Monday, September 19, 2016

Amayenge “Zambia Legends” (Zambia Music Copyright Protection Classical Society)

Welcome back to the Republic of ILWTTistan, the fanzine nation that is still MAD AS HELL about the whole EU referendum thing. But shouts going out to the great cities of Manchester, Liverpool, Cardiff, Bristol, Newcastle, Belfast and all the other places that voted *REMAIN* (it wasn't just London and Scotland, and we shouldn't really have implied that last time). It's right that we must leave the EU now, but there's plenty still to fight for as to how gracefully, and successfully, we do that. And ideally we wouldn't want to sound like we've got a beef with 52% of our compatriots, but when 52% of people have effectively voted UKIP then basically, beef gonna happen.

Anyway. Let's get away from the woes of today. Late-night Radio One, as I was growing up, frequently threw together mighty Peel Session match-ups. One of many to knock my little socks off came in the school summer holidays, on 27 July 1988, when Peel broadcast the debut session from politically-conscious Weston-super-Mare hardcore fiends Ripcord (including no less than nine fine songs that would appear on their landmark “Poetic Justice” LP), together with a repeat of the first session from Zambian stars Amayenge, recorded earlier in the month as they toured the UK. The Ripcord session was, naturally, excellent – it can be picked up now on their “More Songs About...” compilation – but it was Amayenge whose session would really start hares running.

At this point we feel honour-bound to point out that other artists Peel played that night (thanks, Peel Wiki) included three more of our all-time favourites - Public Enemy, Carcass, and Eric B & Rakim - as well as the kind of healthy smattering of English indie-pop that tends to get us through the night, now just as then. Peel was nothing if not ahead of the game, and the love we have for music today might have withered on a teenage vine were it not for him.

Unlike fellow Zambians Shalawambe, who also lit up Peel shows around this time, or the super-trebly Zimbabwean sounds of Four Brothers or the Bhundu Boys, whose guitar breaks would on occasion recall the Chesterf!elds or Mighty Mighty as much as southern African pop traditions, Amayenge were really a troupe rather than a “band”. Indeed, no less than a dozen of them are credited with having gatecrashed the Maida Vale studios to deliver the four tracks which John played that night in 1988. The session, including topical three-minute pop treat “Free Nelson Mandela”, would soon appear on a Strange Fruit 12” single, which we were stupid enough not to get our hands on while we still could (yes, there really was a time you could buy an Amayenge record in Woolworths or WH Smith).

Indeed, until this year all we had really managed to source from Amayenge’s golden era were two tracks on “Zamb!ance” - a world music section steal from the days when there was still a Tower megastore at Piccadilly Circus - and lonely download cuts sourced from various artists compilations called “Zambush! Volume 1” and the soberly pun-resisting “Sounds Of Zambia, volume 3”. That’s a shamefully low haul, given that Amayenge have reportedly released 30-odd LPs. As McCarthy might have had it, there is clearly “something wrong somewhere”.

However, at the start of this year an Amayenge set (rightly) named “Zambia Legends” mysteriously appeared on i-Tunes, and it has helped cheer up an otherwise rather depressing 2016 (not for music, we’d emphasise: just for everything else). A few telltale clicks and crackles on the audio suggest that it’s been mastered from vinyl, but given that’s as close as we’re likely to get to Amayenge on vinyl, we can live with that. Plus, unlike our Shalawambe CD, none of the tracks have been mastered from scratched-to-smitheerens vinyl that hops, skips and jumps all over the bloody shop.

It’s “Mao” (a traditional song which serves both as an ode to agriculture as means of production, and a tribute to the Zambian President) that kicks off proceedings, and from the first instant it really *tumbles* by, just like the record as a whole, a sound of pure energy and sunshine. Orchestrated by bandleader Chris Chali (RIP), this is organic and expansive African folk music, and rhythmically there is a hatful of stuff going on: unlike some of their contemporaries, and whether they’re playing traditional Zambian tunes or their own compositions, it’s really not just about the jangle. The same sheer warmth that gushed over Peel the first time he heard these songs is tangible.

Of other tracks here, “Chibuyu Buyu” and the joyously epic “Munise Munise” both enjoyed outings on that first Peel Session (a second 1988 session saw them preview the faintly Smiths-ish “Mazela Mazela”), while “Mushala” and “Mazela Mazela” featured, we think, on their self-titled 1985 LP which was given a global release four years later, alongside the Strange Fruit EP. In addition, Discogs tells us that “Chibuyu Buyu“ and “Kanyama” had doubled up on a (Zambia-released) 7” single back in 1986, the kind of righteous double-A side that could give even the “Solace” / “Please Rain Fall” face-off a run for its money.

Although the music is mostly… well, kalindula, there are some intriguing nods to Western influence. “Kawaya Waya” strangely hints at agit-funk before, rather oddly, being disfigured by a US rock-style guitar solo. And true, in places there is a certain… jangle, with a couple of scratchily trebly songs that beg to be hidden on a Sound Of Leamington Spa comp, just to see what might happen. But for most of the running time, the music is vibrantly ALIVE, flying in all directions: the bandleader whoops up rhythmic frenzy, the backing singers cheer in unison, the whistles ring out, a cockerel crows (“Tenkwacha”), on “Bamabangu" there are guest vocals from what must be either a baby, or a pet.

Throughout, unfazed, the band play on. We have no real idea what they’re singing about, but it sounds great (we’re reminded of the old Melody Maker meme that Napalm Death's indecipherable lyrics were actually all about canoeing). Amidst all of this melodic uproar though, this riot of colour in sound, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the subject matter of some of the songs is apparently dark: “Tenkwacha” is perhaps the most egregious example, its sweet and stunningly sung refrain clashing markedly with its theme of child prostitution.

The compilation closes, appropriately enough, with “Munise Munise”, which is less a song and more a celebration. That night in July 1988, Peel closed his show with the (five-minute) session version, remarking with evident awe as it finished how he would be carrying it around in his head for the next few days. The version here really should feel unwieldy, clocking in as it does at almost 12 minutes, but no - just like some of the old reggae dubs that last that long, it doesn’t outstay its welcome by a single second. If anything, it inhabits your soul for the duration, making you feel suddenly rather naked when it’s over.

So forget about the mad and maddening world outside. Buy this, play this. (And then play some Ripcord, too).

Friday, June 24, 2016

“There’s no hope, there’s just despair…”

Hmmm. Proud of Londoners today, at least.

Ignore what any demagogue, armchair pontificator or “pens in the polling booth” conspiracy theorist tells you – this feels like a sad day for the UK, the saddest in my lifetime, and yet it’s felt somehow inevitable, like watching a slow-motion car crash whilst you’re in that car. The referendum has also had the effect of crystallising the reality that, just like the States, we’re split down the middle as a nation, into two almost irreconcilable tribes.

I respect that England voted “out” (our friends in Scotland gracefully resisted, kudos to them). I accept that was the will of the people, perhaps including some of you who’ve stumbled across this catharsis piece. But that doesn’t stop me being ashamed of my country right now, and embarrassed to have had a Prime Minister who thought that endangering people’s futures and livelihoods would be a suitable political stunt. Quite rightly, he’s resigned (though leaving a vacuum which readies us for a right-wing coup of sorts, and so I find myself seeking solace again in “Hope Springs Eternal”, “Election Day”, “Dry Land” and “William Blake”, to name but four of Keris’s most poignant and enduring legacies…) And don’t get me started on him.

The majority of working people voted Remain. The majority of people who don’t work voted Leave, as of course they were entitled to, but it won’t be them losing their jobs or their employment rights as a result, and I hope they can understand the genuine upset and concern for those of us for whom this referendum was about more than sticking a V-sign, Trump-style, to amorphous “elites”, defined conveniently (if somewhat elastically) as the 16 million of us across the country who ultimately voted to stay in the EU, plus all immigrants and refugees (the two terms, of course, conflated, with campaign imagery that would shame Leni Riefenstahl). And I hope they understand how EU citizens, living, working and paying taxes here, not entitled to vote, had been made to feel so unwelcome, even before the result was declared.

And regardless of whether people think this is good for the UK, and even if you believe that some abstract (almost surreally so) notion of ‘sovereignty’ is more important than solidarity, quite why the media should be celebrating the negative impact this vote will also have on the EU is beyond me. The fillip for the far-right across Europe is palpable. And when people here in the UK realise that leaving the EU didn’t address their wish-list of worries after all, we can only fear as to whom they will turn on next.

To dwell on the symptoms of this, and the undisguised glee of the wreckers, and the seemingly complete breakdown of intelligent discourse in this country, could soon tip me into a novella of incandescence, but I’m just tired and hung up on it all right now, so let’s settle for this.

This result diminishes us all. But now it’s happened, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get on, to start standing up for what we believe in all over again. And to fight even harder for unity and against the attitudes and the personalities and the detachment from the truth and the mendacity that made this result – and the way it unfolded – possible. Three-quarters of young people voted Remain, which holds out hope of better times to come: maybe hope springs eternal, after all.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Hate Week “Nights By The Lake / Blunt Claws / Amplified Heart” (Where It’s At Is Where You Are)

We do love WIAIWYA, and like all “I love you”s, we probably don’t say it enough, because although as a label they’re never all up in yer face (you know, like 808 State, or Paolo di Canio, or the labels that insist on sending us e-mails every bloody day about bands that we wouldn’t touch with the business end of a bargepole), WIAIWYA are always beavering away frantically in the good name of independent music, and they boast exquisite style, and they never tire of rustling up intriguing trinkets, most recently tickling us with Darren Hayman’s inspired “Chants For Socialists” suite, and even WIAIWYA’s occasional clunkers only prove this is a label ever-aware of our long held mantra “when you can’t be good, be different”, and then of course - just every so often - they release a shout-it-from-the-rooftops fine, onion-bag bulging, stonkingly stupendous SINGLE, whether it’s “Queen B” or “Salinger Wrote” or “Promised Land” or whatever, and just as we still beam from ear to ear even thinking about the joy of finding WIAIWYA 4, for example (‘twas Sportique’s “If You Ever Change Your Mind”) in HMV’s flagship place on Oxford Street nearly 20 years ago, liberating it from the racks and feeling the love big time as it hit the Aiwa deck within the hour, we feel sure that we’ll be smiling at the mere thought of this latest 7” in two decades’ time (and yes, it’s conceivable, but on balance unlikely, that by then we might have learned to write in shorter sentences, or to think about what to write before we actually start typing...)

We can’t find much divulged about WIAWYA’s latest discoveries, Hate Week, on t’internet, which is nicely surreptitious, and takes me back to the days of reviewing records when you had nothing to go on but the sound and the sleeve and your journalistic instincts (ha), and that lack of any dino-size online footprint pleasingly removes the dread hand of marketing and social media onslaught from the whole enterprise, and in any case it’s not actually too taxing upon ear-devouring this ace little disc to discern that the Week must be descended in some serendipitous way from one of Sweden’s finest exports this century, the ever-mighty Faintest Ideas (a combo whose swansong left us feeling “both churned-up and ecstatic”, a feeling we find flooding back to us now). The vinyl itself is smartly housed in one of WIAIWYA’s rather winsome wraparound air-mail style stamped sleeves (literally stamped – a 2nd class Queen’s head plus 5 centime timbres, philately fans) and its contents, when lovingly de-sheathed by our fair hands, unfurl an A4 pic of three smiley-looking chaps just hangin’ out, underneath a massive and improbable mural of a sprinter with an undone shoelace, together with the revelation that this was recorded by “Daniel, Joel and Markus” (presumably the said three chaps) in Gothenburg, and that it was Daniel wot wrote these everything-affirming songs.

“Nights By The Lake”, which is stretched across side A must, we think, be the pick of the EP: it’s wiry and edgy and tense, yet there’s more space in it than yr typical buzzsaw F-Ideas hayride, with a touch of early Cure in the plaintive vocals, and pacy guitar lines that lay a line of little UXBs across your heart as Hate Week entice and entreat and stretch every sinew to pluck out vivid memories of the things and the people and the music they’ve loved, and they worry about whether that love was in vain. Then, just as the song seems to be reaching a triumphant if harrowing crescendo, it splutters and collapses across the finish line instead, as a song so full of regret and fidgety nervousness and gut-wrenching anxiety just SHOULD, so absolutely should.

On the other side, “Blunt Claws” feels more squarely cut from Faintest cloth, but is still nearly as sky-bracingly brilliant as “Nights”, with its skittering and crashing guitars soundtracking another theme of desperation, of grasping to survive the present even as time and opportunity slip from your grip to leave nothing but a trail of bittersweet memories in your wake. Somehow, the music both soars divinely and shambles precariously - sometimes alternately, sometimes simultaneously - & in doing so perfectly captures what Hate Week do so well: walking a tightrope between indie-pop optimism and punkish hunger. By the time third tune “Amplified Heart” - a flat-out sprint to the finish which apes the simple brevity of Boyracer’s run of (sadly alternative universe) smash hits - stomps over the white line on to the dewy turf, you’re in no doubt that this is a very special record, a record destined to be ignored by the tastemakers and the twitterati and the general populace, but one that we’re more than prepared to cleave to our own silly, soggy little hearts.

Today, if we retrace our route to nabbing WIAIWYA 4 all those years ago (from a Baron’s Court bedsit to Leicester Square on the Piccadilly Line, before the traditional zigzag pilgrimage on foot via the variegated vinyl emporia of Berwick Street), we’re no longer ushered into the Aladdin’s cave of His Master’s Voice but instead confronted by the brutalist stare of Mike Ashley’s hangar-like Sports Direct (*sigh*) but however much that throws us, and however transient record shops always prove, we know that wares we once bought there continue to thrill long after the bricks and mortar have died a thousand deaths by refit. And we know that in these rushed paras we’ve projected our own emotions onto somebody else’s songs, and so we’re guilty of moulding Hate Week and their lyrics and their themes into what we want them to represent, to reflect our own private idiosyncrasies and wiles, but isn’t that what all of us do with the artists that we fall for? What matters is that, in Hate Week, we’ve stumbled (thanks to WIAIWYA!) across a band that can *fire* our febrile imaginations so.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Math & Physics Club "In This Together" (Matinée Recordings)

Math & Physics are BACK, if on a retro tip (but with some added newness for extra spice). This chocolate box – a glorious confection spread over sixteen tracks - whirls us back through time right from fresh-for ‘16 cut “Coastal California, 1985” via a heavenly host of mislaid M&PC rarities through to stunners from their very first Matinée Recordings EPs, delivering a stern reminder that this is a band who have been wowing the zowee out of us for more than 10 years now. And hell, we’re always happy to succumb, because in our humble opinion, nobody does this kind of thing better.

"Coastal California, 1985" starts as "Jimmy Jimmy" (had a Polaroid?) but soon assumes a typically charming janglist mantle. It's one of the Club's finest compositions yet, transmuting into an unapologetically wide(r)screen sound and a refrain you'll be humming for days on end, feeling PROPER West Coast even as you traverse the paltry glamour of the Balls Pond Road in the drizzle. Had it been a single, it would be one of this blooming year's best.

The tracklist then scatters lost gems everywhere, pearls like "It Must Be Summer Somewhere" (from a Dufflecoat/Jigsaw split 7" with Monnone Alone, it irresistibly tangles early St. Christopher with the equally wet-behind-the-ears McCarthy circa "I Am A Wallet", albeit that Malcolm Eden never sang about girls in bikinis, unless I missed something seismic); the pint-sized pulchritude of "The Sound Of Snow" (as if Morrissey & Marr wrote a ballad for the Pines); or the delectable, Field Mice-confessional of "Our Own Ending".

Listening to the full decade of M&PC arrayed within these grooves, albeit a selection that eschews their excellent trio of full-lengths, it feels like the frequent early Smiths influences subside a little in their later music, but there is still a gorgeous constant - right from the first - and that's their SOUND - oh, "that smooth, sultry Seattle sound" as John Peel would have called it with a grin and a glint in his eye, had he only had the opportunity -  a great, crisp wave of POP, of guitar chimes weaved with cascading melodies and brocade embellishments, repped here not just by the terrific A-sides of "Movie Ending Romance", "Baby I'm Yours" or "Weekends Away" (yup, "you've got your baggage / and I've got mine" still sounds so sweetly sinister to our ears) but by the soothing tones of the songs that surrounded them, equally deft trinkets like "Nothing Really Happened" or "When We Get Famous". Not to mention that softest of soft spots that we will always have for "Love, Again".

Indeed, our only reservation about "In This Together" is that we always get a bit worried that comps like this might herald a band break-up; signify that moment when our heroes start to go all "retrospective" on us, (ooh, but for good measure, here's a retrospective we did on them) as a way of closing the chapter before they disband and go solo / become hermits / get into drum & bass instead / go off to run ostrich farms (although in fairness, that was only Terminator X). Please, please, please (as another combo might have had it), let that not be so. Guys, don't you leave it there - we'll follow you almost anywhere.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Fireworks “Black & Blue” EP (Shelflife)

The Fireworks, since they burst on to the scene, have already done their damnedest to exhaust our vocabulary of superlatives, and ransack our store of synonyms for fizzing or fuzzing or fresh or feral or fabulous (yes, there’s also been a run on alliteration).

The fact we’ve said it all before (hmm, more than once) should allow us to adopt a leaner approach to their new four-track 10” EP, although we’ll dwell long enough to opine that taken as a whole it’s probably a more muscular affair than past outings, if still draped in comforting swathes of reverb and candescent melodies…

Verily the galloping opening tune “All The Time” spits shards of rumbustious irresisti-POP noise, in the vein of past should-have-been hit singles like “Runaround”, but there’s then a change of mood for the more contemplative “The Ghost Of You” – well, the ghosts of a young Tim & Gregory – which infuses seductive tricklings of amplifier hum with chiming Leamington Spa guitars and gently familiar chord sequences and which could be a great lost track from “C87”: indeed, we’d posit that it’s superior to much of what landed on the C87 track listing in the end (though don’t get us wrong, you *must* still buy C87, if only for the first-ever digital outings of “New Breed” and “Tried And Tested Public Speaker”). Yes, the Fireworks have got the blues, and oh how sweet it sounds.

Meanwhile, over on the other side of the 10”, proceedings tilt towards the black, and that visceral caress of the early Slumberland sound. “Bury Me” is powerful, Charlottes-like noisepop, arrayed with proto-shoegaze distortion: in its wake comes the deconstructed shambling of the chugging “Goes So Slow”, which fizzles out into looped violin drizzled in sweetly spinning feedback, as if Isnaj Duj were playing Metal Machine Music. Mmmm.

And in my dreams, I hear Meat Whiplash playing Seamonsters. I see the Rosehips checking into the Chelsea Hotel, whilst I sup a sherbet fountain at the bar. I sense Albini readying all things analogue, and seeking to entice the Fireworks into his studio. Things are *happening* right now, my friends, good good things...

Um, yes. Sorry. It’s just that old equation, again: boy likes band, band has new record out, band’s new record makes boy happy, boy "writes" "review". For “Black & Blue” is as dependably ace as the Fireworks’ previous releases (an achievement in itself). In a world that is slowly but surely going fucking mental (not least in the scept'rd isle from which the band and this fanzine both hail), such surefire pick-me-ups are welcome, welcome respite.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Jeff Rushin “Decline Into” (Wall Music)

Amsterdam producer and ON impresario Jeff Rushin manages to top even his (luscious) “Red Velvet” and (sumptuous) Mote Evolver EPs with this breathtaking, clear vinyl single on Berlin’s Wall Music. ”Decline Into Space” launches the love parade @ the statutory 128 with a swooning tranche of steady minimalism, its beautifully austere, crepuscular cadences combining the steady pulse of Rushin’s “6” contribution, “Tusk” with the understated, sibiliant genius of Michael Schwarz’s “She Doesn’t Ask For”. Which was recently, as you may recall, another somewhat world-beating 12” on Wall Music.

It thus seems pretty self-evident that “Space” is going to be unmatchable, but hold your horses, because it’s followed by the similarly sleek construct of “Decline Into Shadows” which is… wow… even better. Fuller and more dancefloor-honed, it triggers (a) paroxysms of delight in your humble narrator and (b) the need for to him to lie down in a dark room to recover.

In that room we briefly speculate as to what might come next – “Decline Into Winter” would be good, or maybe “Decline Into the Vanarama Conference”? – but when we do get round to braving the light again and reuniting an eager stylus needle with these transparent grooves, the answer is “Decline Into Chaos”, a second variation on the lead track which picks up seamlessly where we left off, still gently drilling the EP’s rhythmic patterns into our skull, but takes the tempo down just a notch, at 126. The mood is darker, more malign, with a prowlingly-low, no, crawlingly-low bassline offset by rattling, plangent synth chimes. The 12” concludes with a “Chaos” redux, this time by Glasgow's finest, Edit Select, that nicely ramps up and amps up the industrial elements of the original.

Whenever we return to asking ourselves why we started this fanzine, and all the stories we wanted to tell in our ever-desultory prose, well it was an attempt… um, well it was all about… no, *is* all about, conveying that despite the vagaries of age and the various compromises that life throws at us, that new EXCITEMENTS are ever-possible, & that this is the surging JOY of the format, as we’ve been saying since roughly the Antediluvian period – as we wrote, gosh, 9 years ago, but it seems like yesterday...

"singles must be kept alive, in any way possible. for both band and for fan (and we "write" always as fans), they are the flag that a 3 minute pop song, or an 8 minute techno 12", or a hip-hop white label or a grime download or whatever is intended to transcend the wadeable sludge of the 40-minute album or the 80-minute mixtape or the 400-minute audiophile wet dream that is the box set and to be instead a perfect or imperfect statement of intent, of the desire of the moment, of one-off communication, of trying to distil the ESSENCE OF BAND into a solitary take"

... oh, and we know now it’s protean, so even when that single isn’t a fizzing, crashing flexidisc, but instead unfolds in four movements over 24 unmissable minutes like this one, it's still how the artist has chosen to make his or her STATEMENT of their *now*, and can still transmit an unbridled ecstasy that tingles like… like the moment of promotion back to the league, or the spring breeze swishing baptismally-refreshing rain across Parliament Hill, or this falling cherry blossom in Bow Churchyard… all springs from the fact that even in 2016 a pizza-sized slice of vinyl can transmit pinpricks of electricity to every pore in a way that defies the meretricious, unmagical mundanity of day-to-day life. ELEVATE.

Sorry to gush so, but we wanted to end this brief burst of posting activity on a high, and as you can see (especially from the last three or four posts), we weren’t disappointed. We don’t say these things lightly, but “Decline Into” - just like “She Doesn’t Ask For” – is a potential all-time classic.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Close Lobsters “Desire & Signs EP” (Shelflife)

London stories have been told through song since the banks of the Thames were first settled. We must confess up front to a soft spot for Wendy James’ “London’s Brilliant”, the solo ‘breakthrough hit’ written for her by Cait O’Riordan and Elvis Costello that was roundly panned, and then flopped, because we think it’s a stirring, if tongue in cheek, girl-in-the-city romp through modern London’s cultural history – “digging up the bones of Strummer & Jones”, as Wendy sang - that got the London love/hate dynamic down just right. Mind you, we might never have heard it had we not spotted the cassette single version on sale for 10p in a bargain bin.

In the twenty years this fanzine has now been based in our capital city, we’ve loved an array of hymns to it: we’re thinking not so much of the usual suspects (the Kinks or the Jam or Squeeze), but the sadnesses-through-song of Trembling Blue Stars’ “A London Story”; or how Annemari and Bobby, missing the moon, said goodbye in central London; or the generation’s worth of moving dramas and London life-panoramas of the magnificent Comet Gain; or the pockets and suburbs of west and north London respectively celebrated in song by prime storytellers the Hit Parade and Chas & Dave; or out-of-towners Cinerama’s surprisingly effective torch song version of fellow outsiders the Smiths’ “London”; or perhaps the ultimate outsider, Mark E. Smith, declaiming “a hand on your shoulder in Leicester Square… Exit this Roman shell” on “Leave The Capitol”; or the parody-as-original of Alan Parker Urban Warrior and his BAFTA-drenched house band, out-shamming the Sham with smash-the-system classics like “Tube Station Lies”…

Why are we going on about this, exactly? Well, partly because we’ll bang on about London history and/or the deepest recesses of our record collection any time any place, given half a chance. However, the immediate prompt is that the reformed, renewed Close Lobsters, authors of 2014’s very finest single even amidst some seriously stiff competition, are finally BACK with its successor; and the first song on it, “Under London Skies” has wasted no time in joining the canon of in love with these times, in spite of these times first-city favourites.

More importantly than that, the song is an absolute belter, a rollicking ride of finely honed guitar-pop which amply demonstrates that “Now Time” was no fluke and that Close Lobsters are another combo, like fellow Glaswegians the Orchids or London’s own Wolfhounds, now producing 21st century work every bit as impressive as the releases we still treasure that made them first time around. I don’t mind admitting that a tear was brought to one eye on first listen (a little embarrassing when you’re on the 43 to work) as the song, driving ever on, decided that its blissful guitars and theme of memories from halcyon times hadn’t churned my emotions quite enough, and turned for good measure into a touchingly raw potted history of the band.

Like Morrissey, Smith or Gedge, all contemporaries really (indeed, Gedge had earlier, with the Wedding Present, put a version of "Let's Make Some Plans" onto the flip of a UK Top 20 single), Close Lobsters are also out-of-towners. Indeed, they’re visitors hailing from a different, if adjacent country, a group we'd always associated - through a jumble of snatched memories from their songs, interviews, record sleeves - with Paisley, Larkhall, St. Mirin...

We’d guess that they might have first encountered London at any length on early tours, playing to the press pack in the 1980s, but it’s still a little of a surprise - after the striking & independence-fuelled clarion call of “Now Time” – that memories of this English city, oft-painted in the British media as a collective enemy, or the home to a remote elite, can inspire not only a paean to London in a Scottish accent (the closing bars make it crystal clear that the song's authors have London's longstanding radical tradition in mind), but also frankly a song this simply bloody AMAZING, another vinyl A-side slice of pure Scottish Electric Lightning that’s fit to match past high water marks like “Going To Heaven To See If It Rains”, or “Never Seen Before” or, yes, “Now Time”. Blog and press release writers risk underselling this point because - please let's be candid - Close Lobsters were, and are, a great British band, who just happened to appear on C86.

As we observed last time around, the Lobsters still have a knack of taking lyrics that might sound cheesy in lesser hands (“we get high / in the summertime” really doesn’t sound too promising written down, does it?) yet somehow coming up roses. Later on in the song, they get more specific: “this is the London of the Clash” sings Andrew Burnett (yup, we're digging up those bones again) and, unless our ears deceive us, there’s even a shout-out to Alternative TV, which would be great if we’re right because ATV are one of the most perennially underrated bands ever to emerge from London or its environs.

On the other side of the record, the almost Go-Betweensy “Wander Epic Part II” offers further proof that Close Lobsters are no longer content with writing mere pop songs, but seem to have decided that they’re only going to write anthems: when they’re this strong, that’s fine by us. The guitars continue to encircle and chime, but “Wander Epic” is lyrically somewhere else entirely, charting a recluse’s pilgrimage to “purify the malady of the soul” as he follows brooks, streams and rivers to the wide open sea.

And that’s your lot – because “Desire & Signs”, like “Kunstwerk in Spacetime”, is one of those two-track EPs – but really, what an artefact, twelve minutes of knocking-off-your-socks genius on 7”. There is no danger whatsoever of this one ending up in a bargain bin for ten new pence or any other amount, so we urge you to get your order in before the single lands (or whatever it is that singles do now) at the start of June.

Next month, as fortune would have it, we’re heading off to see Close Lobsters for the very first time. Under London skies, of course. It’s going to be an absolute privilege.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Simon Shreeve “Healing Bowl” (Downwards): Leon Switch “Intrepid” (Chestplate)

And so happenstance dictates that Simon Shreeve’s first own-name solo release, on Birmingham’s Downwards label, comes out on the same day as the new single from his former partner in crime in one of the best British combos of the last decade or so, the ever-amazing, decline-of-dubstep-defying Kryptic Minds. As the boys go head to head, the big question is this – who will win?

The answer, of course, is that we all win. Bouyaka. “Healing Bowl” is a five-track, five star tour de force of nightbus-friendly headphone throb; all clipped subterranean beats, carefully deployed breaks, [k]ryptic Virus synths and industrial techno vibes that fuse together in bass-blessed bliss so effectively that you’re extremely likely to miss your stop and end up somewhere in the suburbs trying desperately to persuade a minicab to take you back.

In contrast to Shreeve's elegant suite, it’s all about the A-side on Leon Switch's new two-track 12", with “Intrepid” being markedly less subtle than anything on "Healing Bowl" – its eerie atmospheres are shot through with crunching elephantine beats, several-storey drops and darting passages of what we call wobblestep & quack-step, albeit that those probably aren’t the correct technical terms. Plus, icily grime-tastic loops and handclaps. It reminds us a little of our phase of getting (forgivably) obsessed with Raffertie 12”s a while back. Have this one on too loud, and you’ll probably crash the nightbus.

Although dubstep inevitably succumbed to the law of diminishing returns (after a while, it all got just a little too much “there’s always been a trust fund element to our music”), singles like this are a reminder that in small doses it can still refresh and reinvigorate, rather than just annoy and enervate. And if the net result of Kryptic Minds splitting in half is that we get two highly capable solo artists to keep a weather eye on, then all hail the art of falling apart.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Lightning In A Twilight Hour "And All The Ships At Sea" (Elefant)

Nothing warms the heart more than seeing those four words: "Written by Robert Wratten".

Not that it would really matter if you missed them (tiny font in the centre of bright white 12" vinyl), because your ears may just connect the easy, poppy rhythms of "The Sky Beyond The Sky" with the breezier numbers on "Her Handwriting"; or the autumnal swirl and roving basslines of "Black Circles" with the splendid "Dark Eyes", the song that first reunited Messrs Wratten and Hiscock (there’s something almost unrepentantly Field Mice-esque in the weave of climbing bass, simple drum machine and clanging rhythm guitar); or the gently unfolding Cure-ish majesty of "Krzysztof Kieślowski's Lullaby" and its Peter Hook bass runs with the five-piece Blue Stars' moodily gothic "With Every Story".

Seasoned Wratten-watchers will glean from this that there's none of the liberating, lyrical directness of the first half of "Slow Changes", none of the free-form escapism of the second half of the same record and little of the ambient, achingly splendid field-recorded vistas that were the highlights of "Fragments Of A Former Moon". Instead, you 'only' get... well, an object lesson in smooth, sophisticated, mournful, full-on grown-up pop genius. “Beauty still gets through”, sings Bobby, and in his hands it does, it really does.

And that's just side A. To be fair, when the curtain comes up after the interval, the grooves of side B feel marginally less compelling, yielding 18+ carefully textured minutes of what's effectively a three-song medley (a woozy brace of ballads bookending the extended soundscape of "Lenticular" that tip the collective LIATH hat towards the eliding songscapes of Northern Picture Library), but, as the cliché goes, "you had me at hello", and we were already sold not just by half-time, but - courtesy of the minimal yet fabulous Elefant sleeve art and design, and of course by those four words - before even sticking the record on.

Long may he reign over us.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Lamont featuring Grim Sickers and Nico Lindsay “Missed Calls EP” (Keysound)

The mysterious Lamont is another of those Bristolian musical miscreants who so brilliantly soundtrack the underbelly of that city and, for us, sit firmly within its proud underground artistic traditions. Here, recent Trim and Last Skeptik collaborator Nico Lindsay, from north London, and Brizzle’s own “100 Bags”-man Grim Sickers, are persuaded to slow things right down from their normal grime pace, and each use the opportunity to deliver an edgy, night-time, missed-call themed elegy to difficult relationships (not least the one between technology and distance). Lamont’s music is sparing and spaced-out, but when a beat hits, you certainly know about it.

Heavens. If you’d told us that spoken-word deep dubstep poetry would be a ‘thing’, yet alone work this well, we’d have doubted you. But we don’t doubt any more.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Milky Wimpshake "Velvet Pants" / "Interior/Exterior" (Tuff Enuff)

INNA DIF'RNT STYLE. Le Wimpshake return to shake it down on the sevens, having decamped (temporarily?) to Brighton's Riots Not Diets empire for 250 copies of sweet, sweet black vinyl, and it turns out they've jettisoned the wonderfully pretty indie-pop of last year's precious gem "You Don't Look Twice" & become ROCK MONSTERS, like when the Rejects got into UFO, or Action Painting! discovered 1977. Sort of.

Two excellent tunes here (plus sew-on patch): this might be their spikiest, freshest 45 since we liberated "Home Is Where The Hate Is" from that basement room under Slam City Skates, and whatever rut they were in two albums or so ago, they're not in it now. Suge - take them back, whatever you do.

Monday, April 11, 2016

DJ Cable featuring Ghostly “In ‘Ere” (Triangulum Recordings): Dexplicit featuring Chip, Durrty Goodz, Swiss, Black The Ripper, Flowdan and Rocks FOE “Link Up Season” (DXP Music): Commodo featuring Rocks FOE “Set It Straight” (Black Acre): Pinch featuring Riko Dan “Screamer” (Tectonic): Chase & Status featuring Novelist “NRG” (Mercury)

Yes, ‘featuring’ is the new ‘x' is the new ‘vs.’ is the new ‘featuring’.

“In ‘Ere” is as much a certified BANGER as any stock car or sizzling sausage, and quite possibly – epically delayed 7”s aside – our favourite single of 2016 to date: West London teenager Ghostly boasts panache aplenty and his adroit & cheeky spraygun bars on this exquisite freestyle have more than a soupçon of a young Durrty Goodz about them. Triangulum’s own hostest with the mostest, DJ Cable is on hand to provide the effortlessly effervescent riddims, which suit G to a tee. *Primary* rhyming.

We’ve also been hurling ourselves about the kitchen in a tizzy to “Link Up Season” (watch out for that knife rack, Eugene): by their very nature, few posse cuts can match the best MCs drilling out 96 bars solo, but Dex was the real driving force behind the daddy of all grime posse cuts, “Pow!” (dig out those “Forward” and “Backwards” white labels now and go mental) and as well as dishing up this new track in a frankly not dissimilar-style he’s recruited a phalanx of London MCs to toast it: Goodz and Flowdan predictably boss things totally, but Black the Ripper’s amiable outlaw schtick, and a rousing last verse from Croydon’s rising star Rocks FOE, are well worth the entrance fee too. Especially when the entrance fee is no more than 79p, if you’re doing it legit.

And Rocks then er, rocks up on distinguished dubstep-head Commodo’s “Set It Straight” single too, lacing its vaguely oriental stylings with a righteous, frothing fury.

As we shift to d-step territory, a shout-out next for “Screamer”, on which old pals Pinch and Riko Dan reunite for a follow-up to their genuinely mighty “Big Slug“ 12” with Mumdance, and Riko resumes his life’s work of an all-consuming diatribe against yr local neighbourhood informant.

Lastly, “NRG” is something else again, the sound of an intriguing timewarp by which C&S hit us with some very Junkie XL-circa ‘98 floor-messing, and the ever-ascending star of Lewisham, Novelist steams in with the vocals. It can’t match the chemistry that Nov has with Mumdance (we’re beginning to suspect that “Take Time” and “1 Sec” may remain the former’s calling cards for some time), but it’s a blast all the same.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Nothing Clean split 7” with Higgs Boson (MMXVI FHED Records / Glass To The Face Records / Samizdat Records / SuperFi Records)

Last year, Leicester’s Nothing Clean thrilled us several shades of skinny with nine combustible tracks on one side of a split 7” (with Madrid's La Letra Pequeña), co-released by three improbably-named labels. This year, they thrill us with nine more combustible tracks on one side of another split 7” (with Oslo's Higgs Boson), co-released by four improbably-named labels. Oh, how the late John Peel would have been absolutely in his element announcing these, before playing them at the wrong speed.

Again, the new record near-overflows with lyrical vitriol, but there’s a rugged discipline to the band’s high-falutin, powerviolencey howl, with the staccato stop-starts both between and within tracks adding even more excitement to the endeavour. As we’ve mentioned in past dispatches, there are traces of a UK hardcore lineage that includes erstwhile ilwtt,isott flavours of the month Scalplock and Flyblown, but the riffage and the sheer *purpose* of this also remind us of the early grindcore legends.

Nothing Clean are not only on fire but sound like they’re on fire and - in keeping with the Midas touch being worked by Claudio Ranieri just down the road at the King Power - we’re not sure that’s there’s anything (on either side of the Atlantic!) that can touch them right now.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Joker Starr "Shottas" (Boot): Joker Starr featuring Durrty Goodz "Don't Watch Man" (Flukebeat Music)

BOOM. Fresh from bossing "Tell 'Em" on Jazz T's "Run The Changes", the irrepressible Slough-representing Joker Starr (no relation to Ringo, Fredro or, er, Atlantic or Gang) brings his A game to another masterful Zygote / Jazz T production on 7", a tale of street wheeling, dealing and thieving which also cements Boot's place as one of the UK's top labels right now. In any genre.

"Don't Watch Man" actually dropped in November, but this feels like a good time to big up this rather smoothly-produced, accomplished Micall Parknsun joint which includes a still relatively rare hip-hop/grime collabo, with Joker and Micall's contributions joined by an easy-flowing but relatively timid verse (by his standards) from the normally unflappable Durrty Goodz. For once, Jazz T's remix is actually more frenetic than the (jazzily) piano-led, laid-back original...

Taken together, the two singles showcase Joker Starr's versatility (and that he's more than just a bundle of energy).

Friday, April 08, 2016

The Fall “Wise Ol’ Man EP” (Cherry Red)

Being a combination of new, old, rehashed and live material, this EP is neither fish nor fowl, but us being vegetarians that may be just as well.

The lead tune is actually great (do persevere, because it’s a grower), a guitar stomp in classic-ish Fall style punctuated by Elena's backing shouts and - more bizarrely - that noise that doors in newsagents make when a new customer comes in, but for us the chief attraction of this release is the rumbling, unattributed remix of the last LP’s “Dedication Not Medication”, which lumbers into view with a cavalcade of live and electric drums (almost as heavy as that final Scorn EP) before Smith bellows“I’M BACK! I’M BACK!” and the track, already an improvement on the original, settles into Fall-when-the-electronics-were-to-the-fore mode, as if it were 1991 all over again and Smith was still an Edinburgh Man.

We’re less sure about the rest of the 12” (nobody on the globe can really have a need either for an instrumental of the title track or a less-fi version of the excellent last LP-opener "Venice With The Girls", while the chaotic medley of “Facebook Troll” and “No Xmas For John Quays” does less than justice to the brilliance of the two, 37-year apart originals), but then we suppose the Fall wouldn’t be the Fall if they didn’t delight and disappoint in roughly equal measure. We'll see you soon at their forthcoming Highbury Garage residency, no doubt.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Hard Left “Economy” (Future Perfect)

Get in! Here comes another 7” from Oakland's back to the future agit-punk supergroup Hard Left that’s bursting with all Alan Hansen’s favourite adjectives: pace, purpose, passion, pride, power, that sort of thing.

This time, in addition to a brace of familiar-sounding shouted/sung belters on side A which continue to land somewhere between prime Oi! and prime SLF, there’s the bonus of two side B tunes narrated/ranted by an Anglo (as Hansen would have had it), poet Tim Wells, with the entirely authentic account of lower N1 gentrification, “Hoxton Market Forces” being joined by a possibly unlikely take on DH Lawrence’s almost spookily-still apt “The Oxford Voice”.

A splendid package, all told, though we’d still love to see them tour with Violent Reaction. And recruit Pam Berry, if only for old time’s sake.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Downpour "Do You Remember When It Was All About The Drums? (II)" (self-released)

A 30+ minute EP of self-confessedly retro northern English drum and bass from the fearless Downpour, with the straight-up 1994 stylee magnificence of "This Sound" and "Trust Me" in particular matching the heights of last year's "DYRWIWAATD?" (if we may) part one.

And this sort of thing - crafted period instrument orchestra-style from pure authentic Akai, Roland and Atari -sounds even better to us two decades on, what with us not having what was then the somewhat significant distraction of revising for finals. Also, 20 years on, they're on bandcamp not 555, which means we could buy this one without having to walk to the Replay that used to be in the shopping arcade near the coach station. Halcyon.

Word is that the new Bracken album is imminent, incidentally, in which case this will be far from the last time this year that we give props to a Chris Adams release...

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Rotten Sound "Abuse To Suffer" (Season Of Mist): Magrudergrind "II" (Relapse)

For this 'battle of the long-anticipated new grindcore albums', furious Finns Rotten Sound's fiendishly fast, molten noise is galvanised into a thick, rich abstraction of groove-laden, bass-riven music and sunken growls that along its merry way co-opts everything from the looping riffs of Unsane to the deadening powerviolence chords of Weekend Nachos as their LP, some 5 years in the making, ricochets between minute-long blasts of post-hardcore adrenalin and longer, slower, slugs of primal gutter-metal. Feverish, frenetic and fantastic.

By comparison with the somehow glorious surround-sound ugliness of "Abuse To Suffer", Brooklyn's Magrudergrind take their turn in Relapse's revolving door grindcore roster with a musically thinner, treblier offering (marshalled inevitably by go-to producer Kurt Ballou, the Scott Burns of the genre) although their ear for toe-tappingly punkish riffs remains finely honed - we can go wild for "Hara-Kiri" or "Husanyi/Handschar" any time you like - and their lyrics indisputably spot on (see "Sacrificial Hire", dealing with the sadly topical theme of suicide bombings, or pro-gay rights piece "Regressive Agenda").

We do understand that it's seven years since their last full-length, and that all things done changed. But we must confess that we miss the ragged sense of fun (and hip-hop interludes) featured on earlier outings, those little touches that nicely leavened the rawness and red mist of yer all-guns-blazing Magrudergrind.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Sven Wittekind "Reflection" (Sick Weird Rough): Ginnels & Tangible Excitement! split EP (Emotional Response)

In 2008 a fairly established German producer by the name of Sven Wittekind crept into our annual 'festive hundred' at #95 with "Never Forget", an adjunct to his earlier war-cry of "Fight For Techno" (and oh, how we have). Little did we know how that drunken year-end tangle with Sven under the mistletoe would blossom into a long-term love affair, with us lapping up his gratifyingly frequent singles and remixes pretty much the instant they appeared for download.

So if you'd been wondering where we've been, these weeks of winter into spring (you haven't? Oh.) the answer would have been, at least in part, digesting and delighting in this titanic, faintheart-baiting 20-track two-and-a-half-hour monster, "Reflection", which compiles a representative selection of his own-right, own-label releases between 2009 and now (right up to last year's"Butterfly Effect" single), i.e. basically the entire length of time we've been banging on about what an utter techno legend the man is, the lord of the 128, the Stewart Anderson of blackened German beats. You need to check this one out, people.

Talking of Mr Anderson, Tangible Excitement! (a new bi-continental supergroup helmed by members of Summer Cats, the Lucksmiths and of course Boyracer) have turned out four splendidly accomplished tunes on a 12" for Emotional Response, split with the redoubtably dark independent pop of Dublin's Ginnels. "Effectively Wild" has to be the pick, simply for its added guitar punch, as if Boyracer themselves were taking on Summer Cats' superb high water mark "Your Timetable". This first outing more than justifies the Tangible Excitement! moniker, right down to that crucial exclamation mark.

Ginnels, in contrast to TE! feature absolutely nobody from any bands that we've been buying records by since approx the dawn of time, and are therefore forced to win us over entirely on their own merits. Which they do, consummately. It seems that Ginnels revolve around songwriter Mark Chester, who has an easy turn of phrase and a feel for blending glistening guitar tunes with thoughtful, sometimes anguished lyrics (when he coos & croons little storytelling phrases like "disappointed doesn't cover it..." we feel ourselves ever-so-slightly folding up inside). The galloping "My Eyes! My Ears" just about nudges in front of long-distance lament "Easier When I'm Gone" as our pick of their three songs here: don't sleep on this one.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Hard Love In Country: Hood “British Radars” (Acuarela Records)

The first time I heard Hood, via a borrowed Fluff 7”, I found their songs easy to like, but hard to love: the ingredients were there all right, but it was difficult to calibrate their unselfconsciously naive, organic musical imaginings against the more studied angst of some of their contemporaries. And that “good, but not great” vibe was not entirely erased when I first witnessed them live in a Bristol upstairs room, marvelling at their coyly disorganised brand of musical alchemy as they loosely attempted “Dimensions TBA”. At least, I think that was the song they were playing. You really couldn’t quite tell, which was almost beautiful in itself.

So, of all the bands that were ever my favourite band, Hood took the longest to grow on me. But grow they did, and not just on me but with me: they were the same age, and had many of the same reference points. They just had 10,000x more talent, and a perspective shaped by more rustic surroundings than I was afforded. This wasn’t some band from the city or the suburbs that had co-opted the countryside as a lyrical backdrop to hamfisted hippyish metaphors for prettiness, or as somewhere to do photoshoots, like the “fields and flowers and meadows” merchants that preceded them: to Hood, the countryside had its own character and personality, and they lamented being apart from it: “oh, how the city gets me down”, as they would howl on the brilliant “70s Manual Worker”.

And now I’ve another record for my collection. But "British Radars", in case you were wondering, is not a new Hood composition. They have not reformed, and their former members are too busy being in, or just being, all our current favourite acts: Bracken, the Declining Winter, A New Line (Related), Downpour etc. No, “British Radars” is long-coveted, a missing pearl, up there with other legendary ‘lost’ singles like "No Reason Why", “Stop Revolving”, "Beards", even "Day Into Day" or that Rosslyns test pressing. Now, a mere 21+ years after it was meant to come out, and on the very label that unaccountably omitted to release it at the time, amends are finally made as this edit of the classic "Cabled Linear Traction" track sees the light of day on a 7” EP.

The song hails from a time when Hood were still juggling noisy – if occasionally severely tuneful – slabs of teenage indie racket with scrunched-up half-acoustic homespun vignettes (“Biochemistry Revision Can Wait”, anyone?) and uber-experimental post-rock fragments: this track – hurrah! - was one of the former category. Vaguely halfway between "70s Manual Worker" and the later "The Field Is Cut" (maybe the song on which the wonders of ‘Hood future’ first fully blossomed), "British Radars" displays this phase of the band at their old-fashioned, lyrically aching, fuzzily muscular and utterly unpretentious indie-rocking peak.

Back in 1994, this was precisely the kind of song I longed, again and again, to hear. And the song that whatever band I was in would be ceaselessly trying (and failing) to compose. After the suspense of a swirling, beatless intro (hewn from slightly different ambient noise than the LP version) there’s an initial burst and burn of nervous energy and clanging chords and bashing drums, and little spells of slung fuzzy guitar that could almost be the brilliant Horowitz, and then all too-soon “British Radars” slows, near-collapses into neo-ambient lo-fi amplifier doodling (again, subtly different from the album mix), somehow limping on - bruised but not broken, bloodied but unbowed – until it does eventually peter out altogether, leaving behind the clearest traces of the same awesomeness as the later tune that would draw the curtain on their semi-shambling phase, the much-underloved and absolutely NOT useless Domino A-side, "Useless".

Awww, and the lyrics are still so gutwrenchingly sad: "I just realised / that you have been crying all your life..." yep, “British Radars” spoke to me – so entreatingly - it really did, and come to that it still does: this, and their tracks elsewhere from those times, like "Evening Return" and "Silo Crash" and "Your Sixth Sense" and “Norfolk” and, oh... what it was to be young and ensnared by rough-cut, super-vivid and completely compelling indie dramas.

Fairness commands that we should probably pledge a para or two to the other (gulp) five numbers on the EP. The pick (and other "proper" song here) is "Delusions Of Worthlessness": although it would later find more, er, hi-fidelity expression on their full Slumberland bow “Silent '88", for us this version is superior, sounding even more plaintive, more plangent, more desperate (right down to its trickling feedback denouement). When they sing, "your work was rediscovered / after you died", it seems particularly apposite to a lost 45 from a great band, released over a decade after they went their separate ways.

Three more of the tracks had ended up in one form or another on Hood compilations (“Structured Disasters” and/or “Singles Compiled”), namely the off-wall hum of “Experiments In Silence”, the touching mini-strum “Flood History” (aka “Create!”) and the serene “Fears Grow”, which introduces an intriguing early example of crunching electronic beats atop the misty drift of a spoken word vocal. The remaining track is absolutely brand new, even to obsessive completist anorak Hood aficionados like ourselves: the scuffed balladry of “Walking Mindless“ yields nothing too remarkable, but still feels like uncovering long-buried treasure (all we need now is a deluxe re-issue of “Field Report (a) (i) An Overcast Sky”, and we’ll be laughing).

* * * * *

This one squeezed through the letterbox only days after we finally located a copy of Hood's Drop Beat remixes 12" on Berwick Street, so we've been in absolute clover this week.

And with its monochrome sleeve of pylons, chimneys, fields and sky this entrancing slice of vinyl can now sit snugly, as God always intended it, alongside other monochrome Hood 7” sleeves: the bleak shrubbery & toppling telegraph pole of Lee Faust's Million Piece Orchestra and the disused post-mill of Opening Into Enclosure and the cooling towers of A Harbour Of Thoughts… and alongside countless snatched memories of a younger Hood soundtracking a younger me through stumbles and smiles and first girlfriends and first jobs and first incarnations of this very fanzine. It feels like we’ve fallen for this song a hundred times, and now we’re falling for it again daily. Hard to love? I never heard such nonsense.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Hilary Benn, Shame On You: Singles of 2015

Smithfield, December 2015

Rest in peace Lemmy, always a friend to the punks, and responsible for the loudest gig we've ever been to. Bar none.

Speaking of punk, this outstanding book and this marvellous DVD arrived within 24 hours of each other, and we’ve gorged ourselves on Sarah recollections ever since, also realising that there is no better way of spending a family Christmas than watching extended Brighter interview clips (who needs blockbuster movies, our dear monarch’s speech, or the woes of Walford?)

Even after our gargantuan efforts to verse and immerse ourselves in Sarah folklore over the years, it turned out there was still plenty to learn from Michael White’s tome, like the fact that one of our favourite 45s ever – the first of these, in fact - was inspired by Spike Milligan (yes, of Goon Show and Ning Nang Nong fame...) There’s much to elicit from Lucy Dawkins’ film too (Annemari Davies lives somewhere with lots of seagulls; Secret Shine have the nicest sofa; Matt Haynes’ voice is so low frequency that he technically falls into the sub-bass genre) but the thing that jumped out at us personally was that during the DVD’s Even As We Speak montage there’s a photo of my then-housemate at a gig (he’s the one in the Fat Tulips T-shirt) who was actually, at the time the pic was taken, surfing on my back (largely at the band’s instigation). Luckily, you can’t see me at all, so this website’s conceit of anonymity is happily preserved.

The only thing the DVDs and books don’t perhaps make enough of is the fact, which many an indie-kid these days might not even credit, that you could walk into a town centre branch of a record shop chain, let alone plenty of independent outlets, and just buy new Sarah releases. With your pocket money, or the money from your first job, just as Clare & Matt intended. This was direct access to artistic genius as far as I was concerned, and it meant a lot. Yes, when I went up to the big smoke, I might pick up Sarah 7”s from Rhythm or Rough Trade, and when I moved to Bristol myself, I’d normally brave the disapproving gaze of the bloke at Revolver, but from very early on I’d been able to buy Sarah records from Our Price outlets in glamorous places like Basildon or Chelmsford.

I do now feel a certain envy for those who bought all their singles direct from the Garden Flat and so got to engage in extended correspondence with C&M themselves: the only time I wrote to them was when for once I couldn’t find the final Brighter EP anywhere, and then I had to write kind of pre-apologising for ordering it on CD instead of vinyl, and Matt sent a nice little note back saying that everybody else who’d ordered the CD had also apologised for ordering the CD instead of vinyl, which made me realise how well-educated we all were, to the extent that we were saying sorry to a record label for our temerity in buying their records, and on the only format we could actually play them on at the time. God, I love Sarah.

Which latest rush of nostalgia only served as a reminder, of course, that we remain inspired absolutely now, as we did a quarter of a century ago, by the best record label of all time (sorry Poptones), and that we’re forever grateful to Clare & Matt and everything they produced for introducing us to a life of loving music, stubbornly yet somewhat fruitlessly critiquing capitalist orthodoxy and of having not ice-breaking at all conversations about bands with strangers which usually involve us saying the phrases “oh, you probably wouldn’t have heard of them” and “no, I didn’t think you would” in quick succession.

Within a few years of that photo, the friend who surfed on my back was listening to Oasis instead, like everybody else, and had largely turned his back on Sarah, the label I’d introduced him to via my “Half-hearted” 7” (listened to with a few other students in someone’s room at college halls, a bit like Matthew Evans’ reminiscence in the DVD of communal listening to early Sea Urchins platters…) and he had then become equally obsessed with Sarah for a while (even getting to interview Clare & Matt for our university paper, which I remember being very jealous of).

After we’d been separated by work and, indeed, continents for a long time, my friend got in touch out of the blue last year to tell me that he’d rediscovered Sarah, via a curt e-mail asking “Is this you?” I was pathetic enough, I now see, to have replied “This is me”, making it clear that was a quote to be attributed to Keris Howard. It may be no coincidence that in the period inbetween him falling out of love with Sarah and rediscovering them, he's built a successful, high powered career and I, still carrying the torch, holding the flame, well, haven’t… but the central message of the DVD and the book, from pretty much all concerned, is “je ne regrette rien”, and how could you when it was so, so, so, so special.

We’d better not use this post to delve too much deeper into our own Sarah favourites or our Sarah memories than we have before, but suffice to say that we still wouldn't trade-in a single second of those eight years we spent at school and university, attempting to defend the label and its bands from the constant barbs of the music press that our mates virtually without exception took as gospel truth. In retrospect, that makes everything sweeter. I don’t see any books or DVDs coming out that fixate on My Jealous God, Five Thirty, Thousand Yard Stare or Cud, but then to be honest I haven’t really been looking for them.

* * * * *

2015, then. Thankfully, for new music, each year seems to prove even better than the year before, and so it was that 2015 unveiled a ridiculously lush panoply of superb-ness which made us feel the luckiest people alive, just as Sarah Records did in the days when we traipsed into the record shops repped above. So, following our cursory attempt to big up the rest of 2015, here's what we made of its 45s. The mode average bpm is, of course, 128.

1. Michael Schwarz “She Doesn’t Ask For” (Wall Music)

As pure as "Clearer", as naked as "Toulouse", this is severe techYES: a perfectly undulating current that may leave the scruff of yr neck ungrabbed – there’s hardly a song structure at all, apart from the subtle crescendo and diminuendo at either end - but this is his best piece in ages, and possibly also the future of music to boot. Got its vinyl release last year, I think, but let’s gloss over that in the circs.

2. A New Line (Related) "Our Lady Of Perpetual Fucking Succour" (Home Assembly Music)

On vinyl with a postcard, so continuing a Sarah theme, and parading all the manifold virtues of fierce independence into the bargain. However distracting the song titles, the truth is that the music on this 4-track EP is exceptional, with the near-flawless title tune in particular a quantum leap forward even from last year's eponymous debut LP. “Succour” is… modern, somehow combining the whispering, shifting sands of ANL(R)'s ace “Roomful Of Lovers” 7” with a more visceral appeal, a slinky, minimal Motor City-ish blend of house and techno: it boasts the same hypnotic qualities that made Jamie Ball’s “Love Song” such a hit with us just five short years ago.

Next, “Belle Ile En Mer Dub Night” is more recognisably a bedfellow to the album’s twinkling opening brace “Vote Malcolm Eden” and “A Withering Attack”, but again it suffuses its beats in warmth, drawing out the rhythmic patterns. Over on the other side of the 12", "Nobody's Been in Touch" starts all clinical but soon gets progressively tipsy, swaying and sashaying decorously, as if MBV were trying to navigate their more fecund forests of miasmic minimalism without their guitars: it trips and dips and slurs and blurs its words before giving way to the similarly woozy textures of "They’re Burning Northerners Fifteen At A Time And Firing Them Into The Sky To Light Up London" (we did warn you about the song titles), a gorgeous, undulating, swooning, seductively drunken, conclusion. The last drink makes me, and all that.

3. Sceptical C “Weekend Culture” (Audio Autopsy)

The closest we get to “Weekend Culture” is treating ourselves to a touch of Joseph Love on a Saturday (on which note, props to the DJ at the Alma on Halloween night who spun both “Two Sevens Clash” and “Dead Pop Stars”) but we suspect that late nights in the cities of the Netherlands are rather more lively. C is something of a chameleon, in a world oft-comprised of one-trick ponies: this upbeat paean to late night excess and bleary-eyed nightbus tiredness is different again from last yr’s RIGHTEOUS maelstrom, “Curfew Neglector” but just as irresistible.

4. Ryuji Takeuchi “Scattered” (Blind Spot Music)

This year’s “Das Testament”: a great song, on 12”, with three sky-high remixes (and on Gabeen and Dr Hoffmann's house label). The “scattered” are any pretenders to his throne, scattered to the four winds by this spectral and sinister sister record to another 2015 cut, "Silhouette”. Those remixes come correct from Angel Costa (aka the N1 branch of a well known coffee chain), mighty Magyars Dr H and Gabeen themselves, and the one and only Michael Schwarz, whose remix is breathtaking: quite possibly our ‘remix of the year’.

5. Timothy Hora and Virgil Enzinger “Schlafendes Feuer” (Berlin Underground)

Inspired by a work by the artist Andreas Westreicher and by the lakes and mountains of the Tyrol, no less, this is a 9½ minute slab of smooth, syrupy bass-anchored techno that pairs Tyrolean VJ-turned-DJ Timothy Hora with ‘I.Cntrl’ freak and redoubtable lord of dark-tech, Virgil “Phlogiston” Enzinger. Quite Cortechs-ish, actually (by the way, if you're wondering where Cortechs is in this list, he's precisely nowhere until he coughs up the £15 he owes us. Monopsone Records are subject to a similar ban).

6. Gal Tsadok-Hai “Molar” (ON Records)

A gem from the new Amsterdam producer, on handstamped 12” in sandpaper-coloured sleeve. The phrase “sylph-like” may be a bit overused by reviewers, but it’s dead-on here: imagine his ON labelmate Nicole Rosie’s “Foxboy” being piloted into the distant reaches of the galaxy by Planetary Assault. The label boss, Jeff Rushin contributes a remix which speeds it up from its sober 126 and transforms it into a sleek, hi-spec clanker.

7. Sutter Cane “Dark Matter” (Sabotage)

Edgy, insistent, acid-tinged, a little sonic roughness, an echo chamber of 'homemade discord'. TUNE, in fact.

8. Great Panoptique Winter “Wildness” (Sound In Silence)

Ooh, the first vocal so far, as the band that could have been Large Declining Electrical cruise into town with six tracks of tender wilderness wonderment, “Wildness”, on a sumptuously-clad CD-r. The don is “Put Hope In Future Days”, which boasts borderline murderous beauty, as divine a thing as you could wish for from people that between them, don’t forget, once helped bring the likes of “Outside Closer”, “Postal Museum” and “Club Life” into this world.

9. Ryuji Takeuchi “Black Tears EP” (Local Sound Network Digital Solutions)

We'd been trying largely to avoid full EPs in 2015, especially yr average techno EP which, by definition, takes as long to ingest as ten 7" single indie-pop A sides (SARAHs 21 to 30, say, if you will persist with the postcards theme), but some demand attention. Including this one from Osaka’s master producer, on his own label.

The first three tracks get progressively playful and frantic, building up to something of a fever pitch (the BPM count skyrockets from a liveable 68 to a dangerously palpitating 155): “Tears 1” is coated in a strange kind of synth-wobbleboard effect before the fevered 909 rattle of "Tears 2“ (a heady mix of mangled piano-down-the-stairs arpeggio and a return to the harder style of "The Fixer") managed to remind us at different points of both Hood's "Cross The Land" and Gang Starr's "Beyond Comprehension", which must count for something.

But just when it dawns on you that he’s going to find it hard to follow the even more intense Cindy-like barrage of "Tears 3" that follows, our hero switches pace completely and pulls "Tearstain" out of his capacious hat: an intensely pretty and diverting beatless piece of post-classical contemplation. We haven't been thrown so off our guard by a record since Gridlink dropped that violin-led instrumental ballad into the thick of a titanically claustrophobic grindcore album. A consoling change of mood, it could be a lost Blueboy B-side. Excellent stuff all round.

10. Niereich “Tweak Control” (Sick Weird Rough)

Not animal, not vegetable, strictly MINIMAL: a beep/bleep synthline, as they’re known in the industry (they are!) that strolls nonchalantly over broken eggshell beats. Something of a departure from his usual fare, but at least as generally fab.

11. DJ Hi-Shock “The Travelers (The Remixes)" (Darknet)

Both sparky (132 bpm, your honour) and sparkly (if I were a magpie, I’d swipe it in a heartbeat) this is a record with a twinkle in its eye. Able remix support from Subsight, Niereich, Fabrice Torricella and Claudio Petroni into the bargain. Plus, you can still get the original mix on 12” (so we did).

12. Mörbeck “Pyramid” (M_Rec)

A mellow beast from the Berliner on silky, sexy 12” which moves with purpose and with subtle, intriguing switches of dynamic as well as an ominous, repeated chime. All at a controversial 127 beats per.

13. Electrorites “Sequences” (Sick Weird Rough)

This intricate, Italianate gem unfurled itself only in the last weeks of the year, and even before its shimmering, beatless, windchime-style last minute, unsurprisingly-titled lead track “Sequences 001” demonstrates that SWR are now firmly back on track after a couple of surprisingly dodgy singles earlier in 2015.

14. Sven Wittekind “Butterfly Effect” (Sick Weird Rough)

After the exertions of previous ILWTT chart-dominating years, it took him nearly 11/12ths of this year even to get a single out. But this is no crushingly full-on “Sven is back” dancefloor-killer. No, this is subtle. Almost sub-subtle. You can still tell it’s the master craftsman at work, but this is all precision German engineering, not the crash and clang of traditional assembly line tools. All that said, the cumulative impact is BIG. Which, judging by the title, is probably what he intended.

15. Novelist x Mumdance “1 Sec” (XL)

Astonishingly, a great record on XL, as Lewisham’s dexterous teenage MC Novelist joins battle with divebombing flips from all-round beat supremo and on/off Pinch collaborator Mumdance as they share top billing for the first time following Novelist’s starring role on 2014’s amazing Mumdance 45, “Take Your Time”. "Shook" on the flip is not far short. 12”, with instrumentals.

16. Durrty Goodz “Off Da Heezy” (self-released)

"My work of art’s official / Your work is artificial”. He could be talking to pretty much anyone there, because DG remains an MC who is fully qualified to lord it over his rivals. Yes, Goodz is back and sounding remarkably on top of this stripped-down Machine Man Tim prod with a heavy Platinum 45 / eski-era vibe. Mad greezy.

17. Nothing Clean / La Letra Pequena split 7” (Vleesklak Records / Samidzat Records / Circus Of The Macabre Records)

LEICESTER CITY HARDCORE!” apparently. Taste the blistering NC side of this record and you’ll get a bouquet of… Wormrot, Ampere, the Atrocity Exhibit, Flyblown, Sidetracked, that sort of thing, all thrown together in a crazily gyrating cement mixer. Incredibly unyielding powerviolence, but yet underneath it all you can sense the tunes.

18. Despise You “All Your Majestic Bullshit” (No Bread!)

Cassettes are everywhere now, if most popular of all with a new wave of young DC-style hardcore bands who wouldn't even remember when it was a credible format (I know, it never really was, and yet we paid £5 a time to the majors for the privilege of easily-chewed tapes you could accidentally record over).

Inglewood’s Despise You are not, it should be recorded, youngsters. Indeed, they are scene veterans and legends, one of the bands that, in our humble opinion, help make America great. Like their near-neighbours, Ices Cube and T, they speak more sense than all the politicians in the USA put together, and this typically nil-nonsense, slightly Weekend Nachos-like title number is joined by the anthemic “Centinela Park, Hosanna” and a cover of Rich Kids on LSD’s “Drink Positive”.

As well as this (Russian!) tape release, the 3 tracks also turned up on a (one sided) Pessimiser 7”, we believe.

19. Amir Razanica “Proctor” (Elite of Techno)

Another artist with a signature sound and a fairly unvarying M.O., Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Amir Razanica released a dozen percussion-heavy singles this year, of which this outing on nicely-named German label Elite of Techno (still not quite as good as Tech You Very Much, though) is unwaveringly the best. I got so excited listening to this whilst watching Match of the Day with the sound turned down in the usual way that I knocked one of my favourite beer glasses onto the floor, but this is so compelling it was almost worth sweeping up all the shards. A definite WIWOV ("wish it was on vinyl"; or should that be "wish it were on vinyl")? Anyway, we WIVOV regardless.

20. Sandro Galli “Atom” (Embrion Music)

Like Amir Razanica, Sandro Galli tends to release a new single roughly every fortnight, and for us this was def. the pick of his. By our Sandro’s own uncompromisingly rumbustious, tempestuous and above all repetitive standards, “Atom” is if anything actually rather lowkey - almost shyly so - but no less rewarding for that.

21. Ryuji Takeuchi "Information Overload" EP (Labrynth)

Mr T, now well ensconced in both our "wish they were uncles" top ten and our usual Subbuteo first eleven, reprises his recent "Missing The Moon" fetish, this time arming his composition with industrial percussion & some alarmingly high freqs and crashing it (figuratively, you understand) slap bang into the middle of a munitions factory, with predictably uproarious consequences. Suffocatingly overloaded at times, this does exactly what it says on the tin.

22. Pinch and Mumdance featuring Riko Dan “Big Slug” (Tectonic)

major 12”, from no less than three musical heavyweights. Riko's having trouble with his flowerbeds again and so, in true skengman mode, declares war on every slug in the E postcodes (true fact: slugs are much faster than seahorses, but just not as fast as the bpm on which Pinch and man of the moment Mumdance pilot this). My goodness, Riko Dan is in menacing form: pity those poor gastropod molluscs.

23. Royal-T “Shotta” (Butterz)

And another total corker. We’ve just been very… spoiled this year, haven’t we?

"Shotta" is a rare ‘club’ 12” with a picture sleeve, as well as great, thoughtful sleevenotes from R-T himself. His reaction to tamer, more placid dancefloor trends was this frantic collage of gunshot sounds and sirens, producing a sound one might describe as “murder on the Ice Rink”, if so minded. The vinyl leads off with P Money killing it on an esp. compelling “Lock Off The Rave” tip, though there’s also an mp3 floating around on which Footsie does the honours, before sloping off about half way through and leaving the rest of it as a (still killer) instrumental.

24. Wen featuring Riko Dan “Play Your Corner (Remixes)” (Keysound)

Hm. Riko really doesn't like informers, does he?

Anyway, a ready short cut for predicting “singles of the year” in any particular year is probably “whichever dubstep bloke is randomly doing a record with either Flowdan or Riko Dan this year” (last year it was Rabit and Kaiju) so hey presto…

This 12” single paired excellent Walton and Kahn & Neek remixes of the track from Wen’s “Signals” LP which – I think – was never itself a 45. Walton’s is especially grimey, mixing the kind of simple beats that Skepta and JME once did on their early production outings with a harder, serrated edge. Which all means there are now three versions of this tune, all brilliant, floating about. Other people who bought this from Juno also bought the Spook School LP, by the way. Rightly.

25. Wiley / Zomby “Step 2001” (Big Dada)

No, this wasn't one of his 8 singles in those 8 heady summer weeks. On this one, dubstep sorcerer Zomby approximates a vintage eski riddim, and Wiley... well, you know Wiley, he just does his irrepressible, loquacious, thing, rhyming for a good 2 1/2 minutes without a pause and removing all glumness within a hundred mile radius. This was on a one-sided 12", along with the icy inst. Funny how one-sided singles always manage to be just as expensive, though, isn't it?

26. Merky Ace “Peak Levels EP” (Dirtee Stank)

Our Merky steps up (ably) to Dizzee’s label on a 3-tracker with Footsie production. The bracingly ace “Cuss Match” leads the charge in proper barnstorming fashion, despite its clinical, clipped, precise beats.

27. Heavy Pet / Oakland Health Academy split cassette (Emotional Response)

Talking of Sarah, as we were, we honestly never ‘got’ why many Sarah fans didn’t like Boyracer. Their sense of longing, urgency, emotional resonance and anger seemed to us to fit perfectly with every precept of the label, and they went on to produce one of its finest ever songs. Heavy Pet are effectively (and self-admittedly) the latest Boyracer incarnation, and their three songs provide just the same qualities, allied with a sense of melody and some delicious hooks, taken at speed as if they were hairpin bends.

As for Oakland Health Academy (whom we had anglicised for a while as Oakland Health Authority), they match up: the semi-dreamy, mid-paced indiepop swirl of “Goodnight Sweetheart” feels like it could be a Cloudberry 7” (Roque, get them on your radar if you haven’t already!) This is so good that it reminds me of both Hula Hoop and Youngfuck.

28. Merky Ace “El P” (Family Tree)

On fire, as Galaxie 500 might say. On a WIWOV tip, there really needs to be some vinyl from Merky Ace at some point, because he’s becoming unignorably brill. A neat counter to that clinical Dirtee Stank debut earlier in the year, this joint (like Stick Man, he’s back in the Family Tree) is chaotic, edgy, convincingly um, vulgar (spot the middle class reviewer). It’s also fabulous.

And still they come. Stone-cold classics all, and we’re nearly into the thirties!

29. Ryuji Takeuchi “Invisible Armor EP” (Local Sound Network)

“Silhouette” is the peach here, though the whole thing is a bowl of the freshest fruit. As we suggested here, possibly.

30. The Fireworks “On and On” (Shelflife)

The first great single of 2015. As we said at the time. And not even the best track on that excellent LP.

31. Wiley “Wickedest MC Alive” (Chasing The Art)

Opening course of the 8 singles he served up in 8 weeks over the summer to launch his new Chasing The Art label, which is of course a *very* Wiley thing to do.

32. Kano “Hail” / “New Banger” (Bigger Picture)

Right. “Hail” is neat enough, “Hail” is cigar. But, like we said earlier, “New Banger” is K’s best song since “P’s & Q’s” or “Ice Rink”. Which means his best for a very very very long time.

33. Wiley “Send Me The Riddim” (Chasing The Art)

He doesn’t really need any more riddims, does he? I bet he can’t even get into his own house (in E3, one would guess), it’ll be so jammed full of riddims. Anyway, this was in Wiley’s top 3 singles of 2015, so top quartile. Altogether now: “I’m not an up and coming MC / I’m an up and running MC” (holler from bus windows to passing startled City workers, to fade).

34. Lightning In A Twilight Hour “Slow Changes EP” (Elefant)

In which our Bob gets angry, opinionated AND experimental, and totally rules in the process.

35. Lunchbox “Smash Hits EP” (Jigsaw Records) 

"Oh me, oh my... Lunchbox really have a way with tunes. Melodies simply abound: little ones, big ones, huge ones, snaking in and out everywhere. And on their ace six-track “Smash Hits” EP, also on Jigsaw, they’ve upped their game by going all kind of scuzzy-90s lo-fi, and speeding things up a notch. Yet all those melodies are still there, and they ring out through the gorgeous fuzz as clear and proud as the bells of every East End church put together."

Yep, that.

36. Jeff Rushin "A Figment of His Imagination" (Mote Evolver)

Frankly there are so many records this year that just make you want to applaud. This is yet another one. The title track is scintillating – but the other three are possibly even better as Jeff Rushin, ON Records supremo and ‘010s dancefloor Resenbrink, seamlessly emerges onto the leafy, villagey English imprint of Mote Evolver and tells them exactly what he thinks of their warm beer and sandwiches. “Coda” is the titan, but “Enigma” comes close, cut from the same fine cloth as fellow countryman Sceptical C’s “Weekend Culture”.

37. Robert Forster “Let Me Imagine You” (Tapete)

2015 saw a new single and LP from the big man, still Australia’s most handsome. And the single was the quintessentially perfect three-minute pop song. Which was nice.

38. Amir Razanica “Beyond the Horizont” (Klinik Room)

Not a typo, btw. 128bpm marvel from the Bosnian master, on a Croatian imprint.

39. Novelist x Mumdance “1 Sec (Fabriclive VIP)” (Fabric)

Haven’t we already had this? Well, not quite – this is a 10” single of the lyrically updated remix from Jack Adams’ Fabriclive 80 outing, paired with some quite lovely untitled drone from Jefre Cantu-Ledesma (the most unusual pairing since John Fashanu and Nigel Clough started up front for England). Though, having dug out a few of Novelist's works now, we can't help feeling that he's only half the MC when the beats behind him aren't Mumdance's. The full Fabriclive mix, in the usual silver box, is also worth investigating for Mumdance’s VIP re-take of “Take Time”, this time with Riko Dan basically murdering the riddim.

40. Actual Crimes “5 Songs” EP (Tunnel Visions)

Have you heard Sleater-Kinney recently? They are not the band we once loved. Luckily, London queer punk duo Actual Crimes sound here like a band we really could love. "We Shouldn't Be Friends" is the obvious ‘hit’: it leads off this yes, cassette and its driving, rickety charm is instantly warming as well as hella catchy. The other tracks more obviously betray the DIY quirk-punk tradition, which is equally warming (bringing back listening to Peel, under the covers, when he played Slampt 45s).

41. Isnaj Dui / The Declining Winter split (Rural Colours)

This gorgeous 12” hooked up two tracks from Isnaj Dui, collectively called “Stone’s Throw”, with seven mid-fi balladettes from the never-declining Declining Winter (together, an EP called “The Leaves In The Lane”).

I think we are probably now boring you with how often we go on about the Declining Winter but it’s amazing that in 2015 not only did they manage 14 tracks of general aceness on their vinyl LP, and another 5 that came with the bonus free download EP, and then another 2 that appeared on the CD version of that album they had to issue when the vinyl one sold out, and then that fab contribution to the Crabstick tribute EP, and then another nine songs that became “Endless Scenery”, but they somehow yet had 7 tracks over even after all of that to spare for this record. Songs that don’t sleep on the band’s usual dreamy, rustic, charming qualities.

However, the Isnaj Duj side is (wait for it)… even better. On it, Halifax’s leading practitioner of elegant electronica swaps her, er, post-flaut rock for ambient cello-tronica. The sombrely baroque "Points And Switches" is the more melodic, but we love both the bleak minimal experimentalism of "Radial Fields", and then the way the cello is freed to dance around for the last couple of minutes of it.

42. Sophie Nixdorf “Youko” (Rezongar Music)

Funk-soaked sonics, eventually infiltrated by nagging synth charms. At 127bpm.

43. Mintech “Southern District” (Driving Forces Digital Series)

Whereas 126bpm is a Sunday morning drive, really, isn’t it? A handy partner for “Youko” in your DJ sets, “Southern District” rings with more than a nod to da funk, but building to a trio of clangingly metallic refrains.

44. Ninna V “Subversive” (Darknet)

No relation to Frenkie V, or indeed Saturn V. But “Subversive” is still great, blackened, autumnal techno (we were going to say “late night techno”, then realised the tautology of that) from the veteran Portuguese DJ.

45. Redhead “No Control” (Reda)

Superbly no-nonsense, own label, almost Akinfenwatic piledriver from the Belgian, at 128.

46. Mr Brown featuring Cappo, Jehst, Pneumatic, eMCee Killa, Solar Black, Teslas Ghost, Ray Vendetta, MNSR Frites, Brotherman, Confucius MC, Kashmere & Life MC “Oil Baron” (King Underground)


47. Niereich & XHEI “Vrill” (AFU)

A really gorgeous marbled vinyl 12” (swoon). Apparently recorded round XHEI's gaff, somewhere in the latter's native Argentina. It sounds like one of them has laboured for aaaages layering a delicate minimalist dance track, and then the other bloke has just waded in, parked a Quilmes on the soundboard and just plonked the biggest bass drum he could find all over it. Quite marvellous, mind. We especially like the fact that the bass drum just carries on at the end on its own for a minute for no discernible reason, as if they'd just forgotten to switch it off.

48. The Charlie Tipper Experiment “You Made Me Homeless” (Breaking Down) 

Our soundtrack to this year's terrible, terrible General Election result, as good as that was bad.

49. Sandro Galli “Black Skull” (Technodrome)

Ratcheting it up to 132, this was more sunny summer delight from our Sandro.

50. The Charlie Tipper Experiment “Rock & Roll Dreaming EP” (Breaking Down)

Band name fact: apparently, at some point this year the Charlie Tipper Experiment changed their moniker to the Charlie Tipper Conspiracy. There doesn't seem to have been any particular reason for this change, but then again we often find that "no reason" is often actually the best reason. Spontane!

51. Sir Spyro “Side by Side” (Dragon Punch Records)

A world from his moody Rude Kid remix inst, Sir S pilots this old-style showcase for bars from the Frontline crew. Good to hear “dat lickle youtPresident T again (yep, last time was via Bless Beats on Eskibeat, seven yrs ago!)

52. The Catenary Wires “Intravenous“ (Elefant Records) 

Like all good new beginnings, this arrived in the spring, along with newies from Agnostic Front and Maruta. It was nice to see Amelia on BBC4, wasn’t it, rifling through her unsurprisingly formidable-looking 7” collection? Only a shame this can’t be in it (pesky download-only singles). WIWOV, then.

53. Loop “Array #1” (ATP Recordings)

We touched on this comeback here, a write-up which should also explain why it's in our singles of the year and not albums. A riveting EP, though it's the thrillingly seductive sonic experiment “Coma” that still stands out.

54. Newham Generals “N to the G’s” EP (Dirtee Stank)

Yet again, and alone amongst grimesters, the Generals refuse to disappoint. The first track, “Levels”, OWNS.

55. Modern Problems “Identity EP” (Black Dots)

Clean-sounding but generously intense 5-track EP from New York’s Modern Problems, channelling Dag Nasty but keeping the tunes shorter and sounding even more incensed (you can taste the despairing bafflement / sheer anger of “I Don’t Understand”, and feel the pain in the brilliantly dramatic shout / guitar drop-out that illuminates “Fight”). On cassette, obviously.

56. Extreme Noise Terror “Chained And Crazed” (Quagga Curious Sounds)

An etched, lathe-cut, square 7” limited to all of 31 copies. “Chained And Crazed” would not be the best song on their self-titled LP later in the year, but it would inevitably do enough to destroy the hearing of anyone vaguely in range, which seemed only right and proper.

57. The Popguns “Still Waiting For The Winter” EP (Matinée Recordings)

Splendidly wintry even in the height of summer when it snuck out, this EP cast Brighton's pop glitterati the Popguns in a different light.

58. Sandro Galli “Cerebral Frequency “(Wonder Works)

President Carter *loves* this. Few do repetition better. 130, since you ask.

59. Sandro Galli “Narcotics” (Factory 918: Regression)

Eat my dancefloor, he commands. Again. Pryzbylewski loves this, probably.

60. Parcel Post “Centimetres” (Kingfisher Bluez Recording Company)

I have a notion Cloudberry were involved in this 7" somewhere, pleasingly, and it may well be this is actually from 2014, but we didn’t hear it until this year.

"Centimetres" is derivative. It’s unoriginal. It’s colour by numbers stuff, really. It’s twee (arguably). And yet it's also sheer bloody brilliance, a smile-making janglefest to frame a sunny day. Parcel Post go for the jugular here in sheer terms of death by indiepopness, and why not? As the Shop Assistants might have put it, what a way to die.

61. Mobb Deep “Survival of the Fittest EP” (Infamous Records)

When they were about 19, Mobb Deep recorded “Shook Ones”. This alone means that from here to eternity they will remain one of the best combos that have ever existed in any genre. This EP wasn’t bad either, at least on a par with last year’s surprisingly high-quality album, but although opener “Hide Away” provides a thrilling slow burn, it’s the remixed title track that pulls up the most trees.

62. Wiley “Standby” (Chasing The Art)

Not that far short of “Step 2001”, only sullied by having a bit of a hook, but this is frantic and frenetic and, as ever, the best bars touch on the truly exhilarating.

63. Wiley "P Money" (Chasing The Art)

Paean rather than diss, in case you were wondering. One of the tidiest production jobs on any Wiley single this year, we reckon.

64. Sheek Louch featuring Pusha-T "Bang Bang" (Tommy Boy Entertainment)

Having shared an hour of my stag night with the Lox's Sheek Louch, I still feel a certain affinity. But even without that soul-deep connection this would be in here - sparse and dislocated, it feels experimental, even grime-influenced. Sheek's a bit of a lazy get, though: only 40 seconds of this actually feature his dulcet tones (naturally, we could have done with more).

65. Niereich vs. Hackler & Kuch “Do You Read Me” (Darknet)

Livewire Austro-Dutch tech-JA sophistication @ the statutory 128.

66. Faze Miyake (featuring Little Simz) “The Nest” (Rinse/Ammunition)

We well appreciate that Faze Miyake is far, far too “trendy” to warrant appearing in one of our round-ups, but the truth is that as well as being a very handsome man and a somewhat de rigeur name to drop, he has quite an ear for skittery grime beats and deploys them with great verve here for young Little Simz to rhyme over.

67. Rival “Mi Na Ramp” (Biskit Klub)

It’s headshot season again as Rival slews dem with this razorsharp, raga-chorused single. Shame he'll always be judged by reference to "Lock Off The Rave", won't he? At least by us. But that doesn't stop this one from ripping it up like Edwyn.

68. Goodly Thousands “Sunshine Hair” (Shelflife)

Gosh. This is rather good(ly), isn’t it? The music recalls McCarthy, embellished by a few Johnny Marr-isms, but the lyrics are more traditionally indie-pop. And the vocals are pure Honey Bunch. Trebles all round.

69. Wiley “Lost Property” (Chasing The Art)
70. Wiley “25 MCs” (Chasing The Art)

Two more odes to another year spent notching up easy classics. At this stage of the evening we've literally run out of superlatives for him.

71. Mez “Sike” (Kidda Beats)

Our first exposure to real Nottingham grime, at least since we lived in Hyson Green (boom-tish). The title may prompt recollections of a fresh-faced Ant and Dec on TOTP, but the beats here are seriously energetic and enjoyable, like that Dynasty Crew cut from “Run The Road” that we got dangerously obsessed with… cripes, more than a decade ago. How time flies.

72. Stormzy “Know Me From” (Ditto Music)

“I come to your team and I fuck shit up / I’m David Moyes”

Until “Shotta” (q.v.) came along, this was probably as close as ’15 got to “Lock Off The Rave” (so not quite close enough, but still). "Know Me From" came perilously close to the UK Top 40, which is not something we can say of most of the singles in this list.

73. Agnostic Front “Police Violence” (Nuclear Blast)

Back of the net. Highest placed sub-one minute single, unless you start filleting the Nothing Clean release into its individual tunes.

74. Cindy “Cindy and Her Fuckin’ Liberal Ideas for Track Names” EP (Vent Germany)

Ah, Cindy; we just can't get away, she still kills us every day. Read all about this one here.

75. Skinless "Serpenticide" (Relapse Records)

This year's essential slice of death metal, as the New Yorkers returned from extended absence to conquer all. But was it as good as "Trample The Weak, Hurdle The Dead"? Put it this way - that was their "Lock Off The Rave". Have you noticed we’re still obsessed with "Lock Off The Rave"? Everyone should be.

76. Niereich “Democratic System Fail” (Morforecs)

As bigged up in our general election singles round-up here, though the other songs on this various artists EP fall sadly short.

77. Maxsta, Boothroyd & Maniac “100 Problems” (Rinse)

Genuinely intriguing three-way tussle between the hungry East London MC Maxsta, Tri-Angle producer (and Slowdive and Stone Roses fan) Boothroyd and legendary if disgraced grime producer Maniac, now back in earnest on a rehabilitation tip. This six-track EP got a welcome (if inevitably limited) vinyl release, too.

78. Jilk and Haiku Salut “Periscopes” (How Does It Feel To Be Loved?)

According to one august commentariat, "a prime dose of electronica as it should be in MMXV: rewarding, thought-provoking, a source of inner warmth. Its ebbs and flows manage to neatly evoke both pastoral beauty and glitch-soundtracked drug comedown, making it as apt for country picnicking as for the nightbus through Dalston."

79. Jazz-T featuring Jehst, Zygote, Jyager "The Lesson" (Boot)

'Twas "[a] splendid, old-school sleeveless 7” teach-in from the Diversion Tactics Two... pure joy, as Jazz and Zygote revisit the thematic territory of DT’s own “School Thing” 45, stirring inevitable ‘edutainment’ samples (courtesy of KRS and others), into their – very - special brew... the MCs have home economics fun aplenty as they cook up schooldays-related metaphors. The key to the single is a buzzing hook which sounds a little like the breaktime bell has been got at by some troublesome fifth-formers."

There were a few even better tunes on the LP ("Run The Changes"), when that rolled up much later in 2015.

80. Drug Control “Drug Control EP” (Straight & Alert)

Tidy 5-track 7” straightedge belter from San Diego combo, on a French label.

81. Manage & Emcee Killa “On Top” (Boom Bap Professionals)

Mr Manage (“Rise Up”), still in cahoots with Chemo, teams up with Caxton Press’s Killa on another lost classic that should have been a 7”. Or a 12”. Basically, WIWOV. They still hate Thatcher, btw.

82. The Flatmates “When You Were Mine” / “Comedian” (Astro Girl)

Not quite sure how it took 3 years to release these tracks, though given what we’ve said before about pressing plants, and given the painful realities of copyright clearance, actually perhaps we are. It's worth it, we think, especially as the gang rattle off the Cinerama tune in much the way the Wedding Present might themselves have done, once upon a while. That said, that fabled first Flatmates album has now been 30 years in the making, so to be honest it had better be good.

83. Nick Roberts "Punk Ethics" (Boom Bap Professionals)

A 7" EP of unimpeachable quality from the ever-impressive BBP crew. J-Live anchors lead track "Lesson Learned" with an almost casual brilliance.

84. Wiley featuring Cadell “Shredded Wheat” (Chasing The Art)

More wholegrain goodness from the one and only, this time on one of his heartwarming brace of 2015 collabos with war-dub loving, olders-disrespecting, Novelist-doubting younger brother Cadell.

85. UV/TV / Shark Toys split 7" (Emotional Response)

UV/TV hail from Gainesville, Florida and make a marvellous, high speed racket, which quakes and shakes in all the best places; on the other side, Los Angeles' frantic and ramshackle Shark Toys tear things up mercilessly on the pleasingly Bright Lights-ish "New Song #3".

86. Straight Razor “Straight Razor” (React! Records)

7” extended play from new Bedford, MA band which maxes the straightedge over 8 tracks, brimming nicely with a real MDC feel in places.

87. Cadell x Wiley “Fair & Square” (Hotline Distributions)

There is blatantly much more of Wiley on this record (which came out at pretty much the same time as "Shredded Wheat") than Cadell. Apart from the misdescription, though, it's all gravy, as the pair continue their rapid-fire sparring.

88. Maruta “Striding Endlessly Over Scorched Earth” (Relapse) 

An intriguing slip of a single:"entertaining, manic and Beefheartian grindcore which would have graced Ron Johnson records, it really would".

89. Enemy Anemone / Cougar Vox split 7" (Emotional Response)

A trio of short-burst Girls At Our Best tributes from Jen Turrell and entourage under nom de plume nombre 233, paired with a couple of spiky, unsettling numbers from the intriguing, and self-confessedly 'odd' Melburnian, Cougar Vox.

90. Myrkur “Hævnen” (Relapse Records)

Doomy, black metal-grunge. Cooing female vocal melodies. Frantic, breakneck grindcore yelling. Elegant, gothic guitar swirl. All in three minutes. Yep, it could only be Myrkur. This was a taster from her "M" album, a Danish pastry of the same eclectic and magical influences.

91. R. Rose “Having Never Written A Note For Percussion” (Further Records)

Beats per minute: nil. This is really where My Bloody Valentine should have ended up, had they had the courage of their convictions and not the urgent need to impress their legions of indie-minded fans (and bank manager). This also reminds us that we really miss Lull.

92. Verb-T & Ill Informed “The First Stone” (High Focus)

Still strictly speaking sense and only sense, Verb T continues to mature, like a fine oak-aged whisky. He also managed to sneak in a trip on the cable-car from North Greenwich in the video, we note.

93. The Debutantes “Adams Apples” (Emotional Response)

Fuzztastic reverb-fest on seven, featuring two September Girls, from what we all now know to be Arizona’s finest label.

94. Amir Razanica “Fears After The War” (Urban Kickz)

We're quite easily moved, which is probably why this EP about the Balkans powderkeg, as contemplative as a techno heater at 126 bpm can be, headed off several other Razanica rockets to claw its way into the final 100 reckoning.

95. Footsie “On This Ting” (Braindead Entertainment)

He is indeed.

96. Virgil Enzinger & Van Nosikov “Monasterio” (I.cntrl)

This collaboration on the Enzinger house label is probably the greatest example of an Austro-Russian entente since Opus and Tatu teamed up for that unlikely cover version of "I'm In Love With A Girl Who Doesn't Know I Exist". Pretty sure that must have been for charity.

97. Chase & Status “London Bars EP” (Mercury)

Damn. Who let that major label in here? The trendy D&Bers turn once more to grime with this EP that collects their four 2015 e-singles carved in earnest collaboration with Frisco, Giggs, Bonkaz and Novelist respectively. With those guys in tow, it’s impossible to get it too wrong.

98. Irregular Synth “Techno Assault” (Sick Weird Rough)
99. AnGy KoRe “In Da Rave” (Sick Weird Rough)

Until a brace of heavy-hitters in the run up to Christmas, SWR were strangely quiet this year, and even more surprisingly, some of their wares seemed merely… 'okay', as opposed to the usual 'amazing'. Tip from an old man: if you’re going to call songs (deeply promising) things like “In Da Rave” or “Techno Assault”, they really need to be a bombardment, to pepper every available sense with dance noise chaos, but these likeably old-fashioned tunes didn’t really achieve that, despite Irregular Synth managing some nice Frenkie V-style messing around in the middle section.

100. Skepta “Shutdown” (Boy Better Know)

Interesting one, this. A strong single from Meridian Skep (we bought it and - as you can see - we liked it), which is about time given a longtime failure to re-scale past heights. "Shutdown" is VFM pop-grime, its braggadocio neatly countervailed by a sense of real... fun. And yet - despite many superior singles this year from any number of grime types, including several from Wiley, not to mention some of the other cobweb-blasting indie and dance singles mentioned above - this was the song that the Guardian saw fit to name their "song of the year". They really have no clue, do they?

Bubbling under...: HeavyTrackerz featuring P Money, Newham Generals, Stormzy, Big H, Flirta D, Young Teflon and Desperado, Blacks featuring P Money, Kai Randy Michel, Dirty Danger featuring Frisco, Roachee and D Double E, Red Sleeping Beauty (pleased they're back, but oh how they made a rod for their own back by naming themselves after one of the greatest singles ever released), Funk Butcher x Trim, Wiley featuring Flowdan and Scratchy, several from Sandro Galli, Dario Sorano, Plastician featuring Jammz, Pete Astor, more e-platters that (e-)matter from Wiley, Niereich, Miss Sunshine, a few from Amir Razanica, Spiros Kaloumenos, Mark Broom, Fury (a raw US punk band, incidentally, not a grime MC), Terror (likewise, of course), Virus Syndicate featuring D.O.D., Akani, Stig of the Dump, The Flex, Hard Left, Crown Court, Red Death, Bugzy Malone, Lego, The Comet Gain Niereich & Krischmann & Klingenberg, Gayle San, Planetary Assault Systems, Gabeen again (this time with Dr Hoffmann), Cliché Morph, Ortin Cam, Frau Anke, Hell Driver, Submerge & Ricardo Garduno, Michael Lasch, Brian Burger and a heavenly host of other talented artistes, their scrawled names all now buried in the annual pile of beermats and post-it notes.

We’d best not mention that Slayer single, mind.

* * * * *

That's surely enough, but one more indulgence. When we were younger, we became fairly obsessed with Tramway, especially the still-stunning "Technical College". During some Sarah gig at the Fleece I remember asking Clare and Matt, "So what happened to Tramway?"

"Oh, you missed them, they just left".

Of course we'd had no idea Tramway might have been at the venue (though there was of course a frisson of excitement that they might have been supping pints only feet from where we'd stood). All we really cared about was hearing more of their music. We were told they'd 'gone country', and were off the label.

We then spent over 20 years trying to find the LP we knew that Tramway had subsequently released for Siesta, a record that we don't recall ever having made it into an actual shop. Nor into the record collections, seemingly, of... anyone we've ever met.

This month, this very month, we finally tracked down a copy of that album, "A Brand Of Lovin'", thanks to a distro in Berlin, of all places. I don't think I could have been more excited if I was still 20. That longing, that searching, and that excitement, are all part of this patchwork, of the infinite magic of music; and these were just another 100 reasons why we're never going to let that go.