Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Precisely The Right Chimes

Halfway through these twelve days of Christmas, welcome back to in love with these times, in spite of these times, the fanzine that prefers the Field Mice to Field Music, bIG*fLAME to Big Star and the Groove Farm to Groove Armada.
This, our annual hotly-unanticipated festive fifty singles rundown, gives us the chance to ruminate upon a shedload of excellent records, many of which we didn't find time to review.

The votes were assembled, as is traditional, in a variety of hostelries in the borough; although we note with some sadness that the Florence appears to be the latest boozer to have been mothballed, and is presumably destined shortly to become either "luxury flats" or the other current local craze, "luxury student living". The outcome of our music-themed summit talks, aside from a lingering headache, and our lamenting that you can't get poppadom-flavoured crisps in public houses any more, was a consensus that yet again it was a bloody marvellous year for music.
Before we get to the singles, you may well say, "that's all very well, but what were the best 23 albums of the year?" Fair enough: the answer is that they were the ones by Math & Physics ClubCarcass, Tullycraft, Bubblegum Lemonade, Weekend Nachos, Autechre, the Pastels, Sven Wittekind, Mark Morris, Nicholas Bullen, Ross Alexander, the Short Stories Jez Butler, Haiku Salut, Dean Wareham, Azure Blue, the Fall, South Western Divisional Fellowship Band (second-best band ever with "south", "west" and "band" in their name), Mumakil, My Bloody Valentine (although it took the last couple of tracks to get it over the line), the Cannanes, Nails, and the ever-mighty Chas and Dave; with honourable mentions to Motorhead, Blockheads, Mutation, P.L.F. and Hatred Surge.
The best artist comps, meanwhile, came from the Lucksmiths (obviously), Northern Portrait (the 45s), 14 Iced Bears, the Cockney Rejects (their "metal" and blues years!), Turner Prize-winners Talulah Gosh, the brilliant Brilliant Corners and the er, mighty Mighty Mighty. The finest v/a comps were Matinée Recordings' wonderful "A Sunday Matinée" (our official review = "buy it"), the Cherry Red boxset "Scared To Get Happy" (worth the price of admission for the Bubblegum Splash! track alone) and a little thing we're rather fond of called "Nobody's Business, volume one": if you're quick, there might be a few copies of that left.
And it was a top year for gigs, especially when Ghostface Killah played my stag night. Other notable evenings out included December 1st at the Thunderbolt in Totterdown, and trips to see Carcass, Repulsion, the New Flatmates, the Blue Aeroplanes and the evergreen I, Ludicrous.
Right. We can't delay any more. Let's just unscrunch the post-its, and get on with it.
* * * * *
1. The Short Stories "Are You Listening Now?" (Breaking Down Records)
Bristol rocks, as the great Black Roots once sang. So many stirring bands from our once-adopted city ring memorably down the ages: the Pop Group (and their many spin-offs!), the Beatnik Filmstars, the Brilliant Corners, the Flatmates, Smith & Mighty, the Groove Farm, Massive Attack, Forest GiantsTramway, the Cortinas, Chaotic Dischord (seriously!), Secret Shine, Kyoko, Pinch, Disorder (er, possibly), the incredibly elegant Talisman and of course Black Roots themselves. I'm no FR Leavis, but I know a 'great tradition' when I see one. Well, the Short Stories sit proudly in that tradition too.
Look. When we're singing praises to the likes of Wormrot, we sort of understand why our recommendations are so comprehensively ignored, although we certainly don't condone it. But when a band like this comes along - adept at being melodic, mournful, poppy, warming, everything you lot purport to adore - you still don't listen... *sigh*.
The single mix of this song from their "Send My Love To Everyone" album retains the beauty of that version, whilst resurrecting the mid-stanza guitar flourishes and gentle coda of the original demo, and pushing Paula Knight's backing vocal a little higher in the mix. The sentiments are along the lines of Gedge's "you should always keep in touch with your friends", or the Beatnik Filmstars' moving pleas in "When You're Dead" to appreciate loved ones while you still can ("say 'I love you', say it every day..."): when Tim signs off this one with a plaintive "maybe we should try harder...", it gets us every time.
Reflective and tender yet breezing along, "Are You Listening Now?" is a year-rolling back record that, had it been made by one of their younger contemporaries, you'd have frankly been all over.
2. The Steinbecks "At Arkaroo Rock" (Matinée Recordings)
Mmmm.... the mellow magic orchestra. An effortless-sounding single comeback from the Steinbecks, as fresh as the first sip of Kozel on a stifling day, and one that still climbs higher into the firmament with every listen. Our critic gave it love at the time, mind:
"taps at the window, smiles, flutters in and nestles happily in the pulsing folds of your heart... with gently cascading vocal lines and a glistening spun web of guitars, it's a song about how we all stand so small when we set ourselves against the long passage of time, and it operates at a dizzying level of exquisiteness, somewhere on the plane of the Butterflies of Love, or the Steinbecks' Australian cousins the Lucksmiths at their brittlest."
The B-sides were treats too: the angstily frolicsome "Cabin Fever" would have made a fine 45 in itself.
3. Ill Move Sporadic featuring Cappo "No Way About It" (Starch)
Sometimes you've just got to kick back, relax and let the pure facts wash over you, refresh you like honeyed waves. And this is a majestic 7", insanely limited to 220 copies (hint: thankfully the usual download options are available). Nothing unsubtly flash, of course: with iced-out poise, Caps serenely *laces* Ill Move's stripped-back, vice-like beats with mystical rhymes, hardly drawing breath for three minutes and proving once again that he really does come as close as any UK rapper has to the unparalleled king of the genre, Rakim. Every time this spins, our head nods frantically with appreciation: so much so, we're a little concerned it might fall off. Which, of course, is the one thing that Cappo has never done.
4. Wolfhounds "Divide & Fall" (Odd Box)
Wow. Talk about torque. On first listening, this felt like being hit by a bus, and it hasn't lost that potency since. As eddyingly forceful as "Security" (from their "Cheer Up" single earlier in 2013), and as uncompromisingly scabrous as last year's "Skullface", this is the Wolfhounds on simply tremendous form, and exudingold-school Wedding Present-esque plectrum-dashing zeal. You can't afford not to have this in your collection, we feel. All on the reddest of red vinyl, too.
5. Sven Wittekind "Measure Of Justice (Remixes)" (Sick Weird Rough)
Mean, moody, and magnificent. But enough about us, what about this EP? In all seriousness, this is *massive*. We can see it now... the court rising as imperial judge Wittekind presides and, with huge gravity, hands down these eight minutes of weighty, righteous jurisprudence; one of the more compelling vignettes from his reasonably epic "Voodoo" set, and now one of a series of great-value post-"Voodoo" remix EPs.
The original - starting brazenly and cockily with a full minute of just a single repeating beat - soon unfurls itself into a gliding masterpiece of clanking and techno pointillism, so much so that the remixes can't quite 'measure' up to it (or, if your prefer, do it 'justice'): Broombeck's spacier re-fit removes much of the sinister charm of the real thing, while the Niereich vs. Hackler & Buch take, whilst spiking the original with shards of noise, lacks its hypnotic qualities. Luckily, such trifles matter not when the unremixed version lays down the law so completely.
6. The Fireworks "The Fireworks EP" (Shelflife)
A *corking* band. We somehow knew they were going to match our high expectations for them, even before we first actually clocked their sound via their cover of "Couldn't Get To Sleep" on last year's Groove Farm tribute. This EP, leading off with the sublime "Higher And Higher", saw the Fireworks' noisy, tuneful and gregarious post-Subway pop positively *leap* to fill a niche that had been gaping for years:  
"knuckles down admirably to the task of getting all the vital things right. Three rapacious, rampaging sherbet storms (future classics all), plus a kitschly tolerable slowie to close... with boy/girl vocals that engage and interchange like Villa and Ardiles in their prime"
7. The Fireworks "Runaround" (Shelflife)
We were pretty impressed when this arrived on our doormat on its official worldwide day of release: whilst there must have been a fair element of chance in that, given the vagaries of the US and UK postal services (btw, re-nationalise: NOW), it fuelled the same sense of... anticipation that you got in the olden days, buying a single on the day it came out. Or in the even older olden days, when you'd ordered a cassette or a flexidisc and there was a real excitement in its arrival, partly because there was always a fair chance it would never arrive at all (you could never be certain that labels or fanzines, often run by fellow scatterbrained teenagers who tended to flit between different musical and cultural obsessions every couple of months, would respond to the coin you'd sent them, invariably sellotaped to a piece of card, or to a garish felt-tipped letter on a page ripped from yr school exercise book).
Anyway, to the surprise of absolutely nobody, "Runaround" is an instant hit, a spinning, glitter-filled rush. And much as we normally shiver at the thought of even mentioning the unforgivable stain on culture and humanity that was Br*tp*p, it is only fair to point out that around that scene's edges (early Ash? the opening bars of "Stutter"? early Kenickie, or were they "C96" instead?) there were oases of genuinely enjoyable, DIY-ish punky thrills to be gleaned from it, and "Runaround" co-opts that glee, along with the sprightliness of more recent fuzzy indie-pop fashions and healthy traces of the Ramones.
8. Jeff Rushin & Nicole Rosie "Red Velvet EP" (ON Records)
Jeff's work tickles discerning earlobes on a semi-regular basis, but Nicole has scarcely surfaced since midnight express "Foxboy" left us breathless to make our 2011 top three: rare 'release reticence' in a scene in which most artists fire off about a hundred tracks a year, usually on nearly as many labels. Still, some things are worth waiting for, and "Red Velvet", with its splendid version orginale, Audio Injection remix and sleek "re-edit" reprise, offers scarlet luxury from the land of orange.
9. The Cannanes "Hit The Wall" (Emotional Response)
Tell the truth, we're v. sketchy on the Cannanes' back catalogue. By way of a rough timeline, we first heard of them in about 1989, thanks to Tim Alborn's "Incite!" but we probably didn't actually hear anything *by* them until the early 1990s, and that was probably atypical, as it followed their triumphantly rickety opening number on the Simple Machines Beat Happening! tribute album. Later in the decade, by way of the serendipitous entanglements between 555 Recordings and many of Melbourne's finest music-makers, we came to be simply floored by "Hey! Leopard" and similar trinkets. But only in 2013, thanks to a new LP and a couple of EPs, are we starting to listen to any appreciable number of their tunes, and we're obviously glad to do so, not least as an evening in with a Cannanes record increasingly feels like an evening with old acquaintances, laced with glorious music, good anecdotes and some real lyrical poetry.
As befits a collaboration with Stewart Anderson and Jen Turrell, this 7" combines the Cannanes' innate melancholy genius with choppy Boyracer-esque guitar and drums, and the pop nous of Mytty Archer. When Stewart's voice comes in early doors it's like meeting an old friend, but when Frances intervenes halfway through the verse, it's like seeing an angel. Yes, the Cannanes retain their rare gift for tugging on heartstrings, which makes this a very special single from them. You also seriously need to investigate the EP's final track, the tearstainedly splendrous "This Is Now".
10. Math & Physics Club "Long Drag" (Matinée Recordings)
As we mentioned before, "Long Drag" is a little of an outlier on the M&PC album, at least in *style* terms, but it's far from unique in its sheer quality: songs as good as "We're Not Lost", "Road Carry Me Home", "We Won't Keep Secrets" or "That's What Love Is" don't come around very often. Nevertheless, "Long Drag" was the obvious single choice: a song about songs that save your life that, well, saves your life. The chorus, in particular, will make you want to hop on the next transatlantic flight, hitch-hike to Seattle and buy them drinks all night.

* * * * *

11. The Occasional Flickers "Capitalism Begins At Home" (Cloudberry)
We didn't quite get it on the first few listens, but we persevered and then suddenly - zapped by the light, a moment of Damascene conversion - we realised just how smartly this jaunty indie-pop confection crosses McCarthy's janglist political super-sarcasm (and er, naive vocal delivery) with the earnest revolutionary spirit of the slept-on recent Westfield Mining Disaster album, and then we really did dig it. Indeed, the upbeat, singalong feel of the song clashes so violently with the truth of the message that it's actually impossible not to feel rather moved.
12. Ryuji Takeuchi "Bias" (Bound)
Those technoheads who stay true to the cause deserve credit: when listening to the recent Dehix single we found ourselves, yet again, mourning the human urge to *SELL OUT*, and that it's not confined exclusively to grime, or to pubs that feel the need to morph into soul-sapping wine bars. And one of the downsides in it having been a year of great indie-pop renaissance (we refer you a fair few of the tunes above, plus "Nobody's Business", for starters) is that there is a higher risk this kind of thing gets overlooked, especially as one blithely tends to expect regular genius from Mr Takeuchi. Nevertheless, he earns maximum props for the way that "Bias" delivers, delicately shuffling layers of European-style minimal techno as a loop not unlike André Walter's "Infrasound" riff gurgles intriguingly in and out of the mix.
13. Rotten Sound "Species At War" EP (Relapse)
The flying Finns continue to dismember the grindcore oeuvre with bass-heavy blasts that eschew "slow mosh" almost completely. There are six great thunking walls of joyous sound on this EP, rooted in rhythm and free of frills, as if "Pink Flag"-era Wire went extreme metal. If you're prepared to invest a minute or so of your life to discover why we're right, just listen to the rumbunctiously un-peaceful "Peace", which perfectly captures where they're coming from right now.
14. Mintech "Black Mamba" (Sick Weird Rough)
Best record yet from Mario Mangiapia, but then it would be, coming out on SWR. This is thrilling, heady stuff, actually quite... well, not commercial exactly, but should it "cross over" from the techno room to the main dancefloor, we wouldn't be totally surprised. We could certainly well imagine barging over a few bemused punters in our eagerness to join it there.
15. The Declining Winter "Fragment#5 EP" (Monopsone)
We'd like this even more if we'd ever received it - seems it's swings and roundabouts with the postal service this year - but buying it a second time through i-Tunes we couldn't help but be impressed (in the words of "Fabulous Friend") by the way that lead and best track, the ever-imposing "The Declining Winter And The Narrow World" channels the band's rhythmic strums and post-Hood atmospherics into a coral cave of sea-spray and autumn mists. It's hard to imagine the Declining Winter ever releasing a single that wasn't one of our year-end favourites, and we can officially confirm that "The Year Of Forty" EP released on bandcamp last year would have been top-storey in our 2012, had it not been for our major clerical error of not being aware it existed at the time.

16. Burial "Rival Dealer" (Hyperdub)
The title seemed familiar at first: turned out we were thinking of "Rival Leaders" (it's by the Exploited, and so nearly an anagram). For the avoidance, this sounds nothing like "Rival Leaders" at all.
So, yeah, Burial does this thing, waiting until the year is almost over and then sneaking out a new single with the Christmastide, which he knows people will pre-order despite knowing anything about it (including what it's called), and never having heard a note of it. He also knows that nobody is going to include said new single in their 2013 "best ofs", because they've all been published already, save perhaps the one by the bleary-eyed dilettantes at in love with these times, in spite of these times.
That could put a heavy burden on us, but we're happy to shirk it and settle for a lame analogy. Burial is like the most skilful footballer in the world. He shimmies, he feints, he turns on a sixpence. And it's necessary to tolerate his over-elaboration on the ball, even when it results in the frustration of a promising move breaking down, because if you do indulge him you can be assured of moments of magic: it's worth suffering the occasional scuffed cross, or attempted overhead kick which lands in row X, in order to enjoy all the times when Burial hits the spot precisely; hits the top corner of the net. And "Rival Dealer", once again, is truly intelligent and transformative dance music. (The B-sides, we're not yet so sure about).

17. Autechre "L-event EP" (Warp)
Earlier in the year Autechre made severe inroads into our fickle favour with their excellent "Exai" set, and "L-event" builds on that with four new tracks of scampering electronic whimsy, designed to taunt unprepared ears into involuntary submission. It's the first two songs though, "tac Lacora" and "M39 Diffain" which really tear the house down as they insistently, almost tetchily, trace a journey from grab-bag glitch through to percussive video-game frenzy, via possibly the best-named sub-genre out there, "mulch".
18. Alcest "Opale" (Prophecy)
Last time we mentioned Alcest we pointed out that despite having come essentially from the black metal underground, their sound would surely appeal to open-minded fans of shoegaze or dreampop (hence recent press attempts to pin the genre label "blackgaze" on the band, sadly eschewing our own past efforts to christen them "sandalgaze", but at least rendering "blackgaze" a rival to "mulch" (q.v.) in our current 'most ludicrously-named sub-genre' affections).
But actually, new 7" "Opale" goes a step further than that previous outing, "Autre Temps", because we'd posit that it would appeal not only to open-minded fans of shoegaze, but even to closed-minded ones. Far more in the mould of MBV, Jesu, Secret Shine, Air Formation or Slowdive than anything conventionally 'metallic', this is a commercial-sounding but gloriously powerful blast of echoey textures, the kind of 'big' sound that few of "our" bands (the Pains of Being Pure of Heart perhaps excepted) can dream of making. And make no mistake: *no* language dovetails so perfectly with this type of music like the French language does.
19. Northern Portrait "Pretty Decent Swimmers" (Matinée Recordings)
In the same way that Alcest swear blind that their sound came to them without ever having listened to ye olde giants of shoegaze, the mighty Danes of Northern Portrait always insisted that they were never avid listeners to the Smiths. And yet... as demonstrated by their sparkling "Ta!" non-album retrospective, you could never have guessed that from their early singles. But now, of course, Northern Portrait are shaping something that's much more their own sound, and much less defined by the ghosts of Salford (and wherever 1,000 Violins lived) past. As our correspondent averred,
""Pretty Decent Swimmers" proves once again that it's the arrangement and execution of the songs, not the mere style of them, that sets Northern Portrait apart."
(Aside: by my count, we're up to 11 nationalities represented so far... viva pop internationale!)
20. Tullycraft "Lost In Light Rotation" (Fortuna Pop!)
From the formidable LP of the same name, which is arranged, produced and executed with aplomb a-plenty (several tracks, especially "Westchester Turnabouts" and "Agincourt", would have made at least as deserving singles), this was a perfect mission launch from planet Tullycraft, which managed not to feel quite as cloying as the past favourites like "Popsongs..." or "Twee" that - dare we say it - begin to sound a little dated by comparison. Plus, the knowing nod to bis in the chorus makes this the second record in this list to evoke C96, which is two more than we expected when we started it.
* * * * *
21. Sven Wittekind "Anathema (Remixes)" (Sick Weird Rough)
Brand me a pedant and tan my sorry hide, but if a record bears the legend "Remixes" (plural) then I expect more than one remix. (We lose the discipline of language at our peril, which is why we will still pull you up if you say "disinterested" when you mean "uninterested", or "intense" when you mean "intensive". This may also be why we don't seem to get invited to parties any more).
Erm, such rants aside, the one remix that accompanies the original "Anathema" on this EP is none too shabby: Italian producer AnGy KoRe reconstitutes it with extra depth, and keyboards that push it towards New Order / Depeche Mode territory. As for the original nine-minute mix, another surefire toe-tapper hauled from "Voodoo" and recalibrated in EP form, it's a juddering, insistent, somewhat overbearing experience: whereas many of Sven's tunes inspire similes about sleek bullet trains, or aeroplanes taking off, "Anathema" feels more like a steamroller.
22. Kate's Bush "Baby Girl" (Emotional Response)
Terrible band name, yes, but this is a bonzer single (a flexi, too) from the hitherto unreleased duo comprised of John "DJ Downfall" Stanley and Stewart "Steward" Anderson. Eschewing the cold, hard electronics of their solo personas for the melodies and gorgeous fuzz of their work with Marine Research / Tender Trap (John) and Boyracer / Hulaboy (Stew), "Baby Girl" is a glorious ode to the uncertainties and optimism of fatherhood, but frankly it could be a paean to doing the ironing and still rule, so addictive and charming are its interweaving guitars and "lo-fi, new wave" feel.
23. Bubblegum Lemonade "Have You Seen Faith?" (Matinée Recordings)
Over the years they've developed, and in honesty we think they've improved, and Bubblegum Lemonade are now really quite assured, one of the marquee bands on their label and capable of churning out the timeless with rather impressive regularity. "Have You Seen Faith?" is the song that first prompted us to associate their sound with the Razorcuts crossed with the Mary Chain (not the only Creation-referencing on their terrific LP: "Dead Poets" sounds more like the Bodines vs. early Primals!), but it also tells a sympathetic tale about growing out of religion into the bargain.
24. Sven Wittekind "Friday 13th (Remixes)" (Sick Weird Rough)
"Friday 13th" is not the worst tune on Sven's bracing "Voodoo" opus, but it's some way from the best (to continue an old analogy, it's perhaps the album's "Never Had No One Ever"). Nevertheless, even the unvarnished version of it, if released as a single, was always a surefire for our year-ends. Here, the song (and its highlight, the 'surge' which only arrives about six minutes in, no doubt muttering apologies that the buses were running late or some other such feeble excuse) expands into a happy half hour, the EP sheltering one darkfire remix by hi-hat king Michael Schwarz, which "deep-spheres" the original in his usual pleasing style; and two by Bjorn Torwellen, the first which sounds a little like Adriano Giliberti's "Riot" being played in a Frankfurt club while the fire alarm goes off, and the second like Ryuji Takeuchi being chased onto the fire escape by a swarm of killer bees. Or something.
25. Cappo / Nappa "Red Hot" (King Underground)
Ooh, just like Squarepusher's motor, you may remember. Anyway, rather less laid-back than Cappo's outing with Ill Move Sporadic, but just as omniscient, this is a grade 'A' big-bang old-style braggadocio-booming floor filler on twelve, as the Condor laps up funked-up loops from Life? collaborator Nappa and his primary rhymes spit pure science towards all points of the compass, repping his "unkillable demeanour" all the way.
26. Carcass "Captive Bolt Pistol" (Nuclear Blast)
A German import 7" on coloured vinyl, and from a bona fide chart album too. Disciplined, merciless and pared-down to the bone, this treatise on slaughterhouse execution was the clearest possible signal that Carcass's comeback wouldn't be half-hearted. Or, indeed, for the faint-hearted. But don't assume this is as good as they got in 2013, for there are a surfeit of *even better* tracks on the incredibly accomplished and confident "Surgical Steel".
27. Sven Wittekind "386 (Remixes)" (Sick Weird Rough)
Desperate to unlock the reason behind its title, we were hoping that "386" would prove to be 386 seconds long, but it didn't, and Wikipedia is currently giving us some nonsense about 386 referring to an old Intel chip, which can't be the answer either. As such, "386" joins New Order's "5-8-6" in defeating us entirely, numerical significance-wise, although gratifyingly it shares the latter's clinical, spatially spartan style.
Because the original version lacked a little in melody and attitude, it paled against much of the rest of "Voodoo" (mmm, his "Frankly Mr Shankly", maybe?), but the EP is a far more significant proposition, with the song first recast by Klaudia Gawlas of "Szcz" fame (and a far more rewarding listen than her "UFO Chords" single) before splendid remixes by relative up-and-comers Eastone (of Luxembourg not Whitechapel) and Eindhoven's Sceptical C, both of which sound almost suspiciously good, to the extent they might actually be mis-filed remixes of a better track. The latter goes particularly all-out with palpitating percussion, giving it an almost grime feel as the handclaps clash late on.
28. The Fall "The Remainderer EP" (Cherry Red)
While still fond of the odd (often downright peculiar) avant-garde experiment, the Fall's days of sequencers, techno beats and the strangely compelling drum and bass frieze of "Levitate" seem long behind them. Instead, Mark E. Smith's guitar-laden, post-punk take on rock n'roll is increasingly helping to keep the latter genre alive.
Just like Smith come showtime, the title track on this six-tracker staggers on with real purpose; musically, we're somewhere in the demesne of "Jim's 'The Fall'" vs. "Fall Heads Roll", but heard through the prism of the murkier production (and rather more, er, *random* vocal style) of more recent Fall outings. For us, the EP pivots on the lively riffs and strangulated wordplay of said title-track and its brooding, slow-clanging sister-in-spirit, "Rememberance 'R'", a throwback to the Fall's slower moments around 1980-83 which mocks Smith's old contemporaries from the punk days who crashed out to have careers and families, but now expect us to be honoured by them having re-formed for easy cash and nostalgia. From anyone else, that might seem heavy-handed, but you can see why Smith, whose whole adult life has been lived in and through an ever-developing, ever-gigging Fall, might be bitter. Not that he wasn't bitter already.
29. The Cannanes "Small Batch" (Lamingtone)
A download-only EP, "Small Batch" pre-figured both the "Hit The Wall" single (see above) and the "Howling At All Hours" LP, without really sounding like either. Instead, it saw the Cannanes saunter back into sight to carve six delicate hieroglyphs of indiefied electro-pop into their dazzling discography. The twin peaks, though, come with the first and last songs (which we of course would have insisted on spiriting away from the studio, before bribing the nearest pressing plant to meld them into a 7" double A-side). The opener, "Bumper" is a cinch to fall for, all catchy chords and charisma: but the brightest jewel here is the closing "Zone", a wonderfully louche indie-dancefloor hybrid (think the sassy boldness of the Orchids' Sarah LPs) which sounds not unlike St.Etienne eloping with the peerless On Fell.
30. Flowers "Until You're Dead" (Fortuna Pop!)
Disconcertingly simple but undoubtedly compelling stuff from LDN trio Flowers, building on the promise of their earlier Cloudberry 7" as icy blasts of guitar are topped off by Rachel's otherworldly vocal. Having said that, we still feel that their records to date don't tell the whole story: it was seeing them live that really convinced us just how potent Flowers can be, and how magisterial they might yet become.
* * * * *
31. Sven Wittekind "Dynamite (Remixes Pt.1)" (Sick Weird Rough)
32. Sven Wittekind "Dynamite (Remixes Pt.2)" (Sick Weird Rough)
As you may have spotted, a theme this year (actually, a theme this winter, as it's all happened so quickly: a tumbling advent calendar of new sounds daily) is Sven re-releasing random tunes from his album, accompanied by either one, two, three or four remixes depending on his mood. With "Dynamite", our hero is in such a magnanimous frame of mind that we get an hour of "Dynamite" (7 remixes, plus the original, split over two EPs): you spoil us, Sven.
The sweet surfeit of remixes is served up by Torsten Kanzler, Andy White, Sutter Cane, Vincenn, Peter Kneer, Nick de Nitro and Nihasa; but if you think we're going to run through them individually at this stage of the evening, especially as listenings have been limited rather by the fact that Part 1 came out on Boxing Day and Part 2 was only released yesterday, you are going to be sorely disappointed. What we will say is that "Dynamite", while not the finest cut on "Voodoo", may be the most representative of Sven's sound as it stands, of his elegantly minimalist classicism: if you try it and like it, we feel confident that you'll want to invest in the album proper.
33. Nails "Obscene Humanity" (Southern Lord)
Most groups' pre-album 45 would probably be, you know, a track from the album (especially a set as strong as "Abandon All Life"), but Nails intriguingly opted to re-record three of their previous tunes in a more grindcore/metal way instead, and stick them on a marvellous 7". How we wish we hadn't missed them playing the Underworld the other month.
34. The Flatmates "You Held My Heart" (Archdeacon Of Pop / Local Underground / Subway Organization)
Luckily, we didn't miss these when they hit London town.

"ONE TWO THREE FOUR!" yells Lisa, and from then on it's plain sailing all the way, on both sides of the record (original Whitehead composition "One Last Kiss", which we hold the closest, is kind of Ronettes meets the Fireworks)... yes,
"a brace of freshly honed two-and-a-half minute pop songs, dashed with the rugged and ragged charm that defined their original run of hits..."
It's also a pleasure to have a Subway Organization release in our end-of-year reckonings again! It's been a long time (since 1988, in fact, stat fans).
35. Seabirds "Real Tears" (Matinée Recordings)

Sterling English guitar-pop is back. With the Seabirds boasting connections with Red Shoe Diaries and Horowitz (new album next year!), this meaning-business 7"

"presses most salient buttons, starting with butter-wouldn't-melt jangling chords yet ending in the stark, zero-bpm half-light, imploring usto "sing about death"... appropriately dewy and glistening verses, an unassailable boy/girl chorus and, just so you don't get too comfy, a slightly unexpected, skanking instrumental - lifted by a seemingly improvised guitar part - before they take a second or two to work out how to make it back to the chorus again."
36. Sven Wittekind "Explosion (Remixes)" (Sick Weird Rough)
Have we mentioned this guy before?
He's a smart enough cookie to know that we're still in thrall to a fantasy about the lost art of the single (even, with some reluctance, the single taken from an album, much as Sarah Records once taught us better habits), and that even at our most assiduous we struggle to give repeat plays to his two-hour album: yet if he re-releases enough tunes from it as 'singles', then with puppy eyes we'll gambol and play and listen to each of them over and over again, as if they were simple, pretty, perfect pop songs. As with "Anathema", there is in fact only one remix here, a mischievous, slightly more buoyant interpretation by Redhead, but - our disdain for false plurals aside - this remains an EP to gladden the heart on a drizzly day, to soundtrack the dusky haze as the streetlights illuminate rainsoaked pavements with a little Yuletide glitter.

37. Kryptic Minds "Namaste EP" (Osiris Music)
38. Kryptic Minds and Sleeper "Axis Shift / Solarized Formation" (Osiris Music)
39. Kryptic Minds and Paul Mac "Icon" (Tactical)
40. Kryptic Minds and Killawatt "No Fear Of Future" (Osiris Music)
Hmmm. After the latest instalment of the Sven Wittekind Experience, here comes the Kryptic Minds Show, courtesy (one imagines) of some serious tactical block voting.
You can imagine our joy when we got stuck in to this job-lot of 2013 12"s, in one sitting of course. Best of all must be "Namaste", a seriously heavyweight four tracks - spread luxuriantly over two discs - which include a new, VIP take on "Badman", the 12" originally recorded for Loefah's Swamp 81 label, and that amply demonstrates how Kryptic Minds have cornered the market not only in relation to 140bpm mood pieces, but bass artillery, ravine-drop dubstep too.
The other three singles see Kryptic Minds in collaboration mode: "Future" and "Axis Shift" have them dwelling in the minimal, dark-hued, subtly textured netherworld they've stealthily made their own with releases over the last few years, with the former's "Reaching Out" and the latter's "Solarized Formation" probably the apex. In contrast, on "Icon" our longtime darlings team with Tactical head honcho Paul Mac for the kind of fully-fledged foray into techno waters that was previously hinted at by last summer's pulsing "Breach". A couple of feisty no-holds-barred Killawatt remixes - far removed from his measured contributions to "No Fear" - liven proceedings up no end, but there's little to be sniffed at in the sleek, un-remixed title track.
* * * * *
41. M.I.K. "Exhibits, Pt. 2" (Adamantium)
It hasn't been a disastrous year for grime: we relished L'il Nasty's single, one of Wiley's, Rival's excellent trip down memory lane with Double S and Mercston, and the Newham Generals' typically uncompromising yet somehow quintessentially London "Darren & Dan". And No Lay's singles continued to show that her bare skillz are rare skills, even if the lyrical content is getting a bit dumbed-down.
But M.I.K's "Exhibits" scoop the pool, because the very nature of them (each track is built on bespoke beats, and lasts only a minute or so), means that there's only time for TRUE-spat bars, and no time whatsoever for messing around with hooks or choruses or other such gimmicks. As such, the Exhibits not only showcase a broad array of production talent, but also allow the Family Tree man to dispense his abrasive humour without having to contemplate any concessions to pluggers or playlisters (he's also able to proclaim a predictable disdain for "soulful house"). In truth, we're not sure how we missed out on securing Part I (it'll be those damned clerical errors again), but luckily Part II serves up more than enough rough stuff to keep us pogoing around the hall, with the pick of the cuts probably being Exhibits K (Rude Kid), N (Infamous), Q (J Beatz), S (the improbably-named Funtcase) and T (Soloman). Nice to see Adamantium back in our year-ends, too!
42. Forest People "Constant Pleasure" (Nachtstrom Schallplatten)

We've already decided the 26 or 27 teams that we'll primarily be supporting in next summer's World Cup, but amongst them our keenest focus is likely to be on Honduras, Ghana and Dragan Lakic's home country, Bosnia-Herzegovina. "Constant Pleasure" may seem a fairly confident title for a single - one that reminds us that there are all too few constant pleasures in this increasingly uncertain world; maybe just BBC4, Radio 3, and railway pubs - but Dragan just about gets away with it, and this oozing slab of undulating synths and kicks may well be his finest single to date.
43. Coke Bust "Confined" (Grave Mistake)
DC straightedgers Coke Bust are back, with nine new tracks on 12", and they're still (very) angry (indeed). The title tune kicks seven shades of sunshine out of every happiness you've ever felt, but it's not the only rough diamond on display. Sometimes, you know - in our experience usually when Gove, Farage or Jeremy Hunt appear on our TV screen - we need an outlet for our disgust, someone to share the hate with: and records like this are just the job.
44. Dean Wareham "Love Is Colder Than Death" (Sonic Cathedral)
Blending the horribly overlooked Luna's lazy insouciance with Galaxie 500's absolute fragility, some absurdly fatalistic lyrics and just a hint of fashionable alt-country, Dean makes it all sound so easy. What makes it even more of a treat is that we have a feeling this may technically be his first solo single since the rather lovely, if slight "Anesthesia" back in the '90s. We'd really like to see this played at Rovers home games, perhaps when the team runs out: it would perfectly suit the current atmosphere, which is the sort you might expect when you've been 90th in the league for the past 4 months.
Public service announcement: there's an album, too, an understatedly divine six-tracker called "Emancipated Hearts", and this is one of the best songs on it, alongside the dreamy Galaxie-esque beauty "The Ticking Is The Bomb".
45. Jaydan "Journeys EP" (Playaz Recordings)
Having previously wowed us with two-track 12"s on his own Smokin' Riddims label, jolly jump-up Jack Tar Jaydan delivered a couple of intriguing six-track EPs this year. "Weapons Of War" built on his strengths and gave his indefatigible brand of jump-up a little more light and shade, but it's "Journeys" that really sees him broaden his horizons. Opener "Thrillseekers" is floorshaker through and through, and "1952" even takes on a jazz vibe, but they're topped not only by a skilful Annix remix of "The Driller Killer" but by the evocative "Late Night Drive" and "Menace" (a pounding collaboration with Decimal Bass). Best of all, though, is the jump-up as soul "Lonely Days", the sort of thing that the broadsheet music critics would be wetting themselves over, had it been released by Skream.

46. Chris Liberator and Sterling Moss with Patrick DSP / Jack Wax "Progress" / "Road To Praha" (Flatlife)
Around a decade ago, a developing obsession with the London acid-techno scene - for which we must blame John Peel, incidentally - was one of the reasons we abandoned the previous incarnation of this fanzine and spent most of our time hanging out at 12" vinyl racks in Soho instead. Nowadays, we spend much more time with the minimal, black and dark techno which we first got into after first having maxed on the Stay Up Forever collective, but it's always worth having an occasional immersion in whistle-blowingly frenzied AT, and "Progress" proves as old school as Harrow or Charterhouse in this regard. The real 'find', however, is perhaps the Netherlands' Jack Wax, whose ten-minute epic "Road To Praha", on the other side of the (purple) vinyl, manages to combine insidiously hectic 303s with almost *atmospheric* swathes of synth. We'd describe it as a "journey", if that didn't make you want to hit us.
47. Boards of Canada "Reach For The Dead" (Warp)
BoC are one of those bands who we've tended to steer a little clear of, really for no reason other than that they seemed a bit too trendy for us: but by now, they're basically old men in a scene, and we can *totally* relate to that. Good tidings, then, because "Reach For The Dead" is a lovely piece, all speckles and stardust and hints of slow feedback, rising into a not-quite as good techno-influenced passage, but delightful all the same. (We've done Autechre already: in other Warp news, the Mount Kimbie single is really good, too... until the vocals come in late on, and then it suddenly isn't, and you find yourself *really* wishing that Hood, the only band who seemed to be able to bolt vocals on to such soundscapes without instantly ruining them, were still in business).
48. Charlie Big Time "Sale Or Return" EP (Jigsaw)
After the thrills of their "Dishevelled Revellers" EP, especially its enviable title track, the north-west's Charlie Big Time returned with a new four-tracker for Jigsaw Records (also home, please note, to recent compilations of impeccable songsmithery from the oft-overlooked Razorblade Smile, for our money once the pearl of the north-east England music scene, the fine ex-Sunday Records duo from the east Midlands, Bulldozer Crash *and* the joyous car-crash of Scandinavian pop noise that were the Faintest Ideas). Anyway, "Sale Or Return", full of shimmering glaze, grown-up lyrics, misty swoon and breathless swing, is another shining example of CBT's blue-eyed post-Blueboy white soul, particularly the rather wonderful title tune (that boasts a sweet, kind of divorcey, Michael Bolton-referencing coda).
49. The Fall "Sir William Wray" (Cherry Red)
Them again, this time from that last LP, "Re-mit". Basically, it's the Fall, at pace and in prime spiky form. It sounds pretty much like you'd expect it to sound, save that if anything, M.E.S. sounds drunker than usual. None of this prevents it gatecrashing our list at the last minute.
50. Team Doyobi "Digital Music Vol.2" (Skam)
More ever-evolving, ever-exploring "Autechre on a console" on 12" from former 555 affiliates Team Doyobi, but still spattered with touches of fun, if not occasional genius. Special props to "Tube Dispenser" (second best song ever with "Dispenser" in its title), "Parallax Avenues" (second best song ever with both "Parallax" and "Avenue" in its title) and "Znc-Fz" (best song ever with either "Znc" or "Fz" in its title). Indeed, while traversing "Parallax Avenues"' more beauteous stretches, we hear the as yet-unglimpsed future of Haiku Salut. Someone get Team Doyobi on a Haiku remix tip, now.
* * * * *
Bubbling under: Rose Melberg and Gregory Webster, Rose Melberg on her own, Ryuji Takeuchi again, Cappo and Sam Zircon, Wolfhounds again, Ross Alexander, Mark Morris, Strong Intention, Sleeparchive, Heathers, Ramson Badbonez ft. Jehst, Sleeparchive again, Alan Fitzpatrick, Cortechs, Weekend Nachos, Judy Garland (et al), Newham Generals, Chas & Dave, Zipper, A-Brothers, Kool G Rap featuring Big Noyd and Large Professor, No Lay, Stigmata, Rival featuring Double S and Mercston, Violent Arrest, Joanna Gruesome, Verb T, Wiley featuring God's Gift, Serum, Boyish, the Short Stories again, Hellbastard, DAVE The Drummer, Cooly G, MJ Hibbett & The Validators, Forest People again, Logotech, Spiros Kaloumenos, Heist, No Lay again, Frankyeffe (twice), September Girls, Blak Twang, TM404, Logotech again, L'il Nasty, Mark Morris again, the Pastels, André Walter, Jaydan again, Morrissey, Spiros Kaloumenos, Michael Lasch, Michael Schwarz, Mintech again, Mark Morris and Logotech, James Blake, M.I.K. featuring Kozzie and Trilla, Ice Cube, the Atrocity Exhibit, Design, Sepultura, Kreator, BMX Bandits, Mike Wall, Virgil Enzinger and Antonio Appulo, Sophie Watkins...
Thanks to you - to all 14 of you - for persevering with us. Have a great New Year.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Carcass "Surgical Steel" (Nuclear Blast): Chas & Dave "That's What Happens" (Warner Brothers)
On "Surgical Steel", their first album for 18 years, Carcass sing songs about heartbreak, imperialism, militarism, industrial decline, jihadism, contaminated meat and "dearth metal". It's a record intentionally steeped in the classic rock tradition, and starts with a return to their roots. Although a little flawed in places (and finishing rather flatly!) overall it's something of a triumph.
On "That's What Happens", their first album for 18 years, Chas & Dave sing songs about heartbreak, heartache, life's rich pageant, the American dream and er, Lonnie Donegan. It's a record intentionally steeped in the classic rock n'roll tradition, and starts with a return to their roots. Although a little flawed in places (and finishing rather flatly!) overall it's something of a triumph.
* * * * *
We're well aware that there are almost gung-ho levels of pointlessness in reviewing a record like "Surgical Steel", which will already have been bought by all who care about Liverpool's finest (somewhat extraordinarily, such devotion has already made it a top 50 album in the UK and US, and a top 10 album in Germany), while nobody else is ever likely to be interested. Nevertheless, our mission is to evangelise, and it's not as if we're not used to ridicule.
The LP begins with the deliberately overblown, multi-layered studio crescendo of short instrumental "1985": the title's nod to the past, to the earliest days of Carcass, is emphasised all the more when its yowls and peals subside to be usurped by the blunt, brutal and decidedly unsophisticated "Thrashers Abbatoir". On the one hand, "Abbatoir" is Jeff Walker's evisceration of hipsters (while we are acutely conscious that it has become somewhat hipster-ish to be anti-hipster, Carcass are so obviously not hip that we are entitled to take them, at least, at face value), in which he manages to coin an attractive new word, "poserslaught". On the other hand, it represents something more fundamental: this song - part-grind, part-rock, part-thrash - originally saw daylight as a demo by the original combo back in, yes, 1985, and the band are knowingly drawing a line from those humbler beginnings, reminding us that they *evolved* to the mighty sound which they now have: they never turned "commercial" overnight.
After that refreshing blast from the past, the album moves - to these ears - a little diffidently at first. "Cadaver Pouch Delivery System", "A Congealed Clot Of Blood" and "The Master Butcher's Apron" are suitably substantial barrages of DM, the latter abounding in Bolt Thrower-style infantry mosh, but lack a little in pace, and indeed in the tunes department (not ideal for a band said to have launched "melodic death metal" back in the day). However, the five tracks that follow are a true twenty-minute treat, as the boys hit a stunning run of form, putting ne'er a foot (pedal) wrong.
The fun starts with "Noncompliance To ASTM F899-12 Standard". From its opening bars, "Noncompliance" is calculatingly redolent of "Heartwork" (the song), and like that song, it soon opens into a butterfly of melodious metal. The lyrics lament - not without humour - the parade of rubbish bands who have desecrated the musical template that Carcass once furnished them with. Walker pulls no punches: "Artistically moribund / soulless ghosts of the underground", he mocks. It's a 'notebooks out, plagiarists!' moment, as he excoriates the pretenders' "musical spent blunt force trauma".
Next come perhaps the most enjoyable ditties of all, the all-out rockin' NWOBHM-ics of "The Granulated Dark Satanic Mills" and "Unfit For Human Consumption". Both numbers boast absurdly addictive, killer riffs (the verse hook on "Granulated" makes us want to punch the air until our shoulders ache), and the latter is crammed with lyrical in-jokes into the bargain. In fact, the way Walker relishes singing lines like "Corrosive carcass, rotten and obscene / after all, you are what you eat" may elevate it to being their Unofficial Theme. These songs are not-so-distant cousins of "Swansong" era Carcass, of tunes like "Wake Up And Smell The Carcass" off-cut "Emotional Flatline", but they're executed with a confidence and panache that was largely lacking back then. By now, Bill Steer is also furnishing some frankly towering guitar solos, and while two decades ago we'd have thrown a record out of the window even for having a solo on it, when an album is this entertaining we can even start to love them in small enough doses.
Past ghosts exorcised (theirs and ours), it's time for a love song, or at least a love song of sorts: "316L Grade Surgical Steel" sees Walker follow the emotional flatline theme anew, with a romantic tragedy, a tale of "exile on maim street". It's almost as if the hoary old C&W and blues themes he dusted off on his solo album with die Fluffers have returned to inspire him. And then, in rolls "Captive Bolt Pistol", the taster single, yet another tight, punchy, unashamedly riff-led number with flaming verses, a song that takes us back to the slaughterhouse metaphors of "Unfit For Human Consumption".
A slight shame that the remaining track, "Mount Of Execution", flatters to deceive somewhat. With its eight-minute running time and intricate acoustic intro, it promises to be epic, but in the end simply can't match the frightening consistency of the tracks preceding it. Which means that the album finishes with a highly-embroidered whimper, rather than a bang.
How to sum up? When Carcass moved towards hooks and more traditional song structures on "Necroticism" and "Heartwork", that was a maturing of their sound, but it also moved them in a more traditional 'metal' direction. And the peaks of "Surgical Steel" are built around a well-trodden template: hard rock, thrashing riffs, and any number of spiralling and, um, virtuosic guitar solos. But the historical and political context of the lyrics remains crucial: manufacturing sector eulogy "Granulated Mills" could be a successor to Leatherface's "Dead Industrial Atmosphere", while other songs continue the band's forensic, almost wanton de-construction of the motivations behind human and animal slaughter.
*Plus*, Carcass were absolutely splendid at Defenders Of The Faith, by turn impressing and perplexing those who had come to see the other, inferior, acts. Indeed, we couldn't find it in ourselves to listen to any other band at all for at least a fortnight afterwards, such was our newfound need to immerse ourselves headlong in their complete discography. So, yes: this LP is *great*. You won't like it at all.
* * * * *
Moving diagonally across merrie England, down to the capital city, we come to the return of the most vital ampersand in music, with Chas & Dave's "That's What Happens". Perhaps the starkest difference between this LP and Carcass' equally eagerly related return (yes, we acknowledge that there are a few) is that you could probably listen to it and not even know, at least for a track or two, that it was by Chas & Dave at all: the boys, perhaps conscious that the world has moved on, and sensitive to the fact that this is their first record for aeons as a duo (i.e. without the considerable drumstool talents of their own Jam Master Jay, Mr. Mick "give it some stick" Burt), have decided to leave their patented daytime radio / Rockney blend to wallow in its glorious past. Only on track three, the single "When Two Worlds Collide" - a gutsy, powered-up joanna-led ringer for "Ain't No Pleasing You", the anthemic C&D ballad that stalled at no.2 in the UK charts - do the boys really sound like the same band who enthusiastically clobbered the singles countdown, and the variety circuit, for a few years in the early 1980s.
"That's What Happens" starts to meander its way into your affections from the first bars of first song "Railroad Bill", apparently one of the first tunes that Chas Hodges ever taught himself. And throughout, while there's no escaping the skilled musicianship on display, it also feels that there's a tenderness and fragility on show, an acknowledgement for the first time that these are older men, looking back on their lives and on the songs that inspired their work. The latter point is important here, for "That's What Happens" is essentially an LP of ten, admittedly gorgeous, cover versions (although - presumably because Warners turned around and said that a 30-minute album wasn't quite long enough - there are also two re-takes of Hodges & Peacock originals to make the tracklist up to a round dozen: one is "Lonnie D.", the other is a delectably morose, boogie-woogie free and in all honesty *wondrous* take on "Ain't No Pleasing You").
Whilst the boys' skiffle beginnings are hinted at, not least through that new recording of "Lonnie D." (and it's a worthy tribute: never let it be forgotten that Lonnie's "Cumberland Gap" remains one of the UK's finest ever number one singles), the heart of this album is a pared-down, guitar-led and sensitive blend of country, bluegrass and blues, with just hints of a more combative rock and roll tradition, such as the pummelling piano instrumental hoedown "Rocking Gloworm". We must reserve special mention for the second track, the swimmingly romantic "Can't Give You Anything But Love", and the most bedevillingly seductive songs of all, "Midnight Special" and "Glory Of Love", which form a beautiful late-album triptych with the redux "Ain't No".
It's a smidgeon sad that, like "Surgical Steel", the LP then closes with one of its weaker links. "All By Myself" quickly descends into a bombastic 'piano-off' between Chas and obligatory 'very special guests' Jools Holland and Hugh Laurie. Chas wins this showcase hands down, of course, but the track feels that it's been shaped - if not demeaned a little - by the celebrity hangers-on.
* * * * *
You may mock when we talk - unhesitatingly - of these groups as great British groups, but with one formed in 1975 and one formed in 1985, it's not as if history hasn't given them a stern test. Neither of these LPs necessarily captures these artists at their absolute apex; nor would anyone seriously have expected that. However, these records are far more than curios, and far more than cash-ins: serendipitously, they do a rare justice to two *outstanding* back catalogues.
in love with these times, in spite of these times all-time Carcass top twenty: 1. Heartwork. 2. Buried Dreams. 3. Crepitating Bowel Erosion. 4. Incarnated Solvent Abuse. 5. The Granulated Dark Satanic Mills. 6. Cadaveric Incubator of Endo Parasites. 7. Emotional Flatline. 8. No Love Lost. 9. Reek Of Putrefaction. 10. This Is Your Life. 11. Empathological Necroticism. 12. Symposium of Sickness. 13. Lavaging Expectorate of Lysergide Composition. 14. This Mortal Coil. 15. Unfit For Human Consumption. 16. Embyronic Necropsy and Devourment. 17. Exhume To Consume. 18. Ruptured In Purulence. 19. Tools Of The Trade. 20. Keep On Rotting In The Free World.
in love with these times, in spite of these times all-time Chas & Dave top twenty: here's one we prepared earlier.