancholic piano, of the Olafur Arnalds extraction, are the core elements.
DJ Sprinkles – Midtown 120 Blues (Reissue)
Here’s a question – should an album be reissued only five years after its original release? The answer – unquestionably yes, when it’s great. If the world was logical ‘Led Zeppelin IV’ and ‘Exile On Main St.’ would be reissued every five or ten years. The reason for Midtown 120’s reissue is quite straightforward, it was released on a Japanese label, demand outstripped its limited supply, and even though Resident Advisor rightly voted it their album of the year 2009 it passed me and many others by. So for those of us who missed it first time round this was a necessity. The soundtrack to the comedown, purified and souled out tae fuck, the samples used all showing reverence to the classics of the scene and what they once meant – also serving to make you want to listen to them again. It also points out the hypocrisy of Madonna’s career as an unimaginative cultural magpie, and for railing against the homogenisation of house and club music ‘with track after track of vocal shit’. In truth Thaemlitz didn’t need to apply this commentary, as the music speaks for itself.
Kassem Mosse – Workshop 19
Speaking of great house music, this is another left of the field deep house effort that’ll infiltrate the canon at some point. Gunnar Wendel’s best work to date. The influences are obvious, ‘A1’ borrows from the Moodymann ‘Jan’ template for example, and there are clear references to Basic Channel and Autechre within the overarching house aesthetic. It’s been on constant rotation since procurement.
Shabazz Palaces – Lese Majesty
We could already safely surmise that the Shabazz Palaces project would cater to the experientialist hip hop palates, but this is really pushing the boat out, and more power to their elbow. The ascendant Jazz, R’n’B and Soul tones from ‘Black Up’ have mostly gone, but thankfully the improv rap off the top of the dome, or at least you want to believe so, hasn’t. Butler rambles adroitly from self-deprecation to oxymoronic euphemisms, and all else in-between, as an assortment of rambunctiously distorted instrumentals verbosely weave themselves around his diffuse narratives.
Jon Hassell & Brian Eno – Fourth World Vol. 1 – Possible Musics (Reissue)
The immediate predecessor to the essential ‘My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts’. This one’s far more spectral and the borrowing of its ‘ethnic’ (a dreadfully trite usage in this context) sounds less robust, but it’s equally essential. Also look for Eno’s collaboration with Cluster, which is of the same era as the aforementioned two, and while thematically disparate, is of a similar artistic value. There’s an argument that Eno, overall, has produced better material in a collaborative environment than under his own name. Regardless of where you stand on that one, or if there’s even any point to the debate at all, reissues such as this remind us of how brilliant and influential a career he’s had, solo or otherwise.
Well, that’s another year out the way. I’ll be doing an Essential Listening – Best Tracks of 2014 post between Christmas and New Year. Bet you can’t wait, either way Merry and or Happy Christmas to you and yours. Peace and Jam out.