A blog on gigs, music, art and London.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

My Favourite 100 Albums Of 2016

Another year, another 100 albums.

2016 may have been a depressing and exasperating year in some ways but it was another excellent year for music. As always, I’ve enjoyed exploring my way through the new releases, making new discoveries and re-establishing old acquaintances before seeing how they ultimately settle into a list of favourites (although there’s probably more in the way of familiar names in the below list, certainly towards the upper end). I’m certainly more than happy to be defined by the below 100 albums. As other people have said when publishing their end of year lists the top 20 is pretty accurately ordered, after that it becomes a little more arbitrary and changeable.

Will by Julianna Barwick narrowly edged out False Readings On By Eluvium to claim my top spot. Both ‘broke free’ from other albums by October and it was just a case of seeing which album would remain in front. Both artists have featured in my previous end of year lists and these albums saw them operating at an extremely high level, both arguably approaching the peak of their powers. The Julianna Barwick album is a stunningly beautiful and concise piece of work while (under his Eluvium alias) Matthew Cooper excels himself once more with his ecstatically charged ambient music. At times it seems like his music has a direct connection to the heavens, full of emotional direct hits and able to achieve a transcendence rarely found elsewhere. To me, both albums represent a voyage through the human psyche, body and soul. They both have depth and longevity in abundance (two qualities I always look for in albums). In some ways it seems unfair to have to place one above the other (sorry Matthew).

Elsewhere, Noura Mint Seymali consolidated her position as one of the most exciting artists around and we saw the welcome return of my beloved Teenage Fanclub. At the start of the year if someone had told me that one of my favourite albums of the year would feature guest vocals from Craig David it’s fair to say that it would have been met with a degree of scepticism but that’s what actually happened with the excellent 99.9% by Kaytranada clocking in at number eight (it is sort of like a distant cousin to Ego Death, last year’s similarly impressive album by The Internet). The Cocteau Twins sound more influential with each passing year and I loved how C Duncan incorporated some of the sounds and textures found on albums like Victorialand on his second album The Midnight Sun. Meanwhile albums by Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Badbadnotgood, Eighth Blackbird, Agnes Obel, Peter Broderick and Plaid (amongst others) also made lasting impressions. I could go on making similar testimonies about all of these albums to be honest.

Given the context/circumstances behind their creation and release it may seem surprising that albums like You Want It Darker (Leonard Cohen), Skeleton Tree (Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds) and Blackstar (David Bowie) occupy the relatively lowly positions they do but I probably didn’t listen to them enough to allow them to take higher spots.

I didn’t review as many albums this year (a pitiful, shamefully paltry seven in total) and didn’t do much better on gigs either (ten, if you include the always life-affirmingly brilliant WOMAD festival). I definitely need to try harder on the reviewing front in 2017. As always, radio proved the best way for me to discover new music and I’m grateful to Late Junction, Gilles Peterson, Gideon Coe, Marc Riley and others for bringing many of these artists to my attention.

Here is my top 100 in full:

100) Las Kellies - Friends And Lovers
99) Illum Sphere - Glass
98) Sara Neufeld - The Ridge
97) Various Artists - Space Echo (The Mystery Behind The Cosmic Sound Of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed)
96) Cavern Of Anti-Matter - void beats/invocation trex
95) Margaret Glaspy - Emotions And Math
94) Aisha Orazbayeva - Telemann Fantasias
93) Mary Lattimore – At The Dam
92) Yorkston/Thorne/Khan - Everything Sacred (Old Queen's Head live review)
91) Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra - Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra
90) The Besnard Lakes - A Coliseum Complex Museum
89) Various Artists - Soul Sok Sega (Sounds From Mauritius 1973-1979)
88) Leverton Fox - Velcro Bird
87) Solar Bears - Advancement
86) M. Ward - More Rain
85) Belbury Poly - New Ways Out
84) Jessy Lanza - Oh No (album review)
83) Damien Jurado - Visions Of Us On The Land
82) 75 Dollar Bill – Wood / Metal / Plastic / Pattern / Rhythm / Rock
81) Karl Blau - Introducing Karl Blau
80) King Creosote - Astronaut Meets Appleman
79) Sam Beam & Jesca Hoop - Love Letter For Fire
78) Kel Assouf - Tikounen
77) Rokia Traoré - Né So
76) Aziza Brahim - Abbar El Hamada
75) Morgan Delt - Phase Zero
74) Eleanor Friedberger - New View
73) Tycho - Epoch
72) Keaton Henson - Kindly Now
71) Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool
70) Claire M Singer - Solas
69) Leonard Cohen - You Want It Darker
68) Imarhan - Imarhan
67) Konono No. 1 Meets Batida - Konono No. 1 Meets Batida
66) Explosions In The Sky - The Wilderness
65) Donny McCaslin - Beyond Now
64) Guy Andrews - Our Spaces
63) Sarathy Korwar - Day To Day
62) Loscil - Monument Builders
61) Lisa Hannigan - At Swim
60) Jason Sharp - A Boat Upon Its Blood
59) Arborist - Dark Stream
58) Xylouris White - Black Peak
57) Yussef Kamaal - Black Focus
56) Immix Ensemble - Transition
55) Azymuth - Fênix
54) The Comet Is Coming - Channel The Spirits
53) Ryley Walker - Golden Sings That Have Been Sung
52) Turin Brakes - Lost Property
51) Family Atlantica - Cosmic Unity
50) PJ Harvey - The Hope Six Demolition Project
49) Mica Levi/Oliver Coates - Remain Calm
48) Klara Lewis - Too
47) Meta Meta - MM3
46) Baaba Maal - The Traveller
45) Bonnie Prince Billy/Bitchin' Bajas - Epic Jammers And Fortunate Little Ditties
44) Mogwai - Atomic
43) Lambchop - FLOTUS
42) Ian William Craig - Centres
41) M Craft - Blood Moon
40) Szun Waves - At Sacred Walls
39) Various Artists - Orbital Planes & Passenger Trains, Vol. 1
38) North Sea Radio Orchestra - Dronne
37) Be - One
36) Steve Mason - Meet The Humans
35) Federico Albanese (album review)
34) Botany - Deepak Verbera
33) Patten - Ψ
32) Brian Eno - The Ship (album review)
31) Shirley Collins - Lodestar
30) Amiina - Fantômas
29) Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Skeleton Tree
28) David Bowie - Blackstar
27) Oliver Coates - Upstepping
26) William Tyler - Modern Country
25) Tortoise - The Catastrophist
24) Tindersticks - The Waiting Room
23) The High Llamas - Here Come The Rattling Trees (album review)
22) Ben Lukas Boysen - Spells
21) Jóhann Jóhannsson - Orphée
20) ISAN - Glass Bird Movement
19) Mono - Requiem For Hell
18) Petrels - Jörð
17) Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith - EARS
16) Badbadnotgood - IV
15) Peter Broderick - Partners
14) Agnes Obel - Citizen Of Glass
13) Plaid - The Digging Remedy
12) Anoushka Shankar - Land Of Gold
11) Brigid Mae Power - Brigid Mae Power
10) Eighth Blackbird - Hand Eye
9) Whitney - Light Upon The Lake
8) Kaytranada - 99.9%
7) Douglas Dare - Aforger (album review)
6) Regina Spektor - Remember Us To Life (Royal Festival Hall live review)
5) Teenage Fanclub - Here
4) C Duncan - The Midnight Sun
3) Noura Mint Seymali - Arbina (album review and interview)
2) Eluvium - False Readings On
1) Julianna Barwick - Will (Pickle Factory live review)

Monday, 28 December 2015

My Favourite 100 Albums Of 2015

I always seem to begin these end of year album lists by remarking on how good a year it was for music. In this respect 2015 was no different to previous years, proving that if you have the time and desire to seek out and listen to music there’s an absolute abundance of stuff to discover. It was also no different to previous years in that the pace and volume of releases made keeping up a challenge. There were lots of albums ‘on my radar’ that probably would have featured here that I simply just didn’t get round to listening to due to lack of time/lack of cash to buy etc.

There are lots of familiar names on this list that have regularly appeared in my end of year round ups since I started them back in 2009. It also features many of my favourite bands. It also features lots of new artists/bands that I discovered for the first time in 2015. In the end, my favourite band of all time narrowly eclipsed arguably my favourite band of the 90s to claim top spot. Ones And Sixes by Low proved they are one of the most consistent and enduring bands of the last two decades. It saw them refocus on their core strengths whilst introducing newer elements and had everything you’d want from a Low album. It may seem like a predictable choice (especially given posts like this) but it’s actually the first Low album to top my list (other albums have been edged out into second and third place in 2013 and 2011 retrospectively). In a way it’s a shame that Modern Nature by The Charlatans didn't get past it to claim number one position – it’s a fantastic album that also re-establishes a classic, immediately identifiable sound. Given their recent history its positive, euphoric, feel-good nature is even more remarkable and it would have been a justified number one.

Elsewhere, the two bands that I’d rank as my second and third favourite bands of all time (Yo La Tengo and Mercury Rev) returned with solid offerings and other recent favourites like Beach House, Jaga Jazzist and Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat also released excellent albums. Albums by bands/artists I’ve admired for a long time like Sleater-Kinney, Sufjan Stevens and Calexico also all stood out.

There were also two excellent releases by two of the key players in contemporary, experimental classical music – Bang On A Can All Stars and Eighth Blackbird - and the adjacent genre of neo/modern classical continued to be productive with notable releases by the likes of Rachel Grimes, Lubomyr Melnyk, Michael Price, Iskra String Quartet and Nils Frahm. 

In terms of global music I really enjoyed the albums by Ballake Sissoko & Vincent Segal, Trio Chemirani, Bixiga 70, Mbongwana Star and Shye Ben Tzur/Jonny Greenwood & Rajasthan Express. Two big musical names from India – Anoushka Shankar and Jyotsna Srikanth - also impressed once again. And then there were those excellent albums that either came out of nowhere or were pleasing difficult to easily categorise – Ian William Craig, Matana Roberts, The Internet, Finland, Kathryn Joseph, Felicia Atkinson and Petrels just to name a few.

Anyway, here’s the list including links to reviews I wrote for musicOMH.

100) Biosphere/Deathprod - Stator
99) Nadine Shah – Fast Food - album review
98) Helen – The Original Faces
97) Jib Kidder – Teaspoon To The Ocean - live review
96) Terakaft - Alone (Ténéré)
95) Luke Abbott – Music For A Flat Landscape
94) Arca - Mutant
93) Mount Eerie - Sauna
92) Romare - Projections
91) Tyondai Braxton – HIVE1
90) Linden – Rest And Be Thankful
89) Jyotsna Srikanth – Bangalore Dreams
88) Bixiga 70 – III
87) Sexwitch - Sexwitch
86) Polar Bear – Same As You
85) Philip Jeck - Cardinal
84) Jeremy Young & Aaron Martin – Pulse Passes From Hand To Hand
83) Eivind Aarset – I.E.
82) Pat Thomas & Kwashibu Area Band – Pat Thomas & Kwashibu Area Band
81) Yo La Tengo – Stuff Like That There
80) Colin Stetson/Sarah Neufeld – Never Were The Way She Was
79) Thundercat – The Beyond/Where The Giants Roam
78) Portico – Living Fields
77) Ibeyi - Ibeyi - album review
76) Various Artists – A Guide To The Birdsong Of South America
75) Kathryn Williams - Hypoxia
74) Anoushka Shankar - Home
73) Felicia Atkinson – A Readymade Ceremony
72) Goldmund - Sometimes
71) Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba – Ba Power - album review
70) L A N D - Anoxia
69) Erland Dahlen – Blossom Bells
68) Steve Hauschildt – Where All Is Fled
67) Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress
66) Jan St Werner - Miscontinuum
65) Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets Grim Reaper - live review
64) Pure Bathing Culture – Pray For Rain - album review
63) Haiku Salut – Etch And Etch Deep
62) Mercury Rev – The Light In You
61) Secret Pyramid – The Silent March
60) Cass – Magical Magical
59) Cinerama - Valentina
58) Nils Frahm - Solo - blog post & Prom 27 review
57) Huntsville - Pond
56) Bruce Brubaker – Glass Piano
55) Flying Saucer Attack – Instrumentals 2015
54) Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
53) David John Sheppard – Vertical Land
52) Olan Mill - Hiraeth
51) Iskra String Quartet - Iskra
50) Jerusalem In My Heart – If He Dies, If, If, If, If, If, If
49) Blanck Mass – Dumb Flesh
48) Eric Chenaux - Skullsplitter
47) Ryley Walker – Primrose Green
46) Björk - Vulnicura
45) Michael Price - Entanglement - album review
44) Esmerine – Lost Voices - album review
43) Dan Deacon – Gliss Riffer
42) John Carpenter – Lost Themes
41) Tame Impala - Currents
40) Ian William Craig – Cradle For The Wanting
39) Lau – The Bell That Never Rang
38) Inventions – Maze Of Woods
37) Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness
36) Eighth Blackbird - Filament
35) John Grant – Grey Tickles Black Pressure
34) Rival Consoles - Howl - album review
33) Trio Chemirani - Dawar
32) Ballake Sissoko & Vincet Segal – Musique de Nuit
31) Christina Vantzou – No. 3
30) Floating Points - Elaenia
29) Eska - Eska
28) Colleen – Captain Of None
27) Calexico – Edge Of The Sun
26) John Metcalfe – The Appearance Of Colour - album review
25) Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
24) Petrels – Flailing Tomb
23) Holly Herndon - Platform
22) Matana Roberts – Coin Coin Chapter Three
21) Kamasi Washington – The Epic
20) Helios - Yume
19) Shye Ben Tzur, Jonny Greenwood & Rajasthan Express - Junun
18) Julia Kent – Asperities
17) Lubomyr Melnyk – Rivers And Streams - album review
16) Mbongwana Star – From Kinshasa
15) Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat – The Most Important Place In The World - album review
14) Mark McGuire – Beyond Belief
13) Finland – Rainy Omen
12) Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love
11) Rachel Grimes – The Clearing
10)The Go! Team – The Scene Between - live review
9) The Internet – Ego Death
8) Kathryn Joseph – Bones You Have Thrown Me And Blood I’ve Spilled
7) Vetiver – Complete Strangers - album review
6) Joanna Newsom - Divers - live review
5) Jaga Jazzist – Starfire
4) Bang On A Can Allstars – Field Recordings
3) Beach House – Depression Cherry
2) The Charlatans – Modern Nature - live review
1) Low – Ones And Sixes - interview with Alan Sparhawk

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Bach To Baby

I'm sure I've said before on this blog that one of the things I like best about living in London is being able to take my children to so many concerts and musical events designed especially with them in mind. Most recently, I took my 5 year old son to the Barbican to see the New York Philharmonic and Giants Are Small play Petrushka by Igor Stravinsky in a quite brilliantly theatrical concert (witness his excitement in the below pre-concert photograph). Over the last few years I've also taken him to see a Prom at the Royal Albert Hall, various concerts across the Southbank Centre, several Daylight Music shows at Union Chapel, child-friendly concerts at Kings Place and two outdoor music festivals (End Of The Road 2012 and WOMAD 2013).

Clearly, my 8 month old daughter has a little bit of catching up to do with her brother on this front. We took her to her first concert in February - one of the 'For Crying Out Loud' shows for babies at Wigmore Hall and earlier today we took her to her second concert - one of the excellent Bach To Baby shows at St. John of Jerusalem church in Hackney.

Bach To Baby promises "outstanding musicians, exhilarating performances and inspiring locations across London and the South East" and on the basis of today's show all pledges were comfortably met. It is the idea of pianist (and mum) Miaomiao Yu who wanted to be able to expose her own children to the type of concert she would enjoy. I totally understand this - if I'm honest the main reason I've taken Dhruv and Fiza to all of the wonderful places mentioned above is that I love experiencing concerts in these venues myself and get a special, additional thrill from experiencing them with my children - seriously, I remember practically being in tears when I took Dhruv to Union Chapel for the first time back in 2011. And also when we first went to the Royal Albert Hall for the CBeebies Prom last year. And also when we went to the Purcell Room in the Southbank Centre for a children's Impropera show. I could go on...

I read a story in the press recently where musician Nicola Benedetti argued young children should be exposed to classical music whether they like it or not. I can understand the point she was trying to convey but I'm not sure I agree with how she worded aspects of her argument. Doing it in a positive, relaxed, non-confrontational way is quite important I think (as is being able to accept any initial disinterest). James Rhodes covers this quite well in this piece and makes some other good points (especially on debunking the lazy assumption that listening to classical music automatically makes a person/child 'more intelligent'). 

I would definitely agree however that showing children that music can be a source of huge enjoyment from an early age is a good thing. What I've enjoyed doing with my son is playing him different pieces/genres of music and letting him work out for himself if he likes it/what he thinks of it/how he would describe it (and then seeing what he asks to listen to going forward). I think the different sensory/shared/social experiences of a live music performance must contain some positives at a very basic level for babies/children (gaining a greater awareness of sounds and instruments, getting more experience of concentrating on something not necessarily visual and simply spending time in a different environment away from the familiar distractions of home for example). 

Anyway, back to Bach To Baby - today's concert featured Miaomiao on piano and Katie Stillman on violin playing an all Mozart programme. It may have understandably featured Mozart's junior crowd-pleaser of 12 variations on "Ah vous dirai-je Mamam" (more commonly known as 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star') but there was no sense of dumbing down - the music ran for over an hour, included context and background on each piece in a way both adults and children could appreciate and featured a full Violin Concerto (Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, K. 219).

To begin with Fiza sat with her mum on the carpet in between the rows of pews at the front of St John Of Jerusalem and clapped her approval throughout the early stages, clearly interested by what was happening in front of her (and by the other babies surrounding her). Later, I held her and she showed her appreciation of Mozart's Violin Sonata No. 17 in C major, K 296 by dropping pieces of wet, half-eaten raspberry rice cakes down my shirt and wiping her sticky fingers over my face. Lovely.

The excitement all got a bit too much for her towards the end and she fell asleep for the last 15 minutes (missing sadly the final stages where the children are encouraged to gather around the piano to hear their favourite nursery rhymes).

I think it's clear that the quality of the overall Bach To Baby experience was reflected in its popularity - I think today's concert was attended by over 40 Mums (and a couple of Dads). The venue was beautiful also - a spacious, well maintained Victorian church. There are currently Bach To Baby concerts programmed up to July - if you have small children I'd recommend trying to get to one. I'm already trying to single out some dates in June...

More details can be found here and photographs from today's concert are available to view here.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Gigs Of 2014

2014 was one of the best years for gigs that I can remember. 

Here is a list of the 35 shows I went to...

Raajmahal @ Cafe OTO, London - 5th January

Withered Hand @ The Lexington, London - 10th January

Mogwai @ Royal Festival Hall, London - 24th January

Rafael Anton Irisarri @ Cafe OTO - 27th January (review)

Bill Callahan @ Royal Festival Hall, London - 8th February

Penguin Cafe @ Union Chapel, London - 15th February (review)

Anaïs Mitchell @ Little Theatre, Gateshead - 21st February (review)

Loscil @ Mining Institute, Newcastle - 22nd February

Midlake @ Shepherd's Bush Empire, London - 26th February (review)

Jóhann Jóhannsson: The Miners Hymns @ Barbican, London - 9th March (review)

The Necks @ Bishopsgate Institute, London - 21st March

Laetitia Sadier @ Water Rats, London - 24th April

The High Llamas @ The Islington, London - 25th April

Devendra Banhart & Rokia Traoré @ Barbican, London - 2nd May (review)

Natalie Merchant @ Milton Court, London - 11th May (review)

Neutral Milk Hotel @ Roundhouse, London - 21st May

Anoushka Shankar @ Royal Festival Hall, London - 23rd May (review)

Emmylou Harris playing Wrecking Ball @ Barbican, London - 26th May (review)

Dawn Landes @ The Lexington, London - 30th May

Caitlin Rose @ Union Chapel, London - 11th July

Kelis @ Somerset House, London - 14th July (review)

Jon Auer @ The Islington, London - 14th August

Prom 50: Dvořák, Beethoven & Janáček - Czech Philharmonic/Jiří Bělohlávek  @ Royal Albert Hall, London - 24th August

Michael Price @ English Speaking Union, London - 11th September

Sahara Soul (Aziza Brahim, Noura Mint Seymali, Tartit, Nabil Baly Othmani) @ Barbican, London - 27th September (review)

King Creosote @ Milton Court, London - 27th September (review)

Vashti Bunyan @ St Pancras Old Church, London - 9th October

Haiku Salut @ St John on Bethnal Green - 11th October

Withered Hand, Darren Hayman & The Understudies @ Scala, London - 14th October

A Winged Victory For The Sullen @ Milton Court, London - 20th October

Karen Gwyer, Wanda Group, Basic House, HOLOVR @ Star And Shadow Cinema, Newcastle - 29th October

Royal Ballet (Ceremony Of Innocence/Age Of Anxiety/Aeternum) @ Royal Opera House, London - 8th November

Goldfrapp playing Tales Of Us @ Royal Albert Hall, London - 18th November (review)

The Jesus And Mary Chain playing Psychocandy @ Troxy, London - 24th November

The Manic Street Preachers playing The Holy Bible @ Roundhouse, London - 15th December

Monday, 29 December 2014

Top 100 Albums Of 2014

In previous years (20092010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 specifically) I’ve compiled a list of my favourite 10 / 50 / 100 albums of the year accompanied by some words about what I liked about each. I didn’t have the time to do that this year sadly (hello 5 year old son, hello 4 month old daughter). In some ways it’s a shame as there have been many excellent, interesting records released that deserve lots of words of praise written about them. This year I’ve just included links to the album, live reviews or interviews that I wrote for musicOMH. I’m sure there are many others that would have made the list had I got round to listening to them properly.

The list is similar to previous years in being a mix of familiar names and new discoveries. The album at the top was undoubtedly the one that had the greatest emotional impact on me, which fundamentally is the thing I’m looking for most in music I guess. Until early November I wasn’t sure on what album would claim the top spot (in this respect it was probably the most finely balanced year since I’ve started writing these lists) but eventually it firmly established itself at the top. This piece explains and puts the album into context very well.

Technically I think the Malayeen and Dalglish albums may have came out in December 2013 but I’m including them here anyway.

In the end I could have comfortably listed over 150 albums...

Anyway, here’s the list:

100) Cooly G – Wait ‘Til Night (Hyperdub)
99) Aisha Orazbayeva – The Hand Gallery (Prah Recordings) - album review
98) Fatima Al Qadiri – Asiatisch (Hyperdub) - album review
97) Marissa Nadler - July (Bella Union)
96) Alsarah & The Nubatones - Silt (Wonderwheel)
95) Tara Jane O'Neil – Where Shine New Lights (Kranky)
94) Deerhoof - La Isla Bonita (Upset The Rhythm)
93) Christina Vantzou – No. 2 (Kranky)
92) Lawrence English – Wilderness Of Mirrors (Room40) -album review
91) Mogwai – Rave Tapes (Rock Action)
90) Chris Herbert - Constants (Room40)
89) DakhaBrakha – Na Mezhi (DakhaBrakha)
88) Toumani & Sidiki Diabate – Toumani & Sidike (World Circuit)
87) Fennesz - Becs (Editions Mego)
86) Tape - Casino (Hapna)
85) Deaf Center - Recount (Sonic Pieces)
84) Kasai Allstars – Beware The Fetish (Crammed Discs)
83) Djessou Mory Kante – River Strings Maninka Guitar (Sterns)
82) Hieroglyphic Being & The Configurative Or Modular Me Trio – Cosmic Seer Of Visions (Planet Mu)
81) Withered Hand – New Gods (Fortuna Pop)
80) Kasse Mady Diabate - Kirike (No Format)
79) Oren Ambarchi - Quixotism (Editions Mego)
78) Thug Entrancer – Death After Life (Software Recording Co.)
77) Lucinda Williams – Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone (Highway 20 Records)
76) Olan Mill & Keung Mandelbrot - Seismology (Hibernate)
75) Hakon Stene - Lush Laments For Lazy Mammal (Hubro)
74) Snarky Puppy – We Like It Here (Ropeadope)
73) Hallock Hill – Kosloff Mansion (Hundred Acre Recordings)
72) Vashti Bunyan - Heartleap (Fatcat)
71) Bixiga 70 - Ocupai (Mais Um Discos)
70) Sophia Loizou - Chrysalis (Astro:Dynamics)
69) Dan Michaelson & The Coastguards - Distance (The State51 Conspiracy)
68) Dalglish - Niaiw Ot Vile (PAN)
67) Sam Amidon – Lily-O (Nonesuch)
66) Second Storey – Double Divide (Houndstooth)
65) HOLOVR – Holo Earth (Opal Tapes)
64) Douglas Dare – Whelm (Erased Tapes) - album review
63) Tindersticks - Ypres (Lucky Dog)
62) Remember Remember – Forgetting The Present (Rock Action) - album review
61) Half Man Half Biscuit – Urge For Offal (Probe Plus)
60) Land Observations – The Grand Tour (Mute) - album review
59) Klara Lewis - Ett (Editions Mego)
58) Guy Schalom – Baladi Blues Reloaded (Ethnomusic Records)
57) Neneh Cherry - Blank Project (Smalltown Supersound)
56) Glottalstop - Woodsmoke (Tartaruga)
55) Ikebe Shakedown – Stone By Stone (Ubiquity)
54) Ibibio Sound Machine – Ibibio Sound Machine (Soundway)
53) Porya Hatami - Land (Inner Ocean Records)
52) Polar Bear – In Each And Every One (The Leaf Label) - album review
51) Quantic - Magnetica (Tru Thoughts)
50) Hauschka – Abandoned City (City Slang) - album review
49) Dawn Landes - Bluebird (Western Vinyl)
48) Alvvays - Alvvays (Transgressive Records)
47) William Ryan Fritch – Leave Me Like You Found Me (Lost Tribe Sound)
46) I Break Horses - Chiaroscuro (Bella Union)
45) Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra – Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything (Constellation) - album review
44) Fatima – Yellow Memories (Eglo Records)
43) Ariel Pink – Pom Pom (4AD)
42) Xylouris White - Goats (Other Music)
41) Loscil – Sea Island (Kranky)
40) Lee Gamble - Koch (PAN)
39) Imed Alibi - Safar (IRL)
38) Jacaszek - Catalogue Des Arbres (Touch)
37) Poppy Ackroyd - Feathers (Denovali)
36) Alexis Taylor – Await Barbarians (Domino)
35) Fofoulah – Fofoulah (Glitterbeat)
34) Jozef Van Wissum – It’s Time For You To Return (Crammed Discs)
33) Metá Metá – Metal Metal (Mais Um Discos)
32) Ashlar – St James’ Gardens (Hibernate)
31) Richard Dawson – Nothing Important (Weird World)
30) Petrels - Mima (Denovali)
29) Lone - Reality Testing (R&S Records)
28) Hiss Tracts - Shortwave Nights (Constellation)
27) Origamibiro – Odham’s Standard (Denovali)
26) Clark - Clark (Warp)
25) Kiasmos – Kiasmos (Erased Tapes) album review
24) Mica Levi - Under The Skin OST (Warners)
23) Marconi Union - Weightless - Ambient Transmission Vol. 2 (Just Music)
22) Aziza Brahim – Soutak (Glitterbeat) album review & interview & Sahara Soul at the Barbican review
21) Wye Oak – Shriek (City Slang) album review
20) Flying Lotus - You're Dead (Warp)
19) Vessel – Punish, Honey (Tri-Angle)
18) Nadim Mishlawi – Dreams Of The Primitives (Annihaya)
17) Plaid - Reachy Prints (warp)
16) Malayeen - Malayeen (Annihaya)
15) Pyramids Of Space – Pyramids Of Space (Mordant Music)
14) Kim Hiorthøy - Dogs (Smalltown Supersound)
13) Penguin Cafe - The Red Book (Penguin Cafe) review of Penguin Cafe at Union Chapel & interview with Arthur Jeffes
12) Noura Mint Seymali – Tzenni (Glitterbeat) - review of the Sahara Soul show at the Barbican
11) Grouper – Ruins (Kranky)
10) Franz Kirmann - Meridians (Denovali)
9) Kronos Quartet – A Thousand Thoughts (Nonesuch)         
8) Keaton Henson – Romantic Works (Oak Ten Records)
7) A Winged Victory For The Sullen – Atomos (Erased Tapes) - album review
6) Orlando Julius with The Heliocentrics - Jaiyede Afro (Strut)
5) Circle Of Sound - Anti Hero (Baithak Records) - album review
4) King Creosote - From Scotland With Love (Domino) - review of King Creosote at Milton Court
3) Inventions – Inventions (Temporary Residence) - album review
2) Kelis – Food (Ninja Tune) - review of Kelis at Somerset House
1) Elbow - The Take Off And Landing Of Everything (Fiction)

Friday, 19 September 2014

Weekends In London With Children

I know London has a lot of bad points but the amount of art and music related activities for children to enjoy (mostly for free) at weekends always amazes me. Over the last 3-4 years I've had some of the best weekends of my life adventuring around London with my little boy. I thought I'd summarise the sort of choices on offer each weekend.

This weekend sees the Open House event return with art-related events at City Hall, Leadenhall Market and the Brunel Museum. There's also events on both days at the Royal Academy Of Arts including a Lego themed event on Saturday (their monthly family studios are arguably the best in London). At the moment I'm hoping to make it to both Leadenhall Market and the Royal Academy on Saturday.

The National Gallery meanwhile has their regular storytelling sessions and art workshops and there are more art and storytelling activities around the corner at the National Portrait Gallery. Keats House in Hampstead Heath has a family event where children can make their own kites. Tate Modern open studio is also taking place (as it does every weekend). The studio coinciding with the Matisse exhibition I took my son to recently was wonderful. He didn't want to leave. There's also art workshops themed around mudlarking at the Museum Of Docklands as part of the Totally Thames festival. There's also the regular Sunday Spot art workshop at the South London Gallery.

Next weekend will see Dulwich Picture Gallery, Whitechapel Gallery and William Morris Gallery offer more in the way of art workshops.

For older children there are digital workshops taking place at the British Museum (as part of their Ming exhibition) and at the Design Museum (for the London Design Festival).

In terms of music, the Southbank Centre is offering children the chance to learn about South Asian instruments and singing as part of the Darbar Festival. Both are sold out unfortunately (must remember to book in time next year). Over at Rich Mix in Bethnal Green the Mwalimu Express returns, offering more in the way of global, family-friendly sounds. The Royal Opera House also host their monthly family event with singing and dancing related activities. Finally, the autumn season of Daylight Music kicks off at Union Chapel. 

If cinema is more your (or your children's) thing the weekly Framed Film Club takes place at the Barbican on Saturday morning. This weekend also sees L'Institut Francais continue their programme of both English and French animated children's films.

There's loads of other regular activities I haven't even mentioned yet that take place at the Science Museum, the V & A, the British Library, Somerset House, the Grant Museum Of Zoology & the Museum of London).

What to choose?

How to choose?

How many places is it possible/sensible to visit in a day?

'Interesting' versus 'practical' when deciding on public transport options?

These are all questions I ponder as the weekend draws nearer.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Mogwai Gigs

Last night I saw Mogwai at the Royal Festival Hall.

In the lead up to the show I was scanning through my gig ticket scrapbooks which showed it was the eighth time I've seen them play (pleasingly all at different venues). I thought I'd summarise them in a blog post, although admittedly not quite as epic a post as my piece from last year on seeing Low twenty times (incidentally, also a favourite band of certain members of Mogwai I believe).

When writing this post I stumbled across the Bright Light unofficial Mogwai fan site. If you're a Mogwai fan I'd strongly encourage a visit. It is an amazing source of information - including a comprehensive gigography and setlist information.

Last night's gig took place in slightly different and grander surroundings to the first two times I saw them  play in back 1998 (16 years ago!)

Mogwai Gig 1: Sheffield Boardwalk, 30th January 1998

My first Mogwai gig was at the Sheffield Boardwalk in January 1998, in the final months of my time at university. Support came from Aerial M. There's no setlist available but it would have been dominated by the first two albums.

This was followed by my second gig later in October upstairs at the Newcastle Riverside (when I had returned home).

Two very small venues, both of which are now sadly closed.

Mogwai Gig 2: Newcastle Riverside, 29th October 1998

I can remember the Riverside gig quite well. It was part of the BBC Radio 1 Sound City event which was taking place in Newcastle that year and they played as part of Mary Ann Hobbs' Breezeblock show. I think the band came on well after 01:00. I have no idea how I got home.

I remember half-seriously noting mid-gig where the emergency exit was just in case the overwhelming volume/power of the show made the vibrating walls and ceiling collapse (at the time it felt like a genuine possibility as Like Herod mercilessly tore out of the speakers). According to Bright Light this was only Barry Burns' second show with the band and they give the set list as follows:

Mogwai Fear Satan
Ithica 27-9
Christmas Steps
Like Herod
May Nothing But Happiness Come Through Your Door
New Paths To Helicon Pt 1

Mogwai Gig 3: Kentish Town Forum, 18th September 1999.

When I moved to London in 1999 Mogwai were the first band I saw in the capital, at the Kentish Town Forum. I arrived late after coming straight from work so was further back in the crowd than I would have liked. Bright Light give the setlist as follows:

Superheroes Of BMX
Christmas Steps
May Nothing But Happiness Come Through Your Door
New Paths To Helicon Pt 2
Small Children In The Background
Stanley Kubrick
Christmas Song
New Paths To Helicon Pt 1
Like Herod

Bright Light's review is here.

Mogwai Gig 4: Shepherds Bush Empire, 19th April 2001

In 2001 I saw them play Shepherds Bush Empire. I remember Christmas Steps in particular being punishingly, brilliantly loud and that Gruff Rhys joined them on stage for Dial:Revenge. Bright Light have the setlist as below:

Sine Wave
Stanley Kubrick
You Don't Know Jesus
Christmas Steps
Small Children In The Background
New Paths To Helicon Pt. 1
Secret Pint
(Punk Rock sample)
2 Rights Make 1 Wrong

Take Me Somewhere Nice
Jewish Hymn

Mogwai Gig 5: Brixton Academy, 10th November 2001

Five months later I saw them again at Brixton Academy. It was great to see Yes! I Am A Long Way From Home, Like Herod and Ithica 27/9 return to the set. This is the only time I saw them close with My Father My King also. Full setlist from Bright Light below:

Yes! I Am A Long Way From Home
You Don't Know Jesus
Like Herod
Christmas Steps
Secret Pint
New Paths To Helicon Pt. 1
Ithica 27/9
2 Rights Make 1 Wrong

New Paths To Helicon Pt. 2
My Father My King

Mogwai Gig 6: The Scala, 22nd May 2003.

Two years later I saw them play a smaller show at the Scala ahead of the release of Happy Songs For Happy People. Quite a contrasting opening - the understated delicateness of Kids Will Be Skeletons being followed by the unforgiving guitar onslaught of Mogwai Fear Satan. Setlist below:

Kids Will Be Skeletons
Mogwai Fear Satan
Golden Porsche
Christmas Steps
Hunted By A Freak
You Don't Know Jesus
Stop Coming To My House
Ithica 27/9
Two Rights Make 1 Wrong

I Know You Are But What Am I?
Ratts Of The Capital

New Paths To Helicon Pt. 1

Mogwai Gig 7: Alexandra Palace, 26th May 2012

I have to confess that, quite puzzlingly, I lost track a little bit with their live shows over the next few years (I blame getting married, the birth of my son, regular trips to India and discovering other music) and didn't see them play again until I saw them headline I'll Be Your Mirror at Alexandra Palace in 2012.

It was magnificent and reminded me how great a band they are. Here's my review for musicOMH. The setlist was as follows:

Sine Wave
Rano Pano
Ithica 27/9
Stop Coming To My House
I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead
Travel Is Dangerous
How To Be A Werewolf
2 Rights Make 1 Wrong
White Noise
Mexican Grand Prix
Auto Rock
Hunted By A Freak
Mogwai Fear Satan

Mogwai Gig 8: Royal Festival Hall, 24th January 2014.

Disappointingly, their Zidane soundtrack show at the Barbican last year fell on the same weekend I was going to WOMAD otherwise I would definitely have been there. 

So gig number 8 was last night's show at the Royal Festival Hall. The setlist featured tracks from their latest (very good) album Rave Tapes. Other highlights from their back catalogue included Rano Pano (which still seems to capture the sound of cities being brutally razed), the beautifully shaded subtleties of I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead, an exquisite version of New Paths To Helicon Pt. 2, a blisteringly powerful and perfectly executed Christmas Steps and a phenomenally loud and rampaging version of Batcat to close. 

During the gig Stuart said how earlier in the day they had drove past the first venue they played in London (supporting Urusei Yatsura). It would have been the Camden Monarch or Water Rats I think. He mentioned how incredible it was how they ended up at the 2500 capacity RFH. It did feel like a long time since I saw them in a room that could barely hold 100 people. The full setlist is below (as well as a photo):

Friend Of The Night
Master Card
Rano Pano
Take Me Somewhere Nice
I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead
Heard About You Last Night
How To Be A Werewolf
The Lord Is Out of Control
New Paths To Helicon, Pt. 2
White Noise
Mexican Grand Prix

Small Children In The Background
Christmas Steps

Mogwai on stage at the Royal Festival Hall, Friday 24th January 2014.

Hopefully I'll get to update this post next time they play in London...

Saturday, 28 December 2013

My Top 100 Albums Of 2013

It's been another fascinating year of music that saw some of my favourite bands return along with the discovery of some excellent new artists. 

I always find the journeys many albums make over the course of the year in relation to my final list quite interesting. They all begin their journey at different times, some immediately race away into the lead only to fade over time, others retain a consistent position towards the top of the list over a period of months, while others force their way into the reckoning late on, occasionally unexpectedly.

I didn't get round to listening to some albums released late in the year that would have otherwise made the list (Nils Frahm, Trouble Books, Dalglish), possibly didn't give enough time to other albums I would have expected to feature (Neko Case) and couldn't quite get into certain albums despite trying (Julia Holter).

If you don't want to wade through the 6000 words below (and I wouldn't blame you) you can view the 100 albums in a simple, text-free list.

Otherwise, here goes...

100) Trilok Gurtu – Spellbound (Moosicus)

One of many albums I reviewed for musicOMH this year. Read my review here.

99) Pan-American – Cloud Room Glass Room (Kranky)

A set of beautifully drifting, organic soundscapes from ex-Labradford man Mark Nelson (assisted here by fellow Labradford member Robert Donne and drummer Steven Hesse).

98) Ólafur Arnalds – For Now I Am Winter (Mercury Classics)

97) Olan Mill – Hiraeth (Preservation)

Another album of heavenly ambient excursions from Olan Mill. It arrived quite late in the year which possibly accounts for its relatively lowly position in this list but it undoubtedly confirmed the talent that Alex Smalley has for creating distinctive and original pieces.

96) Various Artists – Collision/Detection (Long Division With Remainders)

95) Bibio – Silver Wilkinson (Warp)

94) Rachel Musson, Mark Sanders & Liam Noble – Tatterdemalion (Babel)

I saw saxophonist Rachel Musson play as part of a (different) trio at the Intersect festival at Cafe Oto in December but this album of improv-jazz with drummer Mark Sanders and pianist Liam Noble arguably at times captured an even more impressively uncompromising, raw and jarring sound.

93) Iron & Wine – Ghost On Ghost (4AD)

92) Midlake – Antiphon (Bella Union)

The departure of singer Tim Smith provided the context to Midlake’s fourth album and it signalled a return to the more melodic sounds of The Trials Of Van Occupanther, albeit without the emotional highs of that record.  In particular, the title track with its Mercury Rev style guitar outro was fantastic, one of my favourite tracks of the year. There also seemed to be a little bit of revisionism going on in the reviews/features I read this year on Antiphon’s predecessor The Courage Of Others. I’m sure at the time it was viewed positively but now seemed to be held up as an example of Smith’s perceived negative influence over the band. It’ll be interesting to see what he comes back with/how he responds but for now Antiphon saw the other members of the group re-assert their credentials and provide fleeting reminders of why they have become such a loved band for many.

91) Jupiter & Okwess International – Hotel Univers (Out Here Records)

It’s fair to say that Jupiter Bokondji has led an interesting life. Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo he spent much of his childhood in Berlin before returning to the Congo to look for new sounds. He more recently became involved in the Africa Express project led by Damon Albarn. Hotel Univers is the first international release by Okwess International, the band he formed in the 1990s in Kinshasa and it boasts a rich, bustling sound that draws on rock, funk and blues. I’ve never been to Kinshasa but I imagine that the sounds featured on Hotel Univers project the essence of the city that helped make it.

90) Debashish Bhattacharya – Madeira (Debashish Bhattacharya)

I think I first heard this album by Indian musician Debashish Bhattacharya on Radio 3 – most probably either on Late Junction or World On 3. Bhattacharya has attracted attention for the three lap slide guitars he has designed himself (and plays here) and the five ragas performed on Madeira with tabla player Subhasis Bhattacharya offered a subtly atmospheric and entrancing listen where the music revealed itself at a patient pace before setting off towards frenetic peaks.

89) John Vanderslice – Dagger Beach

Dagger Beach was funded through a successful Kickstarter project. I didn’t always find it a particularly easy listen, especially compared to some of John Vanderslice’s other releases and you got the impression that JV had to work hard to make this come to fruition. It doesn't hit the heights of Pixel Revolt or Emerald City but still showed his strengths in terms of lyrical detail and musical experimentation.

88) Masayoshi Fujita – Stories (Flau)

87) Jyotsna Srikanth – Call Of Bangalore (Riverboat)

I discovered this album by South Indian violinist Jyotsna Srikanth through the excellent Songlines Magazine. It was the distinctive sound of her violin that grabbed my attention – immediate and pressing and full of intensity - and alongside the two strands of percussion it resulted in a highly engaging listen.

86) Barbarossa – Bloodlines (Memphis Industries)

I actually saw James Mathe play live on four occasions during 2013 (supporting Pure Bathing Culture once and Low three times) and this exposure gave me the opportunity to really get to know the songs that made up Bloodlines. Sort of like a slightly damaged, hurting modern soul set against an electronic backdrop it recalled Scritti Politti and early Talk Talk.

85) A Hawk And A Hacksaw – You Have Already Gone To The Other World (LM Dupli-Cation)

84) Warm Digits – Interchange (Distraction)

A concept album centred on the Tyneside Metro system, Interchange provided an evocative journey of its own, fuelled by motorik percussion, building synths and hard-wired guitars.

83) The Garifuna Collective – Ayo (Cumbancha)

Watina, the album released back in 2007 by Andy Palacios and the Garifuna Collective was quite an important album for me personally in terms of revealing just how powerful and joyful world music could be so I approached Ayo with anticipation. Pleasingly, it showed their vocal harmonies to be just as soulful and enriching as on Watina. Hopefully they’ll play WOMAD next year!

82) Forest Swords – Engravings (Tri Angle)

Engravings demonstrated an element of continuation from Matthew Barnes’ excellent debut EP of two years ago but it also showed how his dubby, deteriorated sound had also been subtly developed and broadened.

81) Tindersticks – Les Salauds (Lucky Dog)

From a Tindersticks perspective focus in 2013 centred on Across Six Leap Years, their album of reworked, career-spanning material but this soundtrack to the Clare Denis film slipped by relatively unnoticed. If you were to ignore the opening and closing tracks that featured the vocals of Stuart Staples however you would struggle to identify this as a Tindersticks album. Entirely electronic in sound, it showed a real versatility to their music as they ventured outside their usual musical boundaries, confirming them as experts in the art of soundtracking.

80) Lubomyr Melnyk – Corollaries (Erased Tapes)

79) Cigdem Aslan – Mortissa (Asphalt Tango)

I was introduced to the genre of rembetika during some pre-WOMAD listening – a form of Greek/Turkish traditional music that arrived straight from the heart, dripping with emotion. At WOMAD it was the music of Mavrika that introduced me to the genre but this album from London based Turkish singer Cigdem Aslan was just as striking a listen.

78) Emiliana Torrini – Tookah (Rough Trade)

Emiliana Torrini’s sixth album Tookah showed signs of musical progression but as always it was her enchanting voice that was the most striking aspect. It’s still one that I could listen to endlessly, so euphonious and delicate and fragile.

77) Jaipur Kawa Brass Band – Dance Of The Cobra (Riverboat)

Whenever I go to India one of the highlights is stumbling by chance upon a wedding party progressing along the street. They are nearly always soundtracked by a brass band similar to the Jaipur Kawa Brass Band. This album captured the energy, zeal and power of this form of music perfectly.

76) Felicia Atkinson – Visions/Voices (Umor Rex)

Visions by French artist/musician Felicia Atkinson seemed to be pieced together from a similar sound palette to that used by Liz Harris on her Grouper albums. It sort of suggested itself as an album for those who prefer their female-led ambient to be more shaded, more longform and more opaque than the relatively clear-minded approach demonstrated so well by the likes of Julianna Barwick.

75) Deptford Goth – Life After Defo (Merok)

I enjoyed this album of openly emotional, vulnerable, song-based electronic music from south London based Daniel Woolhouse. The sounds were soft, inviting and accessible and it seemed to settle into its own little niche in the musical landscape of 2013.

74) Yo La Tengo – Fade (Matador)

It’s always a slightly odd feeling when one of your favourite bands releases a slightly below-strength album (even more so when the reviews elsewhere are generally quite positive). The second half of Fade was actually very good – tracks like Cornelia & Jane, The Point Of It and Two Trains would all make the cut in any best of Yo La Tengo playlist I’d make but the other tracks didn’t quite do it for me, in some cases sounding like watered down versions of ideas executed much better on previous albums. Their show at the Barbican in March was probably my favourite of the year however and proved they are still the best at playing consistently different, brilliant live shows. Georgia’s version of Take Care by Big Star that night was just one of the most beautiful moments I’ve experienced at a gig for many years.

73) Hecq – Horror Vacui (Hymen Records)

Ben Lukas Boysen has built up a reputation over the years for releasing music that switched back and forth from different sub-genres. He has worked more in film soundtracking of late, using his own name for releases, moving away from his harder, IDM sound reserved for his Hecq alias. Horror Vacui was another excellent album of glitchy, contorted electronics layered over ambient synths.

72) Arp – More (Smalltown Supersound)

71) Directorsound – I Hunt Alone (Second Language)

Directorsound is the name adopted by Dorset-based musician Nicholas Palmer and his fourth album I Hunt Alone possessed a baroque simplicity and pastoral softness that recalled the likes of Virginia Astley or an instrumentally-focussed Vashti Bunyan.

70) Grumbling Fur – Glynnaestra (Thrill Jockey)

Another album that defied easy categorisation, Glynnaestra seemed to have one eye on the future and one on the past. I enjoyed its predecessor Furrier a lot (and on balance still prefer it to Glynnaestra). On this album Daniel O’Sullivan and Alexander Tucker integrated the sound of pulsating synths/percussion into vocal-led tracks that (improbably) on occasion bore a passing resemblance to early Depeche Mode.

69) Ralfe Band – Son Be Wise (Highline Records)

Ralfe Band’s post-Gorky's mix of eastern European flavoured instrumentation, slanted leftfield folksong and lyrical eccentricities may not have been quite as pronounced as it has been in the past but third album Son Be Wise still showed them to be on fine form.

68) Greg Haines – Where We Were Saw (Denovali)

I’ve followed Greg Haines since hearing his debut album Slumber Tides back in 2007 and he’s proved himself a consistently brilliant player-composer. Last year saw him reach something of an emotional, elegiac peak in the lushly orchestrated panoramas found on Digressions but Where We Were Saw him change focus, moving away from the comparative bleakness and sadness to a more shaded, darker sound that embraced dissonance, electronics and beats.

67) The Memory Band - On The Chalk (Our Navigation of the Line of the Downs) (Static Caravan)

Amongst other things The Memory Band have recently played shows where they play the music of The Wicker Man soundtrack and On The Chalk was drawn from a similar kind of unusual, outsider-folk to Paul Giovanni’s original album. The inclusion of field recordings and samples worked really well and alongside lesser-heard instrumentation made for an interesting, involving listen.

66) Josephine Foster – I’m A Dreamer (Fire Records)

It may have been recorded in 2013 but the music on I’m A Dreamer seemed to be directly transported in from a different era, totally unconcerned with any modern trends or references.  I guess her nearest contemporary would be Gillian Welch and Foster’s music seemed just as raw and deeply steeped in history, including hints of the early vocal jazz of the likes of Billie Holliday.

65) Debruit & Alsarah – Aljawal (Soundway)

I discovered this fairly late in the year but it was an excellent example of artists combining interesting personal backgrounds and individual elements of regional music and re-homing them in a different musical setting. In this case Sudanese vocals (courtesy of singer Alsarah) were placed alongside the effervescent electronic environment created by French producer Debruit to wonderful effect.

64) Barn Owl – V (Thrill Jockey)

The music of Barn Owl has always evoked the sounds and imagery of the galaxies but this was refined and serene and quietly powerful.

63) Tim Hecker – Virgins (Kranky)

I first listened to Virgins on a morning commute to work and I struggled a little to fully appreciate the scale and depth of sound. However, on second listen and with no distractions, it sounded transformed. Hecker’s early albums will always be important records to me but Virgins showed he was still capable of creating powerful, impactful pieces of work.

62) Black Hearted Brother – Stars Are Our Home (Sonic Cathedral)

61) Sigur Rós – Kveikur (XL)

Kveikur had much more weight and heft to it than its predecessor, and it felt like the band decided to make a conscious return to the impact and melodic immediacy found on earlier albums (especially compared to last year's ultra pared down Valtari). Seeing them at Brixton Academy was a reminder of what a brilliant band they are and how transcendent their live shows can be.

60) These New Puritans – Field Of Reeds (Infectious)

Field Of Reeds continued in a similar vein to its predecessor Hidden, as was similarly acclaimed. It contained plenty of beautiful moments, most notably Fragment Two, V (Island Song) and Organ eternal but I’d be quite interested to see them really go more strongly in a more experimental, challenging direction. They clearly have more vision and ambition than most of their contemporaries and I could see them putting out something really defining over the next few years.

59) Moon Wheel – Moon Wheel (Not Not Fun)

Australian musician Olle Holmberg delivered an album of intriguing, oscillating electronic textures on this understated self-titled release. 

58) CFCF – Music For Objects (Paper Bag)

Montreal producer Mike Silver has covered differing ground on his releases to date and pushed this further with Music For Objects, an eight track album inspired, as the name suggests, by everyday objects. It initially seemed a little too heavily indebted to the likes of Steve Reich & Phillip Glass but as the album progressed this influence became more fleeting and less entrenched, revealing itself to be a beautiful, luminescent collection of pieces. 

57) William Ryan Fritch – The Waiting Room OST (Lost Tribe Sound)

To begin with this reminded me of Godspeed You! Black Emperor / A Silver Mt. Zion in its heavy sense of sadness. Elsewhere it maybe fell into a more orthodox strings-based cinematic sound, but it was still a beautiful piece of work. 

56) Phosphorescent – Muchacho (Dead Oceans)

There were times when Muchacho, the sixth album from Phosphorescent, felt like the musical equivalent of a well thumbed book, slightly tattered around the edges but possessing a real beauty and power within the pages. In a way it was also an album of contrasts - the inclusion of synths and programmed beats on the opening tracks lent the album a certain freshness before the raw, emotive Americana was gradually re-asserted. 

55) Tal National – Kaani (Fatcat Records 130701)

54) L. Pierre – The Island Come True (Melodic)

On The Island Come True Aidan Moffat proved he was equally capable in constructing abstract instrumental sound collages as wringing emotion and poignancy from life’s less salubrious episodes.

53) Nosaj Thing – Home (Innovative Leisure)

Light, brisk and spacious Nosaj Thing's follow up to the excellent Drift was a highly listenable release, full of trademark electronic inflections and soft clipped beats.

52) Haiku Salut – Tricolore (How Does It Feel To Be Loved)

I saw Haiku Salut play most of this beguiling album a show at the Buffalo Bar in March that I reviewed for musicOMH.

51) Califone – Stiches (Dead Oceans)

The number of Califone releases now approaches double figures, showing how enduring a musical force the Chicago-based four piece have become, albeit one still very much happy to exist on the periphery of alternative rock. Stitches showed off all of their qualities – strong songwriting and wide-ranging, accomplished playing allied to a gritty, exposed aesthetic.

50) Euros Childs – Situation Comedy (National Elf)

49) Mark Kozelek & Desertshore – Mark Kozelek & Desertshore (Caldo Verde)

2013 was a highly prolific year for Mark Kozelek, this being his third album of the year (that is if you discount the many live records he’s also released). It was good to hear his voice alongside electric guitar and drums (contrasting from the classical acoustic guitar heavy albums he’s concentrated on in recent years). I saw him play an emotional show at Union Chapel in October (on the night Lou Reed died) that focused on tracks from this album, his collaboration with Jimmy LaValle (more of which later) and forthcoming Sun Kil Moon album Benji. He seemed to suggest that these songs were knocked out fairly quickly but I didn’t really pick this up when listening to the album. As usual, some beautiful moments – Sometimes I Can’t Stop, Katowice Or Cologne, Don’t Ask About My Husband and the superb You Are Not My Blood all standing out.

48) Sam Amidon – Bright Sunny South (Nonesuch)

47) Piano Interrupted – The Unified Field (Denovali)

I first became aware of Piano Interrupted earlier in the year by discovering Two By Four, the album they released last year. The Unified Field wasn’t hugely different, still showing them to be skilled in integrating traditional instrumentation with electronics although it was possibly a little more studied, cerebral, minimalist and curtailed than its predecessor.

46) Nadia Sirota – Baroque (Bedroom Community)

The name of this album only gave the listener an idea of the starting point of the music of violist Nadia Sirota. It did less to convey the forward-thinking outlook that informs it. Over the course of six tracks the music here is expanded beyond the parameters of the genre of the title, pushed into unexpected places and incorporating unanticipated sounds.

45) Roddy Woomble – Listen To Keep (Reveal)

Listen To Keep was ex-Idlewild frontman Woomble’s fourth solo album and one that got a little unfairly overlooked throughout the year. It saw him continue to explore the worlds of alt.county and modern folk (whilst continuing to relay hints of Michael Stipe in his voice). The likes of The Last One Of My Kind meanwhile also proved his ability to write free-flowing, melodic tracks had not deserted him.

44) John Beltran – Amazing Things (Delsin)

I heard of American producer John Beltran for the first time this year but a glance at his back catalogue reveals a long and varied career. Amazing Things was a rewarding marriage of melodic electronica and lush strings that recalled the likes of the Cinematic Orchestra. I’ll be investigating his other albums in 2014.

43) Volcano Choir – Repave (Jagjaguwar)

They may be a band in their own right but it hard to look past Justin Vernon when it comes to Volcano Choir. His voice is still heartfelt, exposed, poignant but paradoxically many of the tracks on Repave sounded shot through with a sort of melancholic, rousing euphoria.

42) Hacker Farm – UHF (Exotic Pylon)

Noise, dark ambient and mutant electronics were all rolled together into one hugely immersive ball of sound on UHF.

41) The Haxan Cloak – Excavation (Tri Angle)

Excavation offered another glimpse into the subterranean, blackened soundworld of The Haxan Cloak. The music was fractured and foreboding, conveying a strangely alluring sense of unease.

40) Autechre – Exai (Warp)

39) Mike Cooper – White Shadows In The South Seas (Room40)

I was really pleased to discover the music of Mike Cooper this year. He’s been making music for over 50 years, starting off in the field of folk/blues before moving on to take in everything from soundtrack work to electronic and improvised music and more. The esoteric, fascinating music on White Shadows In The South Seas fell between genres, referencing everything from winding guitar lines, lightly percussive groove-based workouts and birdsong-embellished exotica.

38) Petrels – Onkalo (Denovali)

It’s fair to say that Haeligewielle, the debut album by Petrels (musician Oliver Barrett) blew me away somewhat unexpectedly last year. Onkalo may not quite have matched the heights of its predecessor but it was still a powerful work. Filtered, distorted sounds rushed through the album and the incorporation of vocals into the mix added an emotional dimension not always witnessed in the genre of dark ambient.

37) Daniel Bjarnason – Over Light Earth (Bedroom Community)

Moving melodic flourishes, glossy sweeping strings, powerful impactful peaks. Over Light Earth by Icelandic composer-player Daniel Bjarnason proved that modern classical could contain all of these qualities, sounding complex yet still totally compelling.

36) Jerusalem In My Heart – Mo7it Al-Mo7it (Constellation)

For me, this release by JIMH was one of most interesting records of the year. Essentially a project led by Lebanese musician Radwan Ghazi Moumneh, Mo7it Al-Mo7it offered a spellbinding mix of traditional Arabic music and experimental avant-rock, the layering of exclamatory, impassioned vocals over the extended guitar drones resulting in a uniquely powerful listen.

35) Oddisee – The Beauty In All (Mello Music)

The Beauty In All was another fluid, highly listenable blending of sharp beats, samples and melodic motifs from Maryland producer Oddisee.

34) Esmerine – Dalmak (Constellation)

I came to this album late in the year but I’m so pleased I finally got round to listening to it as for me it is the best Esmerine album. Recorded in Istanbul with a group of Turkish musicians it showed the band to be re-energised, delivering what I’d say is their strongest album to date, hinting at the dynamism of GY!BE but also retaining their neo-chamber origins.

33) Splashgirl – Field Day Rituals (Hubro)

32) Grouper – The Man Who Died In His Boat (Kranky)

31) Julia Kent – Character (The Leaf Label)

The third album by New York cellist Julia Kent had a real density of sound and expansive scope and registered as one of the most immersive and satisfying modern classical releases of 2013.

30) Aaron Martin & Christoph Berg – Day Has Ended (Dronarivm)

Woven Tides by Aaron Martin (under the From The Mouth Of The Sun name) was one of my favourite modern classical releases of 2012 and a similar beautiful richness flowed through his collaboration with Christoph Berg.

29) Bill Callahan – Dream River (Drag City)

Dream River was a superbly executed (and typically Callahanian) exercise in wryly observed, reflective lyrics and unhurried, understated arrangements. Definitely an album to slow down and pause to. I’m looking forward to seeing him play at the RFH in February.

28) A Sun Amissa – You Stood Up For Victory, You Stood Up For Less (Gizeh)

You Stood Up For Victory, We Stood Up For Less consisted of two tracks, each approaching twenty minutes in length. They marked A-Sun Amissa out as one of the most successful 'new' bands to take post-rock and develop and refine it in interesting ways (as seen at their show at Cafe Oto in February).

27) Amor De Dias – The House At Sea (Merge Records)

I heard Gideon Coe play the title track from The House At Sea on his 6music show at the start of the year and was immediately captured by its warmth and beauty. Much of the album was delicate and gentle, reminiscent of Neil Halstead/Mojave 3/Ella Guru but as the albums progressed hints of a broader sound were unveiled.

26) Solar Bears – Supermigration (Planet Mu)

25) Vieux Farka Toure – Mon Pays (Wrasse Records)

There was some mesmerising, absorbing playing on Mon Pays which ultimately helped it stand out in a year that boasted several high-quality African guitar-based albums.

24) Jon Hopkins – Immunity (Domino)

Immunity was Hopkins’ attempt at soundtracking the ascent and descent of a night out and he accomplished it in masterful, seamless and elegant style. The closing title track was particularly poignant – reminiscent of his work with King Creosote on Diamond Mine.

23) Múm – Smilewound (Morr Music)

I’ve loved Múm since discovering their wonderful debut album Yesterday Was Dramatic, Today Was OK. Their sound has progressed in a poppier direction ever since and this was another Icelandic confection of glitch, sugary sounds, unruly electronics, and wispy, waif-like vocals. There was an enlightened playfulness and a controlled quirkiness to tracks like Candlestick not found elsewhere this year. Set against this backdrop the occasional use of strings felt like a genuinely enhancing addition rather than the default option many bands resort to.

22) Veronica Falls – Waiting For Something To Happen (Bella Union)

I’d never really paid much attention to Veronica Falls until by chance I heard Teenage being played in H&M (thanks to the Shazam app). It pretty much instantly converted me to their music – melodic, girl-fronted, indie-pop perfection. I reviewed their show at Islington AssemblyHall for musicOMH.

21) Rabih Beaini – Albidaya (Annihaya)

This album by Lebanese musician Rabih Beaini stood out primarily due to the unusual and varied set of sounds it was drawn from - strangely configured electronics that seemed to mimic the natural world (Ya Shater suggested the sounds of birdsong and flowing waterfalls), loosely experimental and at times aleotoric-sounding instrumentation, weird vocal references, jazz-informed percussion. An invigorating and rewarding listen.

20) The Necks – Open (Rer Megacorp)

The fact that I still haven’t seen Australian trio The Necks play live remains a source of frustration (although one I hope to overcome in 2014). Their improvised live shows always attract huge praise and it’s not difficult to see how the music featured on albums like Open could translate so well in that environment. The album’s name was particularly telling – there was such a heightened sense of space on Open, with rustling percussion and mirage-like piano ensuring an understated, absorbing listen.

19) Benoît Pioulard – Hymnal (Kranky)

18) Rokia Traoré – Beautiful Africa (Nonesuch)

Beautiful Africa possessed a real vitality and composure not to mention superb musicianship and captivating vocals – all qualities reflected in her performance at WOMAD (read my review of the festival here).

17) Mountains – Centralia (Thrill Jockey)

Probably the Mountains album I have enjoyed most to date. On Centralia their longform, immersive synth-based pieces crystallised into something perfectly-formed, transporting and (like much of the best instrumental music) acted as a facilitator to escapism, especially on stand out tracks like Tilt. The map on the album cover art seemed appropriate - there's always been something richly topographical to their music.

16) William Tyler – Impossible Truth (Merge Records)

I was struck by the beauty and sheer technical skill on Impossible Truth early in the year but when listening on headphones during a journey from Leeds to London it seemed to make even more sense as the greens, ochres and maroons of the English countryside in autumn flashed by the window. A natural, organic, unfiltered quality flowed quite beautifully through the winding, deviating paths of Tyler's guitar playing.

15) Oneohtrix Point Never – R Plus Seven (Warp)

On R Plus Seven Daniel Lopatin continued his journey through the outer reaches of progressive electronic music in impressive fashion, juxtaposing cut up fragments alongside moments of serenity to present what could be seen as the musical representation of a glittering, multi dimensional, many sided shape.  He improves with each release and is slowly moving towards establishing his own post-digital musical language.

14) Mark Kozelek & Jimmy LaValle – Perils From The Sea (Caldo Verde)

I enjoyed this album more than MK’s collaboration with Desertshore mainly due to the strength of the songs and lyrics as opposed to the electronic backdrops they were intelligently set against (although they were wonderful also). Tracks like Caroline, Ceiling Gazing, You Missed My Heart and the calm, reposed closer Somehow The Wonder Of Life Remains were classic Kozelek – effortlessly despatched with a resolute ability to remain lodged in your head and heart for long periods of time. Among The Leaves by Sun Kil Moon was my favourite albumof 2012 and his music continued to play a rewarding, cathartic role for me in 2013.

13) Magic Arm – Images Rolling (EMI)

Another really strong album from Manchester musician Marc Rigelsford that was not particularly easy to place or accurately describe. In places it contained hints of The Beach Boys, Panda Bear and possibly even Badly Drawn Boy whilst also having some of the finesse of mid-period Mercury Rev. Put Your Collar Up was one of my favourite tracks of the year and really deserved a bigger audience. The instrumentation was broad but assured – strings, piano, synthesisers and guitar sat alongside each other cordially. When during final track The Flood Rigelsford sings “you don’t have to belong” it almost sounded like a succinct lyrical condensation of his music. I saw him play a great show at St Pancras Old Church in May.

12) Anais Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer – Child Ballads (Wilderland Records)

Anais Mitchell has already proved herself a fine interpreter of both traditional and modern folk music and this collaboration with New York singer-songwriter Jefferson Hamer on this short collection further reinforced this view. I hadn’t heard of Hamer before this but he was actually responsible for some of the most beautiful moments on the album. I’ll definitely be investigating some of his solo work in 2014.

11) Goldfrapp – Tales Of Us (Mute)

I first listened to Tales Of Us on my way to work one day in September and it was eminently suitable morning listening, unobtrusively infiltrating my sleepy consciousness. I love this side to their music – so discreet and deliberately underplayed (traits also present on their last album Seventh Tree). There were moments on Tales Of Us such as Ulla where most bands would have ramped up the orchestral backing but the fact that Goldfrapp chose to proceed with such restraint seemed to make the music even more powerful. It was one of a few albums this year that made me think of the Cocteau Twins albums but this was definitely the album that came closest to matching the mystery and beauty of those records.

10) John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts (Bella Union)

I used to think that it was unlikely that John Grant's solo music would ever quite have the same impact on me as that of his previous band The Czars but Pale Green Ghosts rather emphatically persuaded me otherwise. Musically bold and lyrically confrontational, funny and poetic, it was no surprise to see this personal reinvention of an album top several end of year charts (including that of musicOMH).

9) Laura Cantrell – No Way There From Here (Spit & Polish)

The return of Laura Cantrell with new, original material was one of the undoubted highlights of 2013. Her voice remained crystal clear and her songwriting was as strong as ever. Her version of Jennifer O' Connor's Beg Or Borrow Days was one of my favourite tracks of the year. Quite simply one of the best modern country singers around.

8) Holden – The Inheritors (Border Community)

James Holden may not attract the same level of attention as other names that operate in the realm of electronic music but The Inheritors stood out as one of the year’s most interesting releases.  It was stylistically varied and dense yet brilliantly cohesive – it touched on drone, free jazz, techno and esoteric (and frequently complex) electronica without ever sounding contrived. It’ll be fascinating to see what he follows it up with.

7) Laura Veirs – Warp & Weft (Bella Union)

I’ve loved Laura Veirs’ music for a long time now and this was another very strong set of songs. The purity and warmth of her voice, confident songwriting and subtly progressive musical arrangements all combined to impressive effect on Warp And Weft.

6) Pure Bathing Culture – Moon Tides (Memphis Industries)

I first heard Tom Ravenscroft play Pure Bathing Culture on 6music. I loved the beautiful Cocteau Twins-meets-Beach House dreaminess of Moon Tides and its balancing of musical introspection and literate, melodic pop. I saw them play most of the album at a show at The Waiting Room in Stoke Newington.

5) Boards Of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest (Warp)

It arrived with a huge level of anticipation but Tomorrow’s harvest didn’t disappoint. I love the sense of scale and completeness that comes with Boards Of Canada albums. It’s tempting to focus on the stand out, electronic melodies of Reach For The Dead, Cold Earth and Nothing Is Real but as always the quieter, shorter, more abstract pieces like Transmisiones Ferox and Uritual were just as important in preserving the flow of the album and linking the pieces together.

4) Julianna Barwick – Nepenthe (Dead Oceans)

Nepenthe was another album of celestial, ethereal sounds from Julianna Barwick, all loops and layers, but under the surface lay real emotion and clarity. It presented a firm challenge to Eluvium’s position as my favourite ambient release of the year. It also possessed some of her most overt references to melody to date. I missed her show at Cafe Oto but really hope she returns to London soon.

3) Eluvium – Nightmare Ending (Temporary Residence)

Eluvium albums always have such a human quality to them, in some ways belying their instrumental nature (if you disregard Similes that is, his one vocal-based album to date). There’s something joyous and almost overwhelming about the sheer emotional saturation found within Matthew Cooper’s music. From the poised elegance of the piano based tracks to the blissful, engulfing exhalations of the hazier ambient pieces he always manages to maintain a delicate balance between consonance and dissonance. I love how each track makes its own particular contribution to the album whether it be the backwards pull of Unknown Variation, that seemed to be retracing former emotional ground, or the static-drenched columns of Chime.

2) Low – The Invisible Way (Sub Pop)

I’ve already written and tweeted quite a bit on Low this year (probably boring many people in the process) so I’ll try to keep this brief. I think it is by no means their best work to date (Secret Name & Trust still lead the way on this front) but The Invisible Way was an excellent album (but I would say that I guess) and as always contained some spine-tingling moments – Amethyst, So Blue, Holy Ghost, Four Score and To Our Knees ranking alongside some of their best songs.

Slightly excessively, I saw them play five shows in 2013 - in Gateshead, London, Cambridge, Sheffield and Leeds. Tracks from The Invisible Way dominated the first two shows in April and still hadn’t diminished in anyway by the time I saw them 6 months later. 

Oh, and I also wrote a long blog post on the twenty times I’ve seen them play.

It held the top spot for much of the year before being pipped on the line by...

1) Caitlin Rose – The Stand-In (Names Records)

As always the album that claims number one spot in my list is the one I’ve listened to most during the year. Indeed, my inability to stop listening to The Stand-In around late November/early December put finishing this rather long blog post at serious risk.

I knew it was pretty special on the first few listens but it then just grew and grew and grew over the year for me. It was just a brilliantly accomplished set of highly melodic and soulfully shaded songs. It was also perfectly paced as well - both in terms of track sequencing and long-term appeal (over the course of the year I think my favourite track changed about 6 or 7 times). Ultimately I think Only A Clown was my favourite and most listened to song of the year (check out the sweet and funny video here).

I like a lot of different types of music but sometimes I just can’t get past a girl with an amazing voice singing beautiful, affecting songs. Thank you Caitlin!