Monday, December 31, 2012

Sixty

It was a good year, even if it fell off a bit near the end.
 




















"I regret / throwing away / my Jesus and Mary Chain records / during my religious phase" (Hulaboy, "Oh Lord. CHUKKA!")

We began '12 genuinely wondering (on the occasion of Hulaboy's ace EP)
 
"whether good "indie" as we used to know it exists at all today. Has the Man redefined it out of existence, or is it still 'out there', but just failing to register, to prick the senses in the way it used to in those days when a new 7" could seem crucial to your life ?"

and then found over the course of the year that any number of grrrreat bands delivered the same answer as Hulaboy did: *hell yeah*, it exists. You just have to find it.

So, the year's shining singles. Hulaboy, natch. The Hobbes Fanclub, with bells on. Nixon's disarmingly outstanding "This Town" EP on Cloudberry, in our favourite Josie Portillo artwork yet. A slew from the imperious Matinée Recordings: Pale Sunday, Hermit Crabs, September Girls, Charlie Big Time, Bart & Friends et al. From Bristol and Nottingham respectively, the mellow musical treats that were Our Arthur's "Strange About The Rain" and Red Shoe Diaries' "When I Find My Heart". Bristling, majestic comeback 45s from classic combos: Wolfhounds, June Brides, Black Tambourine. And great, time-defying pop from 'Allo Darlin', too.

We're afraid that Burial's "Kindred" and "One / Two" singles were also outstanding(*strokes chin*): and there were no end of sleek and sinewy instrumental singles from beyond these shores of which the *very* pick were probably Michael Schwarz's "Incarnation" and "Function", Ryuji Takeuchi's "Upside Down", Sven Wittekind's "The Twirl" (plus its ace Klaudia Gawlas remix), André Walter's "Corporate Vultures" and Tex-Rec's marvellous "Encoding".
 
Swedes General Surgery and Italians Cripple Bastards inflicted head-mashingly fine 7" EPs on us via Relapse, the latter being one that we only belatedly realised had 14 tracks, such was the pace at which the last ten or so zipped by. And there was Napalm Death's "Analysis Paralysis", another reminder of how it's grindcore, not any other genre, that has really taken up the cudgels of true punk and hardcore. With its "if you're looking for the guilty ones / we only need to look in the mirror" attack, it reminded us of Forever People's dainty "Invisible" ("we are invisible / we're nowhere to be seen") and then that in turn always reminds us of Napalm's "The World Keeps Turning" ("we're the cause, not the cure") or the self-explanatory "Silence Is Deafening". Enviro-tastic.

It's probably a bad sign that we listened to far more ancient than recent hip-hop in 2012 (Big Daddy Kane's "Another Victory" is lighting up our speakers as we type, and 2012 was rendered a little extra-special for us by *finally* getting to see Sticky and Fredro strut their stuff) but at least the likes of the hyper-prolific Roc Marciano and his New York chum and M.A.R.S. affiliate Action Bronson continued to try and carry a torch for the real thing: the former's "Emeralds" single was probably the most complete vision of all, while both Roc and the Action man received able assistance from the UK's Purist for later 45s. Our favourite homegrown hip-hop tune, though, turned out to be the back to basics floor-filler "Inject The Beat", authored by a stunning quadrumvirate of producer Irn Mnky, MCs Bane and Cappo and turntablist DJ esSDee. In wondering where all the good UK hip-hop has gone, it was a great shame to see that Son Records, who have produced some extraordinarily high-end music over the past decade (Styly Cee, Caps, C-Mone, Scorz), were effectively forced to give up as a consequence of illegal downloading, etc (the upside was that it got a video clip of Cappo and Styly onto Newsnight, which a real treat in an otherwise fairly poor year for said TV programme...)

"I'm in love with this racket, like Federer" (Rival, "Headshot Season")

Grime subsided a little after its renaissance of sorts in 2011, but No Lay was undoubtedly top of the (Christmas) tree with her excellent comeback tune and LP (and that's not to mention of her "Anarchy" single this winter, which sounds like a - supremely confident - audition for major label fame). Having said that, for a pure one-off 45 that nimbly pushed all the right buttons it would be hard to top Terror Danjah and Riko Dan's startling and egregiously danceable "Dark Crawler" 12", the best thing that either have done for a while. And Rival's "Headshot Season" was our favourite of his singles (and the only one of our picks to also appear in Crack Magazine's top 50 tunes of 2012, fact fans), even if not close to the tremblingly raw touchpaper-lighting excitement of "Lock Off The Rave" last year.

If we may zone back into instrumental territory to close, our longtime darlings Kryptic Minds flattered to deceive a bit, but as the year wore on their singles got both more eclectic *and* more aggressively brilliant, ending with the marvellous "The Divide" / "Rule Of Language" 12", amongst the finest instrumental vinyl of the year.
 
Incidentally, it did rather sum up an eclectic year in singles that our favourites ranged from the sub-one minute (Chulo vs. Gripe) to the supra-one hour (Michael Schwarz's "Neuronorm" remix package)...
 
"I wonder if you still listen to / the bands we went to see ?" (the Wedding Present, "Pain Perdu")
 
Shimmying across to albums, the old boys (and girls) were in fine fettle. Tender Trap's LP was scintillating. As was Napalm Death's, obv. The Wedding Present's "Valentina" was perhaps the all-round strongest of their long-players since re-forming. Even better, none other than our 80s-90s heroes the Great Leap Forward re-emerged, with the anger-bred brio and thematic flourishes of "This Is Our Decade Of Living Cheaply And Getting By", an LP which was truly medicine for our times. It was nice to see "they haven't lost it" albums, too, by other vieilles-stagers like Public Enemy, Bad Brains, the Wake and Bumpy n' Premier.
 
Looking at newer bands on 33 (or digital "equivalent"), effervescent Glasgow duo Strawberry Whiplash really hit their stride with "Hits In The Car", while two of the classiest records of the year came from Scandinavian labelmates of theirs, Cats On Fire and Azure Blue; a third was Our Arthur's first long-playing salvo, the cruelly unsung and tearjerkingly rain-stained "Humour Me".

Sven Wittekind's "Broken Mirrors" was a top-drawer album, perhaps the best of the year in pure musical terms, but it was such a shame that so much on it was *old news*. Deh-Noizer's "Unconscious Reactions" burned bright (with tracks like "Feelings Selection", "Charged" and "Wormhole" flying especially high), even if it couldn't quite sustain those levels throughout.

Noise-wise 2012 proved to be not even a patch on 2011, but given that Wormrot didn't see fit to cheer us with any new material, that's perhaps not surprising. Even so, Noisear deserve a shout-out for their "Turbulent Resurgence" set (we weren't expecting Noisear to out-blast their new labelmates Phobia, but they did) and Terrorizer's return, while hardly inspirational, at least added one more album of high-falutin guttural growlcore to the canon.

And talking of high-falutin, it would also be fair to say that the Garlands' album was an (inevitably) fabulous début.
 
There were some storming retrospectives: we were most tickled by the Sugargliders and Hit Parade assemblages that came out in autumn. But we also meant to get round to eulogising the brilliant AR Kane singles collection (current favourites include "Sugarwings", "Down", "Supervixens", "Sea and the Child" and "Honey Be", but there are *so* many others: "Snow Joke" has a little of the feel of the Orchids' "Peaches", for example). 

We loved the MBV "Loveless" extra tracks reissue too (here's a confession for you: it took us over 20 years to get round to listening to anything that MBV did after "Isn't Anything", simply because in 1990, we were so anti-whatever was cool and popular - at our school, this meant all shoegaze, and everything baggy, both genres beloved of the Sarah-haters - that we simply refused to listen to any of it). But (states obvious), even if "Loveless" is more 'tuneful' and less experimental than we always assumed it must be, "Glider" and "To Here Knows When" are really very good, aren't they ? If it wasn't for AR Kane's existence, MBV would surely be the most significant and radical alternative band of their age. Also, Alan McGee has now gone up a notch in our estimation (to steal Snoop's line from "Starsky and Hutch", that means he's now at notch one).

A word for Cake's compilation, er, "Cake", issued by Rocker's Local Underground label: we'd been trying to get hold of Cake's songs for years. For those of you unfamiliar with them, or who think we may be randomly and frankly unlikelily bumbling on about the US band of the same name, Cake were a classic-sounding, bandwagon-avoiding and hence sadly overlooked Bristol group featuring Debbie Haynes (ex-Flatmates) and Jez Butler (ex-Groove Farm) amongst others: Mr Butler resurfaced this year, with his compact orchestra, on a number of those Our Arthur tracks we loved so much.

Oh, and talking of the Groove Farm, one of the best compilations of 2012 was A Work Of Heart's "Raving Pop Blast!" tribute to said combo, featuring cracking tracks from no end of illustrious bods including Rocker's own Drain On The Balcony, the Fireworks (who we're very anxious to hear more of), Horowitz (from whom we expect more soon!) and, in a neat "coming full circle" kind of way, Our Arthur again. You can find an exhilarating and heartfelt tour de force on the comp here.
 
Before we finish our records round-up, there does need to be some kind of special award for the Morbid Angel remix album, which was somehow both a joy and a chore to listen to, three compelling if occasionally enervating hours of wilful, tunnel-vision mentalism. If you had to sum up the original "Illud Divinus Insanum" outing in a phrase it would be along the lines of "bad Latin, bad album", but "Remixes" is not so much a vast improvement as simply a different *species* from the original. In ambition, range and length, it proved a marked contrast to "The World's Shortest Album", and the DJ Scott Brown, DJ Ruffneck and Tek-One contributions especially still rule our little world.

Ohhhhh... so much else we enjoyed in '12. Rossini's "La Cenerentola" at Glyndebourne. Guerrilla knitting in Southville. The East London Olympics, when they weren't all about mayors or royals. Robert Pirlo's coup de grâce, chipped beyond a despairing Joe Hart. The new series of Rastamouse. The two Ians, McCulloch and Broudie, at the Union Chapel (apart from when it got a bit too M.O.R.) "Hey Diddle Diddle" at the Bristol Old Vic. Ice-T's "The Art Of Rap" movie: genuinely fascinating, a kind of return to traditional documentary film-making, where you actually learn things and have the luxury of engaging with the talking heads. Oddly enough, James Naughtie's excellent BBC4 film on Sir George Solti achieved the same. And talking of BBC4 (we seek solace in it often) it was great to see repeats for the Chas and Dave documentary, which pointed up how they were only "rediscovered" and properly venerated from 'round 2003, when Pete Doherty started banging on about them. We would say only this, bandwagon jumpers: we were eulogising Chas and Dave before that, and at the time it felt lonely on that limb. Glad you got on board, though.

Football, once our first love, continued to sink to new lows, many provided by Chelsea. So for the purposes of our blood pressure, we'll draw a veil over the lot of them (let's be honest: Pirlo aside, even Euro 2012 was, as sporting events now tend to be, essentially one long promotion for alcohol, junk food and betting, with most of those responsible being welcomed as "partners" and sponsors), save to say that:
 
- we should, and will, honourably exempt Zambia's thrilling underdog run to the African Cup of Nations title from our ire;
- otherwise, we're increasingly persuaded that the only solution is to reinstate the maximum wage for footballers (hint: we would suggest around the £20 a year level we left it at, plus player expenses based strictly on cost of bus ride to match and launderette charge for washing kit).
 
And that, dear faraway friends, needs to be that. So... shout-outs to the N1 and E3 massive. Big up to my main man D'Alma and my man the Beat Poet. Hail Allah the Supreme Creator. Love and respect to you all. Peace.

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