Thursday, October 08, 2015

Cappo & Nappa “Rebel Base” (King Underground)

Notts’ hot. A mere, erm, two years after the taster 12”, “Red Hot”, we now at last have Cappo and Nappa’s full-length “Rebel Base” collaboration on King Underground, spread out as is traditional over four sides of gratifyingly black vinyl.

Like the single that long preceded it, the album is a fecund combination of DJ Nappa’s funk-drenched retro samples and Cappo’s raw, combative wordplay, closer to the feel of the latter’s LP with Styly Cee than his more cerebral/experimental “Genghis” set (although there are moments, like the tingling “Still Me”, in which the MC’s more contemplative side shines through). Welcome signs that it’s “business as usual” for Caps include metaphors that invoke a typically disparate roll call of names, from Charles Dickens to Chris Morris via Basquiat and Manny Pacquiao; and song titles that reflect the sentiment and seriousness of his rhyme philosophy: “Originate”, “Commitment Statement”, “Honour Code”, “The Discipline”… as you know, in our humble op he is up with the all-time greats.

As well as the distinctly rejuvenating DJ Premier-inspired licks of “Red Hot” (which has rather grown on us in the LP’s two-year gestation period!) highlights for us include the “Loyalty”-like piano-backed “Originate”, the brash brass of opener “Commitment Statement”, the darkly minimal no-prisoner “The Gift”, the slick & slinky MGUN-ish IDM of "Elite Marine", the disco-prowling prowess of "Kaos" and its hungry bassline, and the sound of Luton Town turning East Coast as Nappa nimbly helms the Bomb Squad-style "Get Live". And there’s the statutory sampled nod to P.E. too (“Rebel BASS!” intones Chuck, inevitably, on side two). Indeed, there's a more than liberal sprinkling of classic old-skool samples across the LP.

With sixteen ‘proper’ tunes on show, the only real dilution of quality comes during the occasional guest spots: much as it’s terrific to hear the likes of Midnyte (of “No Pills, No Thrills” ‘fame’) and Konny Kon (whose CV boasts “Capkon Entertaiment” and “Stay Ex-Static”) again, it’s hard for the invited MCs here to quite keep up with Cappo’s confident stride, the only exception being “The Man”, in which both the mighty Life MC (once, like Nappa, of Phi Life Cypher) and the legendary MCM bring real gravitas to the table.

Unfortunately the vinyl of this is ludicrously limited - we managed to garner one of just 250 – and, as goes hand in hand with that, almost ruinously expensive, but we don’t think any sensible punter will regret spending the £7.99 you can get the full soundfiles for over at bandcamp. Taken alongside Scor-Zay-Zee’s prodigious “Peace To The Puzzle” back in the spring, “Rebel Base” is another example of how Nottingham’s finer flows (and we’re not talking about the Trent) still swirl sublimely around the very pinnacle of UK hip-hop.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Niereich “Ventricular (Remixes)” (Nachtstrom Schallplatten): Ryuji Takeuchi “Invisible Armor EP” (Local Sound Network): Loop “Array #1” (ATP Recordings)

Greetings, comrades. Fuck the Tory party conference (obviously). Instead, why don’t we sit down and listen to three singles that, between them, last an hour and a half…?

First off are four blokes we’ve never heard of, remixing a solid but fairly nondescript track from an affable but unremarkable album. On the face of it, then, this “Ventricular” remix EP, re-harvesting a tune from Niereich’s “Ghosts & Flowers” long-player last year, does not provide the recipe for essential listening. But sometimes we relish such challenges, and Niereich is an artist good enough to go the extra mile for. Also, this 12” on Nachtstrom Schallplatten is on clear red vinyl, so plenty decorative. Our little heads can be turned by such things.

So if “Ventricular” once felt like a story without an ending, it now has four: Joachim Spieth’s subtler re-fashioning of the song provides the right jump-off, Kessell transforms it into a chiming, discombobulated repeto-fest, Flug decides to pilot it into the outer reaches of the galaxy before crashlanding on a planet festooned with craters fair frothing with spacey synth loops, and Dave Tarrida then returns it live and direct to the dancefloor, drawing on the original’s punishing, rattling rhythms.

“Remixes” can’t match the calibre of 2014’s “Das Testament” 12” on Overdrive, which contained four mixes (including the original) of that doozy: nor does any one of these re-interpretations hit the somewhat dizzying heights of Mike Humphries’ Testament remix, which threatened at times to redefine the word “addictive”. But, with at least three of these redux Ventriculars overhauling the original, the whole package is definitely worth the extra effort.

Now. Like last year's tour de force "No Way Out", Ryuji Takeuchi’s new EP (English translation: “Invisible Armour”) pairs claustrophobic RT originals with guest remixes. Unlike "No Way Out", however, each side of the 12" kicks off with the remix, so you get to hear the variation before you've heard the theme, if you catch our drift. Here, the would-be Rachmaninovs are Glaswegian producerbloke Deepbass, and Canada's Obscene Mannequin: the former smooths out the untamed barbs of the bracing "Silhouette" (imagine “Vital”’s factory haze, punctured by what sound like at least different two car alarms going off) into a shimmering white sea of easy-bubbling synth patter, yet still maxes out the original's somewhat brooding atmosphere.

On the other side of the record, on which the Takeuchi version of “Veil” splices a shimmering and insistent synth line with a distinctly un-shimmering industrial percussive sledgehammer (take that, Paganini), Obscene Mannequin’s 'pre-mix' manages to shred both synth and the sledgehammer, opting instead for a mannered 4/4, yet if anything its sinister, frothing grooves up the intensity still further.

Speaking of intensity, here come Loop with their comeback single, “Array”. Yes, single, whatever ATP say. It’s got 4 tracks; it’s a single. It has A and B sides, not “one” and “two”; it’s a single. It may play at 33rpm (as do the two records above), but that’s because it’s a very long single, their first since (approx) the invention of the internal combustion engine.

The opening “Precession”, the token newie previewed at their Garage show last year, may not be able to dislodge “Collision”, “Black Sun” or “Got To Get It Over” in our all-time affections, but its churning iridescence just-as-sweetly announces that Loop are right back in the zone: then, after the crawling heart of another fairly classic Loop tune, “Aphelion”, comes the *major* “Coma”, which is a beautiful, minimalist and beatless seven-minute drone, just as compelling as Lull, or last year’s A New Line (Related) 7”. And “Coma” in turn lays a pathway for the epic “Radial”, on the B-side, a piece in three movements which splices another riff-led guitar loop inbetween piquant slabs of cooled white noise over sixteen not unsumptuous minutes.

Many have tried to emulate Loop over the decades, but the truth is this: in other hands, this kind of music often feels self-indulgent. Few have Robert Hampson’s continuing talent for making the repetitive seem so accessible, and the epic sound so fresh.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Wiley “Chasing The Art” (Island): Wiley “Wickedest MC Alive” (Chasing The Art): Wiley “25 MCs” (Chasing The Art): Wiley featuring JME “Gotta Be Strong” (Chasing The Art): Wiley featuring Cadell “Shredded Wheat” (Chasing The Art): Wiley “Lost Property” (Chasing The Art): Wiley “Send Me The Riddim” (Chasing The Art): Wiley featuring Flowdan and Scratchy “Cypress Hill” (Chasing The Art): Wiley “Outchea” (Chasing The Art): Cadell x Wiley “Fair And Square” (Hotline Distributions): Wiley “#8” (Chasing The Art)

I remember when it was all fields round here. Nothing standing for miles around, save us, Tangents, Stolen Kisses and Kitten Painting. But even then, Wiley seemed to release about 30 albums and mixtapes a month.

Some of you will remember how he dominated these pages around 2003-2005, especially. The thing is, we *never* fell out of love with the Grand-duke of Eski’s manic energy, positive attitude and extreme work ethic: we just never had the time to keep up with his relentless release schedule, churning out dozens of tracks at a time. Then, this summer, in order to launch his new “Chasing The Art” sub-label, Wiley announced, in a reasonable contender for the most welcome tweet ever: “For the next 8 weeks I am releasing 1 single a week.”

Like you, we were slightly surprised he hadn’t already done that, but it still knocks even David Gedge’s 1992 single a month conceit into the proverbial cocked hat. And we loved it, because it was simple and instant, and only required three minutes a week to investigate, and then if you liked the singles, there was plenty of time to put them on loop.

Obviously, Wiley being Wiley, he couldn’t quite limit himself to just the 8 singles, so as a prelude he issued another one, “Chasing The Art” (a Heavytrackerz joint) on the parent label, on which he tells us about the concept behind the sub-label (remember, this is how Wiley communicates with his public: issuing whole songs as broadcasts, when others might think that a press release or a solitary tweet sufficed). And even in the midst of the eight-week run proper, he managed to team up with Cadell – this time on the latter’s own imprint - for yet another single, “Fair And Square”, which was billed as Cadell x Wiley, but quite blatantly most of it is Wiley, so it should really have been Wiley x Cadell (yes, one incontrovertible truth highlighted by many of this year’s most rewarding singles is that “x” is the new “vs.”) *And* he also apparently changed his mind about which eight singles to release even after he’d started releasing them, because a couple of the tunes listed on the original flyer never appeared, no doubt overtaken by his sheer fondness for the thrill of the new, their replacements cooked up from scratch in precious minutes of studio downtime.

Anyway. Apparently our long-winded style is no longer welcome in this social media-shackled age. So we’ll keep this bit short(ish). “Wickedest MC” (unusually, one of only two self-produced singles from the eight) and “Send Me The Riddim”, a Teeza production which pays reasonable hommage to Wiley’s beatmaking style, are the tunes you need to hear first: both fair crackle with his breathless, ferocious non-stop rhymes expounding E3 philosophy, with the former containing a feisty a cappella drop out which makes us realise how much we could do with more raw, pure vocal freestyles full stop. The effervescent, Teeza-helmed “Lost Property” is not far behind; nor is Swifta Beater’s “25 MCs”, which takes things a little more slowly (though remember, this is relative) and sees Wiley memorably rhyme ‘Skepta’ with “clapped-out Vectra”. The final single, “Outchea” - a "Gertcha" for the 2010s, surely - even features one Maniac at the controls (long time no hear, though with very good reason).

The handful of guest MC spots vary in success: Flowdan and Scratchy both provide killer stanzas on Wiley’s other production job, “Cypress Hill”, but the single with (and produced by) JME, "Gotta Be Strong", is the one that most seems to lack a sense of purpose (almost as if they thought having Jamie A and Wiley on the track was enough in itself, although to be fair it usually is). And “Shredded Wheat” and “Fair And Square”, which came out within days if not hours of each other, are certainly good companions, as JB Priestley might have had it, but Cadell can’t quite match his exhilarating bars on the new Merky Ace EP.

Overall, though, the quality of this summer blitz of singles from this great survivor, the Bobby Wratten of grime, is better than we could sensibly have hoped for. It’s not just about the delivery, either, as the lyrical themes remain as “can-do” constructive as ever: a bit like Ice-T (albeit in days of yore, and an ocean away), you just know that if only the kids would all listen to him, the kids would be all right. And if you’re more of a “one click” merchant, rather than download all the CTA singles separately you can, as of this week, find them all (the whole Bow-pourri, ha) on “#8”, Wiley’s equivalent of the Wedding Present’s “Hit Parade” volumes.

It seems strange, in a way, that even now new releases from Wiley provide us with a bridge between today and those halcyon years of early Fortuna Pop! 7”s through the letterbox, an active Shinkansen roster, and our fledgling website, but we’re ever-grateful for such sentimental baggage, as well as for the mighty beats.

But if we return (with becoming reluctance) to the present, maybe the most exciting thing of all is this. As good – even great - as some of these singles are, none of them are as dandy as a few other artists' grime singles from 2015 so far. My goodness, there have been some bangers, many gracing 12” vinyl. But we won’t bore you further, don’t worry. Those - for now - are for us to know about and enjoy, and for you to discover for yourselves.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Come Rain Or Shine: The Popguns “Still Waiting For The Winter” EP (Matinée Recordings)

Welcome back to in love with these times, in spite of these times, the indie-pop fanzine that’s owned by the system and controlled by Babylon.

The reasons are legion, I suspect, why we never came to be as accepted as we’d once hoped within the international brotherhood and sisterhood of indie-pop blogs. There are the known reliability and punctuality issues, although our high-tech phalanx of robot engineers are working tirelessly behind the scenes to try and fix these. And there is the alleged tendency to start reviews, when they do eventually emerge, by wandering off at an inconsequential tangent, when any readers who might be left after 16 years of this are probably hoping their perseverance be rewarded by at least an attempt to describe the record in the blog post title, instead of having to scroll through a roundabout, laboured and in all likelihood irrelevant point by way of “introduction”. Anecdotally, we understand that the digressions about digressions are the most enervating of all.

But maybe there’s a more fundamental tenet of indie-pop philosophy on which we fall short; a deeper reason why we find ourselves locked out of the love-in. And it strikes us, as we narrowly dodge a lorry whilst sprinting across the A1 just to secrete ourselves on the shady side of the street, that perhaps it’s this: the fact that we’ve never, truth be told, been particularly fond of the summer, that super sunny summer season of sunny sundae smiles that all our favourite indiepop tunes are apparently meant to endlessly soundtrack. Here at our indefatigably miserabilist capital city HQ, we’ll take sodden autumn or glistening snowscape over T-shirt weather and ‘son of Intertoto’ nonsense every day, and the fourth Undertones single is probably the one we love the least (I know, new heresies daily. It could be the “Please Rain Fall” vs. "Solace" controversy all over again).

Don’t get us wrong, summer is peachy – well, apart from the hay fever, the sunburn, the sweating, the traffic fumes hanging in the air, the hothouse of the Underground, and that curse of "British people in hot weather" (© M.E. Smith) as pavements froth with blotchy red-faced blokes who can't hold their ale and the parks teem with loudly yapping fairweathers in their hipster finery, oh, and “midges hover in the heather" (er, M.E.S. again) - it’s just that sometimes, just to escape the scene’s fetishisation of the sporadic heatwaves of midsummer, we’d rather be reminded of where our natural affinities lie, of the incomparable beauty of those months of shorter days and longer nights: how a coating of snow makes the evening bright, the roads aflame as the lamplights reflect the white. Or something. Thus we spend July and August waiting for the winter… hoping for the rain… that sort of thing (yes, we’re getting there at last. It’s a bit like listening to Thought for the Day, isn’t it, when you have to wait patiently for the “bridge” at which they segue the topic they started with into the actual bit about God).

So where we find *our* heaven at this time of year is in a summer single with a distinctly hivernal flavour. *Especially* when it comes from a First Division outfit like Brighton’s own Popguns, following their formidable assault on anno domini 2014 via the dual media of live entertainment and recorded sound.

The title tune of this EP, plucked from their comeback - and for what it’s worth, their best - long-player, “Pop Fiction”, is of course a sequel of sorts to their second single, the blistering “Waiting For The Winter” (which would become 1/9th of “Eugenie”, one of those compact discs which was never in its case because it basically lived in our CD player back then). When a band, all grown-up, knowingly references its back catalogue (rather than just endlessly recycling it) the results can be very affecting: think of the Mary Chain’s delicate and touching “Never Understood”, for example. It can also produce surprisingly powerful results when the band play the two songs in quick succession, as the Popguns did at the Borderline last year.

”Still Waiting” positively revels in the chance to prove that it’s a humdinger of a single in its own right: it lightly deploys some of the chord sequences and lyrics from the original 45, but feels more measured and reflective, with a narrative that from the start - as Wendy paints a picture of a wedding disco ringing in the distance - juxtaposes the aspiration of youth and the wisdom of experience, before finally combining the two in a dual-vocal final flourish. If you then go back and listen to the original (1989!) single again, it strikes you how frantic that is by comparison, despite all the hooks and melodies: a whipped-up storm of guitars underpinning passionate lyrics about changing, becoming bitter, angrier and more confused. You really feel you need a sit down.

Handily, then, the rest of the new EP is mellow and more downtempo, but despite its calming wiles the songwriting and settings make it as dramatic – and as pretty! – as the impressive suite of songs that made up the album. “BN3” (Hove, Actually) rings with the fresh, lilting guitar chimes of those Morrissey/Marr ballads, via the unlikely first-verse setting of a cricket ground, before giving way to Kate’s superb “Why You Fell In Love With Me”, a knowing meditation on love and loss that sets the seafront-sur-Cuckmere against the Mississippi, and that we can half-imagine the great Crystal Gayle turning her tonsils to. The fourth and final treat, “Diane’s Song”, fits swimmingly with the wintry timbre of the whole record, as Wendy sings movingly of break-up and death (both can be brutal, but the memories are worth treasuring, even at the cost of teardrops dripped on the back seat of a taxi). The arrangement is stark and absolutely compelling. And then, with the sun sinking back down behind the cityscape for the very last time, Diane’s lament softly concludes: “alone in the dark, synapses spark / dreams of the melodies / that flow to my heart”. Then silence.

All this makes “Still Waiting For The Winter” an extended play that provides a sparkling oasis of respite from the industrial doses of techno, grime, and Napalm Death that have otherwise been bossing the turntable here. And in doing so it amply makes its point. Records like this are why – however disengaged or disentangled we get from our indie-pop roots at times – we know we’ll always find ourselves hankering for more. Whatever the weather.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Bristol Rovers v Grimsby Town, Conference Play-off Final, 17 May 2015

As always, the people that get paid oodles of sponduliks to brand things got it wrong.

They packaged the Vanarama (ugh) Conference final – the match to decide which of two teams gets to return to the promised land of the Football League – as the “Big Day Out”, as if the teams playing it were plucky village part-timers, and their fans were provincial oiks who would be simply thrilled, honey, whatever the result, by the mere opportunity of a trip to glamorous London and the chance to picnic in the concrete environs of the “National” Stadium at Wembley. But whilst this may be the fifth division, it’s still chocker with professional teams, many of whom pull in several thousand punters every other Saturday. Some even have brighter pasts: only a generation ago Bristol Rovers and Grimsby Town were playing each other in what is now the Championship (I was there, else I’d hardly believe it myself). Even now, between them, these two teams have persuaded more than 47,000 people to attend a non-league football match.

Trouble is, for many of us, this really really wasn’t a “day out”, and the fact it was at Wembley was pretty much meaningless (apart from that being one of the few grounds that could accommodate the demand for tickets; and being, by virtue of a few Jubilee line stops short of Barnet FC, the closest Rovers game this season to in love with these times in spite of these times HQ). No, this was merely the 49th league game of a gruellingly long season, and one in which – for the very first time – Bristol Rovers had our destiny in our own hands. If we could win – by any means necessary, he said, channelling KRS-One – then that and that alone would justify the trip. If we couldn’t, we’d have been better off having our ‘big day out’ at the seaside instead. That sounds terrible, I know, but we were desperate.

And don’t get us wrong – we’ve enjoyed trips to showpiece finals before with BRFC. The old Wembley in 1995, the Millennium Stadium in 2007, the new Wembley in 2007. We even won the last of those. And in each one of them, there was a real excitement and passion in the stands, and a perfect reaction on the pitch. Players from both teams raising their games, rising to the occasion. 

Not today. Not from the Rovers XI or supporters, anyway. Grimsby’s fans – who should surely have been at their wits’ end too, after four seasons shackled “below deck” in the Conference – seemed to cope much better with the tension. Even before the game, they were singing and shouting and *supporting*. We weren’t, and I feel bad that I wasn’t, but it just felt like business, business that needed to be done, and that we needed to get on with and get over with, as we tried to find a silver lining and tried to forget about the General Election and the policies already announced by a new Government, and tried to forget surely the worst-ever automatic promotion combination from League One.

And so kick-off came. At last, it was time for the big match. The Pirates against the Mariners. West against East. Tramway against Pete Green. Norman Mailer and Cary Grant against a layer of chips. Niereich vs. Hackler & Kuch. You get the picture.

Now. I’ve developed something of an obsession about not conceding early goals. This century, I rarely expect my beloved Rovers to win, draw or even score. All I ask is that they try and last five minutes in a match without going behind. That seems a sensible, eminently achievable approach. You would have thought it wasn’t too much to ask: a few hoofs upfield, waste time at a throw-in, pass it around the back, or mess around near the corner flag. And yet I still get flashbacks…

Millennium Stadium, 2007: Forget the World Cup or the FA Cup, it’s the Johnstone Paints Trophy final. Rovers keep Doncaster to 0-0 for… three minutes. (They’re 2-0 up after five). 

Wembley Stadium, 2007: League Two play-off final (that’s The Fourth Division, in old money). Learning from their terrible start a couple of months earlier, Rovers hold Shrewsbury at bay for… oh. Two and a half minutes. Luckily, we recover to eventually win… but why make it so hard for yourselves?

So. Wembley 2015. Can we at least do better than 2007? Twice bitten, once shy?

No. Of course we can’t. Grimsby take the lead on 1 minute 40 precisely. The reaction from the Grimsby massive is a deafening wall of white noise, a morsel of Metal Machine Music. From that point on, the Rovers team were jittery, us fans subdued. It was a collective “here we go again”, it was 20,000+ people thinking, “Rovers, why do you always do this to us?” and it would herald 120 minutes spent shuffling uncomfortably in my seat, tearing my greying hair out, staring blankly towards the pitch, leaning back and taking deep breaths.

After the opening half hour - in which Rovers were frankly a shambles and Grimsby could and should have extended their deserved lead – Ellis Harrison struck an equaliser, which nobody saw coming, and which we greeted with relief and surprise more than elation. On the pitch, at least, Grimsby then slowly but surely sank to our level, and the remaining hour of normal time and half an hour of extra time passed with defences on top, the ball permanently in the air, and no passes being strung together whatsoever. Up in the stands, England manager Roy Hodgson was being subjected to all this too: it must have been the worst game he’d seen since England-Costa Rica in the World Cup.

Off the pitch, their fans continued to put us to shame and (occasional Goodnight Irenes aside) completely drowned us out. Once Ellis departed with cramp on 77, it seemed pretty clear to this mug punter that there were no goals left in the game. The only thing that cheered me was the boldness of Rovers doing a van Gaal on 120 minutes and putting on our substitute ‘keeper for the inevitable penalty shoot-out decider. It was a smart move from the gaffer, something that likely made no difference to the outcome but that at least suggested boldness, that gave us fans a buzz, a spark, a level of intrigue to toy with.

But if the penalty shoot-out was inevitable, what happened in it was more surprising. It surprised me, anyway. Because the Rovers players, with their leaden legs and generally underperforming bodies, suddenly turned into invincible Adonises as we put away 5 out of 5 penalties with alarming skill and composure, even at the end of the pitch surrounded by the fantastic and noisy Grimsby fans. I think I knew we’d made it when Angelo Balanta, not a man who has exactly set the Conference on fire, planted a perfect penalty, as if he was Le Tissier or Franny Lee or something. GTFC, for their part, skied just the one over the bar and that was all it took for the die to be cast.

This is a dream I thought would never see the light of day” (I turn to Catapult at moments like this, and indeed many other moments).

So now we’re back where we were a year ago. The Fourth Division. It seems mad to celebrate that so much, when until 2000 we’d never been as low as… The Fourth Division. But coming straight back up from the notoriously hard-to-escape Conference - just ask Grimsby - is quite an achievement, as is 1 defeat in 32 games (at any level). Please, please, please though, let us never go there again. For their part Grimsby, we think, must be near-favourites to come up next year.

Especially given the averageness of this BRFC performance, I’ll be more than happy if we can just get back to finishing 12th every year, like we did under Ian Atkins. And perhaps – just for once – with a manager who won us promotion – Rovers fans could try not to call for his sacking when we don’t win our first couple of games…?

Until then, let’s enjoy the summer. Altogether now:

I knew a girl who wore a blue ribbon in her hair / She wore that ribbon in the merry month of May…”

Friday, May 08, 2015

Niereich "Democratic System Fail" (Moreforecs): Cindy "Cindy Is Joining The Liberal Democrats" (Vent Germany): The Charlie Tipper Experiment “You Made Me Homeless” (Breaking Down Recordings)

An election special. A General Election-themed singles round-up special, in fact.

If you were feeling bloody-minded enough, dear reader, you could argue that "Democratic System Fail" isn't technically a single, but we've got it on vinyl (albeit a sampler 12”, on which it sits, coquettishly preening itself, alongside three other tracks from Moreforecs' "Especial Aniversario" comp), and that makes it single enough in our book.

After overrunning our best of 2014 list, and fresh from his confident and trance-ish "7 Skies" crossover collab with Krischmann & Klingenberg earlier this year, Graz's Niereich unfurls an assured, minimalist combination of locomotive percussion and glacial synth which sounds not unlike Moevalith covering “Everything’s Gone Green” in a blizzard. And, after all, general elections are like blizzards. Blizzards of shit. Although I’m not convinced that the democratic system has really failed us: it’s just as arguable that we have failed it, what with voting a mendacious cabal of callous sociopaths back into office.

Next on the turntable is the ever-mysterious Cindy. She (he, it, they?) follows up last year’s frantic fantasy "In A Perfect World She Kills Marine Le Pen And Nigel Farage" with a new four-track 12" on Vent, “Cindy & Her Fuckin' Liberal Ideas For Track Names”, on which she cooks up a full-on sprinkling of the freshest European techno, liberally dosed with hints of acid (opener "Cindy + MSLWTE = Pure Love", which boasts a positively chastening acid line, is surely her finest moment yet). “Joining The Liberal Democrats”, the last song on the EP, is combative, muscular and frankly a bit repetitive, but derives added spice from the slivers of extra percussion which zig-zag frenziedly around the mix, like Chris Huhne trying to avoid a speed camera.

And we know that Cindy’s song titles are tongue-in-cheek (though the humour at play provides some cheer after a night of vintage, 1992-style election depression), but if she actually did join the LDs they might have a chance of winning some votes again one day, not least because she would surely kick out any remaining Orange Bookers before suppertime.

Best of these three, though, is the Charlie Tipper Experiment’s bespoke election single, “You Made Me Homeless”, clad in modest CD-r sleeve. There’s something a touch early McCarthy-ish about its brittle swirl of guitars, but whereas McCarthy would have written words of withering sarcasm, probably in the guise of a first-person narrative from an presumably unrepentant Iain Duncan Smith, “You Made Me Homeless” takes a different lyrical route, being a j’accuse from someone at the sharp end of Coalition policy, who contrasts his own travails with the warm parlours and living rooms of those who instigated them. Fittingly, any profits from the single go to Shelter.

The lyrical message may not be particularly original, but it does need saying (seemingly again and again). How many decades – actually, as evidenced by the William Morris tracts that Darren Hayman sets to music so movingly on his “Chants For Socialists” album, how many centuries - of the much-vaunted “trickle-down effect” *plainly* not working do we need to endure before those in power might admit it exacerbates inequality, and solves nothing?

The song builds to a plateau in which the protagonist’s plea – that the deeds of those who rule will come back to haunt them – echoes around the mix, accompanied by suitably haunting cornet trills. The fact that is all a victim of the relentless "austerity drive" can seemingly do – wish some kind of karmic comeback on an otherwise untouchable Establishment – only adds to the pathos of it all. That, and the deadening realisation that we now have at least five more years of this in store.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Mariners and Pirates Ahoy

Attention, fans of non-league football and indie-pop blogs: in love with these times, in spite of these times and the inestimable a layer of chips are - finally - doing battle at Wembley Stadium on 17th May. ALAC will be represented by the hallowed black and white stripes of Grimsby Town FC, while this fanzine’s proxies on the pitch, Bristol Rovers FC, will be donning their BMW-ish blue and white quarters (as modelled above). A surprising percentage of the players will sport trendy beards.

May the best team win (unless it’s them).

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Scor-Zay-Zee “Aeon: Peace To The Puzzle” (GangstaMusic)

Older readers may dimly recollect our longtime love for Notts’ own Scor-zay-zee. Having belatedly discovered his early work with that city’s prized-by-Westwood OutDaVille crew, we lapped up the 1 Xtra-rotated P Brothers collaboration “Great Britain” (“full of undisputable truths… a description of a godless country living on credit, reinventing conscious rap”), his guest stint on Cappo LP track “Speak”, his righteous and touching “Want What’s Yours” 7” with Styly Cee and… well, not much else, because there wasn’t much else.

Indeed, in the eleven long years since we described “Want What’s Yours” in our year-ends as “truly tender observation of the (a)cutest kind… a foil to the righteous anger of Scor's landmark Daily Telegraph-baiting P Brothers banger "Great Britain"” the only further outputs we managed to trace from the MC were two (admittedly blinding) tracks in 2008: a myspace leak called “Why I’m Here” and a star turn (“Voyage”) on the Elementz’ “Crushmode” LP. (Things he’s been doing instead of making new records, as it turns out, include: wrestling with mental health issues; converting to Islam; getting married and having kids; and starring in a movie alongside Olivia Colman and Paddy Considine).

So, after a total of about five songs this century, we’d have been deliriously happy with a new Scor-zay-zee EP. We certainly didn’t see this coming, even in our wildest dreams: after a mere 20 years on the mic, Scorz has dropped his debut album, a tour de force which yields 28 tracks over two discs and clocks in not too far short of two hours. Talk about feast following famine. 28 proper tracks, too (no skits or insts), and you’ll get a feel for the general calibre from the production credits (Nick Stez, DJ Fever, Juga-Naut, Mecca:83, P Brothers, the Elementz) and some of the guest MCs (Chester P, Cappo, Tragedy Khadafi, Ali Vegas). But let’s try to break it down a little.

“Double Dragon”, the joint with Chester (and the Elementz) is, obviously, *mint*, a shop window for two master rhymers in their absolute prime. Juga-Naut production “Live Free” nimbly showcases Scorz’s mellow truth-telling par excellence: politicised, but never agit-prop. DJ Fever anchors quite a few of the highlights, like sumptuously cascading opener “Intium” - pure bars, no gimmicks - and perhaps the album’s thematic cornerstone, the breezy “Love ‘Em All”. There are thrills (n’skills) as Juga, Caps and Vandal Savage join our genial host for the album’s posse cut, “R.A.F.” There’s a formidable stash of reminiscence raps, including “1995” (a tip of the hat to musical inspirations which settles into a brilliant “Outta Here”-type narrative groove), “Saturday”, “Remember” and the obligatory playground memories of “Old School”. There are club-friendly floor-destroyers of the sort Nottingham hasn’t seen since Styly Cee and Cappo loosed the H Bomb on us: “Equestrianism” (another DJ Fever production) and “I’m Not Bragging” (which reunites S with old comrades the P Bros, rocking the house in the spirit of the Brothers’ Mr 45 riddim, “Showstopper”). There’s Dom P’s “Flow Sicker” right at the end, a party vibe track offering up another free-flowing, freestyle Scorzilla treat. And, this being a tribute to the true essence of hip-hop, we shouldn’t forget the top-drawer cuts and scratches throughout, particularly from Jabba The Kut and from Fever.

Lyrically, all the themes we identified when we fell for “Why I’m Here” – “self-discovery, self-restraint, poverty, inspiration and coming good” - are still central, but that shouldn’t be taken as meaning this record is in any way preachy or po-faced. In fact, it’s always welcoming and inclusive. Scor-zay-zee’s renowned sense of humour shines through on songs like fast food-themed fantasy “Gangsta Wraps” (which also feeds into “1995”’s celebration of the nascent gangsta rap scene, seen through rapt teenage eyes). And the wordsmith supreme’s somewhat sparkling similes cover every conceivable reference point, from Captain Mainwaring to Johnny Metgod.

Other standout moments on these discs include “Ungodly Reason” (a welcome encore for the chipmunk-sampling vogue that proliferated a decade ago), the symphonic, string-drenched “Brain Tour”, the fizzing “Bone Stash”… actually, we risk mentioning everything on the album, don’t we? And we haven’t even got on to the more dramatic, introspective compositions yet: the patently cathartic “The Heart”; the coolly spiritual “Street Angel”; and perhaps boldest of all, “Heroes Never Die”, a fragile, subtly jazz-tinged ballad built in collaboration with singer/songwriter Daudi Matsiko. However, we do remain sufficiently in hock to the old school that we could live without the sung choruses that start to intrude more regularly over the second CD. As you know, sung choruses in hip-hop are the Devil’s work: a surefire way to turn gold to base metal, to transform searing soliloquy into plasticky pop fodder.

We’ve spun “Peace To The Puzzle” a fair few times now, and - sung hooks aside! - find ourselves pretty much blown away not just by the standard of the rhymes, but by the quality of the productions. That strength-in-depth means that right now, this has to be a contender for album of the year, and hopefully not just in the fantasy countdowns of blogs like this. Scor-zay-zee has found his voice again: maybe UK rap can, finally, do the same.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Catenary Wires “Intravenous” (Elefant): Maruta “Stride Endlessly Through Scorched Earth” (Relapse): Agnostic Front “Police Violence” (Nuclear Blast)

Virtual 45 “Intravenous” is the newie from a certain dynamic duo – Fletch & Purse, as my working title for a new wife/husband indiepop-buddy cop TV series pilot casts them - who now trade under the Catenary Wires name. It’s a kind of Young Marble Softies play Pipas, with the slightly worn-sounding male vocal (presumably Rob) working ever so well alongside Dame Amelia’s more familiar trill as the song eases gently into the enviable tradition of those legendary Sarah duets (well, legendary to us) like the slacker call-and-response of “Leaving”, or the desperately sad dual-vocal lament of “When Morning Comes To Town”.

The single catalogues the mixed emotions of being in a thrillingly intense relationship, yet realising that if things go wrong – when morning does come to town, if you like – it may not be pretty. Love is the drug, and all that comes with that. It’s riveting, not least the particularly powerful moment towards the end, when Amelia’s vocal - suddenly - sounds as tender and vulnerable as it ever has.

We sometimes harbour a nagging fear that Elefant may end up something of a rest home for ex-Sarah artists, but the quality of “Slow Changes” and this suggest that we need not be too concerned yet that said artists are resting on their laurels. Quality-wise, this would have sat very well on a Sarah 7”, you know. In fact, we’d venture that “Intravenous” is sufficiently strong that a place should be found for it even on the packed tracklist of Rob and Amelia’s greatest hits, once K-Tel eventually get round to delivering it.

Less tender and vulnerable is Maruta’s taster for their new “Remain Dystopian” LP, but it’s their best tune yet: the triumphant “Stride Endlessly Through Scorched Earth” manages to be entertaining and chaotic as well as gruff and metallic, bringing Beefheartian influences to the fore and ending up sounding like a mad scientist’s cross between the new wave of deathgrind / techgrind and all those Ron Johnson Records bands who made our lives so much better in the 1980s. This is all the more impressive given that Maruta are from Miami, a place whose musical icons are not generally known for following scenes that evolved from Stafford Polytechnic, or had representatives on C86. The boys (plus the marvellous Tomas Lindberg, who seems to have got involved too), sound like they’re having a riot: yes, this is ‘metal’, but really not as we know it.

Should you want a little more… focus, then it’s probably best to step to the ever-dependable Agnostic Front, and the first track to be released from their 2015 LP on Nuclear Blast (it still seems incredible to think that the Front, or indeed Carcass, are labelmates with the likes of world-conquering modern folk troupe Nightwish, but we’ve always loved diverse rosters).

Less than a minute long, “Police Violence” is lean and fittingly angry and topical and basically ace. With the hell-for-leather charge of the verses briefly subsiding in order to allow a classic breakdown towards the end, this is in the same musical ballpark as Haymaker’s fiery “Let Them Rot” 7” last year. In its own way, it’s just as honest and open as “Intravenous”, but then we would expect nothing less from the guys that once gave us Sunday Matinee anthem, erm, “Anthem”.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

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

He’s back.

My entire teenage and adult life has been soundtracked by the songs of Bobby Wratten, and by and large I’m grateful for the privilege, even though it’s meant being reduced to tears on a few occasions. As we noted back in 2010, this penchant for lachrymosity was reignited on hearing Trembling Blue Stars' album swansong "Fast Trains and Telegraph Wires": “Their final postcard, which we will always treasure: in this household, tears were shed…”

Mind, it subsequently turned out that it wasn’t quite their final postcard, as that particular “Correspondence” turned out to be a fine, final EP in ’11, helmed by a twelve-minute remix of “The Light Outside” from Robert ‘of Loop fame’ Hampson which – as well as making us think back with a smile to the Field Mice’s live “Burning World” cover on a now-wizened Waaah! flexidisc – ranks up there with the general greatness of either Robert’s rather formidable back catalogues.

That, it seemed for four long years, was that. But then, as both rain and leaves cascaded late last year, a taster mp3 single from Bobby’s latest outfit, Lightning In A Twilight Hour, emerged from beyond the Pyrenees courtesy of our old friends at Elefant. “The Memory Museum” was a somewhat meta affair, being a rumination on treading old ground that sounded remarkably like the sound of treading old ground, albeit completely redeemed by its “Dark Eyes”-ish beauty and by the wonderful, instantly recognisable roaming basslines of ex-Field Mouse Michael Hiscock.

But it’s “Slow Changes” that sees Lightning In A Twilight Hour transition to a full vinyl release. “Everyone Talks About The Weather”, the first track on this 10” EP, seems to pick up a little where “Memory Museum” left off: graced again by Beth Arzy’s vocals, it’s pristine and glistening, if unremarkable by Bobby’s own high standards. Yet after that, “Slow Changes” bucks up immensely.

The welcome echoes of the Field Mice don't end with Michael’s familiar roving basslines: those who recall the somewhat direct but spot-on social observation of "This Love Is Not Wrong" or "Song Six", and *really* missed it when Bobby was maxing out, post-“Her Handwriting”, on lilting lovelorn laments instead, will welcome both "The Death Of Silence" - a typically spot-on tirade pleading, essentially, for people to just shut the fuck up - and "Ancient Fiction", a positively incandescent rumination on the privilege awarded to organised religion in everyday discourse, which is just as sincere as (and a sort of politely post-indiepop companion to) Anti-Cimex's "Game Of The Arseholes". As Bobby coos “we are born unbelievers / then led astray” there’s a real underlying fire and venom, even amongst the neat, geometric lines of the Wake-ish guitar mesh that surrounds it (fellow children of the 80s: it’s as least as much a Factory record as a Sarah one, if you like). And that’s side one of the EP.

Even better is that LIATH, as absolutely nobody is calling them, throw you off the scent completely on side two, going for a kind of “slow wave sleep”, as Cortechs once had it. In place of the earlier joys of Bobby channeling his righteous anger, we get Bobby indulging his experimental side as the fractured samples of "Interference" take great delight in being Not What The Punters Want: but that’s fine by us, not least as we so cherished the ambient & field-recorded elements of the last LP, especially "Grey Silk Storm" and "Radioactive Decay". The set then tapers off elegantly and gradually with a series of variations on a (strictly tonal) theme. Which aligns with our current obsession with Surgeon’s recent Basictonal-remake re-release, and the Mick Harris remix in particular, but that’s a different story.

Returning to the current story, the best tidings of all may be that this is only the start of it: as most of you already know, it appears that a proper long-player from the Twilighters is imminent. It would be fair to say that, after corralling this EP, we’re really rather looking forward to it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Declining Winter “Home For Lost Souls” (Home Assembly Music)

It’s amazing how much we’re destined always to defer to our younger selves. If the teenage me hadn’t borrowed Hood’s “Sirens” 7” from a housemate in 1992, then in all likelihood we would never have been looking out for this record one hundred years (approx) later. Chance is a fine, but very fickle thing.

Right now, frankly we are the dispossessed of EC4; tired, ill, and disenchanted. So we draw positively *medicinal* succour from the rare beauty and sadness of the latest instalment of the Declining Winter’s delicately looped and layered pastorals, a record which revisits the gorgeous, pantheistic trail they and their musical forbears have already carved out in the wilds of Yorkshire: that familiar, breathy landscape of fading hills, forlorn valleys and disused post-mills, decorated by tales of rustic houses and cold houses and their haunted upper hallways. And home is – still - where it hurts: “the house that brings me down” as they trill on the desolate, perfectly-crafted title track.

As you might expect by now, “Home For Lost Souls” mixes dextrous, swirling post-rock instrumentals and samples with more fully-formed, if still wistful, percussion-driven ballads, whilst comfortingly familiar lyrical themes abound: Richard Adams sings of hillsides, leaves and fog formations nearly as often as Pete Astor once sang odes to precipitation. There are echoes throughout the album of the simple prettiness of last year’s Memory Drawings set, but darker, more sombre forces are also at play: instead of the Drawings’ elegant travelogue, these songs summon up doubt and hesitation in a swirl of autumnal hues.

And so it is that we’d happily traverse the coldest of moors for the secret behind compositions like magisterial opener “This Sadness Lacks”, the full-on jangle-folk of “The Sweet Sound of North” or the more muscular but equally adroit crowd-pleaser “Around The Winding Roads And Hills”. But the piece that this LP absolutely hangs on is the piano-driven “The Right True End”, its penultimate track and possibly the best song we’ve heard this year, which gradually unfurls itself over eight gorgeous minutes from stately near-stillness to a subtle crescendo of forward motion. The instant when the bassline eventually appears gives us the same magical shivers as some of our favourite Hood moments: this could almost be a refugee from “Outside Closer”.

There’s a bonus EP for good measure, a splendrous thing called “The Waning Mill Chronicles” which we believe to be available separately via the wonders of the modern internet. In addition to the cheery “The World Wide Ruin” and erstwhile bandcamp belter “The Year Of Forty”, it contains a couple of tracks which should for our money have found their way onto the LP proper - a longer, superior version of shimmering nr-instrumental “Summer Circuit”, and the easy cling of “On Station Rise”.

All of which may help to explain why - and despite all the other baggage he’s saddled me with over the years - sometimes I still want to high-five the teenage me. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Violent Arrest “Life Inside The Western Bloc” (Boss Tuneage)

The latest instalment of Violent Arrest’s glorious, spirit of punk-infused war on indigence sees them regroup with a new singer, but retaining the same aggression and purpose that has been a hallmark of their output since they somewhat exploded onto our record decks seven or eight years ago.

On new LP “Life Inside The Western Bloc”, VA hit their thrilling best when they up the tempo and mine the hardcore seam: witness the Ripcord-like sparks that fly with the musically bolshier, shorter tracks like “The Game Is Rigged”, “Deposit No Return” or the ripping title track, which spins out ferociously from an old-school anti-MNC sample and the obligatory shot of feedback. Shout outs to “Our Dearly Deported” too, not least for the pun skills. There’s perhaps a little more discipline on display than has always been apparent, as the band inch back from the high-water mark / nadir (depending on your POV) of 2011’s somewhat unsubtle “Fuck Off”. Martin Nichols (yep, of “Laurel” fame) is again at the controls, and there’s no question he’s mastered this genre now.

However, when the band drop the pace and draw things out too much, their wares can start to seem more generic: despite more promising title wordplay, the comparatively aimless “Mission: Creep” feels like the sort of thing Ripcord would have thrown to the wolves, rather than put on an album. The proof of our theory – that less is more from VA – may be that the late reprise of “Cold Front”, one quarter of the main song’s length, is far fresher and about 1,000x better.

That said, most of the tunes here are greatly enjoyable. In particular, the dependably old-school and extremely catchy “Grind You Down” cheers me up every time I listen to it on the way home from the office, cursing the boss under my breath but really, secretly wanting to HOLLER the (moderately sweary) chorus all the way up the main drag. And, as is abundantly clear from the lyrics on the album, Violent Arrest’s big, big heart remains resolutely in the right place. We would, I fear, be a little lost without them.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Charlie Tipper Experiment “Mellow On” (Breaking Down Recordings)

Tim, from new-on-block Bristol five-piece the Charlie Tipper Experiment, has form. A rapsheet as long as your arm. Long ago, when General Galtieri had designs on the Falklands (and Mrs Thatcher on her second term), Tim was hatching his own Five Year Plan with Rob Pursey, amongst others. As the 1980s wore on, he then contributed those shimmering, noisy guitars to the later Flatmates singles. Since then, he’s done time in the line-up of perhaps Brizzle’s greatest post-shambling survivors, the Beatnik Filmstars, in the process playing on any number of ‘beezer’ albums and, of course, on 2007’s finest 45. He also helped to pilot both the Short Stories (whose honours include the best single of 2013) and Forest Giants (best single of 2003, best album of 2006, best compilation of 2014…)

And as if all that wasn’t enough, it seems that every time I scan the sleeve of one of my most treasured records (most recently, the Tramway album and “Pure Hatred 96”) it turns out that Tim had a hand in recording or producing it.

Anyway. Back to this century, and the newest chapter in this story, an album recorded in sunny Bedminster (home of both Bottelino’s and Vince & Son, if you’re looking for ilwttisott-sanctioned Italian restaurant or barber recommendations in BS3). The Charlie Tipper Experiment first brushed the radar last year with their swirling, coyly G500-ish “Ride Out” single, but “Mellow On” marks the first time we get to hear the suite of songs making up the bulk of their live set, and it reveals the band to be blossoming into thoughtful purveyors of mid-paced pop songs – with occasional hints of Mr Wareham, it’s true - but not without exploring darker lyrical undercurrents of regret.

As with the Short Stories, there is plenty here that’s loosely autobiographical, that pivots on knowing look-backs to being young, and to being in bands: perhaps, when you’ve been writing and playing songs all your life, it’s about how you can’t let go, even if you want to. In addition to the stone-solid foundation of Tim’s erstwhile collaborators Simon and Geoff on drums and bass respectively, the Experiment feature ex-Filmstar Jon Kent (whose deceptively simple, gently meowing guitar lines recall his time with the BFs in places) as well as Harry Furniss on cornet and Vox Jaguar (though not at the same time). The latter’s interventions, in particular, give a few songs an extra kick, rounding out their emotional resonance.

The YouTubed taster track “Something Worth Fighting For” opens, a character-based melodrama that presses all the right buttons with its Short Stories-ish narrative, pristine verses and brass-flecked hook, but there are other moods on display. The chorus to “I’ll Take You With Me” is a moment of pure indie-pop, almost a nod to those times when Subway surfed, Revolver and Replay ruled the roost, and it seemed you couldn’t shake a leg in Bristol without the whole city jangling. But possibly our favourite track on side one (for yes, this is out on vinyl!) is the dreamwashed “Shine Like A Star”, as it effortlessly traverses the clear night sky, drawing each pinprick of light into a warm beam that sets these dismal streets beneath aglow.

There’s a strong case to be made, though, that the highest peaks of all come on side two. The pleading “Wherever You Go I Go” wrings every last drop of familial devotion from the damp air before “Hypnotised” launches a compelling bid to be the record’s real centerpiece: it’s a serene, almost spiritual number that’s aided not only by cooingly sympathetic brass and a nifty chorus but also some neatly dovetailed backing vocals from Linda Gorton. Penultimate tune “Come On Down”, with its lugubrious alt-Americana meld, leaves a positive impression too, although it truly won us over when, one night not so long ago, we took the slow train to Hoxton, and the even slower bus to Bethnal Green, to watch the CTE ‘play the hits’ in the Sebright Arms, and saw them light up a basement room in a dark pub, planting a steely two fingers to the cold outside.

But let’s sign off by mentioning a couple of classic three-minute pop songs that (nearly) bookend the LP. “The Boys From Frampton Cotterell” - track two - is a wistful but fond reminiscence of the bedroom jam sessions that spawned the Inane and then the 5YP manifesto, whilst closing cut “Rock & Roll Dreaming” is a tale of a boy growing up with only music on his mind which had, I think, been slated as a second single. Although they share a theme the latter, which closes the album, introduces a renewed turn of lyrical sadness: yet it still sounds celebratory, with the cornet part proudly recalling the trumpet-led pomp of Bristol’s own Brilliant Corners. It’s a clever, and moving, way to finish an absorbing record.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Lucid Fairytale: The Fourth, Defiant Decade Of Napalm Death

“Napalm Death were a formative influence on my adolescence, a rebellious left-turn in mine and many others’ lives. Forced upon us by John Peel, they and their ilk – but they more than anyone – were met with initial incredulity and mirth, before the inherent logic of what they were doing and how they were doing it became utterly irresistible. At the point when all any self-respecting teenager wants is righteous noise to call their own, they were the answer to my prayers. They were my Sex Pistols, my Public Enemy. They defined what music could be, should be; they defined what it could and should say” - Ian Grant

* * * * *

As pink clouds bled rain into the Farringdon dusk, D’Alma and I huddled in consultation in the Hope, a pub so “old man” that even when you’re in there it feels like it’s been boarded up and dormant for years. As I teased out the embers of an early evening Carlsberg, and D’Alma kept it real with straightedge lime and soda, we found ourselves discussing Jools Holland for some reason.

JH couldn’t be all bad, I posited. Squeeze had some beezer tunes once, “The Tube” was usually good value, and he’d guested on (great) records by both Chas and Dave *and* Alternative TV. D’Alma countered, a little aggressively I thought for someone on softs, saying that why, in that case, had there never been a good band on “Later with Jools Holland”? I managed to muster that that Ice-T appeared on it once (in 1996, a subsequent Google search confirmed), as did the Fall (in 2005, apparently) so to be fair to Jools his show was averaging a worthwhile artist once every decade or so, not a bad hit-rate for a mainstream music programme these days. But D'Alma's point stood.

So, after the traditional diversion of my brother in arms trying and failing to pay for the next round on a card, conversation veered inevitably on to the groups who should be gracing “Later…” in 2015, with me generally trying to steer it to a certain Singaporean trio, or to the Fireworks, but the thought had already pricked my mind that the most striking omission from the list of bands who’d graced Jools’ show was in fact the combo who are probably (really) the greatest British group of the period it’s been running, a band who should, by rights, be lighting up TV channels pretty much on the permanent. And that we hadn’t even got round to ‘reviewing’ their new LP, which seemed a little discourteous given that I’d been listening to it virtually non-stop for three weeks. So when D’Alma headed into the sunset for the Clapham train, I dug out some old receipts and a torn-in-half betting slip (damn you, Torquay United) and began to scribble.

* * * * *

Back in 1988, I strolled down to Parrot Records from school and parted with the princely sum of £5.49 for a copy of second Napalm LP “From Enslavement… To Obliteration”, on the back of a positive Sounds review and my intrigue with their Peel Session output. At that time, the band had garnered a certain notoriety, but were still being routinely dismissed either as a joke, a Situationist prank, or at best as four youngsters from the Midlands who were gamely making the most of their 15 minutes of infamy. However, that record had a disconcertingly powerful impact on me and, I would wager, on hundreds of others.

I eagerly devoured these breakneck, utterly impassioned songs about countering racist ideology (“Unchallenged Hate”), subverting rock music cliché (“Cock-Rock Alienation”), saving the environment (“Make Way!”), being hopelessly lost and awkward in social situations (“Retreat To Nowhere”, “Social Sterility”), relationship dysfunction (“Emotional Suffocation”) and challenging everyday sexism (“It’s a M.A.N’s World”, “Inconceivable?”, “Evolved As One”… the first stirrings of the gender politics which the group continue to examine to the present day). In our record collection at the time, only the Field Mice visited that subject so sincerely and self-consciously.

But Napalm (est. 1982) were not – as many others were – merely preaching to an already-converted audience about how contemptible the various “isms” were. Lee Dorrian’s words often put himself under the microscope: with songs like “Inconceivable?” he was interested in how each of us might unthinkingly absorb or internalise sexist or racist attitudes. On top of this, he was mastering the extreme narrative discipline required by a lyric-writer who might only have 30 or so seconds to make his point (how those ringtone-length tunes always felt like elaborate little haikus to us).

Not that we should ignore the music that accompanied those words: it took time to attune to it, to work out where on Earth the riffs were coming from, and where the hell they were heading in such a hurry, but there was never any doubt that these boys could play. As then-guitarist Bill Steer once told the BBC, the big beasts of Van Halen et al wouldn’t have been able to go into a studio and play Napalm riffs straight off. Months of practice in rehearsal rooms and on chaotic stages were needed to hone this extraordinary sound. The recording quality on the album was a bit tinny – looking at the action photos of the band on the sleeve in some dank basement, banging this stuff out as if their lives depended on it, I was not surprised – but the ambition was MASSIVE. A statement had been made, and I was won over.

* * * * *

Ian mentioned Public Enemy back there, another unconstrained force of nature whose tracks burst from the John Peel show listings not too long before Napalm Death’s little vignettes did the same. And, just like the P.E., Napalm have transitioned from being “angry young men” to “angry elder statesmen”: still touring, still releasing new records, still sounding frankly livid most of the time. But it must be remembered that this longevity is – in itself – quite a surprise.

When I first cradled that LP in my hands way back in the ‘80s, it’s fair to say I would not have been expecting still to be buying new albums by Napalm Death over 25 years later. Even then, at an age where virtually everything was ephemeral and all life lived in the moment, I was all-too aware that Napalm were in particular danger of being flotsam and jetsam caught up by the zeitgeist, thrust into the spotlight and then discarded into critical oblivion when the next big thing came along.

Indeed, after a fashion, that’s what happened - they lost their shock value, overhauled their line-up for the zillionth time (with Steer and Dorrian decamping to concentrate on Carcass and Cathedral respectively), and went to the States and indulged their death metal side for a while; and much of the fan base moved on. Though even when they were in Florida, recording Floridian death metal, they kept the lyrical emphasis on social consciousness, rather than the blood and guts of their American contemporaries who they were, to be fair, otherwise largely aping. Indeed, the DM incarnation would revisit a number of the band’s earlier tunes, including “Unchallenged Hate” and “Social Sterility”. And the band’s live sets never stopped including favourites from their ever-startling debut album, “Scum”.

But although we did move on, we didn’t forget completely. We discerned that, after a couple of death metal-ish albums, Napalm had entered what is now known by some as their “experimental” phase, although that seems a bit too grand a label, because from this distance it seems that they were mainly experimenting with commerciality (the next three LPs wrestled, unconvincingly at times, with incorporating nu-metal stylings, at the time that their label, Earache, was flirting - just as clumsily - with Columbia Records, as documented in Albert Mudrian’s excellent book). They were accomplished records, and if Napalm were doing nu-metal they were doing it 100x better than anybody else, but despite a couple of blistering singles (the not dissimilar “Greed Killing” and “Breed To Breathe”), no touchpaper was being lit any more.

Eventually, around the turn of the century, it would take a parting of the waves with Earache, and a conscious decision to change the game, for Napalm to turn themselves around. So for 2000’s “Enemy Of The Music Business”, the flashier branding and clean production were sacrificed. The band readopted their classic original logo, the song titles were punched out on the sleeve by typewriter, and the lyrics got more bitter and caustic than ever before. But, most noticeably of all, the music became fast, ferocious and frightening again, as this fabulous band rediscovered their edge. (And, by and large, ‘new model Napalm’ has flourished ever since, aided by something else you could never have predicted in 1988: a pretty stable core line-up which has starred Shane Embury (bass), Barney Greenway (machine-gun growl), Danny Herrera (drums) and Mitch Harris (guitar) for well over 20 consecutive years now, if you ignore the strange and short-lived vocalist “swap deal” with Extreme Noise Terror in the mid-90s).

By this point, after experimenting with university, work, drugs, relationships – or whatever it is grown-ups were meant to do – we clocked that these heroes from our adolescence were positively BURNING with the same passion and principle they once had, and that now they were no longer under such intense scrutiny / ridicule, we could embrace them on their own terms again.

* * * * *

And with every year that’s passed, and with every new long-player, we’d notice little clues and hints that Napalm Death weren’t *just* churning out great records, but had made a mark of sorts on the wider cultural milieu, had achieved a status that certainly wasn’t limited to The Grindcore Few. The fact that ex-members of the band had gone on to invent industrial dubstep, or perfect “found sound” collage and installation art. The collaborations, from Gunshot to John Zorn to Jello Biafra. A guest appearance on Skins; being the muse for artists like Mark Titchener; literally taking on a Keith Harrison sculpture in Bexhill (as Ian recounts in the article we quote above), after the V&A had baulked at the prospect; being used as preview music on Match of the Day (crisp magnate Lineker looked *very* bemused after listening to ace “Scum” cut “Common Enemy”).

For basically, once our generation hit our 30s and 40s, we found that some of that generation were in the media and had got busy resetting its narrative. Suddenly, you could always find a nod to Napalm if you looked for one. There are parallels with Talulah Gosh, once maligned beyond belief but who ended up getting OBEs and winning Turner Prizes. Napalm haven’t yet achieved either, but in a just world (and given their somewhat unshakeable commitment to humanitarian issues, animal welfare and endless benefit gigs) I wouldn’t put either beyond them. Indeed, as I type this up, I read that Barney has penned an open letter to the president of Indonesia about pardoning a Death Row prisoner, on the totally logical basis that the president of Indonesia happens to be a self-professed longtime fan of Napalm Death (although, a bit like Dave Cameron with the Smiths, one feels he can’t have been concentrating too hard on their lyrics).

There is also a solid kernel for a lively pub discussion as to whether Napalm, at least ‘til the mid to late 90s, were actually a cracking *singles* band: “Mentally Murdered” (obviously – the 12” is up there with “Splashdown!” or “Shopping Parade” as one of the best EPs ever), “Mass Appeal Madness”, “Suffer The Children”, “The World Keeps Turning”, “Breed To Breathe”, even the emotional rollercoaster of “Hung”… sadly, in the 21st century the flow of singles dried up rather, with the “Analysis Paralysis” 7” being the only new one to kiss our turntable.

All of which means that the answer to the question, “what was the last great British rock album?” is, normally, the last Napalm Death album. So until recently, it was “Utilitarian”. Or, before that, “Time Waits For No Slave”. Or, before that, “Smear Campaign”. Or, before that, “The Code Is Red… Long Live The Code”. But, right now, it’s “Apex Predator – Easy Meat”. Studio album fifteen.

* * * * *

Even by Napalm’s somewhat exacting standards the title track, which begins the LP, is extremely unsettling. Part-chant, part “Evolved As One”-style blunderbuss, part Mark Stewart-like rant, part extended drum-solo, it is not what you would expect from one of Britain’s more energetic outfits. And then, it pulls up… and the next few tracks unleash a veritable torrent of hi-tensile fury. The ‘transition’ from the title tune into the eighty-five brutally unsubtle seconds of “Smash A Single Digit” is a bit like someone switching the Dansette from 33pm to 3,000 rpm and possibly the most dramatic change of pace ever encountered between album tracks, as if John Beck had just usurped Helenio Herrera in a pitchside coup and switched Inter from catenaccio to a frantic long-ball 2-3-5. That track, and “Metaphorically Screw You” which follows it, whip up the pace and lay solid foundations for what’s to come.

After five tracks of non-stop speed, which also include a riff from Mitch on “Timeless Flogging” as gnarled and gnawing as Nobby Stiles ‘putting it about’ in the middle third, we get another enthralling diversion. I’m not normally one for calling on all members of Parliament and the Royal Family to be kidnapped until they agree to change the national anthem of this sceptr’d isle, but in the case of the wirier, mid-paced, Swans-ish dirge “Your Slum Landlord…” (the best ever song about slum landlords that isn’t by the Wolfhounds) we believe that such drastic measures would be fully justified. Hell, that’s an anthem we might even stand up to listen to.

And it’s followed by a serious candidate for the strongest tune here. “Cesspits” is another example of why ND are worth their weight in the gold stuff (er, gold). There are easily enough hooks, riffs and musical passages on this track to fill three different songs, but the band aren’t satisfied by merely repeating the deeply satisfying opening mosh, the slower, more angular “verse” and then a passage of pure speed that follows: they insist on shoehorning in every possible segment of sonic scree that they can. Indeed, the best is saved for last as a completely virgin breakdown riff appears with 40 seconds to go and drives the song to a satisfyingly brutal conclusion. “Bloodless Coup” has a hard act to follow, but with its nods to hardcore punk and the nostalgic world of “Leaders Not Followers” it, too, flies by like a dream. Along with the incredibly venomous “Stunt Your Growth” (the climactic final bars of which feature the boys shouting “G-M-O!” like an eco-conscious Oi! band), it’s one of the punchiest things here.

So what are the ‘takeaways’ from “Apex Predator”? The sheer ferocity of Barney’s vocals, for one. But also the lyrical theme of the album, which contrasts multinationals’ corporate marketing in the West with their treatment of workers in the East. The theme is driven to near-destruction in the dangerously smouldering “Stubborn Stains”, in which Barney homes in on systems of industrialised slave labour (the album is dedicated, amongst others, to the victims of the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh) and ponders the real cost of cheap T-shirts over a relentless backdrop of guitars. Rage at the trade practices of multi-nationals, and their seeming immunity from meaningful sanction, is a theme that goes back to the band’s very earliest days - check out the “Scum” cover art, or “Multi-National Corporations” the song – but was eloquently revisited more recently by the Union Carbide-savaging “No Impediment To Triumph (Bhopal)”. There are no playful Cardiacs cover versions here.

But there are legion other highlights. Shane’s “How The Years Condemn” is an exception to the overt politics, a song about putting family and friends first that opens in seeming confusion, with feedback and practice-noise knocking about at the back of the mix, but once it gets into gear it’s straightforward and honest, a raging storm of experience, a song which the younger band wouldn’t have been able to write, which musically would have fitted perfectly on their 14th set, “Utilitarian”.

The thunderous “Hierarchies”, another standout Embury composition, combines one of the most addictive riffs on the record (a little reminiscent of those on the last Carcass set) with a strangely successful chorus which consists of what the metal fraternity call “clean vocals” but the man in the street would tend to identify as “actual singing”. It also has the only guitar solo on the LP (the sleeve notes are almost apologetic about this, at pains to point out that it’s only a “token” guitar solo, but to be fair, it’s easily missed – for it seems that Bloke Out Of Corrupt Moral Altar made his way down to the studio to provide a solo that lasts just under eight seconds).

And then comes the icing on the cake. Leading into the last tune – a typically obscure cover version, of a long-forgotten Swedish crust-punk outfit called G-ANX - there’s a beautiful, lilting piano instrumental. We weren’t quite sure what it was doing there at first, especially when it inevitably gave way to the usual both-barrels barrage of grind. But then we realised. It had to be an olive branch for Jools, Napalm’s way of saying “if you put us on your show, this is the bit you can join in with”. We can only dream that he will finally take the hint.

* * * * *

And with that, this fanzine shuffled up from its seat, stowed its empty glass on the bar and sidled out into the night.

It’s true, as the JBs reminded us back in those halcyon days, that there are eight million stories. But the rise and rise of Napalm Death remains perhaps our favourite fairytale of all.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Jazz-T featuring Jehst, Zygote, Jyager “The Lesson” (Boot)

“Heavens to Murgatroyd…”

A splendid, old-school sleeveless 7” teach-in from the Diversion Tactics Two, with the twin added attraction of not inconsiderable guest stars Billy Brimstone aka Jehst and Norf London’s own Jyager delivering the verses.

“The Lesson” is 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. Meanwhile, 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. Don’t neglect the instrumental version on the flip, which is strangely hypnotic in its own right and brings out the bare skills of Jazz-T to a, erm, tee.

Excitingly, this one appears to be a taster for a new Jazz-T long-player later in the year…

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Aphex Twin “Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments, Pt.2” (Warp): Jilk and Haiku Salut “Periscopes” (How Does It Feel To Be Loved?)

To be fair to Aphex Twin, he can’t be accused (this time) of misleading his audience. So we get what we deserve for buying “Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments, Pt.2”, which is just that: snippets of analogue sound channelled loosely through whatever technology he had lying around on the floor nearby. Basically, these unformed pieces amount to Richard messing about with a drumkit and occasionally a piano, and not much more. Somebody more qualified to comment than us will no doubt tell you this EP is actually a masterpiece, and not a disappointment after the enjoyable return “Syro” last year - but I for one will simply refuse to believe them.

In stark contrast, just-out download single “Periscopes” from the formidable and newly-forged tag team of Jilk & Haiku Salut is 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. Indeed, unlike “Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments”, the song is an object lesson in how to incorporate acoustic sounds (brass, the trademark bells, um… yapping toy dogs) in an organic and entirely fluid way.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Singles that we unaccountably overlooked in 2014, part two...

Boyracer, on the redoubtable FreakScene roster, covering the Rosehips. There is literally nothing not to like.

As well as Jen and Stewart taking on “Shouldn’t Have To Say”, one of the greatest singles of 1987 and therefore of all time, this Boyracer EP is also worth nabbing for its sprightly, unselfconscious version of “I Know What Boys Like” and, especially, for “I Am A Married Man”, a smart Anderson original which could almost be a lost Tricia Yates Fanclub 45. Perhaps it is.

The EP lives here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

One Of These Days You’re Gonna Look At Your Address Book, And We Won’t Be There

Calling all cars, calling all cars: in love with these times, in spite of these times, has MOVED. Again. Away from the previous postal address, the one which shared a fortuitous thematic link with NWA. So new (non-NWA related) postal address available on application, for those who still wish to send demo tapes, bouquets or fan mail. Haters / the “green ink” brigade should continue to use the usual e-mail address for sending brickbats.

In other news, after two consecutive years of being voted joint 5th best indie-pop website (woo!) by the Twee Net massive, we were nowhere to be seen for 2014, despite getting round to a whole 2 record reviews during the year. We’ll take the disappointment in our stride, though, and although we’ll no longer ride high on drug-fuelled adrenalin at music biz parties, or be invited to step to the red carpet at film premieres, we’re consoled by the fact that we are definitely one of the top two blogs called “in love with these times, in spite of these times”.

Finally, this brief embrace might be the time to acknowledge, as is traditional, the slew of amazing musical treats from the past calendar year that we unaccountably didn’t become aware of until 31 December had passed… of them, this one would have seriously bothered our leaderboard, whilst this one could have wreaked absolute havoc on the edifice. Realise.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Fireworks “Switch Me On” (Shelflife)

“And when we started / the fireworks filled up the sky” Aberdeen, “Fireworks”

Pure, pouting, pounding, perfect punk pop.

The first Fireworks long-player is a succulent, super-succinct synthesis of tumbling ‘60s reverb, addictive new wave late ‘70s riffs, feedback-flecked ‘80s indie and back-to-basics ‘90s Britpop that along the way rattles ghosts of the Ramones, Rosehips, Razorcuts, Mary Chain, Buzzcocks, Primitives, Darling Buds, the Elastica of “Stutter”, a few of the early Slumberland roster and even past Shelflife stars like the Frenchmen and Free Loan Investments. In short, if you liked the Fireworks’ two 7” EPs or their excellent (and exclusive) tracks on “Nobody’s Business”, “Raving Pop Blast!” and a postcard-shaped FreakScene flexidisc, you will adore this album.

You’ll already have deduced that there’s nothing especially complicated, either lyrically or musically, about what the Fireworks do, which is why it’s perplexing that there aren’t more bands doing it this well: turbo-charged tracks like “On And On” (the first great single of 2015), “Runaround” or “Corner Of My Mind” are object lessons in lustfully lovely, lively POP, whilst the closing “In The Morning” continues their tradition of finishing every record with a slowie, presumably to give Shaun a bit of a breather. 

And the band clearly aren’t running out of inspiration. Although “Switch Me On” starts with 2/3rds of their “Runaround” EP, it rolls out a first XI of golden newies from thereon in: they don’t feel the need to reprise any of the four tunes from their (ace) eponymous debut, and even subtly introduce some… um, texture. Perhaps the pearls, tucked midway through side two, are the deft and adept “Back To You”, a glorious indie-pop confection the verses of which are like mainlining sherbet; and the glistening “Stay Here”, which trespasses on the territory of bands like Spraydog or current labelmates the Hobbes Fanclub. Mind you, we’ve plenty of time for the minor chords and chiming 12-string guitar of “Let You Know”, as it channels Webster and Vass near thirty years on. And the (comparatively) indulgent play-out of “Final Say” reminds us, happily, of the end of the Groove Farm’s “It Might Not Mean That Much To You… But It Means A Lot To Me”.

We hadn’t been at all sure that the Fireworks would be able to keep up their early momentum over a full LP, especially when it arrived so long after the first two singles, but our doubts have been comprehensively vanquished. This is the *bomb*.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Edgware Kickback

One evening in the middle of August, we found ourselves traipsing up to Barnet FC to watch some fifth division football. As you do. But as the stadium drew into view, the Bees’ adopted Edgware home suddenly became the epicentre of an umbrella-ravaging, rat-drowning, pop-apocalyptic summer storm. As the soaked-through matchday programme crumbled in my fingers, the stewards gently mocked our hangdog demeanour, and I emptied pools of dirty rainwater from my pockets, we braced ourselves for two long hours of standing on the away terrace in wet-through clothes and disillusionment. Forlorn and miserable, we cursed having gone out at all.

And yet… and yet… only half an hour later, fortified by a pre-match supper of a round of necked lagers, and by the life-giving bounce of the then newly-minted tracks #2 and #3 from the list below, we gazed in awe from that same terrace as a gorgeous rainbow looped up from the far corner of the ground, and even as the rain continued to pile down, and the 22 journeymen before us meandered and trotted in rangy diagonals across the sodden turf, that rainbow hung wondrously from that darkening, electric sky as if to say… forget the sludge, the slurry, the schlock… EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT. You know, just like Keris promised. For a few regal minutes – before Barnet inevitably scored, and the relevant deity hastily withdrew said rainbow - there was peace, serenity and *beauty* within our humble demesne. (“If the sun going down / Can make me cry…”)

In our day-to-day lives, we can’t conjure that rainbow out of nothing, we can’t sit back and rely on such magic moments simply trickling down uninvited through unlikely cracks in the sky. But yet we still have this… this insanely irresistible music thing, at our fingertips… an infinite spring for our still-unquenchable thirst. Sometimes it’s moving or mournful; sometimes it provides succour and a safety blanket; sometimes it’s a vivid burst of freshness and excitement, just the spark we need; always, it’s a blessed relief from the world that whirls around us, a world of celebrity chatter, populist poison, ephemeral e-nonsense, self-absorbed short-termism and general gurning idiocy.

Albums of the year: here. Our favourite gigs: here. Reissues and compilations: here. As for singles...

* * * * *

1. Close Lobsters “Kunstwerk In Spacetime EP” (Shelflife)

They survived the unforgiving glare of C86, and their two reissued albums (“Foxheads Stalk This Land” and “Headache Rhetoric”) are rightly feted. But for us it was Close Lobsters’ singles that best displayed the Paisley quintet’s qualities: we so treasure the run of 12”s that includes “Going To Heaven To See If It Rains”, “Never Seen Before”, “Let’s Make Some Plans” and “Loopholes” (even, we would add, their Janice Long session EP). So could their comeback 45 meet high expectations?

It could. This is one of those EPs that only has two tracks (at least on the 7”: there are some nostalgically pointless remixes floating around in the ether, too), but the ‘A-side’ is “Now Time”, and it’s a sparkling single if ever there was one, a spark of ‘Scottish Electric Lightning’ if you like, that’s recognisable as the Lobsters of yore yet adds up to so much more than being a mere carbon of those earlier single platters. As we recall, Andrew Burnett went back and forth on Scottish nationalism in music paper interviews in the 1980s, but to us this song was more than a plea to seize the day: it was the soundtrack to the YES campaign, to tears of hope - “History is about to be made” - and then to a shattered dream. 

Taken cold, the lyrics could seem little more than airy platitudes and literary allusions cleverly strung together, but somehow the song transcends such shrill dissection and instead sounds completely inspiring and positive, in the process quoting “A Shropshire Lad” and amply justifying the sleeve’s wry welcome to “the supermodernity of post-neo Close Lobsters”. More than just a marvellous record: this was a *statement*.

2. Moevalith “Loophole” (Sick Weird Rough)

Yes! (The rhythm, the rebel…) Forgive us, but it’s just… the excitement, isn’t it? Not just this record, silly, but the whole hundred… this particular nugget being a rare North American foray from the mighty European mega-label that is SWR, an absolute peak time techno treat from Montreal’s industrial techno geezer Moevalith… hey, come back!

Actually, “Loophole” isn’t really industrial at all. On the one hand it’s a sparkling slice of visceral & acid-flecked dancefloor-upturning mayhem which induces the usual series of giddy sensations; on the other, Moeva deploys an icy looped undertow halfway down the mix, lending proceedings a strangely glacial air into the bargain. All at 127bpm (we got a bit obsessed with bpm counts this yr, as you will soon tire of noticing). The other tune herein, “Output 3-4”, treads similar territory, and is similarly unfuckwithable.

3. Sceptical C “Curfew Neglector” (Darknet)

What they should do, you know, is invent properly skewed dancefloors, for dancing to properly skewed dance music. A kind of clubland equivalent of Huish Park, Underhill or even Twerton Park in its misty prime (some of those second halves, kicking downhill with the wind, are rightly now the stuff of legend).

We initially misread the title as “Curlew Neglector”, which tickled us somehow. But in fact this tune from Dutch master Sceptical C on Sydney’s Darknet - the label that provided past gems like Tex-Rec’s “Encoding” and Michael Schwarz’s “Incarnation” but has otherwise too often flattered to deceive – is nothing to do with sending wading birds to Coventry. Instead, it’s a massive, unflinching and slightly unhinged combo of sudden drops and TUNE! klaxons, as C unrelentingly pursues new peaks and plateaus of pitchshifting playfulness in the demesne of underground hard dance. For the DJs (who we know traverse these pages avidly), this flickers around the 127/8 bpm mark.

The other tracks aboard the EP are pretty great too: a “Curfew” remix from Ortin Cam, the nine sprightly minutes of “La Resurrecion” (which improves somewhat after some Laughing Policeman-esque samples early doors) and then the brilliant “The Beat Makes You Bop”, which does indeed feature a beat, and does indeed make you bop, although being absolute song-title snobs we would have preferred it far more if it was called “Crx-9113_bzzt” or something, which of course it would have been had it been sired by the likes of Autechre or Aphex.

4. Niereich “Das Testament” (Overdrive)

Those Pitchfork ratings are so imprecise, aren’t they? I mean, is that 9.8 a 9.751, or a 9.849? Anyway, this is a 9.897, probably.

Nothing hints at IMPORT more than the German definite article: Das Kapital, Das Boot, Das… um… Katerer, Das… er, EFX...? And Niereich’s “Das Testament” is a monster single on Germany’s Overdrive Records (a 33rpm 12”, hooking the original up with a triple-remix treatment) that positively smoulders with import, as it moulds the clean lines of central European minimal techno into a “Black Mamba”-like crossover confection, investing the whole with the “stop, start, surge” mentality of the most winning London / acid techno from day as it serrates your very consciousness at circa 126bpm.

But the remixes deserve their own para, believe me. My *goodness* they’re great. First in the queue is Elektrax head honcho DJ Hi-Shock, who ably decorates “Das Testament” with what sounds like a lorry’s reversing horn. Turn the disc over and the quality goes seriously off the scale, courtesy of an absolutely stupendous mix from Mike Humphries (a couple of Mike’s recent tunes happen to sound like they could have come out on Earache’s marvellous Sub Bass imprint circa 1992, but this is even better: the acid line is serious ear-candy) and then the closing, none too shabby nine-minute re-jig from Overdrive’s own Sophie Nixdorf. Plus, although it’s not on the vinyl single, there’s a bonus re-working from the Netherlands’ rising star, GO!Diva on ye olde i-Tunes.

5. Cappo “The Boot EP” (Boot)

Ill dusty on the sevens. A regular visitor to our top ten, claiming that ever so prestigious top spot in ’04 and ’08, the high priest of next-level (always magical, always mystical, but never too fantastical) returns this time round in a hook-up with the mighty beats of Diversion Tactics & Boot boys Jazz T and Zygote, spreading those (Imperial) Iron Condor wings to deliver, in the language he’s made his own, a quartet of aircraft carrier-heavy 50-bar belters – if padded out somewhat unnecessarily by slivers of retro crime-caper dialogue - and to paint verbal pictures with the flair and dexterity (‘Capposthetics’) you’d expect from an artist who originally emerged from the graf scene. An overdue but frankly essential collaboration, and, even better, one which must bring our DREAM UKHH battle… yes, Cappo vs the Chubby Alcoholic... one step closer. Oh, and limited to 100 copies on vinyl, which is of course nonsense.

And that’s only the half of it. For, as autumn approached, came the “Remixes” EP – the same tracks in the same order, but recast by artists from outside the Boot camp. Indeed, if you preferred the more stripped-down sounds of last year’s incredible Ill Move Sporadic collabo, you might rate these even more than the originals, and not just because they dispense with the film samples. The great Chemo (in his Telemachus guise) treats “Yul Brynner” to a light-touch rework before Mr. Brown’s “Kitted Out” works exquisitely, tethering Caps’ dead-on rhymes to a rough, dug-out bassline. Fellow UKHH legend Jehst rocks up to reboot “Out Of Your Mind”, but this one’s a little enervating in truth, its caustic loops a little out-of-sync with the spacier chill of the tracks around it, so it’s almost a relief when Sam “Unprogrammable Raw” Zircon restores the equilibrium nicely, drawing out the multiple similes of “Tree Frog” via a laidback trip to the lizard lounge.

Actually, thinking about it, there’s a third EP knocking around: the “Instrumentals” have been parcelled up into an mp3 release too, meaning that you can actually get your mitts on three versions of each track here without majorly exerting yourself, plus you can then roam around in front of your bedroom mirror, live-rapping into a hairbrush over 100% authentic Boot beats. If there had only been a fourth EP with the a cappellas (you know, like they always used to do on UKHH 12”s) then we’d probably think we’d died and gone to heaven.

6. Comet Gain “’Sad Love’ And Other Short Stories” (Fortuna Pop!)

The latest gem from possibly the finest label ever to grace Islington. Or Streatham. Or wherever it was they lived originally, in those halcyon days of “The Foolishness We Create Through Love”.

We occasionally get blowback for being critical of Comet Gain, which can come as quite a shock given the two decades we’ve spent reiterating how brilliant they are, but we suspect it relates to the fact that - much as we would give our right arm to be part of the Gain’s coterie, their team that meets in caffs - we don’t feel able to deny that they can, just can, get a bit indulgent / pretentious / ropey on occasion. Happily, there’s no such hokum with this year’s fabulous LP and the single taken from it, both of which confirm how Comet Gain have become the band that the Go-Betweens can sadly no longer be, a gleaming indie-pop-folk combo purveying intelligent, haunting, lyrical wonderment.

And so the blushed-autumn “Sad Love” reinvents the lovelorn gorgeousness of “You Can Hide Your Love Forever” for this cynical decade, and makes us long to leave this clogged city far behind us, to stretch out in fields and gaze at a blueing sky as clouds gently ease across our line of vision. Like many tracks on the LP, “Sad Love” benefits hugely from the wonderful strings of A Little Orchestra, and the scales are finally falling from our stubborn eyes as we realise there’s no need to turn the tide back to “Orwell Liberty Dance”, “Strength” or even “Say Yes!” Comet Gain still have all we need.

7. Cappo & Stealf “Unicron EP” (De Facto Entertainment)

We won’t forget Halloween 2014 in a while – basking in unfamiliar sunbathing weather before diving “all back to ours” with that unpronounceable Polish park-bench lager and deeply inhaling this fine quintet of skulking tracks, released that very day by Caps in Gusto Grizwold guise (all to the less-than ambient external soundtrack of youths throwing fireworks around the Marquess Estate, scaring the poor foxes half to death).

This new Caps salvo is the now-usual swaggering beast, Notts’ best rhymer twirling his moustache and showing off generally as he dances in wicked freestyle around Stealf’s liltingly Americanised backing, epitomised by the blinding ‘single’ “SM58 Live Rounds” and the Evil Ed remix of it which closes proceedings. “Bobba Fett” is a prodigious opener, too, with the moment the beats kick in ushering in probably our favourite bars on the whole EP. On “Raise The Bar”, which rolls with a more traditional hip-hop lyric than his usual out-there / out-of-it ruminations, Cappo even manages to elevate the usual “I’m great” challenge-rap into something more akin to a design for living: “Stake your claim, make the mark, state your name… raise the bar”.

8. Planetary Assault Systems “Future Modular” (Mote Evolver)

Each new year, crushed by the rigours of time and the impossibility of listening to all the music we want to, we get increasingly desperate for all future records ever issued to be terrible, and much as 90% of bands try to help in this noble cause there are still hundreds of singles issued every year that make us laugh and sing and smile and dance and scribble endless reams of notes on post-its and the backs of receipts or whatever else we have to hand when we’re enjoying them so.

Thus Luke Slater aka Planetary Assault Systems returns on 12” to deliver this particular package of peak time purity, which alternates bubblingly discombobulated kicks with asteroid belts of shimmering electro acid storms. BPM: the number of squares on two chess boards. Even better, on the other side of the vinyl you get the sylph-like twinkling minimalism of “Serc” and the fabulous (if actually decidedly unriotous) “Riot In Silo 12”, both of which are as dark and as mysterious as the Tyne Tunnel. Indeed, something about them (maybe their gracefully arcing sibilance) reminds us of A New Line (Related). If this is the future, we’re all up for it.

9. Gold-Bears “For You” (Slumberland)

We had to have a committee meeting about it, you know. Whether we would extend our definition of “singles” from download-onlys branded as such to this new trend for pre-releasing one mp3 track from an upcoming LP, without its own artwork or context. And if it wasn’t for how fiiine this song was, we might have sided with our absolutist fantasy – that “For You” should be a solid gold 7” or nothing - and gone the other way.

Um, yes. Much as we enjoyed their Slumberland LP and Cloudberry EP, we never truly expected Gold-Bears to come close to their Magic Marker 7”, “Tally” again. But “For You” - with Archie Moore at the controls - is up there for sure, and it paved the way for their excellent “Dalliance” set and all the ingredients that made that great: lyrical plaintiveness + blazing, eyes-bright, glowing guitar fuzz + cascading melodies = 100% sheer joy.

10. Flowdan “Serious Business” EP (Hyperdub)

Is it really five years since “Original Dan”? Well I never. Our past pages have highlighted a few of Roll Deep old boy (and Trim’s nemesis) Flowdan’s finest adventures in sound: plates like “Skeng”, “Jah War”, “Ganja” and “Warning” (all in collaboration with the Bug, which is of course “the aural equivalent of mick harford partnering fash the bash up front”); not to mention his 18-minute 1Xtra soundclash with Riko. So it’s a blast to have him back.

It’s the year of the extended play, in many ways, so in keeping with that theme Flowdan gets to deliver a whole EP for Hyperdub and pleasingly he keeps it fiery, nailing down chafingly harsh verses that a few of the label’s fluffily-bearded aficionados might blanche at, given their largely instrumental diet. Whatever Flowdan might lack in technique (at least, compared with some of his most prodigiously dextrous rivals) he surely makes up for with *presence*.

On sort-of title track “People Power”, produced by John Fashanu – sorry, by the Bug - he even goes all Wolfie Smith (“Power to the people!”) but unlike Wolfie, who ended up in league with Murdoch, this 12” makes damn clear that Flowdan has no intention whatsoever of selling out. Basically, “People Power” is the tune that “Ill Manors” thought it was. But it’s not all. The thunderous “Ambush” leads off, hitting hard courtesy of beats from Newham General, Footsie; “No Gyal Tune” pivots on a murderous Masro riddim; and “F About” sees Flowdan take sideswipes at rival musicmakers over more than capable backing from Coki. All ride at a bracing 140bpm, save for “Ambush”, which tigerishly encircles its prey at 93.

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11. Memory Drawings “Captivated EP” (Hibernate)

I dimly remember reading somewhere (the NME, the Lancet, the Daily Telegraph?) that Memory Drawings’ atmospheric, expansive songs were written whilst travelling in pulchritudinous places and designed to be listened to whilst journeying through equally exotic landscapes. It may not therefore be ideal that we tend to hear them either on a crowded Tube, or whilst on the street surrounded by sirens, diesel fumes and blokes stood outside Wetherspoons shouting “Oy Oy”. However, the fact we still adore the band is surely the ultimate proof of how resoundingly beguiling their songs actually are.

The first track here is an edit of the kraut-acoustic pastoral “The Island Of The Day Before”, one of the perkier numbers from their superb LP (see our albums list!) and its most Declining Winter-ish. Its now-familiar plucked rhythms, seemingly supplemented here by some extra guitar clang, then fade away to usher in the title tune, a new number which features erstwhile Drawings collaborator Yvonne Bruner on vocals (she’s the one who sings evocative and powerful lyric versions of three of the album tracks, on the bonus CD that came with that). And “Captivated” really is a find: it’s a tremendous, humbling thing, wowing us gently as we look up to see slender branches trembling in these city winds. The third and final contribution is a somewhat subtle, but equally pretty, Charles Zwicky remix of another album standout, “Coldstream”. An EP of goodly quality.

12. Robert Hood “Untitled 1 (Mark Broom Edit)” (M-Plant)

Fabulous slice of Detroit techno from Robert Hood, on his own label, with Mark Broom - probably unrelated to longtime D&R star Jason - piloting the remix at a 128bpm, the beat count du jour this year. “Untitled 1” (“Taken From “Moveable Parts Chapter 1”, apparently) is quietly spectacular: somehow taut and elegant, yet still as invigorating as a tumble in the griselinia, this is audacious audio that descants drizzlingly fizzing dewdrops into grateful grooves. Or something.

13. Phobia “Grind Core” (Deep Six)

Ha. You already know all you need to know about this 7”, don’t you? Whilst Phobia’s “Unrelenting” EP on Relapse was the best single of 2010, the follow-up LP “Remnants of Filth” was rather disappointing yet by comparison. This newie, however, sees the SoCal mob come right back up on the rails, without any shadow of doubt, brandishing eight committed, aggressive, ultra-compact grind vignettes veering between metal and ENT post-crust, ranged over nine somewhat feral minutes. This time around Shane MacLachlan is still assisted by the redoubtable combo of Dorian Rainwater (Noisear, Kill The Client and many others, including the desperately underrated Excruciating Terror) on guitar, and go-to grindcore drummer Bryan Fajardo (Noisear, Kill The Client, Gridlink, P.L.F…)

As you’d expect the lyrics still focus mainly on uncertainty, social division and rage, but there are also specific barbs against environmental blight (“Path Of Destruction”) and the animal testing death toll (the excellent “Maimed and Gained”). There’s always one especially catchy tune, too, and this time it’s “Don’t Hate the Pain, Hate the Game”. The EP also got a CD release on Willowtip which included the whole of Phobia’s earlier “Means of Existence” and “Destroying The Masses” sets, making it a 35-track single (not one of them a ballad). Beats per minute: lots.

14. Ultramantis Black “Ultramantis Black” (Relapse)

No ballads here, either. This surprisingly socially-minded and brilliantly compelling EP from the US professional wrestler(!) and his all-star backing band boasts 9 tracks over 13 minutes, and although it’s billed as hardcore we’d put it more at the powerviolence end of the spectrum (fans of Flyblown or Scalplock might go for it, too). Ultramantis powers out tunes about animal rights, human liberation, environmental catastrophe, big pharma, fracking, the West Siberian plain and (in the exquisitely-named closer “Gloom Of Prosperity”) the procession of popular capitalism, alongside a good-old fashioned booklet explaining the ideas behind the lyrics in a little more detail. Given how many years ago Giant Haystacks left the ring, it feels great to have a favourite wrestler again.

15. Cortechs “Waste Of Humanity (Remixes)” (Steil)

“Waste of Humanity” began as a B-side but now, like “How Soon Is Now?” has emerged into A-side limelight (of sorts) via a welcome suite of remix EPs. Indeed, as Moz might have it, it’s spawned a monster, because Cortechs-bloke has got a whole LP out of it too, a fine record mixing apocalyptic themes with tidy, well-constructed rhythms and in doing so appealing to the head as much as the feet (“cerebral Cortechs”, to misquote Sportique).

Part 1 of the remixes kicks off with the A-Brothers attending to “Waste of Humanity” itself, plus re-workings of “Syntopic” by GO!Diva and “Mitotic Cycle” by Steil boss Al Zwodezwo. Part 2 is especially striking as it pairs Bjorn Torwellen’s eerie take on “Synaptotagmin” with, all the way from Vancouver, a perhaps even spookier Automatic Message remix of “Inhibition of Exocytosis”. Part 3 (the “Old School” remixes) both ups the game and speeds up the game: you get GabeeN & Dr Hoffmann’s Repaint of the cracking “COR53”, a properly belting Deh-Noizer & Electrorites remix of “Syntopic” and then, bringing us full circle, Thomas Mueller’s somewhat intriguing re-assembly of “Waste of Humanity” itself. Sadly, Part 4, despite offering up two versions of each of “Blood Stain”, “Fallin” and “Ecoy”, proves a little less memorable.

16. A New Line (Related) “A Roomful Of Lovers” (ANL(R))

A shy and secretive 7” from Mr Johnson on his own label, plus Miles Whittaker remix flip, in handsplashed sleeve. Possibly the most ambient single ever to creep into our year-ends, even more than Jamie Ball’s gorgeous “Love Song”: for whilst that had a constant pulse, this is a beatless drone – machine-like, but just as beautiful - which shimmers its way into the inner spirals of your heart without threatening anything near a tune, a hook, or anything else you could grab hold of.

17. The Popguns “Lovejunky” (Matinée Recordings)

Already a signature Popguns tune, we’d say. In the spirit of recycling, we refer you to a few words here.

18. Napalm Death “To Go Off And Things” (bandcamp)

The only song released by the Birmingham boys this year was this Cardiacs cover version, a download single recorded to help raise funds for the recovery of Cardiac Tim Smith, who has sadly been seriously ill for a number of years. Even apart from that this would, honestly, be worth getting: a whirlwind of strangulated speed-metal licks and rollercoaster keyboards, this is simply huge FUN and a must for the tracklist if they ever get round to “Leaders Not Followers Part 3” (and seeing how ND are covering Shane’s favourite bands now, we’re hopeful there’ll be a Darling Buds cover on that one too).

Also, mention of Napalm obliges us to link to one of our all-time favourite match reports, the opening segment of which contains some home truths about what this band mean to some of those of “my generation”. It might be instructive for those of you still not understanding our very real affection for this absolutely tremendous, great British band.

19. Obituary “Visions In My Head” (Relapse)

My i-pod gave up the ghost around the same time my mobile phone broke down (well, okay, drowned: there are rumours it wasn’t an accident). I was quickly pretty relaxed about not having a phone but without my i-pod… wow. I was disconsolate, irritable and inconsolable, like LL without his radio. So when the replacement arrived, I needed something pretty heavyweight to kick it into life. And this little ditty proved to be it.

Yep, the true sound of Florida returns, and as usual it makes for top-notch entertainment. “Visions” all twists around a ridiculously simple riff, whilst the bass simply piledrives into the subsoil, and John Tardy is on fine form with his ever-distinctive vocal. Something that sounds suspiciously like an acoustic guitar intrudes towards the end, which I’m sure Scott Burns would have never let happen, but nonetheless it somehow just naturally melds into the whole crushing spirit of the thing.

20. Wu-Tang Clan featuring Nathaniel “Keep Watch“ (Wu Music Group)

We remember that moment they first appeared, and it was like discovering nine new favourite uncles at a stroke. We remember eight of them (ODB having recently and sadly departed) tearing the house down in Hammersmith. Well, the essence of why we love WTC remains.

But, you say (cups hand), “this sounds the same as all their other tracks”. Well, one man’s “this sounds the same as all their other tracks” is another man’s “hark, as they ever-subtly refine their already near-perfect artistic vision”. And right now, I am that other man.

Meth fires up “Keep Watch” with his best verse in ages, before Inspectah Deck phones his in rather. Luckily, Cappadonna is next – and at his bolshy absolute best – and he hands the baton for the last leg to a detached but ever-intriguing RZA. Yet it’s DJ Mathematics’ loop that dominates, that oozes class, that betrays the beauty of simplicity, that survives the wine-bar wackness of “Nathaniel”’s dulcet tones as the Clan, hopefully reluctantly, nod to having a chorus of some kind. Beats per minute: the last two digits of the year they released “36 Chambers”.

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21. LV & Joshua Idehen “Imminent” (Keysound Recordings)

“Man dem get vexed”. Obviously.

There’s music in this list from Austria, Canada, Chile, the Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Germany, Holland, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Poland, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine and the U.S. And that’s just the ones we know. But this is one of those tunes that’s a bit more local to us.

“Imminent” is an invigorating proto-grime outing (138bpm, natch) reminiscent of a couple of those Planet Mu 12”s from a few years back, as high priests of dubstep and grime commingle to produce music that’s just as likely to win props from pogoing whippersnappers who should really be doing their homework as it is from chinstroking oldies like me. Anyway, the gist of it is that Hackney runs from Mile End, in much the same way as Millwall run from Cardiff (allegedly), or, erm, Argyle run from Rovers. Realise. And then take the home end.

22. Ryuji Takeuchi “No Way Out EP” (Brood Audio)

Another excellent extended play from the Japanese, a cut and shunt of three Takeuchi originals with three carefully selected remixes. Opener “Kijk” sees an acid house-style motif wriggling to escape from a deadly swarm of percussive noise, but to no avail, as if “Missing The Moon” were trapped in a coal bunker (on a strictly 2014 tip, there’s a touch of Cortechs’ “COR53” to it, too). “Necrosis” may be similarly claustrophobic, but it’s a different beast, almost seductively repetitive; whilst “Side Effect” is cut more obviously from the fabric of his past greats.

Then come the re-workings of each: Measure Divide deconstructs “Kijk” minus the acid, but plus big booming beats and handclaps and in doing so, halves the bpm to a super-leisurely 65. However, the last two tracks are probably the best on the whole EP: Krenzlin somehow transforms “Necrosis” into a high-magnitude shake-it-down floor-botherer, speeding it from 126 to 132 in the process, meaning that it’s Bjorn Torwellen who perhaps sticks closest to the original with his electro-icy interpretation of “Side Effect”. Really high quality stuff.

23. Jonathann Cast “In My Red Eyes” (Sick Weird Rough)
24. Michael Lasch “O++” (Electrax Recordings)

These two songs dovetail really nicely on any playlist, so it’s fitting to see them share a billing here.

From Lyon, the EBM-oriented J.C. may have been around awhile but with this hit d’été he became the latest debutant at the SWR ball, as well as formally taking up his place in a pantheon of contemporary French musical aceness which also spans Alcest, Blockheads, Vincenn and (possibly) the Wendy Darlings. “Red Eyes” is clinical stuff, anchored by a repeated chime beneath which the music undulates with captivatingly drifting loucheness. Ooh – almost forgot - 125bpm.

Aussie imprint Electrax, like their sublabel Darknet, often seem to net the right artists, just not always their premium product. However, the well-drilled pointillist clank of “O++” gets an A++ from us, sharing the thinning oxygen of the ether with its composer’s best works to date, the bpm count hovering enticingly all the while around the 130 mark.

25. ArtGruppe “Objets D’ArtGruppe” (Jigsaw)

ArtGruppe, ex Art Group, are not unrelated to the marvellous MelodieGroup, the crucial connection of course being ex-Windmill Roy Thirlwall, the best thing to come out of Essex since the Kursaal Flyer (NB not the Kursaal Flyers plural: that’s a whole different ball game), or at least since David Crown’s somewhat fecund spell at Roots Hall.

And, on what’s an increasingly tidy-looking Jigsaw roster, “Objets” is a 6-track EP in austere monochrome sleeve which really worms in to your heart, in no small part thanks to Michelle Bappoo’s lead vocal, ably abetted by Roy’s backing coos (think back to when Morrissey backed Nancy Sinatra). Gloriously understated balladettes like “Naked Winter Trees” are what their former Essex compatriots the Rosslyns were always trying to do in their late period, but couldn’t quite pull off.

We’re conscious that Mr T himself regards “Objets” as a mini-LP rather than an EP, but we’re going to call it a single in order that it can get the full oxygen – nay, avalanche - of publicity that a spot in one of our laboured “best of” lists brings. 

26. Boyracer “Pete Shelley EP” (Emotional Response)

Cracking new label, Emotional Response, with a consistent aesthetic and an emphasis on the vinyl single. It’s now 4 years since Boyracer seemingly went out tearfully with a valedictory LP, “Sunlight Is The Best Antiseptic” and ‘official’ swansong “The Last Word”: but as it turns out, rumours of their demise were much exaggerated and this is a four-track 7” which sees them in rude health. The title track is the clincher, though: a classic Boyracer blast from the heart. Despite the title it’s not nostalgic, but about moving on with life and looking forward, and it’s 100% positive, pounding, prime ‘Racer, all over in a just-right 80 seconds.

27. Edward Scissortongue “Theremin EP” (High Focus)

This nimble seven-tracker is quite a revelation, incredibly poetic hip-hop with expert delivery and thoughtful lyrics as Ed Scissortongue flourishes in the hands of a number of different producers (he’s even confident enough to let proceedings start and end with instrumentals). “Theremin” is a showcase for a new(ish) talent which will surely achieve its aim of catapulting him into the UKHH firmament. Whilst the title track (in two parts) is rivetingly stark, penultimate tune “The Calculator” is an even truer tour de force: as bleak as Taskforce, as erudite as Cappo.

28. June Brides “She Seems Quite Free” (Occultation)

They sound, suddenly, so young again: last single “A January Moon” was brilliantly tainted by the wisdom of experience, yet the three brass-anchored pop songs here could almost be from their early period, with traces of their then-contemporaries like Razorcuts, or the Church Grims… right down to having one track written and sung by Simon (or, as we knew him at school, “the other bloke who does June Brides vocals”). His tones, just like Phil’s are instantly recognisable. To be honest, if it wasn’t for the fact that such things get you shot nowadays, we’d be tempted to describe this as the “classic shambling sound”, and it’s a sound that we at least will never tire of.

29. Mobb Deep “Dirt (Rmx featuring Ghostface Killah)” (Infamous Records)
30. Ghostface Killah & BADBADNOTGOOD featuring Danny Brown “Six Degrees” (Lex Records)

Hello, and welcome to Ghostface corner.

The Mobb really have no right to still be as good now as their “Infamous Mobb Deep” LP this year showed them to be. Havoc and Prodigy, freed from the G-Unit (and, in the former’s case, freed from a presumably less embarrassing spell in prison) fought back to do something at least in the spirit, if unsurprisingly unable to match the quality, of their mid-nineties creations. The album would have been even better if it had the Snoop-featuring version of the utterly addictive “Get Down” (which is on the US but not the UK release) and this, the later remix (sorry, “RMX”) single of “Dirt” on which our old stag night buddy Ghostface turns up to throw in a crowing third verse.

Meanwhile, this Danny Brown sounds a very excitable chap. Oh yes, and entirely insane. Which makes him a brilliant foil to trade verses with Ghostface on the inconsequential, yet entirely ace, “Six Degrees” single collaboration with eclectically-minded Toronto jazzateers BMG (who were last seen covering “You Made Me Realise” before, presumably, running away cackling).

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31. Carcass “Surgical Remission – Surplus Steel” (Nuclear Blast)

We’re thinking of commissioning our own Radio One-style jingle for the phrase “it was the year of the EP”, so we can repeat it for pretty much every entry. This EP was not however an all-new salvo from the recently rejuvenated Carcass, but a cash-in package of offcuts: out-takes from last year’s album sessions, including one already-released B-side and a “reprise” of that LP’s instrumental intro. At the end of the day though, quality still outs, and any disappointment needs to be tempered by the fact that even rejected Carcass songs are smart, funny and pretty amazing, especially here the DM-influenced blues-rock of “Livestock Market“ (which playfully references “Danse Macabre”, “Death Disco” and “Slaughterhouse Blues”) and “Intensive Battery Brooding”.

32. Flowers “Joanna” (Fortuna Pop!)

Less is more. Flowers’ sound is sparse, and deceptively simple, but there is something so compelling about their measured songcraft and Rachel’s almost choirboy voice, a magic brought out fully by the clear and austere production on this one, and which makes us wish we’d seen them that Saturday lunchtime in the Union Chapel. We’re pretty sure we recollect this fetching, affecting number from their London Bridge gig last year, though, and it’s pretty special to be reunited with it. No idea why they’ve written a song about a piano, though.

33. Harold Budd “Remixes” (All Saints Records)

Yikes. This is amazing. Seriously. I’m ashamed to admit that to us, back in the day, legendary avant-garde composer Harold Budd was no more than “the old bloke who did that record with the Cocteau Twins”. Now he’s even older, presumably, but we’re no longer in doubt of his standing, and patten’s remix of “Mandan”, which leads off this 3-track 12”, is simply sublime, with layers that build organically until by the end it sounds like Jamie Vex’d remixing Hood remixing Haiku Salut. There’s other fun & frolics to be had here, of course – Odd Nosdam goes all kinda oblique and field-recorded on “Feral”, whilst Personable hits us with a 20-minute refix of “Dark Star”: but the lead tune is, honestly, enough.

34. Mogwai “Music Industry 3. Fitness Industry 1” (Rock Action)

Interesting one, this. Lead track “Teenage Exorcists” is basically a pretty super, slightly fuzzy, pop record, which is not always what you’d expect from the Lucifer-fearing Mogwai (indeed, we’re still surprised by them having vocals). It reminds us a little of when Wire, whose records were generally angular or experimental and lasted either 30 seconds or 10 minutes, would decide occasionally to turn their hands to “pop”, and in doing so came out with gems like “Outdoor Miner” or “Map Reference” which ranked amongst the very best that new wave could muster, and which still frankly rank amongst the best pop singles ever produced.

After the shock of “Exorcists”, the rest of the EP should prove more comforting, consisting as it does of two carefully-crafted instrumental originals and three high-grade remixes, with the EP’s running time clearing the half-hour mark. (All this is also fitting, given that 2014 has been not only the year of the EP, but also quite possibly the year of the remix). In particular, the closing two tracks – Pye Corner Audio’s remix of “No Medicine For Regret” and Nils Frahm’s version of “The Lord Is Out Of Control” – are absolutely outstanding.

35. Vincenn “Olas Inconvenient EP” (Sick Weird Rough)

As any fule kno, Gaul is divided into three parts. Caen’s Vincenn therefore reps for the wide vistas of Celtic Gaul and on fightingly fit standout track “Sincronizacion” (127 bpm) he brusquely lays waste to the idiotic preconception of the man on the Clapham omnibus that European techno is in any way not brilliant. And yes, yer Warp or yer Rephlex or yer Hyperdub remain great, but they can barely touch SWR for hit rate, can they?

36. RVDE “Veslar” (Intellighenzia Electronica)

If this had come out when were in our more footloose and fancy-free first incarnation, the one that better balanced musical comment with other life essentials, like reviewing local pubs, we would probably have put up a photo of them and captioned it “staring at the RVDE boys”. We’d then have come up with some witty comment about their beards. Alas, we would only have amused ourselves, and in any case the time for such fripperies has long passed. Instead, we’ll observe that third single from the duo, on young Milanese label Intellighenzia Electronica, and hanging out on red vinyl 12”, is thankfully much more Pirlo than Balotelli as the boys scoop up some loop synth-layered rhythms and give them a spin around the streets of northern Italy, eventually settling into a rhythm which sounds a little like a pigeon cooing whilst somebody clanks some scaffolding. But in a good way, obviously. 126 beats every sixty seconds, if you were wondering.

37. Baptists “Harm Induction” (Southern Lord)
38. Trap Them “Salted Crypts” (Prosthetic)

Rock music isn’t dead: people just think it is, because of the existence of Royal Blood. Or Kings of Leon. Or the Rolling Stones. Luckily, Vancouver’s Baptists are on hand to prove them wrong, with a distinctive and exciting racket that charmingly plunders various metal styles and production, but owes a surprising amount to second wave punk/crust influences too, particularly in the vocals. They also take a certain cue from labelmates Nails (not least with Kurt Ballou recording this and the rest of their “Bloodmines” LP), although they’re probably slightly less intense/emo than Nails, depending on your prejudices.

Trap Them have always mixed crust, d-beat and hardcore with flailing metallic noise, and so “Salted Crypts”, which became the first song on their charmingly-named “Blissfucker” LP, complements “Harm Induction” quite nicely, although it’s longer, mixing frazzled punk fragments and crusty riffs with slower, crashing hooks for a slightly more “refined” approach.

39. Frau Anke “Fallstaff” (We Call It Hard)

Now that’s a label name. Anke throws the kitchen sink at this one, as “Fallstaff” (sic) alights daintily (OK then, not that daintily) on pretty much every strain of no-nonsense linear techno. Props to the label for releasing it as a super-value £1.79 set, too, which includes straight-up remixes from her compatriot Sebastian Fleischer aka DJoker (half-funky, half-apocalyptic, pretty mischievous), Andrey Volkov (factory floor rhythms), new Luxembourger on the block Nuno Zanga (steady hand on the tiller) and Austrian duo Alex Lemar & Tom Barkley. But, you ask, which mix is the most Falstaffian? A hard call, but it probably has to be Fleischer’s.

Beats per minute: Rickie Lambert’s appearances in a Bristol Rovers shirt.

40. Squarepusher and Z-Machines “Music For Robots” (Warp)

Jenkinson ex-4B and Sub Zero continues to push the envelope, this time by recruiting a Japanese robot army to play his new compositions for him. And here’s the thing: it works remarkably well. You might think that robots were likely to play some kind of super-futuristic genre, like hyper-mega-dubstep-mulch-glitch Sigue Sigue Sputnik covers, but in Squarepusher’s capable hands it turns out perhaps unsurprisingly that they play jazz-influenced and largely acoustic little vignettes. The results may sound nothing like “Hard Normal Daddy” or “My Red Hot Car”, but they dovetail neatly enough with Pusher’s more noodling/doodling free-form repertoire.

You would be hard pushed to know the music was being played robotically at first, although in the self-explanatory “Sad Robots Go Funny” the guitar-playing eventually speeds up sufficiently that you realise it can’t be being played by humans, unless maybe Albert Lee is secretly involved. Our favourites from these five concertos, however, are the beautiful centrepiece “Dissolver” and the nr-divine closer “You Endless”, surely the most romantic, lump-in-throat inducing ballad ever played solely by machines.

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41. Behemoth “Blow Your Trumpets, Gabriel” (New Aeon Musick)
42. Decapitated “The Blasphemous Psalm To The Dummy God Creation” (Nuclear Blast)

The best black metal (or, in this case, blackened death metal) is many things, but one of them is *funny*, and there’s no way you can tell me that Behemoth don’t actually realise, deep down, quite how entertainingly end-of-the-pier show stuff like this is (albeit that Nergal has found out the hard way that being in a black metal band is no way to establish a rapport with the conservative Catholic Polish establishment, or indeed with conservative Russia).

For us, there’s as much Killing Joke and Joy Division in this tune from their “The Satanist” album as there are ‘traditional’ metal influences: but there’s much more besides, not least the way the drummer hurdles off into an absurdly fast proto-grind passage halfway through, overlaid with choral Cradle of Filth-style chimes, before a powerful, string and brass spattered closing coda. This is terrific fun, and if any of you even dare point out that technically the vinyl came out in December 2013, we will be most displeased.

Meanwhile, Nergal’s countrymen Decapitated are still going, and clearly have a similarly winning way with song titles. Their 2014 single, “T.B.P.T.T.D.G.C.” is faster and rawer than “Gabriel”, and less of a novelty; but it never quite manages to fulfil the considerable promise of its opening, high-velocity bars.

43. PRhyme “Courtesy” (PRhyme)
44. Rah Digga “Storm Comin” (A Shady)

The uninspiringly-monikered PRhyme are a celebrity combo: Royce Da 5’9” hooking up with DJ Premier, presumably on the basis that they’re both fans of laboured wordplay. Luckily, in the booth the 175cm MC is in sparkling form, encouraged by the entreaties of Premo’s accomplished loops and scratches. As old-timers returning to demand respect (and yes, courtesy) this has something of the feel of the Craig G/Marley Marl LP, which is fair enough, and certainly no bad thing.

There’s further old-school finery from Rah Digga, whose “Storm Comin” boasts a fabulous Marco Polo production which sort-of riffs on EA Ski’s classic “Blast If I Have To”. And although we don’t really approve of “best female” categories, we probably should make clear that Rah Digga is a good shout for the best female MC right now, as otherwise there’s always a risk that you’ll believe the Guardian when they tell you it’s Nicki Minaj or Iggy Azalea or some such nonsense. This is great, a letter from a mother to a son with a positive feminist message that even features a cameo from none other than Chuck D as “the President”. We would LOVE Chuck D to be President (yes, even more than Eric B).

45. Goatwhore “Schadenfreude” (Southern Lord)

I have had indie-poppers (for want of a better word: that sounds a little too much like teenyboppers) mock me for liking bands with names like Wormrot, or Goatwhore. This – this sheer gall – from people who like bands called things like Talulah Gosh, or 14 Iced Bears! Where the focus should be, of course, is on the fact that Wormrot, 14 Iced Bears, Talulah Gosh and Goatwhore are all bloody ACE. “Schadenfreude”, a taster for the lads’ recent album, is actually quite a shock: instead of the rollicking Southern-tinged BM-meets-Motorhead of their past best, there’s a taut, disciplined, harmonic riff here and a touch of either accessible sensibility, or sensible accessibility (we can’t quite work out which).

46. Jammer, Toddla T and Danny Weed “I Don’t Wanna Hear That” (Ninja Tune)
47. Wiley “On A Level” (Big Dada)
48. Skepta featuring JME “That’s Not Me” (Boy Better Know)

Woah there. Somebody just rewound us back to 2004. That’s no problem, because these three tunes by veterans of grime’s (early) peak seek to take us back, just a little bit, and it’s frankly hard to find anything wrong with that.

Jammer is a force of nature, with a personality that comes blazing through on every record, but he needs discipline, and that’s what the heavyweight production team provide on “I Don’t Wanna Hear That” – in the freshest, most old-school way – whilst J does his normal, fairly irresistible, “house party in the palace of excess” routine.

Wiley’s “On A Level” sees him back on Big Dada and some leagues away from the poppier fodder of his biggest hits, as he styles multiple repeat rhymes over eski-beat brinkmanship that wouldn’t have been out of place on “Treddin’ On Thin Ice”, and advises new MCs on the block to keep an eye on their savings.

And the musically very similar “That’s Not Me” – which we like to think is Skeppy fronting up to the fact that his ventures into R&B pop and designer clothes were not his wisest career move – even scraped the UK singles chart top 20, showing that not everything in the world of real music (a world to which we rarely venture on these pages, admittedly) has gone to pot. The guest verse from little brother JME is welcome as ever, too.

Oh, these songs may not be grime at its best: but they are, at least, grime. These days, that it is something for which we should be thankful.

49. Hard Left “Safety” (Future Perfect)

On a number of levels this (lathe-cut) 7” really shouldn’t work, and I can imagine that some might be uncharitable enough to suggest it probably doesn’t work, but the fact that this song has been rocketing endlessly around our little heads for several months tells us it’s a monster. Positively daring comparisons with ironic darlings Hard Skin, HL are a shouty combo in fact comprised of emigrés from some other established indie-pop combos (by way of partial clue, we’d suggest that you might like this if you enjoyed Lögnhalsmottagningen, Manatee’s “Single Payer Class War” or late, clattery-drum period Boyracer). They will also appeal to those of you who recognise that musically, there wasn’t always *such* a huge difference between the raw Celtic punk of say, early SLF and the raw Celtic punk of any-period Exploited. There’s a Rich Kids cover version on the flip, which doesn’t happen every day, but does remind us how Midge came a long way in a short time from “Forever And Ever”…

50. The Haywains “It’s Time We Stopped Pretending“ (Cloudberry)

Pretence, of course, being one thing that the Haywains never had. What they do still have, however, is *bags* of charm. This is vintage indie-pop from Midsomer Norton’s finest, whose 20-year absence has not seemingly changed their sound in any way, shape or form (and having seen them shake down the Thunderbolt in Bristol last year, we’re not inclined to complain about that). The bright ‘n breezy “It’s Time We Stopped Pretending" accordingly presses all the right buttons, the lyric even linking back to their finest ‘90s moment, “Bythesea Road”.

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51. Death Toll 80K / Sete Star Sept “Abolish Fur Farms” / “Dedicate The Death” (B.O.G.)

Although Japanese grindnoise duo Sete Star Sept do their thing with admirable purpose on one side of the vinyl, on this split single they can’t help but be blown away by our Finnish friends: I think we all know it’s really about DT80K here. Their eight turbulent tracks on this Belgian-released 7” (532 copies, intriguingly) spit out titles like “Abolish Fur Farms”, “Homophobia” and “Worship Of Success” and sound pretty much as (great as) you would expect them to sound, three years now after our eyes were opened to their blistering wonderfulness thanks to their “Harsh Realities“ set. The production values seem to have dropped a tad since then, mind.

52. Datassette “Cagney XOR Lacey” (Apollo)

As you can tell we’ve done a fair bit of rooting around in noodling electronica this year, trying to fight our base instincts and remind ourselves that just because some of its adherents are Dalston hipster loons, that shouldn’t stop us liking it when it’s good. And once you block out the Dalstonites and burrow beneath the grooves, “Cagney XOR Lacey” doesn’t stop giving: it’s precise and mathematical on one hand, but organic and expansive on the other, like Starkey channelling Burial.

53. Haymaker “Let Them Rot” (A389)

For my tenth birthday, I got 10 packs of football stickers, and I was absolutely delighted. But A389 – the Baltimore record label, not the road from Padstow to Bodmin - have done even better, because for their 10th birthday they got a storming comeback EP from the aptly-named Haymaker, which must give even 50 Panini ‘82s a run for their money. The title ditty, resplendent in that classic tough-guy NYHC vocal style that sounds like a singer trying to do a full Olympic lift (or me trying to get the lid off a jar of marmalade) is an especially great way to spend a minute or so, even before the track finishes with a joy-giving breakdown.

54. Joell Ortiz “House Slippers” (Penalty Entertainment)

‘Orteez’ is rapidly nearing “favourite pretend uncle” territory, or perhaps even the highest accolade for any rapper, namely a place in our increasingly New Yorker-dominated and bling-encrusted Subbuteo first XI. Here, like any favourite uncle, JO luxuriates in finally getting to don his slippers and rest his weary toes, whilst relating a compelling and honest tale of his recent ups and downs and (as reflected in many a post-C86 memoir) his unhappy entanglement with indie labels.


These *are* all real records, you know. Don’t get us wrong – we’ve toyed many a time with the idea of coming up with a top 100 made up of entirely imaginary records, and if we threw in Cappo, some grindcore and something on Matinée to give it a sheen of authenticity you’d probably never clock it – but every single record on this list actually exists.

Swedish mysteries SHXCXCHCXSH, unlike many of our European techno favourites, have achieved a certain crossover into some (admittedly obscure) corners of the UK fan scene, and the classically palindromic “VVVLLLLVVV” combines forbidding techno with a simple, repeated ascending sequence of notes, as if Moevalith and Sleeparchive were huddled together around a Trangia stove on a particularly bleak night. The other tracks on the 12” are called “MRRRWRRRDS” and “MRRRCHNNNN”, to help you get the picture. BPM: five score and two dozen.

56. Literature “The English Softhearts” (Slumberland)

This is… how the Drums wish they sounded? How the Pains of Being Pure at Heart probably should sound these days? How the Airfields would hopefully sound, had they not seemingly and very wrongly disappeared from the radar? Like the Wake’s pacier earlier tunes with a splash of Smithsian shimmy? Whatever it is, fit & feisty Philly folk Literature pull a rabbit from the hat with this sparky and sparkly keyboard-swarmed slice of rollicking, rolling, ravishing indie-pop.

57. The Fireworks “Getting Nowhere Fast” (FreakScene)

‘Postcard playable as flexi’ CLEARLY equals “single”, so we never ran this one through committee. An amazing artefact, too: major props to the Freak Scene crew. If only *every* single was a one-song, two-minute long flexi: life would be so much easier without all these 6-track EPs, or ten-minute techno flights of fancy that eke out so much of our remaining one score years (and ten).

Now, like many a child of the C86 era, we heard the WP’s versions of the likes of “Getting Nowhere Fast” and “Felicity” long before we ever got our ears around the originals, meaning that we are destined to go through our whole lives finding those snail’s pace-slow… even Gang of Four’s “I Found That Essence Rare” sounded leaden by comparison when we first tracked it down. The Fireworks’ canter through it strikes a balance, standing as a rather great mid-point between the insouciant, somewhat andante Girls At Our Best original and the somewhat hell-for-leather recasting of it by what is still the Wedding Present’s classic line up (Charman / Solowka / Gregory / Gedge).

58. Doctor Zygote “Zoot Dubs 1” (Zoot)
59. Telemachus “Locust” (YNR)

As well as seemingly acquiring a doctorate, the Z has unleashed a couple of major, truly sizzling instrumental singles this year. The Dubs 7” sees him echo and clatter his way through “Smack Dub” and “Dxm Dub” – the first has simply MASSIVE drums that make it sound like that last Scorn EP, whilst the latter devotes more attention to bass and piano motifs. His later mp3 single “36” went for something different again, with a sultrier, piano-led and Eastern-tinged feel. However, it’s Telemachus’ excellent “Locust” that really takes the ‘eastern-tinged’ prize, with its fabulous fusion (dread word, I know, but this is honestly worth hearing) of Moroccan melodies and UKHH production bite, as he gets his second mention in our 2014 dispatches.

60. MGUN “Resin” (Don’t Be Afraid)

Detroit’s Manuel Gonzalez (so MGON, surely?) brews a bubbling broth of warmingly full-on geekery here. It’s rare to find a 6-track EP that keeps up such a consistent standard: after the 555-ish abstractions of “Asssumptions“ and the repetitious bringing-da-funk “Junktion”, MGUN rolls out the skittering, borderline-certifiable “Migraine”, calms us down with the wow and flutter of “Flutter”, casually unveils perhaps the highpoint “In The Road” and finishes with the loungin’, Caipirinha by the poolside “90 Sumtin’”.

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61. DMX Krew “A New Life” (Central Processing Unit)

250 12”s, on the 1s and 0s, for Sheffield’s CPU imprint. DMX Krew (actually aka Ed Upton) is one of those outfits (you know, like Super Sunny Summer, or Goatwhore) whose name gives the game away, pretty much, as to what they sound like. No bad thing, for these are bright, poppy, subtly acid and funk-flecked retro-electro instrumentals, in the spirit of Mantronix and the old school, that do indeed take you back to days when we had things like ZX Spectrums, Tory wets, body-popping, and “krew” spelt with a “k”. By rights, the limited palette adopted by the Krew should yield limited artistic results, but in fact the EP takes us on an extremely scenic journey as it develops, not just one prompting many a head-nod or a foot-tap, but towards the end even tugging a few emotions.

62. Onyx “Wakedafucup” (can’t remember the label)

You may well say Onyx aren’t relevant now, and there might even be a good argument that they never really were (even in their greatest days, marshalled by the wondrous Jam Master Jay, did they ever produce a “Triumph”? a “You Know My Steez”? a “Shook Ones”? That question is RHETORICAL) but then they were the punk-rock arm of NY hip-hop, never as cerebral as the Wu, or as rooted in the classics as Guru and Premier, or quite as atmospheric as the Mobb at their peak, and anyway we remember those cold, dark days after the demise of Sarah and before the new wave martialled by the likes of Matinée, and Onyx warmed our cockles in those times, made us feel alive and unbowed and great, helped to counter the long shadow of utterly useless Britpop. And we saw them in 2010 and they (punk) rocked, still.

And amongst the best tracks on this year’s “#Wakedafucup” LP (a collaboration with German production unit Snowgoons) was this title tune, which features the rasping Sticky and the ever-compelling Fred Scruggs, as well as a cosmopolitan cameo from Dutch rappers D.O.D., who even have the good grace to apologise for going a bit off-topic mid-flow.

63. Mintech “Confused” (Dolma Records)
64. Kata Mercado “Blue Line” (Darknet)
65. Oscar Mulero “Electric Storm” (PoleGroup)

So Italy, then. Worked hard to beat England, but looked under pressure at times. Were then comprehensively outplayed by Costa Rica. Then managed to lose to Uruguay in the war of Chiellini’s neck and slink back home to the airport, almost ’66-style. After the false dawn of making the 2012 final, it’s no wonder Mintech is confused, some might say, but luckily this pre-Brasil ‘14 single sees him go sleek and long, deploying a curvy, low bassline which snakes around the room at 126. Single support includes, amongst others, an excellent version from AKA Carl which nimbly upgrades the track to the big room: it’s one of our favourite remixes of the year.

Elsewhere in the club, “Blue Line” is a long-awaited own-right A-side from Kata Mercado, and a thumping one too, @130: whilst on a slightly different tip, “Electric Storm” is aptly-titled frenetic fun from Madrid’s Oscar Mulero, who tickles the high-end and ups the treble to whip up a tetchy, insistent pitter-patter alongside a much deeper, appropriately weatherbeaten groove. At an iconoclastic 129 bpm.

66. Gayle San “S.E.A.L.” (GSR)

On lead track “Navy Seal” the Blastic Wifester rains down chunky, ribbed techno at 126bpm for the discerning dancefloor (“Seal”-clubbing, if you like) that deposits splashtastic puddles of groove on funk-soaked doorsteps. Actually, I’m not quite sure I could bring myself to say that I prefer this to “Blastic Wifester”, but luckily there’s no law saying that I have to, and if there was such a law then frankly I’d love to see someone try and enforce it, at which point no doubt good old Hans Kelsen would rock up and tell us that without effective sanction it’s not a law at all, and then we’d be right back where we started. TUNE.

67. Godflesh “Decline And Fall EP” (Avalanche)

After Rowling and Galbraith, Broadrick is surely the mightiest JK bestriding the public consciousness. And his industrial behemoth Godflesh (aka, somewhat unfairly, JK and The Other Guy) return in fine growling fettle with a bleak, black EP that consists of tarnishing, Swans-ish industrial grind with metal-laced riffs and clanking, all the while channelling with the lust for noise of MBV, the hangdog repetition of Loop, the abrasive guitars of early A Witness, and the rampaging grandeur of Slab! I don’t think any of us would have it any other way now, would we?

68. Public Enemy “Get Up Stand Up - The Prequel To the Remixtape Series” (SPITdigital / Enemy Records)

Yes, it’s “Get Up Stand Up” from “Most Of My Heroes”, (as we noted in our PE / Talulah Gosh love-in, GUSU sees “Chuck and Brother Ali deliver brilliant, angry verses bemoaning how hip-hop's optimism and storytelling has been usurped by blood diamonds, bad role models and avarice, while the music fair simmers with 60s/70s-tinged revolutionary fervour”), now recalibrated in EP form thanks to a series of fan remixes via BitTorrent. The results are better than you might expect (and “harder than you think”, of course) but the Counter Intelligence mix is worth the purchase all by itself: revelling in mercilessly skewed, almost V/Vm passages, yet threading in Chuck D and Brother Ali quite naturally, it makes P.E. sound as vital as ever.

69. Wolfhounds “Anthem” (OddBox)

Despite generally holding the Wolfhounds on a Shard-high pedestal, we didn’t fancy this much on first listen, but the reloads reeled us in soon enough, even if it’s proved impossible for it to match last year’s piledriving triumph, “Divide & Fall”. Also worth getting for the way that the angrily Fall-esque “Middle Aged Freak” stomps around the flipside with biting glee (“fuck off Grandad!” yells Callahan, perhaps unconsciously updating Chas & Dave’s “Margate”).

70. Oliver Kucera, Kata Mercado, Cindy “Sart.02” (Sueno Artifical)

Mysterious techno newcomer Cindy has already displayed a penchant for somewhat off-the-wall song titles, but even by those standards her contribution to this EP - “In A Perfect World She Kills Marine Le Pen And Nigel Farage” - is a bit of a mouthful. The tune itself is unsurprisingly frantic, at 136bpm even a little too fevered, but we’d certainly like it to be a soundtrack to some kind of major-league torment for Farage – perhaps it could be played on endless loop as Nige is forced to live next door to Romanians, whilst EU bureaucrats tear up his expenses claims and Alan Sked pulls faces at him. As well as Cindy’s admirable dream, we get Chilean-Croatian Kata Mercado (a recent Sven Wittekind associate) conjuring up the tribally-fused techno of “Cause Effect”, and the slinky, sylph-like Dutch-style techno “13” from Czech expat Kucera.

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71. Peverelist “On & On” (Idle Hands)

In Bristol with a pistol, Pev shows how Prince William and many a trust fund kid’s genre of choice (dubstep, yah) continues to evolve, with a pleasingly wilful disregard for transient fashions. There’s a definite techno influence to this released-without fanfare 12”, but this is still all about sub-bass that booms like Basil Brush, and endlessly snaking rhythms that make me wish my hips were so much nimbler than a half-lifetime of veggie fry-ups now dictate.

72. The Charlie Tipper Experiment “Ride Out” (Breaking Down)

In Bristol with a revolver. Having compared some of singer and guitarist Tim’s previous bands to the likes of the Go-Betweens and Galaxie 500 we shouldn’t be entirely surprised that this first outing from this new trio reminded us of the trippily addictive Luna, Dean Wareham’s poppier, postmodern post-Galaxie outfit, as its woozy melodic jetstreams dreamily sail along.

73. Dean Wareham “The Dancer Disappears” (Sonic Cathedral)

And speaking of Dean, “The Dancer Disappears” was one of the tunes that Dean delivered with bashful style at the Islington Assembly Hall earlier in the year, and it’s Dean at his most Sarah Records-esque, as winsome as they come. In a really, really, good way.

74. Dub Sex “Over & Over” (O Genesis)

These beasts from the barren wastelands of post-industrial Manchester RETURN to show us how it’s done, courtesy of these two unreleased tracks from their late 1980s heyday on Tim “Tim off of the Charlatans” Burgess’ O Genesis label. With sounds bringing to mind the greatest northwest titans (the Fall, the Bunnymen, the Division), a vocalist who sounds like he’s chewing a carcass and lyrics that absolutely cut to the heart of desperate people, trying to make sense of an unforgiving world, this is mighty.

75. The Drip “A Presentation of Gruesome Poetics“ (Relapse)

Yeah, on Powerpoint no doubt, maybe with some clip art. Seriously, this is a terrible EP title. A terrible band name. And it’s not ideal that the label see fit to compare the Washington State newcomers to Wormrot or Insect Warfare, as that’s not really the kind of racket they’re making – this lacks the humour and the sheer concrete walls of riffage that made those bands so great.

Yet yet yet. Rooting around in the wardrobe for our objective hat, this record is nevertheless an impressive debut, an amalgam of Rotten Sound or Nails’ takes on the original Napalm Death spirit that claws at walls and spits 360-degree vitriol but just takes a few listens – unlike, we think, Wormrot or Insect Warfare – to get under your skin. The quality of the six tunes on offer undulates a bit, but “Rise To Failure“ (great title) and “Siren” (which recycles a classic Napalm riff) may be up there with the best of the current worldwide grindcore harvest, whilst “Lash In, Lash Out” boasts some rolling Rotten Sound-ish hooks.

76. Michael Schwarz “Hiobs” (Sick Weird Rough)

Like Cappo’s hook-up with Diversion Tactics, or Shane Embury’s combo with Mark E. Smith on that Mutation LP, every blue moon there comes a time for a clash of the ilwtt,isott titans, and the latest such time became late ‘14 when the great German black techno producer Michael Schwarz arrived on fellow countryman Sven “Yes, *the* Sven Wittekind” Wittekind’s Sick Weird Rough label.

Our thus-inflated expectations therefore mean that “Hiobs” presents a sense of disappointment, merely being a perfectly pleasant stroll down Teutonic techno’s leafier byways, with only occasional hints of brilliance (like a Razorcuts B-side or something). A disappointment later confounded by Mike’s relatively lacklustre contribution to volume 4 of the Cortechs remix EPs. Luckily though, “Hiobs”’ own B-side, “Restive” is much more like the real deal, with the bass bringing to mind Moevalith’s towering infernos of, er, bass.

77. Aphex Twin “minipops 67 (source field mix)” (Warp)

A better title than “The Beats Make You Bop”, yes? And another beneficiary of our new “Gold-Bears” rule. Actually, “minipops 67” would never make you bop, but it might make you wiggle and wobble involuntarily to its gurgling interrhythms. The term “electronica” gets bandied around less now, but what the hell: this is vintage electronica, a genre it’s easy to sound good in, if still very hard to sound great in. Even if one feels the world has moved on a bit, there’s little here not to like.

78. Newham Generals “Piff” (Dirtee Stank)

Gently stoned and deranged grime that perks up for a crossover chorus before spinning back into the east London gutter. Singlehandedly keeping grime alive, the Generals still patrol the Newham borders, this time veering all over the place in the verse, blown-off course by reams of smoke and herb, but staying tightly-marshalled for an R&B-tinged chorus. The course they’ve charted whilst on Dizzee’s label, from “Generally Speaking” through to “I’m A General” and “Darren and Dan” and this, withstands any of their remaining challengers.

79. Myrkur “Nattens Barn” (Relapse)

To our slight surprise, this single from the mysterious Dane is really rather good. The first minute is purely choral, beautifully dovetailing strands of female vocal. The black metal riffs then kick in, with the drumming entering random blastbeat phases, and the song turns into a melodic metallic marvel (think Alcest, before they started wearing cardigans), briefly deploying some punkier chords before a certain serenity resumes. And the haters who insist that black metal can have nothing to do with indie-pop are hereby PWNED, because it turns out that Myrkur moonlights in indie-ish-popsters Ex Cops, too.

80. Kate Tempest “The Beigeness” (Big Dada)

Hey, look at us repping Kate Tempest - pretty trendy, huh? In a “Radio 4 listener” kind of way. But actually, despite her being hyped and properly produced and interviewed on the Today programme and everything, this is accomplished stuff, a clever lyric and pretty gr8 delivery to bring back fond memories of both Estelle and Lady Sov in the days we gave them much love, and p’raps too the cerebral flow of Lewis Parker. Indeed, the long-playing disc “Everybody Down” from which this comes is probably what Speech Debelle’s Mercury-grabbing album ought to have been.

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81. Rumbull featuring Manage “Pulse Of A Rebel” (Rumbull Records)

SE Londoner and “Rise Up” merchant Mr Manage is back, this time ably assisting Portsmouth’s Rumbull, and this tune – nattily produced, earnest, and free of pointless hooks or pointless guests - is a reminder that UKHH still has its moments, even when Cappo or the Boot crew aren’t seemingly involved. We’d happily have devoured this from the 12” racks in Soho a decade ago, when this kind of stuff felt more like two a’penny. Rowche Rumbull, anyone?

82. Ice Cube “Sic Them Youngings On ‘Em” (Lench Mob Productions)
83. J-Bux and Big Noyd “Mobb Niggaz” (some label)

“Sic Them Youngings On ‘Em” is Cube’s best single for years, and although it’s true that the sound of his answer phone message, or his car alarm going off, would also have been his best single for years, it’s a powerful and stomping, almost garagey beast which ends up being fearfully addictive. Despite officially being a fellow member of Westside Connection, I have literally no idea what the title means.

As for “Mobb Niggaz”, well it’s an unpromisingly unoriginal title - which at least keeps the backpackers away we s’pose - but D’Alma and I are *on this* like gin & juice as, in our tiny minds, we cruise round a Queensbridge panorama with reliable old stager Noyd and New Jersey’s most rasping MC, J-Bux (not to be confused with the South African MC of the same name).

84. M.O.P. “187”, “Broad Daylight” (Nature Sound, possibly)

More escapees from G-Unit! The piano hook on this otherwise boom-bap single sounds like the peal of village church bells, making this one of those rare records which should appeal to both English country campanologists and East Coast rap veterans, thanks to the production skillz of Fizzy Womack (great name for an indie-pop band right there). On the mic, though, Billy Danze and Lil' Fame are in typically uncompromising form. As befits graduates of the Gang Starr Foundation, there are guest scratches from DJ Premier too. Lyrically, “187” is a variation on the whole “Onyx at the Source Awards” type theme, giving both barrels to the red carpet hip-hop / R&B “establishment”, which makes it hard to take issue with the sentiment either.

“Broad Daylight” is billed as “187 (Part Two)” but you wouldn’t immediately know it: the bells are gone, the sound is stripped down and none other than Busta Rhymes (last regularly heard on our stereo in the era of “Turn It Up / Fire It Up”) going loco on vocal duties. Nevertheless, it’s another heavy-duty track which shows that M.O.P. aren’t yet one to cross off your list.

85. When Nalda Became Punk “Indiepop Or Whatever EP” (Shelflife)

Judging by some of the derivative stuff being parcelled up as ‘indiepop’ these days we’d often roll with “whatever”, but Vigo’s When Nalda Became Punk present a great antidote with this infectious, bubbling 4-tracker which rolls back and forth along the Zipper-Strawberry Story axis in our mind whilst taking in a pleasurable amounts of influence from UK and US 90s’ fuzz-pop. The words are about loving great indie-pop whilst also enjoying more mainstreamy product, hence the sleeve showing Le Jardin de Heavenly along with some, y’know, less good stuff.

86. Iron Reagan “Miserable Failure” (Relapse)

Let’s face it, there’s a tendency for side-projects to end up sounding only marginally different from the “main band”: possibly epitomised by Peter Hook’s Revenge. The brilliantly-named Iron Reagan self-describe as a hardcore band but in reality they are really a HC-influenced take on the playful thrash of their “parent” band, Municipal Waste: they manage to get through a whole verse without outing themselves, but as soon as they reach to the chorus they’re so excited they just can’t help themselves, and start to THRASH. Aaaah. Not that there’s anything wrong with having an HC-tinged Municipal Waste, as this single shows: “Miserable Failure” is likeably punchy and fractious, and would probably be widely hailed if released by Cerebral Ballzy.

87. White Town “I Wanna Be Your Ex” (Bzangy Groink)

White Town will always have a place in our hearts, but although we liked their Chrysalis singles “Your Woman” and “Undressed” (with their rather contrasting chart positions!) it’s some of their really early songs, particularly the brilliant “White Town” 7”, that touch us most. And, just to be clear, “I Wanna Be Your Ex”, a compact electro-bouncer about society’s narrow conception of relationships, sounds nothing at all like that single. However, in an age when all sorts of chancers on both sides of the Atlantic are knocking up tame retro-80s mush that sounds like it’s been built from Lego, this neat little single shows exactly how a tongue-in-cheek 80s tribute should be done, putting a contemporary spin on the retro synth sound AND retaining the human factor that the ironists do their best to, um, iron out. We’ll always buy his records and it doesn’t matter that they can be hit and miss: Jyoti, we’ll always have “We’ll Always Have Paris”.

88. Sidetracked “Abandon” (bandcamp)

With “Wrench” the until-then peerless Sidetracked decided to hurtle down a cul-de-sac marked “unproduced”, sadly turning their tunes from compact vignettes of diamond-like clarity to indulgently curt ear-taunting shrieks. Luckily, the idea of “Abandon” seems to be making this new-found “sound” easier on said ears by limiting the track lengths somewhat brutally: nothing on this five-tracker exceeds 8 seconds, creating an unsurprising unity of purpose. Use sparingly.

89. Jackdaw With Crowbar “Solar Solace” (100% Ape)

If truth be told, we desperately wanted this 12” to be the best record of the year, marking as it does the comeback of one of the UK’s greatest ever left-field combos. As it is, “Solar Solace” is perfectly spiky and enjoyable, but just pales somewhat in the light of the recent Stump reissue, for example (or, indeed, by reference to JwC’s own EPs for Ron Johnson). A warm welcome back, nevertheless: and we look forward to hearing more.

90. Deh-Noizer & Electrorites “Judas Cradle” (Nightmare Factory)

Lively, thrilling all-Italian single from Deh-Noizer, the architect of “Unconscious Reactions”, and Pordenone’s favourite son (oh OK, but he should be), Electrorites. The pair were last seen, of course, contributing a towering remix to one of those Cortechs EPs. Anyway, “J.C.” simply fizzes, with all the electric crackle of the former’s “Charged”. Beats per minute count: the seventh power of 2.

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91. Yan Cook “Berg EP” (ON Records)

When the never-really-to-be-adequately-replaced Pete Solowka inspired the Wedding Present into their Ukrainian side project, I didn’t even know where Ukraine was on a map. It wasn’t even an independent country then. Now, of course, not only are Ukraine’s increasingly permeable borders a regular fixture on news reports, but Ukrainian music has ventured reasonably frequently into our year-end charts and hearts, thanks to the likes of Eigenes Rezept, Odessa Soundfreaks, CatRoll and the much-missed Toyfriend stable…

Anyway, Yan Cook is the latest to reach our ears, via the Netherlands and Jeff Rushin’s ON Records, and on “Berg” (joining our roll-call of song titles which are also footballers’ names – see the ESG reference in here) Mr Cook makes it nice and keeps it nice over tidy slugs of baize-smooth electronics. It’s a little like a combo of Nicole Rosie’s “Foxboy” and Jamie Ball as Action Bastard’s “Love Song”. It also proves, after Jeff’s “Infiltrate” single and last year’s superb “Red Velvet”, that ON are a label to keep a weather eye out for.

92. Soulkast “French Touch” (Alariana/Offshoot)

As some of you will know, we have a longtime penchant for French hip-hop, not least as we were lucky enough to be living out there around the time of the likes of “La Haine” and “Ma 6-T Va Crack-Er” and their equally smashing soundtracks. It’s forever struck us as odd though that French hip-hop seems to have sonically trailed its commercial US equivalent rather more faithfully than the UK branch, and this has unfortunately meant that our most recent ventures into “‘ip-‘op francais” have left us pretty underwhelmed.

“French Touch” is slightly different, thankfully - not a work of genius, but enough to cheer us up for now, especially as Soulkast has managed to enlist the venerable DJ Premier for production duties (one of the few American DJs, as the PRhyme and M.O.P. singles show, who is still capable of bringing some proper hip-hop to the party).

93. MNMLX “Nuclear Power” (Naughty Pills)

“Yes please!” (that’s an “I Am A Wallet” reference, not a Happy Mondays one, despite the label name). MNMLX makes music that’s just as much a mouthful of his moniker, this industrial tech-clanker sounding not unlike a well-conducted foundry. “Nuclear Power” is magnificently brooding: if it was a mammal with a malady, it would definitely be a bear with a sore head. There’s also a remix from those RVDE boys floating around somewhere. Beats per minute: CXXIV.

94. Boyracer / American Culture split (Emotional Response)

When we first clocked ears on Boyracer all those years ago, we would hardly have imagined that we would end up making such an emotional investment in their records deep into the next century. Yet their two songs here, “Don’t Be Scared” and “Everyone’s A Critic”, are still seeing them pile on noise-laced melody with aplomb. Meanwhile, over on the other side of the platter, American Culture sound much more muscular and driving than we were expecting from ex-Love Letter Band types, but “Actual Alien” is astounding until the vocal comes in, and still pretty good from thereon in.

95. Ronny Vergara “Emancipation” (Electrax)

One of the few electronic music stalwarts whose surname rhymes *precisely* with a legendary ex-Stockport County manager. This is easy-to-like, hardcore-tinged techno at a solid 128 from Switzerland’s finest and surely hardest-working DJ, who by our reckoning clocked up at least 8 EPs and half a dozen remixes in the calendar year. Possibly about 20% wine bar, although less so when DJ Rush and Mike Humphries get busy on the remix tip.

96. Niereich “Modular Cell” (Elektrax Recordings)
97. Niereich “Normalized Frequency” (Illegal Alien)
98. Niereich “Non-Existent Patricia” (De-Konstrukt)
99. Niereich and A-Brothers “Trinity Test (Remixed)” (Audio Stimulation)
100. Niereich and A-Brothers “Trinity Test Remixes, Volume 2” (Hybrid Confusion)

We could easily have had a top 100 consisting solely of German and Austrian techno, and maybe one year it’ll happen. It would certainly have been a pretty good top 100. Indeed, we could have had a more than respectable top 10 singles list consisting only of Niereich EPs (Factory and Sarah diehards like us will be warmed by the fact that only one track from all of those – “Drehmoment” - made it on to his 2014 album, and even then it was in a different version). Anyway, conveniently enough, here are a few more – a representative sample, if you like - of our favourite Niereich releases this yr that weren’t “Das Testament”.

Elektrax outing “Modular Cell” is probably just about the sweetest thing in this particular bundle of instrumental joy, although “Non-Existent Patricia” has one of the best titles of the year (only pushed into second place by Cindy’s contribution to #70 above): we’d like to think it’s a reference to Patricia Brake’s under-deployment in “Porridge” (happily remedied by her starring role in “Going Straight”).

However, for sheer volume you need to tip your hat to “Trinity Test (Remixed”), a collection of re-workings of a three year old track that Niereich cooked up with Italian duo A-Brothers on his “Friends” EP: unsurprisingly themed around the nuclear tests of the same name, and with a few suitable “countdown” / “explosion” sound effects, it leads off with a Sven Wittekind remix (in a year when Sven barely released a thing), before wheeling out further versions from the UK’s own Space DJz as well as Mike Ban & Dietmar Wohl, Klaudia Gawlas, Luix Spectrum, Hiab and Alex Fader. Oh, and by virtue of volume 2, which we think only came out last week, there are now extra mixes galore, from Niereich himself (with Hackler & Kuch), Albert Kraner, Sven Schaller, Chicago’s Ttinga and Luis G & Mind Fuel (whew).

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Bubbling under: Oh, a mad amount of stuff, stuff like 88 uw, Secret Shine (probably), Go!Diva, Liss C, Fliptrix, Guidewire, the Vaselines, AZ, MC Ren, At The Gates, The Haunted, Ricardo Garduno, Niereich again, Moevalith again, Alan Fitzpatrick’s “Truant” (the spouse caustically observed that this was wine bar music too, to which my response was “perhaps, but what a wine bar”), Ross Alexander, the Dropdead / Brainoil split, Forest People featuring Light Minded, Pinch & Mumdance, Obituary again, Mobb Deep again, Mobb Deep again again, that KRS-One “Big Up New York” remix, Body Count, Tex-Rec, Ryuji Takeuchi again, Sadat X featuring Cormega, some bloke called Morrissey, Cari Lekenbusch, Spiros Kaloumenos, Niereich & Hackler & Kuch (again), Heist & Pleasure, Darren Hayman & Emma Kupa, the Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, DJ Honda featuring Infamous Mobb, the Primitives, Luxembourg Signal, Revocation, Wretched, Mark Morris, Scorcher, Strange U, Hard Left again, Newham Generals again, Meridian Dan, Doctor Zygote again…

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The list above was assembled in the Hops & Glory, the Alma and the Hunter S (aka the “bizarre pub triangle”), the Lord Clyde, the Edinburgh Cellars, the Compton Arms, the Hen & Chickens, the Famous Cock, the Alwyne Castle, the Hope & Anchor, the Angel, the Peasant and - this morning (shhh) - the White Swan. It made us realise quite how much we’re indebted to every single artist and label above, and their songs that helped take our mind off Rovers’ further descent down the divisions this year (a slide we’re now officially soundtracking with regular doses of Mahler’s Adagios, which almost feel like they were written for the journey).

There’s no way you could ever enjoy reading this list even half as much as we enjoyed making it, but nevertheless, our sincere thanks for reading it at all, and goodnight.