Thursday, December 31, 2015

Hilary Benn, Shame On You: Singles of 2015

Smithfield, December 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Sutter Cane “Dark Matter” (Sabotage)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12. Mörbeck “Pyramid” (M_Rec)

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

13. Electrorites “Sequences” (Sick Weird Rough)

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

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

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

15. Novelist x Mumdance “1 Sec” (XL)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20. Sandro Galli “Atom” (Embrion Music)

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

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

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

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

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

23. Royal-T “Shotta” (Butterz)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

28. Merky Ace “El P” (Family Tree)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yep, that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

42. Sophie Nixdorf “Youko” (Rezongar Music)

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

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

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

44. Ninna V “Subversive” (Darknet)

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

45. Redhead “No Control” (Reda)

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

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


47. Niereich & XHEI “Vrill” (AFU)

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

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

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

49. Sandro Galli “Black Skull” (Technodrome)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

53. Loop “Array #1” (ATP Recordings)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

62. Wiley “Standby” (Chasing The Art)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

67. Rival “Mi Na Ramp” (Biskit Klub)

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

68. Goodly Thousands “Sunshine Hair” (Shelflife)

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

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

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

71. Mez “Sike” (Kidda Beats)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

75. Skinless "Serpenticide" (Relapse Records)

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

76. Niereich “Democratic System Fail” (Morforecs)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

90. Myrkur “Hævnen” (Relapse Records)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He is indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

100. Skepta “Shutdown” (Boy Better Know)

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 25, 2015

Trying To Sell Clan of Xymox From Your Car Boot: A 2015 Round-Up

Spa Fields, December 2015

The first two awards are the most important – when/where else do you think we get to meet and write and add up the votes for all this stuff?

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Pub of the year:

The Compton Arms (a sometime Fortuna Pop! local) is back at the top of the tree, closely followed by the Old Red Lion, the Lord Clyde, the Peasant, the Hen & Chickens, the Hope & Anchor, the Nag’s Head, the De Beauvoir Arms, the Alma... even the Famous Cock (for playing "These Things Take Time" as we devoured a sneak-pint), and the New Rose (for managing to spin some early Wedding Present). The Duke of Wellington in Dalston is considerably less annoying than it used to be. Hell, even the Hunter S. is less annoying than it used to be, at least outside of Saturday nights.

A big BOO though to the pubs on this list (they know who they are) who have pulled Kozel, Veltins or Stella 4 during 2015. We're yet to be convinced that Krusovice is the future.

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(Veggie) fry-up place of the year:

Workers Café on Upper Street is still bossing it, though Gesya on Balls Pond Road and Angel Café on Essex Road probably outstrip it for authenticity, if not quite quality. Plus, props to Fifty-Six’s all-dayer veggie breakfast on Newington Green, and our longstanding record-shopping haunt Cotton Café, now the last man standing on Berwick Street. Coming up very fast on the rails, though, it’s Maya Café at Mount Pleasant (a welcome oasis, only a stone’s throw from the hipster-defiled hangouts of Exmouth Market).

* * * * *

Albums of the year:

1. Napalm Death “Apex Predator – Easy Meat” (Century Media)

2. Scor-Zay-Zee “Aeon (Peace To The Puzzle)” (Gangsta Music)

3. Cappo and Nappa “Rebel Base” (King Underground)

Three incredible LPs, and it was very difficult to separate them. In the end, Scorz’s irrepressible positivity and humour lifted him above his former OutDaVille colleague’s MC skills masterclass. And then, the blistering onslaught of “Apex Predator”, as eviscerating as an album about man’s inhumanity to man should be, just nudged it in front.

“Apex Predator” essential listening (we do these roughly in order of aceness, in case yr time is short): Cesspits, Hierarchies, Stunt Your Growth, Stubborn Stains, How The Years Condemn, Smash A Single Digit, Timeless Flogging, Bloodless Coup, Metaphorically Screwed, What Is Past Is Prologue, Oh So Pseudo...

“Aeon” essential listening: Intium, Double Dragon, Love ‘Em All, Saturday, 1995, Equestrianism, I’m Not Bragging, RAF, Brain Tour, Live Free, Old School

“Rebel Base” essential listening: The Gift, The Man, Originate, Red Hot, Get Live, Rebel Base, Commitment Statement

4. The Fireworks “Switch Me On” (Shelflife)

In many years, this one would have been top of the LPs pile: it’s that rare thing, a complete indie-pop power album, which is such a pleasure, especially when so many stirring bands over the decades never quite got round to the long-player, or slightly missed their aim when they did.

Essential listening: Back To Me, Runaround, On And On, Corner Of My Mind, Which Way To Go, With My Heart, Tightrope, Stay Here

5. Jazz-T “Run The Changes” (Boot)

If you’re a fan of Gang Starr, then you are always going to fall for UKHH lynchpin Jazz T’s expertly executed, star studded guest-DJ and MC productions, the backbone of the marvellous “Boot Sound”. Great sleeve parody of Ice-T’s classic “Power”, too.

Essential listening: Legends Of The Decks (with Ramson Badbonez), The DJ (with Diversion Tactics), Jazz-T vs Godzilla (with Verb-T and Fliptrix), In The Attic (with Cappo), Ancient Scrolls (with Confucius MC), Something Strange (with Lord Rao)

6. Robert Forster “Songs To Play” (Tapete)

Clever, funny, witty, subtle, tuneful, elegant, erudite, dark, sarcastic, yes and surprisingly good.

Essential listening: Learn To Burn, Let Me Imagine You, A Poet Walks, I’m So Happy For You, I Love Myself And I Always Have, Disaster In Motion

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

Bloody marvellous.

Essential listening: Around The Winding Roads And Hills, This Sadness Lacks, Home For Lost Souls, The Right True End

8. Various Artists “6” (ON Records)

Double-12” octo-artist vinyl brillfest celebrating ON’s sixth anniversary, starring genii from the Netherlands, France, Russia, Spain, Ukraine and Germany as ON host this suite of diverse techYES cuts by Milton Bradley, Jeff Rushin, Aiken, Mörbeck, Nicole Rosie, Yan Cook, Terence Fixmer and Unbalance. Nicole Rosie track-related fact: as we discovered on our summer hols this year, there is a chambered nautilus in Southend-on-sea Sealife Centre.

Essential listening: Yes.

9. The Declining Winter "Endless Scenery" (Sound In Silence)

Oh, hello again tDW. This outing, a CD-r on Greek boutique label Sound In Silence, and a touch subtler than its sister LP at #7, feels as wintrily English as the FA Cup third round.

Essential listening: Alsager Commerce, ...On The Mantle, Tokmak, No Stalgia

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

Charlie big time.

Essential listening: Rock N’ Roll Dreaming, Shine (Like A Star), Hypnotised, The Boys From Frampton Cotterell

11. Violent Reaction “Marching On” (Revelation Records)

Straightedge heaven. The ‘new’ Super Hans would surely approve.

Essential listening: Leave Me Out, Impact, Disorder, Marching On, Direct Action

12. The Hermit Crabs “In My Flat” (Matinée Recordings)

They’re BACK. Incidentally, when just south of the river on our day off earlier in the week, we spotted that Emin's Bed has just turned up at the Tate Britain, in a timely but no doubt expensive piece of LP promotion.

Essential listening: Stuart Murray, Tracey Emin’s Bed, Bravado & Rhetoric, Should I Drop You Off?

13. Milky Wimpshake “Encore, Un Effort!” (Fortuna Pop!) 

They’re BACK, too.

Essential listening: You Don’t Look Twice, Ping Pong Lovers, Sexual Deviant, Putting Things Right, Coming Soon

14. Lightning In A Twilight Hour “Fragments Of A Former Moon“ (Elefant Records)

He’s BACK.

Essential listening: Starfields, The Memory Museum, Unanswered, Taking The Figure Out Of The Landscape

15. Bishop “Everything In Vein” (DTR)

They’re, er, BACK.

Essential listening: Infinite Confinement, Huey P. Was Right, Status Quo Hardcore, American Straightedge?

16. Strawberry Whiplash “Stuck In The Never Ending Now” (Matinée Recordings)

They’re BACK.

Essential listening: Halycon Summer, Never Ending Now, Every Day The Sun Shines Brighter, Fly Me Over The Rooftops

17. The Fall “Sub-Lingual Tablet“ (Cherry Red)

They’re… actually, let’s face it, they never went away, did they? The hardest working band in showbiz.

Essential listening: Venice With The Girls, Quit I-Pod, Facebook Troll, Pledge

18. Agnostic Front “The American Dream Died“ (Nuclear Blast)

Yes, these are back too. And they’re every bit as sincere, passionate and honest as Keris, Harvey or Bobby, you know. We genuinely enjoyed this a lot, much more than we thought we might and more than some past outings. The ‘longer’ (2 mins plus) tracks lose focus slightly, but the circa one-minute ones are real pocket rockets.

Essential listening: Police Violence, Reasonable Doubt, Enough Is Enough, I Can't Relate, No War Fuck You, Old New York

19. Extreme Noise Terror “Extreme Noise Terror” (Grind Scene Records / Grave Wax Records)

*back* (avec vengeance)

Essential listening: An Endless Cycle of Misery, No One Is Innocent, Dogma Intolerance Control, Cruel And Unusual Punishment, everything if you’re in the right mood. Except perhaps “I Love Coca”.

=20. Darren Hayman “Chants For Socialists” (WIAIWYA)

=20. Hard Left “We Are Hard Left” (Future Perfect)

Soundtracks to Corbynism?

“Chants For Socialists” essential listening: May Day 1894, March Of The Workers, The Voice Of Toil

“We Are Hard Left” essential listening: New Year, Red Flag, Imagination. And the remixes.

With apologies, we've only just picked up the Catenary Wires, Brideshead and Cinerama albums, so you might want to imagine those in the list too.

* * * * *

Gigs of the year: A somewhat unholy range this year, from Obituary to Belle & Sebastian to Carmen at Glyndebourne, but the picks had to be the Royal Ballet “Connectome” / “Raven Girl” at the Royal Opera House; and, for the drama if not the quality, the Vanarama conference play-off final.

* * * * *

Missed gig regrets of the year: The fact that the Declining Winter played their first London show in 7 years only a few bus stops from our place and that we couldn’t make it because we were on holiday… and that in the very same week away, Jazz T and Zygote were in Dalston too… there is a long tradition of top-drawer bands playing rare capital gigs near our gaff when we’re not there (one year it was A Witness, and back in 2011 it was even worse… we missed Insect Warfare’s European farewell). And then, as we told you, we were in London when this lot played in 2015, but managed to miss them too.

* * * * *

Re-issue of the year: “Grind Madness at the BBC: Complete Heresy, Unseen Terror and Intense Degree Peel Sessions” (Earache), sessions we’ve written about before, just about heading off Close Lobsters’ “Firestation Towers”, another exceptional collection which has landed in at least one family member's Christmas stocking this morning. We've already got our tickets to see Close Lobsters in May, and we're really looking forward to it.

* * * * *

Good sports of the year: the Very Most (previous winners of this award, granted for people being quite nice to us despite us having slighted them in our hamfisted way, include Caesar from the Wake and the friendly man from Saturday People, which is good company to be in).

There should be an equivalent award for people we thought we’d been nice to but that seem to have taken it very badly, but we’ve resisted that temptation. This year.

* * * * * 

'Thanks for trying' award: Nearly all our loyal band of followers stuck with us. We do appreciate it, because without at least the illusion of interest I'm sure we'd give up, and then we'd miss doing this terribly. So apologies to the ex-follower for whom our recent ENT review was clearly the final straw.

* * * * *

Earworm of the year: This post's title. Oh, by a mile. We haven't been able to get it out of our head. And it all stems from seeing the poster for an upcoming Clan of Xymox gig outside Highbury Garage, when those bloody Half Man Half Biscuit lyrics shot instantaneously to mind. I loved the photo of the Clan on that poster, too; it looks like they are trying really hard to look 'goth', and to make us remember that they were on 4AD and everything, and to forget the fact that 9 out of 10 people who recognise their name will instantly just think of that HMHB song (it's "Faithlift") instead of any of theirs.

* * * * * 

Player of the year: Stuart Sinclair, possibly the only footballer in the world who really genuinely does "give 100%" rather than some still flatteringly high, but less round, figure. The new Ronnie Maugé, possibly (on the pitch, anyway).

* * * * *

TV of the year: We're not so into TV, as you know. But let's be honest, "Wolf Hall" was next level, and Rylance was on another bloody plane. Happy enough with "The Bridge", too, though we did miss Martin. Luckily, Beck's sidekick Gunvald Larsson, a fellow Scandinavian on BBC4, is now filling that gap. And episode two of Mark Radcliffe's guide to indie music was a (nostalgia-riven) joy: it was like travelling back in time to our teenage existence for an hour.

* * * * *

Book of the year: Soon. The runner-up, btw, was David Cavanagh’s typically epic treatise on Peel nights.

* * * * *

DVD of the year: Soon.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Extreme Noise Terror “Extreme Noise Terror” (Grind Scene Records / Grave Wax Records)

There’s little point in us pretending to be too objective here, given that ENT were a name we used to scrawl on our pencil case alongside the likes of This Poison! and the Sea Urchins; a band whose Peel seshes we used to commit to tape alongside the likes of Napalm and I, Ludicrous; and probably the only combo we love that have ever wowed the Brits. Suffice to say, we carry their inspiration with us through life, and our life is much the richer for it.

Indeed, we garnered tickets to see ENT’s benefit gig for Adrian “Covan” Kowanek earlier this year, but a last-minute spot of extreme plumbing terror somewhat ludicrously prevented us from showing up. Which makes it over a decade since the last time we witnessed this mighty oak of a band in the flesh: their wonderful, unexpectedly moving turn at the Highbury Garage, in the wake of their mentor John Peel’s death.

Now, a good seven years from their last album, and nine years after their should-be-legendary split with Driller Killer, ENT have decided that 30 years in showbusiness heralds the moment for them to finally issue an eponymous long-player. This turns out to be ruthlessly logical, as there is a real sense that the wheel has turned full circle with this record. “Extreme Noise Terror” sees them return resolutely to their crust-punk roots, happily recycling riffs that many of us oldies have known and loved since we were sneaking a quick listen on the Walkman whilst shuffling between classrooms with our homework books. The fact that the sadly departed Phil Vane, to whom the record is dedicated, still gets some songwriting credits also suggests that some of these tunes as are a few years old now (he passed away in 2011).

What we have, then, is 13 tracks of unruly, agriculturally rudimentary, punchdrunk Suffolk punk, all topped off in inimitable style with ENT’s renowned and um, spirited dual-vocal attack. Lyric-wise, we’re still looking at relatively familiar topics: media hegemony (“Think Outside The Box”), (ir)religious indoctrination (“Dogma, Intolerance, Control”), the pointlessness of all our existences (“An Endless Cycle of Misery“), terrorist mass murder (“No One Is Innocent”), self-appointed keyboard warriors (“Punk Patrol”) and a timely and effective excoriation of bands reforming for cash (“Last Fix Of Fame”).

So what if some of their contemporaries – fellow Ipswicher Tommy Stupid, or their own sometime drummer Mick Harris – went on to experiment with, or reinvent techno, dubstep or bass music instead? So what if ENT themselves once ‘branched out’ with the severer metallic leanings of “Damage 381” or “Being And Nothing”? With this LP of manic punk thrills, Dean Jones and co go proudly back to basics, and that’s absolutely tickety-boo with us. Despite some er, variable production values the sincerity, energy and occasional farmyard impression make it all work. Darlings, what you have is enough.

Oh, there are still lipstick traces of grindcore – for example amidst the tongue-in-cheek thrills of closer “Only In It For The Music (Part 27)” – but the truth is that ENT were never really grindcore, just a steaming blur of thrashy crust-punk that moved so fast that you sometimes couldn’t tell it apart from grind. This record may remind you at times of Phobia, or “Scum”-era ND, or even Doom, but most of the time it will remind you, rigorously, repeatedly and gloriously, of Extreme Noise Terror.

Yes, I think we’re starting to feel festive now. Carry on screaming.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Strawberry Whiplash “Stuck In The Never Ending Now” (Matinée Recordings): The Hermit Crabs “In My Flat” (Matinée Recordings)

Here in the UK, that sweep of once-quiet days from late October through early November has turned into a confused, even hectic, time of year. When I were a lad, Halloween was barely a “thing”, Guy Fawkes’ night was just that - starting and stopping on 5th November – and, a few days later, Remembrance Day felt dignified, elegant and meaningful, wrapped largely around a solemn Sunday parade.

But now, as soon as the first late-year chills start to hang in the air we’re launched into an unforgiving month-long mélange of: drawn-out Halloween celebrations; random bonfires and firework-fests; an increasingly prickly and politicised poppy season; an admittedly welcome sprinkling of Diwali colour; and the first stirrings of our rapidly commercialised and wantonly over-extended Christmas season.

All this means that for days on end you find yourself entertaining trick or treating neighbourhood kids and sporting poppies of one colour or another at the same time as the TV schedules take on a festive flavour and the local youths launch fireworks outside your front door. You don’t know whether to smile or scowl or mourn or yawn.

But then suddenly the rockets stop landing in the garden, the minute’s silence passes for another year, the bonfires are extinguished, and left-over pumpkins are plonked into the food waste bins. You find, inamidst all that chaos, that autumn had secretly stolen into winter, and there’s now nothing to do but wait as we count down to Christmas Day, trapped in the haze of Mammon’s headlights, if looking forward to the blessed relief of a few days off work. It’s right then - right now - that we find ourselves most in need of new distractions, and in 2015 it’s Matinée Recordings who have answered our prayers with a brace of top-notch pop-Scotch albums from the very heights of their roster.

Strawberry Whiplash’s “Stuck In The Never Ending Now” is more mannered, less urgent and fuzzy than earlier outings (whilst only two songs on their excellent first LP made the three minute mark, this second full-length only has two below three minutes). Its grooves tread a knowing line between the (more tuneful) outings of the 80s anorak bands and the sincere sonic flower grooves of the 60s revivalists, all the time keeping listening hearts aflutter courtesy of Sandra’s knowing purr.

Our own pick of the songs here, the drivingly dapper Shop Assistants homage “Halcyon Morning”, is perhaps unrepresentative in that it sits towards the shambling, rather than the Byrdsy, end of that particular continuum, but there are plenty more perky treats on offer: other pearls well-worth diving for include “Never Ending Now” with its jauntily chugging guitars and excitable drum machine, or the confident, almost gilded opener, “Every Day The Sun Shines Brighter”.

One of the joys of the record throughout is the fact that although there are no long guitar solos or over-indulgent instrumental sections (let’s face it: if there were, this review might not be happening), virtually every track is embossed instead with a few bars of attractive little guitar lines, weaving in easy melody: your man Laz on the guitar there is a deft historian of nimble hooks, a skilled curator of cunning little riffs.

This, alongside Sandra’s stories of the ebb and flow of the years as they buffet us and pass us by (a “Now And Then” theme, as much-missed former Matinée darlings the Windmills would have had it) helps give this second LP continuity even as the ‘Lash flirt with a range of subtle variations (from the BMX Bandits-bossa nova of “Ride The Waves To The Shore” and the Cineramatic trills of “Too Close To Call” to the Pastels-y charms of “Fly Me Over The Rooftops” and the glock-bedecked “All I Ask For Is Everything”).

That said, there is nothing here that caused us to fall off our bar-stools with surprise (unlike their first album, which a tad unexpectedly delivered both the dizzy shoegaze of “Sleepy Head” & the assured dreampop of “Now I Know It’s You”).

There is more than enough consolation, however, in the record’s gorgeous denouement as “This Is All We Have”, picking up on the theme of sister act Bubblegum Lemonade’s “Have You Seen Faith?” single, reminds us that yes this is all there is, and there isn’t anyone looking out for us from the heavens, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing: our higher purpose is to be ourselves, and to live life to the fullest.

It feels hard to credit that it was all the way back in the summer of 2006 when the duo first crossed our path with “The Boy In The Bubble Car”, and we tumbled out our usual stuff about John Peel and the spirit of “cracking, fizzing flexis” and compared them to their compatriots the Fizzbombs and Baby Lemonade and yes, the Shoppies – lazy as that may sound, it was certainly high praise - so it’s doubly exciting to see them still going strong, on one of our favourite labels, close to a decade on. Cheers, and here’s to the next ten years of never-ending now.

The Hermit Crabs also explored matters temporal on their last release, “Time Relentless”, part of a discography which has also been building for around a decade, even if we only really started to warm to them, thanks in part to a tip-off from our old friend Sam, around the time of their “Correspondence Course” EP. The band therefore made their bow in these pages a mere six and a half years ago, though you mightn’t have spotted it given that it was in the middle of a novella-long reverie inspired by filthy-mouthed lost Bristol punk legends Chaotic Dischord. It happens.

Now, we find that the Hermit Crabs impress us more with each new release, just like the Would-be-Goods did: but just like the WBGs, we can't quite nail whether they are really ever-improving, growing subtly better with every record, or whether they’ve always been this brilliant and it’s us who are belatedly getting used to them, finally learning to appreciate them properly.

“In My Flat” was mostly recorded not in anyone’s flat, as far as we can tell, but in Boise, Idaho, which lends it an exotic flavour straight off, though we should emphasise that there’s nothing here that fans of the previous EPs shouldn’t lap up. This time around, there are also members of the Very Most in tow, but don’t let that put you off, because the instrumentation makes a telling contribution to the purpose and flow of this record, a record that feels sprightlier at times than “Stuck In The Never Ending Now” (reeling off a petite eight tracks in a mere 20 or so minutes), though it has its own fluctuations of tempo and timbre.

Difficult to know where to start, but with a dim memory of a sometime trip to Charles Saatchi's floating around, we’ll go for “Tracey Emin’s Bed”, a song of hit single quality if ever we’ve heard one. It captures songwriter and singer Melanie Whittle’s gift for combining a certain humour and whimsy with hints of real sadness: the uptempo jollity of the piano and guitars determinedly grates against the protagonist’s depression and loneliness (the latter theme also examined in the musically more contemplative “I’m A Fool”).

Otherwise, we’ve developed a special fondness for “Should I Drop You Off?” a tearjearking tour de force that benefits hugely from a mournful country twang and steel pedal vibe, but if that doesn’t sound like your staple diet please don’t fear, because the tumbling melodic cascades of “Stuart Murray” show how they have the whole pop-perfect thing all wrapped up (that Sauciehall Street ‘feel good factor’ hasn’t dissipated just yet), as do the jinglingly fresh opening and closing tunes “Bravado and Rhetoric” (lovely guitars, cooing backing vocals, P.U.N.K. girl theme) and “Did I Tell You That…?” (lovely everything).

So. Seems we’re not waiting for the winter any more. The days are short. The nights are cold (they’ll be even colder where these two bands hail from). Xmas is coming, like a big benevolent juggernaut, but a juggernaut still some roads away. In the meantime, in need of a soundtrack, we long for winter warmth where we can find it, and these two modern Matinée classics might just tide us over until we get to rip open the first door on that Advent calendar.

Monday, October 12, 2015

“Why Weren’t You Special?” Songs that should have made A-sides

Welcome back to in love with these times in spite of these times, the only indie-pop fanzine that’s owned by the system, and that was controlled by Babylon, but is now controlled by satanic power.

We know how things are: it’s hard to release ‘real’ singles now, especially vinyl ones. It costs a lot of money, and the pressing plants of the world now ‘boast’ turnaround times which mean that you’ll be lucky if your slated January single comes out by Christmas. Also, there’s no Top Of The Pops any more, so one of the key reasons for releasing a single – the childhood dream of that unlikely crossover hit launching you to a teatime TV audience of millions - has surely fallen by the wayside. But here in our ivory tower at in love with these times, in spite of these times HQ we’re forever wedded to the format, and we won’t necessarily insist on it being physical. In which case, as Wiley recently proved, there’s little limit to what you can do.

So we’ve put together a little cassette - a fresh C60 for y’all - of tracks from 2015 which weren’t A-sides, but really are good enough to be singles, and that you might – just – otherwise have missed. These are the songs that really ought to be on Now That’s What I Call Music 2015 this Xmas. But won’t be, unless some really mad s#!t happens. 

Side A

The Fireworks “Back To You”

A shot of deadly sherbet to the jugular. Had we the means, we would get about 50,000 copies of this pressed (on 7”, obviously), parachute them into record stores and then, if necessary, buy them all back - Louis Walsh-style - until we had several car boots’ full of them and the Fireworks were riding high in the charts. This wonderful, young Razorcuts-y gem is a torpedo in the eye of those who decry the state of present-day indie-pop and, were it not for the fact that Napalm Death’s “Cesspits” exists, it would likely be the best song of the year so far.

Kano “New Banger”

In honesty, we were not expecting a 2015 Kano B-side to be a likely candidate for one of the year’s more splendid tunes. The A-side, the Coki-produced “Hail” is not bad at all, if sadly unrelated to Bunny Nightlight’s charming cd-EP of yesteryear. However, “New Banger” totally blazes, with Kano at his most engaging as he breathlessly recounts growing up tales and street stories with conviction, wit and style. Hell, this may be the best thing he’s done since “Ice Rink” on white, or “P’s & Q’s”. 

Lunchbox “Paws of Destiny”

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

Convict “213”

Convict are from the north-west (of the US rather than the UK) and, sneaking out on the always-worth monitoring Painkiller, this is from their demo tape, now ‘officially’ released as a six-track cassette called “Barred Life”. The bludgeoningly reductive minute or so of this, its opening ditty, reminds us of early Doom. Which is surely all that needs to be said in its favour. 

The Declining Winter “Around The Winding Roads And Hills”

We’re not the only ones who think this standout from the Declining Winter’s “Home For Lost Souls” should, in a less imperfect world, have been a single: Richard Adams, the man who wrote it, seems to think so too. “Roads And Hills” is probably the most muscular track on that LP, but that doesn’t stop it for a second from being romantic, misty, and full of longing for ever-distant horizons. We were genuinely upset when we discovered that a rare London gig from the Winter (just up the road in Dalston, too) clashed with us being out of the country for the first time in years.

While expressing our general love for the Declining Winter, we should also flag up: (a) their bloody lovely cover of “Reany Geia” on the Emotional Response Crabstick tribute EP; and (b) on a DW spin-off tip, the fact that the excellent "Wildness" EP, from the band that were nearly called Big Declining Electric, has now got a (v prettily-packaged) CD-r release, via Sound In Silence.

The Fall “Venice With The Girls”

That's right, them. This feels like an obvious single, and it kicked off their “Sub Lingual Tablet” album (their 31st, I believe) in bruisingly fresh style, but they sadly didn’t see fit to put out any 45s from the LP this time. “Venice With The Girls” is a catchy, swirly and almost poppy guitar stomp, with Smith’s vocals nowhere near as sluggishly drunken as they often get on Fall LPs these days. BTW, there are plenty of other decent songs on the album, albeit that many are rather longer and more repetitive: the main exception to that, and the other ‘should have been a single’, is the riotously and righteously Luddite album closer, “Quit I-Phone”.

SSS “For Your Own Good”

Technically this one came out last year (November, to be precise). But we missed it, just like we missed the Lightning In A Twilight Hour single around the same time. Why didn’t you tell us?

Anyway, after three albums on Earache which saw them transition from youthful thrashery to amazingly exciting skatecore to more grown-up but still punkish hardcore-meets-fast metal, it turns out that Liverpool’s ever-overlooked SSS decamped to Prosthetic Records (home of Trap Them) for a spiky fourth LP of fairly aggressive metallic thrashiness called “Limp. Gasp. Collapse” which - at its best - suggested that despite having seemingly lost a member, and acquired a few too many guitar solos, they’ve otherwise lost little of their fire or vitality. This is from that.

Violent Reaction “Leave Me Out”
Hard Left “Red Flag”

I don’t know how I feel about street-punk, really. I mean, I like it, obviously, but I wasn’t really expecting to confront it in 2015. Mind, in these straitened times, and in the wake of that dismal election result, it feels like there are so many barricades that wrongly remain unstormed. Who are we to say that a dab of strategically-targeted new wave of Oi, or a tongue in cheek but expertly-executed homage to “We Are The Firm”, “We Are The League” and “Angels With Dirty Faces” can’t help move this thing forwards?

Straightedge anthem “Leave Me Out” is from Violent Reaction’s “Marching On” LP on Revelation, which has grown on us mightily as its rattling express trains of tunes tangle Oi! influences with everyone from Violent Arrest to Negative Approach. Tunes like “Disorder” or the seriously anthemic title number are now very cosily ensconced in our heads, pogoing around those untended inner cranial cavities like toddlers on a bouncy castle. Musically there’s an obvious debt to the rabble rousers of earlier waves of UK punk, and there are severe lyrical beatings for gentrifiers, hipsters, crust-fund punkers and druggies as well as the celebrations of positive identity like “Street Dogs” or “Marching On” itself. 

Hard Left are comprised of some of the genii who have helped bring us incredible records over the years, like those two Whorl singles, like “Indecision”, like “He Gets Me So Hard”, like “Summer’s Over”, like “Throw Aggi Off The Bridge”. That’s some roll call of 45s right there. Although “We Are Hard Left”, the LP from which this comes, doesn’t really sound like any of them, of course. Instead, this is apparently Oakland street punk.

I’m not qualified to judge its ‘real-ness’ (any more than I can tell how authentically Violent Reaction pad the Merseyside mean streets), but I can judge whether it makes me want to FIGHT. And laugh. And occasionally laugh and fight and smile (and pummel pummel pummel David Cameron’s face as he prays the Magna Carta in aid of repealing the Human Rights Act: I know Jimmy Pursey would be with me). And songs like "Red Flag" do all those things. Set against the pavement-chewing anger of “Marching On”, the more knowing “We Are Hard Left” almost feels like a pop album – or the ghost of early SLF, as fronted by Wolfie Smith - but it's the real deal, nonetheless. 

Bishop “Infinite Confinement”

Straight from the US, we got a fabulous LP from Bishop this year, “Everything In Vein”, exhibiting a kind of powerviolence/hardcore blend that recalls everyone from Kill The Client to Looking For An Answer. This is one of half a dozen true Exocets of high-falutin riffage that are compressed within its somewhat indispensable grooves.

Side B

Milky Wimpshake featuring Sophie Evans “You Don’t Look Twice”

Over the decades now, Christine and Pete’s unstoppable pop machine have been, without exaggeration and on whatever basis you analyse it, one of the best bands in world history. And this year, they’ve dealt us a bright and rather poppy new album about love and class war, “Encore, Un Effort!” (on Fortuna Pop! of course), serving up several upbeat treats and some well-chosen cover versions, although there is sadly no 7” pressing of this mighty opening track from it.

The introduction of Sophie may be the best thing since Jazzie B co-opted Caron Wheeler, and on this song the ‘Shake go for a “dual vocal” instead of the neatly feisty duets that make up much of the rest of the LP (NB the album, as well as being a bit of a “return to form”, features (a) Milky Wimpshake’s first football song; (b) a tune written and sung entirely in French; and (c) a certain Close Lobsters classic that then spins out into what sounds like the clanging chords at the end of “My Favourite Dress”).

Raghunath "Krishna Jinka Naama Hai"

What the...? Well, Raghunath Das was once known as Ray Cappo, and in days of yore the New Yorker fronted straightedge kings Youth Of Today with industrial-sized dollops of charisma and ebullience. Now, as committed as ever to 'conscious' art, he's ventured into his first 'traditional' record of kirtan (a kind of Indian devotional music) and as homely as this track sounds - a saccharin chorus line, peppered with naif handclaps and some seriously fired-up bongo playing - this song wins you over utterly, not least because it boasts a (seriously catchy) peach of a tune. It's on the LP "Krishna Kirtan: Music As Meditation" on Equal Vision Records.

Hard Left “Red Flag” (Downpour remix)

The aforesaid Hard Left LP release was accompanied by a bandcamp EP on which Echo Wanderer and Downpour set about on the remix tip with glee: the former’s take on “Imagination” will have you scuttling back to your Clash and Ruts dubs, albeit that EW updates those for the 21st century. However, we have to stick with Downpour, of course, who can do no wrong with their unyielding 1990s D&B-ravaged ‘electrwrongica’, and they proceed to do no wrong with aplomb on this jitteringly danceable re-work of “Red Flag”. “Version!

True Vision “Foolproof”

Another cassette (actually, just the tip of a cassette iceberg, because they seem to be damn-near everywhere this year), this time a self-titled 5-tracker from Leeds’ True Vision, as they add to the legacy of that city’s greats (you know, Manhattan Love Suicides, Lorimer, TWP, Gang of Four, Edsel Auctioneer... Actually, weren’t Gentle Despite from Leeds, too? And Esmeralda’s Kite?)

This frenetic, minute-long pneumatic drill of a punk anthem from a band that features members of both Violent Reaction and the Flex is possibly better than anything on the latter’s recent 7”EP, if not quite up to the standards of most of the former’s album. Like a lot of stuff these days, it’s somewhere between London 1978 and New York 1994 (but without being, erm, the middle of the Atlantic 1986).

Terrorizer “Collapse”

No, this is not actually a ‘new’ tune – the last thing that the surviving members of Terrorizer chalked on the board is still 2012’s “Hordes Of Zombies”. That said, this outtake from the “World Downfall” sessions hasn’t been released before and only surfaces now on a somewhat ‘for fans only’ (that’s us, then) double-CD comp of early Terrorizer rarities & obscurities, “Before The Downfall”, on F.O.A.D. It’s great to hear something fresh with original singer Oscar Garcia’s vocals on (before he became Brighton and Watford manager, obviously). 

Hatebeak “Seven Perches”

I suspect it was just one of those “Eureka!” moments when the musicians of Hatebeak realised that what grindcore needed was a parrot on vocals, and how that made perfect, perfect sense, so long as you got the right parrot on board. Luckily, Waldo is just that, a charismatic front-parrot who adds plenty to Hatebeak’s clanging riffage, and whose talents put a few human vocalists to shame.

This is a great track from an LP on Reptilian Records this year that combines some old EP tracks (one was on a split single with a band whose lead vocalists were two dogs) with all-new parrot grind. We’d have loved to see Seven Perches on seven inches.

Lightning In A Twilight Hour “Starfields”

After raving about “Slow Changes”, we never got around to any verbiage on LIATW’s full-length follow-up record, “Fragments Of A Former Moon”. We’re fixing that now, because there are some tender wonders on there, not least single teaser “The Memory Museum” and the desperately pretty “Unanswered” (in which Bobby gives you lucky listeners his hotel room number). But right up with those are the slender instrumental joys of songs like “Taking The Figure Out Of The Landscape” and this one, “Starfields”, which closes the album (and this tape) with a pristine glaze of sound, wrung out from lonely guitar chords. Undeniably exquisite, and quite, quite beautiful.