From the single ‘Drive You Home’ (2018)
From the single ‘Drive You Home’ (2018)
We survived. Well, most of us.
As with my best songs of the year list, this list is restricted to ten and is in alphabetical order. However, the title of this post is somewhat disingenuous as I haven’t restricted this list to releases that are defined by the media as ‘new’. There’s quite a few reissues in here and one that could be described as a compilation of material which has surely been conceived over a number of years. And anyway, for a shitty blog like mine, there’s simply no point (or enough time – hey, I enjoy sleeping, and it’s good for you!) to do a separate list for re-issues, live albums and mixes.
Restricting the album list to ten felt trickier before the fact than its execution actually was. The biggest impediment was the auld memory. Twelve months is a long time (I can’t remember what I did last Thursday, never mind what I listened to in February), so to clarify things I cheated a bit. I consulted my play counts for assistance and worked from there.
Some choices were obvious, others more contentious. But one thing I can say is that all of the releases I’ve picked warrant your attention – at least one listen – and yes, this includes the Autechre NTS sessions compilation, whose runtime clocks in at over nineteen hours.
Hope you had a nice Christmas – unless you were publicly arrested and flogged for flying drones near Gatwick, then released without charge (please let them be Leave voters) – and try to enjoy the rest of the holiday period, because the New Year is almost upon us. Good luck everyone. Brace yourselves.
Autechre – NTS Sessions 1-4
Nothing I put here can do this justice, suffice to say it’s Autechre. Every song sounds slightly different on each listen. It’ll take months, even years, to reveal itself, and you thought that Aphex Twin Soundcloud dump from a couple of years ago was an absurd volume. Difference here is there’s zero filler.
Blood Orange – Negro Swan
Think of it as a soulful B side to 2016’s Blonde by Frank Ocean (Blood Orange does Channel Orange, say?), and given how staggeringly good Blonde was, that’s high praise. There’s a commonality in concept between the two albums – representing forms of esoteric blackness, but Negro Swan sports a more polished and accessible aesthetic due to fewer random compositional switches and less distortion and personalised introspection.
Deadline Paranoia – 1/3 & 2/3 (Reissues)
Mysterious Dutch reissue of material from four albums self-released during the mid-eighties on cassette type business. There are three reissues scheduled, two of which have been released to date. Acid psyche, drone and dub mixed together with undertones of earthly occultism. Best accompanied with a Bong.
Gabe Gurnsey – Physical
Unashamedly sleazy stripped down electro with a smidge of Pet Shop Boys’ campness from one third of Factory Floor. Best enjoyed on an excursion through the Reeperbahn and surely ‘Heavy Rubber’ is to be found on the track lists of its clubs.
Horace Andy – Dance Hall Style (Reissue)
As I wrote here, a slew of identikit autotune tranced out second rate grime influenced offerings have appropriated the Dancehall genre over the last fifteen years, but reissues of classic dub and riddim records from the seventies and eighties under this umbrella give the contemporary masses the chance to discover something authentic. Regardless, this record is simply regal.
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – King Of Cowards
Monolithic and relentless, but driven with nuanced frustration and anxiety. Get yer Sennheiser noise cancellers on, play it loud and you’ll feel ten feet tall walking down the street. Prophetic too in relation to Brexit – the album title can now be dedicated to the behaviour of Jeremy Corbyn and his obsequious minions.
Prince – Piano & A Microphone 1983 (Reissue)
Just The Purple One, on a piano, randomly jumping from one excerpt of his future classic catalogue to the other. As far as rehearsal type bootlegs go I found it as fascinatingly addictive as the conversations between Bob Dylan and Keith Richards on the Voices of Freedom sessions. This catches Prince at his creative apex, where only he could impress himself.
Skee Mask – Compro
They say perfection is many smaller things done well, or something of that order. This proves that the intricacies of exceptional production can allow genre hopping to work. Dubstep moves from drum’n’bass, to salubriously mellowed ambient flawlessly. Brian Eno, Machinedrum and Boards Of Canada are clear influences.
SOPHIE – Oil Of Every Pearl’s Un-insides
Utterly bizarre, consciously subversive, and unpredictable. Think of Scott Walker maliciously tampering with populist sounds. In an alternate universe, where the concepts of logic and justice are in tune, such a singular vision would characterise the zeitgeist.
Various – Switched on Eugene (Compilation/Reissue)
A compilation of tracks from a bunch of soya milk drinkers, welly wearing yoghurt producers and vegan types in a commune of discarded caravans and more sustainably built dwellings during the early to mid-eighties. At least, that’s the imagery I gleaned from the bio. Whatever the circumstances of the scene, you can’t argue the results. It’s full of blissful electronica and new wave pop cuts that wouldn’t look out of place on ‘Hounds Of Love’.
From the album ‘Christmas In The Heart’ (2009)
And so again we’ve reached the end of the year amigos. It’s been a dismal. Usually I’m happy for the New Year to arrive, bringing with it the possibility of improvement. But not this time. Our prospects, well, for a good chunk of us, look increasingly grimmer. Not long to go now until we’re fully subjected to the restoration (or should that self-immolation?) of a social and economic model with scandalously unfair Dickensian levels of poverty and disparity.
Just how did the country come to be ran by idiots who feel they have to pretend dislike stuff such as freedom of movement and trade? It’s complex, but essentially this runaway omnishambles has been created by a cyclical symbiosis between the media’s complacency and the political classes feeding red meat to loud right wing ideologues who deluded themselves (and too many others with their man-of-earth, used car salesmen bantz) that forms of equality, opportunity, immigration, nationalisation and education has suppressed them from greater success and wealth. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon surmised this mania perfectly, “Never has so much been lost by so many, to satisfy so few”.
Thoughts of how ghastly No-Deal Britain could look fill me with dread. An impression framed by the bleak light of winter (of what little there is of it) and the ongoing sociological decay of decency, respect and common sense. My advice, forget it all, and try to enjoy this Christmas among family and friends with some enthusiasm. Not to be morose, but you just don’t know if you’ll get the same chance again next year. Things may be very different. Change is inevitable and the universe is ambivalent luvvies.
Anyway, on to the list. I’ve decided to truncate things a bit. People have too much going on in their lives to read a long blog post, or relative to the subject, an article which asks them to listen to a top hundred or fifty songs of the year. Do these bloggers and editors of music websites not realise that a hundred songs is the equivalent of roughly a ten albums? I’m no fan of abbreviated attention spans and their causes either, nor their prevailing influence on wider social and political attitudes and perceptions, but it’s a major force in shaping modern reality, so you either evolve to serve it, you don’t and (likely) won’t survive or you try to change it. Personally I don’t see a top tracks list of a year changing social mores and causing cultural (and intellectual) revolutions, but hey, what the fuck do I know? Given what we’re seeing, you can’t be completely certain of anything anymore.
You also can’t rule out us not being here in a week (remember – the current US president willingly adopts the colour and texture of clitoris worn out by too many chemo and sunbed sessions), but we probably will be, and so will my top albums of the year list, which you’ll be glad to hear is also restricted to ten choices. That, like this, will come in alphabetical order. Merry Christmas to everyone, yes, even those of you who voted Leave.
Boa – Sam Gendel & Sam Wilkes
From the album ‘Music for Saxophone & Bass Guitar’
Cleo – Donato Dozzy
From the EP ‘Mindless Fullness’
Cruise Control Love – Melatonin Man
From EP ‘Cruise Control Love’
Den Heb Taves – Gwenno
From the album ‘Le Kov’
Faceshopping – Sophie
From the album ‘Oil Of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides’
g 1 e 1 – Autechre
From the album ‘NTS Sessions part 3’
I Don’t Wanna Dance With My Baby – Insecure Men
From the album ‘Insecure Men’
Session Add – Skee Mask
From the album ‘Compro’
So Good So Right 2 – Shinichi Atobe
From the EP ‘Heat’
T69 Collapse – Aphex Twin
From the EP ‘Collapse’
For the last two years the hard line Leavers were defiantly ignorant of Britain’s weak hand, the technical complexities of withdrawal agreements and the true logistic and economic costs of importing and exporting with the your largest trading partner after leaving it, so time’s almost up. Everyone’s pessimistic that any Brexit deal can pass through parliament and be agreed with the EU. The Tory government, filled with imbecilic chancers and moronic xenophobes, and a feckless Labour leadership of disingenuously pro-EU socialists, have, thanks to tribalism and selfish utopian visions, conspired to steer us towards the ‘No Deal’ iceberg. Even the DUP have taken their ball home. Probably because pro-choice gay seals reckon having the EU border in the Irish sea sounds sensible, or more likely, that a hard land border between Northern and Southern Ireland may reinvigorate violent sectarianism and bolster Unionism.
All you can do is sit back and watch, aghast. But I’m not. Fuck that luvvies. These wastes of skin shouldn’t receive any more attention. Brexit occurred in the first place because weirdo Walruses such as Gove, Farage, Raab, Mogg (she puts the lotion in the basket…) and Johnson, with their fuck experts shtick, were given too much of it by a complacent media. That and a hubris borne of colonial entitlement that leaving would restore lustre, be easy and economically beneficial, just, because.
So, to my point: as you can’t change this, why spend time wringing your hands when you still have the chance to live a little? You know, say being able to afford real cheese, to use yer central heating more than twice a week, or even better yet for £15 you can buy Yakuza 0 on Steam?
Unlike everything that’ll be imported post Brexit Yakuza 0 is a bargain. It copies GTA V’s sandbox construct, sans a few key differences – you can’t commit violent acts against the general public (sensible, given there’s so many built-in distractions), and you’re restricted entirely to an urban symposium of cramped Tokyoite and Osakan streets, eateries, shops, business and entertainment venues.
The intro sequence entices with an abortively cheesy, high-octane stadium metal score of the period playing over snippets from various stages of the game. You’re in for hedonism, criminality, oddity, violence and opulence aplenty. This makes Yakuza 0 the perfect escape from the tawdry, dismal reality of Brexit; it’s engaging, camp, glib, violent, strange and fucking funny.
A plethora of lengthy cut scenes throughout makes it seem as though you’re partaking in a game within a hard-boiled crime movie. The narrative switches between two characters (Majima and Kiryu) in two cities who have been unfairly ostracised from the Yakuza. Both are obsessively driven to return things to their previous simpler state with little collateral damage. You want them to succeed because their sense of injustice, and moral compasses, share a symmetry with the public’s desire amid Brexit’s morass to see stability and normality return.
Yakuza 0’s perpetual mini-games and events, when combined with the game’s relentless pacing, authentically mirrors the hectic connectivity of condensed city living and our experience of the contemporary digital age, and will easily appeal to millennials and younger. Its late 80’s setting appeases those of us who yearn for an escapist experience tinged with nostalgia. You know, before Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pokémon Go and that Tamagotchi bollocks ruined the attention spans of billions. Mind you, phone boxes, they seem so alien now.
Contextually, the mini-games offer sanctuary from the thrashing style of the violence. Go into Sega Hi-Tech Land and you’ll find full Sega Genesis games. Out Run, in particular, brought back memories. There are other mini-games; bowling, darts, snooker, disco dancing (with hilariously ostentatious Saturday Night Fever style intro sequences), Mahjong, Blackjack, batting cages, and what other game offers you the chance to catch a great white shark with a shitty twig like fishing rod? The most hilarious of all is Karaoke. Just try to keep a straight face (and your concentration) when the characters get into full flow and imagine themselves as rock starts on stage, with bandanas, skin-tight leather, studs and all.
The optional substories are bizarre, ranging from assisting a mime reach the toilet in a fast food joint (before he gets caught short) without having to break his method, betting on underground catfights, saving a pushy octogenarian from getting knifed, striking up a rapport via messages written on public bathroom walls, friending a fella with a masturbation addiction, saving a junior tax officer from a beat-down (hey, you can choose to walk away, but sadly, not see him cop it) before talking through how to hone and implement a future punitive VAT policy without causing public revolt, masquerading as a TV producer, stopping teenage girls from selling their panties to lonely men, buying porn for an eight year old lad, teaching a dominatrix how to dominate a client, helping Michael Jackson and Steven Spielberg derivatives create a Thriller-esque video, and that’s just a small selection. Some of these examples may seem lewd, but housed within the game’s period setting and off-kilter stereotypically assumed Japanese sensibility, which lacks the egregious high-pitched hysteria that accompanies everything these days, you know, say the tubthumping xenophobia that helped deliver Brexit, they often come across as quaint.
Ultimately, this is a fighting game, and there’s loads of that, and it’s varied too. Majima and Kiryu have multiple fighting styles and skills which you can earn as you progress. It aint half fun mashing through Goons, Yobs, Bikers, Yakuza and teenage delinquents, and horrible bastard Yakuza boss types, pulverising them using traffic cones, street signs, baseball bats, weapons you’ve crafted, push bikes, car doors or by using special finishing ‘heat’ moves.
Even better, whilst there you feel absolutely no guilt for ignoring Brexit. So, enough wittering from me, I’m escaping back to late 80’s Japan. Where being a street fightin’ man pays dividends, hedonism was refined as it was pure, justice and honour had agency, and the Nouveau Riche got what they deserved. Join me, while you still can.