Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #80 - Grimes, "Visions"

This album that I've been catching glimpses of throughout 2012 so far. I have now tracked it down on Grooveshark. I like it. Already some freshness, some unpredictability, some angles.

In "Genesis", for example, it sounds like she is singing about "Elephant nose" and within what is going on around her, that's quite plausible. Her voice is high-pitched and fluttery and avian and nasal, which isn't going to endear her to me. But it works with the bubbly nature of the tunes that she's singing over. She is squeakier yet at the beginning of "Eight" (the title might be a reference to the symbol for infinity) while a large metal German repeats something I cannot understand. Maybe "tyres"? "Circumambient" (walking around?) crashes about in a forest of beats and canyoning synth stabs, a thuggish wood nymph skidding on a raspberry ripple shudder of a squirty riff.

By the time I've got to "Vowels = space + time" I've realised that the high-pitched vocals are triggering memories of hardcore mixtapes - but minus the thundering breaks. It gives it a curious sense of scale, or proximity and distance. I like it.

There was an interesting question posed on The Quietus about this album and pop, saying that this was pop and simultaneously that pop should be treated as a dirty word and not a concept to be shoe-horned into darker, more complex musical places into which it should not go. My little contribution would be to ask whether what makes music pop is a question of impulsiveness, ie the more instinctive the music, the poppier it is. That it's far less about ticking various musicological boxes, but more about following some plan sketched out by the brain. Like Elvis did and Gruff Rhys does - and the more thoughtful, more "structured"  rock acts do not. Human-shaped music. Music that spilled originally out of excitement about sex or drugs or rock'n'roll itself - before everything cooled and hardened into generic poses. Or maybe I've misread pop music, my own impulses and the original article.

If my impulse idea holds any water at all, then "Be A Body" could be the perfect title, stressing humanity from a left-field position, rewiring intuitions in new, transmittable images. There's a breathy quality to it, like the more brooding Pet Shop Boys tunes. "Nightmusic" takes a nice slice of Renaissance music and bookends the song with it, twisted and turned on itself. It then goes off in a murky dance-pop direction. "Skin" is a lot more intimate, even the vocals are lower and I can hear what she's singing over the light-touch keys and skinny drums. "You act like nothing ever happened/But it meant the world to me."

So my dry spell is gone. Well worth the wait.

Rating: Taking The Pop out of Proportion

The 2kDozen 500: #79 - School of Seven Bells, "Ghostory"

I've enjoyed the last two S7B albums and an ATP performance a couple of years ago, so I'm hoping for them to snap the sequence of disappointing albums that's run the last couple of days.

It's dream pop again. So I should be feeling flat about it. But (and I'm going to push that gender button again!) the vocals are crisp and joyous and set this album aside from a lot of the fuzzy tide. Although apparently they now have just the one vocalist, which I didn't pick up on without reading it. The production is not much more than a backdrop, fairly muted, lumpen drums - a mechanical approximation of late Cure.

"The Night" has a real Breakfast Club feel, The Edge-lite guitar and has more going on than the stripped down nature of most of the other tracks. I like the slower, shimmier stuff the more. "Reappear" doesn't really go anywhere, but hangs around miasmically before fading out with a TARDIS type pulse. "Show Me Love" revs pleasingly with My Bloody Valentine's lazy menace before frankly shit drum noises cheapen things up. "Scavenger" sparkles at points of the chorus, when there's a Cocteau rush of a gear change in her voice, but never quite kicks on. Frustrating in a similar way to the Sleigh Bells album, also operating under a duo dynamic.

Is the album's ghost theme inspired by the absence of Alejendra's absent twin sister, leaving a spectral image on their reduced, collective imagination? Hmm? Well? "I see you in everything...You left me, baby."

"White Wind" sounds like she's signing "Void" over and again instead of "White", which I like. The tune too is more restless. "When You Sing" closes with more Kevin-Shields-y guitar and livelier drums, coming over as a "Loveless" demo. Which is a good thing. It gives the sheets of guitar and vocals more to rub up against.

Rating: Sparkly Moments out of Twinlessness

The 2kDozen 500: #78 - Yeti Lane, "The Echo Show"

Gallic dream pop, eh? One of the gents on the cover looks a wee bit like Brian Eno. Is that a good omen?

"Analog Wheel" opens with some purposeful squelching synth and sense of playfulness, and some whistling. There may be words about going into hiding for a while. Second track, "The Echo Show", escalates in increasingly giddy fashion, upwards and upwards like something shooting out of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. Third track "Warning Sensations" keeps the cheerful plates spinning again. There's no long-burning fuse here, it's pretty immediate; impatient almost.

"Logic Winds" carries the mood on over the horizon with a Jonathan Richman chug, gears and pinions squealing. "Strange Call" operates with an Echo & The Bunnymen swagger initially before a cataclsym of harmonies and "Alba" has a vintage feel to it, maybe a touch of OMD but with that Gallic multi track musical rainbow trailing all their movements. Don't seem to be that many lyrics and I pick up on even fewer of them.

The titleless track between "Alba " and "Dead Tired" has some glorious guts, some moaning backward guitar scrawled across glacial synthworks. (I know the ice/electronics thing is tired; but those metaphors keep bobbing up for more.) There's a touch of the music to Hitch-hikers Guide, but soon as it arrives, it's gone and the less fascinating, dreamy big pop sound is back.

There is a resurgence of interesting noises at the beginning of "Sparkling Sunbeam", but nothing is really breaking through to the other side. Perhaps the vocals aren't strong enough. Even the titles beginning to read hollow. I'm disappointed again. I need a new album this week to invigorate me. I was hoping it might be the new "Shangaan Shake" compilation of South African electronic dance music. What I've heard is great. But I can't find anywhere to stream it yet.

This album isn't out until March but can be streamed here - http://thequietus.com/articles/08095-yeti-lane-the-echo-show-stream. Give it a go.

Rating: I'm Beginning To Feel out of Step

Sunday, 26 February 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #77 - Ulrich Schnauss & Mark Peters, "Underrated Silence"

I've only just found out that Ulrich is also in Engineers. I really liked that eponymous Engineers album. Although back in those days there was less of this endorphin rock about and I suppose they would have stood further out.

Mark Peters is a fellow Engineer. The album cover is a monochrome wintry mountain daylight scene. All very dream pop so far. The album runs through a wide ranges of grey - like a Mancunian sky - from tupperware to slate: this is not an insult. Rather it's a reflection of how many shades of grey I come across in my daily life.

"Yesterday Didn't Exist" starts off in a very BoC territory before some Glockenspiel gives it a slightly creepy mechanical twist. Although if yesterday didn't exist, this kind of music would have to invent it. "The Child or the Pigeon" has a more homecoming feel about it, the bouncy piano and warm guitar lick being all uplifting and that. Although I can't help wondering who's having to decide between a child and a pigeon. "Amoxicillin" has the epic Flash Gordon sweep about it. I'm not sure what antibiotics have to do with it - it does a little clinical perhaps. (Why am I being so fussy about the titles again?)

"Gift Horse's Mouth" injects a livelier spirit into the majestic, drizzly torpor of the album. It's very welcome because things have begun to sound very similar. Perhaps I can have too much grey after all.
Rating: Grey Sun Moving out of Clouds

The 2kDozen 500: #76 - Jo Hamilton, "Gown"

The spectre of Annie Lennox has arisen, shaking her Marley chains and pointing bony fingers, mouthing through infernal silence about Best British Female Brit awards and corrosion of the soul.

I'm a little surprised I've heard nothing about Hamilton before. Not because my network of informants is flawless in its dragnet search of pop culture, quite the opposite. I read that she's from the Scottish Highlands and that her parents were east African descendents of earlier Scots. I like that genealogical reverb.

This album feels a bit like the a string of jazz cafes have been stitched together, people collaborating over tales of amazing holidays in corners of the world into which you could never be allowed to stumble. Many tracks move through different sections. There's a hint of Bjork's vocal acrobatics, but Hamilton's voice is lower and calmer and cooler, even if it is just as exotic. It sounds a little too smooth and dry.

"How beautiful is his love/For you" smacks of that there Christianity I've been hearing about these last two millenia. I should listen out for more such hints. "Liathach" starts quietly enough before it goes all Jennifer Rush. "All in Adoration" has the cramped sax sound of Michael Nyman soundtracks and a slinky bassline, but something about her vocal is too poised. Nothing quite grabs me.

I'm filing this under Ground.

Rating: Needs More Time out of The Studio

Saturday, 25 February 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #75 - Yr Ods, "Troi a Throsi"

This is a bit of an uncomfortable listen - for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, I've avoided listening to Yr Ods for a while, because they inspire in me a weird sense of parochial embarrassment. After Cool Cymru was comfortably bedded in my mind the best part of twenty years ago, I think my listening has maybe been a bit selective. Pretty much in the same way it has in English. And Yr Ods I've been a little reluctant to engage with for fear of them being too landfill (neu tirlenwi, os dach chi'n hoffi). But Huw Stephens and Adam Walton seem keen and I watched the last ever edition of the Noughties Welsh language music show, Bandit, last night and they were on and the subtitled lyrics seemed a little darker than I expected.

Secondly, my Welsh is pretty poor and therefore my grasp of the lyrics is even weaker than in English. I can get snatches of words here and there and I can translate the titles; but nothing much more than that. And this bothers me because I feel I'm stumbling around in exactly the same imperialist blankness that I despise in others. Yes, I despise it in ridiculously over-the-top fashion; hence the discomfort with myself as a monolingual human shitsack.

So it could all be my fault. Yet I still cannot escape the suspicion it's all a little too simple. The titles are not inspiring. They sound more than a bit like insipid "Doo Waa Diddy" popwash. And while I take the point that I've heard from Welsh-speaking friends and in interviews with some Welsh-singing songwriters that trite words and ideas can acquire new life in translation from one tongue to another, it doesn't quite make up for the disappointment. Compare a title like "Rhagluniaeth Ysgafn" from Gruff Rhys' debut solo album that was on the same Bandit show, translated into "Light Destiny" and an appeal for his previous behaviour to be taken into account at the end of his days, with "Agor dy Llygaid" ("Open your Eyes"). Yr Ods come off too lightweight.

The tunes also suffer from a post-Arctic Monkeys condition of sounding like some dance band from the early Sixties. I quite like the Monkeys, but this is a baleful influence. It's difficult to imagine how the Shadowsy moptop shuffling beat sound can be absorbed without the bland assumptions that underpinned the bloodless talk of eyes and girls the first time around. Difficult for me at least. I like things a bit more desperate and complicated. And I don't see much of a critical engagement from Yr Ods with this inherited model. (God help me, I'm taking all this very seriously. I'm just looking for an explanation why this is leaving me cold.)

It all starts with a strumming acoustic, which is rarely a good sign. "Paid a gwrando at a y gan" (Don't listen to the song) opens the album with an agreeable indie stomp, though the keyboard sounds tinny; and the title suggests some playfulness - but I can't grab any of the lyrics to substantiate the idea. "Dadansoddi" (Analysis) involves wrestling with something pulling someone away, but I'm not really feeling the Merseybeat background. "Sian" was the track I saw performed on Bandit but without the lyrics in front of me, it slides back into a frustrating pop whimsy. I'm starting to believe that I'm basically too poorly equipped to break down the cultural barriers to get to the meat.

"Dwi'm yn angel" (I'm no angel) has a claustrophobic shiver to it, perhaps I'm helped by the drum machine replacing the infernal head-bobbing Merseybeat. And I can understand that the chorus is "I'm sorry" over and over again while an elegaic noise swells behind. "Agor dy llygaid" is more promising and complex, but then "Cariad" (Darling - I'm unhappy) goes back to the vintage bargain bin and my interest evaporates.

A frustrating album, not least because it highlights my own limitations, but also because I don't understand the love of following a Richard Hawley retrospective path. I understand there's no reason a band comprising members from various towns across Anglesey and Gwynedd shouldn't carry the same influences as a band from Norfolk or Dundee; but I'm still disappointed. Maybe I should give it another go when I've picked up more Welsh. Unless anyone has the lyrics for me to look at?

Rating: I Want Them out of The Sixties Ghetthole

The 2kDozen 500: #74 - Kingbastard, "Lost Property"

I've only recently become aware of Kingbastard, when he was recommended by a friend of mine and I heard his 2010 "Beautiful Isolation" album. And a beautiful study in isolation it is - the sound of a thousand mornings spent staring out the window.

"Lost Property" is an album recorded about (and possibly in, I'm not sure) a deserted house in Pembrokeshire called Danlan. Not just a music album either: the MP3 version contains different pictures and paintings for each track of parts of the house. A pretty knackered building it looks too, streaked with tired paint and rotted domesticity.

The scary nature of being on your own with your thoughts hums throughout the tracks, sometimes almost literally as in the case of "Abandoned". Some of the tracks have a lot more of a techno feel (like opener "Dust" or "Glim" for example) than "Beautiful Isolation", which seemed more directly influenced by found sounds. But they remain anchored in this space, mentally and geographically - "D.U.S.T." lists the different words for remains, which Danlan must be covered in.

"Take Me Home" is an semi-acoustic number that begins simply ("Take me home/To where I want to be") before the reverb beings its sinister swamp and the waves are overwhelmed by their own backwash. Then the hiss and crackle of  "Fireplace", which stares intensely into the suburban lawn at the beginning of Blue Velvet, the seething insect life and death initially invisible amongst the manicured blades of grass. The sound of the fire seems to appear in the mix every few minutes, along with rain and crackle and birdsong.

I imagine I'd already find this house pretty scary if I'd stumbled upon it. But "Rocking Chair" gives me even more chill, looping the sound of the chair itself alongside a mournful piano line, sad as mushrooms. "Under The Staircase" echoes fuzzily about, brimming with artificial surface noise and cowboying off into the sunset in the stair cupboard. It's slightly eerie, but does calm some of the distended noises a while.

"The Mist Descends" swells with the blissful, medicated power of the earlier album: I can almost see a halo of light pouring out from behind KB's head. "Danlan" has a touch of the electro again, although built up out of found sounds and some slide guitar - "Albatross" as if written by the Ancient Mariner and not Fleetwood Mac. "Memory's Ghost" has a Sergio Leone feel with the accompanying picture is of KB himself as a poetic-eyed, brooding corpse.

There is also less tension. "Let's Go For A Walk" supplies some relief with a child-friendly, folky guitar lick Then there are distant vocals buried in the mix on this track and for the cheery closer, "Diwedd y Llwybr Troed" (End of the Footpath). But the lack of audible words in general underline the isolation (who would be there to listen?) and solipsistic nature of the music. Music for exploring an empty house.

And the hidden track is called "Hidden", which is nice. Hidden in plain sight, as it were. Built with the noise of dead television sets, lost choirs and slippery-fingered guitars. "They're here!"

"When Time Stands Still" is such powerful stuff, it threatens to punch a hole through the sense of where I am. Another good result from spending time in the wildernesses, inner and outer.

Rating: Soaring Up out of The Woods

Friday, 24 February 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #73 - The Chap, "We Are Nobody"

Big fan of The Chap and their clipped and curious approach to making music and performing; theirs is a cake with a thick layer of pristine, crisp icing. I've only seen them live once and in the foothills of a nasty virus, but they had such poise and such an accurate sense of playfulness, that I got quite carried away. And the magnificence of "Remember Elvis Rex" on their first album should never be overlooked - a krautpunk overture to introduce a televisual combination of music documentary, Tomorrow's World and a richly laconic detective series. Infinite bam!

They brought out a greatest bits compilation last year entitled "We Are The Best". Hubris touching the virtual ceiling, their new album is called "We Are Nobody", released amidst rumours of a new, non-ironic angle. I read a year or so ago about the inevitable self-pitying slop that ironists like Beck will spew sooner or later: the idea being that such wacky post-modernists fall from Icarine skies to scrape the barrel of self-pity. The only thing they take seriously is their own misery. Hence, "Sea Change" - which I quite like.

But it seems that irony is not that easy to shake off.

"Rhythm King" opens with a mouth-watering, whistling keyboard riff and an appeal to "remind me where my heart is".  But The Chap haven't lashed out with some acoustic downtempo moodwork. The second track, "What Did We Do?", suggests a late career crisis - "Writing's for cowards/Talking's for men/Cowards write songs/And never do what needs be done/What did we do here?" But there is no self-pitying lurch, the same metronomic discipline, the same tautness of rhythm and lyric is still there. The same sense of attachment, even if their gaze is turned on their own limitations.

"Everyone/All the same/All the time/This is how we are different" - I want to quote great chunks of their lyrics. Each word seems so perfect for the job, and delivered with a dry gravity that epic pop deserves. I'm getting carried away again. (Hope I don't have another nasty virus stealing over me.) I think I could be Roxy Music's cousin 'phoning them up to play them The Chap and reminding about "that new sound you were looking for".

I want to use the phrase "icicle funk" to describe "Curtains". I'll deny myself that pleasure. There's a great low-key, ghostly, baritone guitar solo that never builds up another steam to escape the mood. "Better Life" propulses with the usual busy bass business plus a wobbly, falsetto keyboard sound and concerns itself with moving on to a better place. In fact there are paranoid, tour-weary, corner-of-the-ear noises all over the album, which give me a sense of anonymous hotels with late night TV and ineffective curtains. The title track is about separateness, people devolving apart and that "everyone disappears". Masters of the Universe Bon Jovi stuff this is not.

"Hands Free" has a surging Status Quo quality with a gothic Stooges edge, the sound of boiling saxophones and the refrain; "Give me my life back/Or give me death." The album sounds like a goodbye to the life of a band. Many, many references to death and ends in the lyrics. "Look At The Girl" has spoken-word verses and a sense of Bobby McFerrin on the kind of drugs that would make him create music more like this sounds - fixating on a girl, maybe hanging around in the local park for an hour or two too long. And that becomes cruel joke about her "creating her own destiny", "coming out of nowhere" and being knocked down. Ouch.

"Painkiller" is also about death in the same uptempo, complicated way as on the rest of the album. I'm quite convinced now that it's them calling it a day, meditating on the mortality of ambitions and plans as much as of the body itself. The mix of sweet, dry vocals and quizzical, lyrical tones remind me too of a Dorset band, Betika, that you should track down. (Yeah, you with the sweater!) But above all this is not cheerful. This is considering the end of things, the end of The Chap.

I really hope they reconsider.

Rating: Pulling Magnificently out of The Race

Monday, 20 February 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #72 - Sleigh Bells, "Reign of Terror"

Suzy Quattro is alive and well! Yes; and in other news, Sleigh Bells have a new album out.

A bedroom impersonation of thrash metal, with the double kick bass drum sounds and lurching gristly guitar thump. Reminds me of Andrew WK and it reminds me of Shampoo. Quite sure neither of those are good things. But instead of a pallid, bum-fluff moustache longhair growling about Satan in his bedroom, we have Alexis Krauss trilling in sugarplum tones.

It opens with some cod stadium hair metal, string-bending nonsense. Then "Born To Lose" has a hint of Lush about it. The swoonsome romantic figure of the loser. "Leader of the Pack"' lays the rock chick shtick down pretty thick. "End of the Line" is breathy and frothy, wanting to let the other half down firmly but on gossamer noises.

"Comeback Kid" was the lead single and distills the shiny, unloud, clipped sound of the album into one strangely push-button business. I liked it when I first heard it as a teaser for the album. Now it just sounds like pop in its emptiest sense, it isn't reaching out for anything. Is this the pretty woman/husky bloke pushing buttons combo syndrome that I've come to dread? Crystal Castles and Niki & The Dove and that.

"You Lost Us" sounds like a tribute to "teenage metalheads in your denim vests" boasting the kind of echo chamber guitar solo that Bill & Ted would go off into the wastes of time to rehearse till they got it just polished enough. Meh.

The last two tracks "Never Say Die" and "D.O.A." move away from the template and are more interesting. The cock rock guitar grinding more along with the rest of the music. Less tiresome pounding on the irony gland. I'd have liked that album a lot more. I thought I'd liked "Treats".

Rating: Turned Up To Six out of Eleven

The 2kDozen 500: #71 - Kingbastard, "Beautiful Isolation"

Kingbastard is from the Atlantic tangle of western Wales, I think. Another recommendation (thanks to Dr Garspaculus) and another adventure into a quasi-acoustic multiverse. Perhaps to be couched within a similar bracket as Supreme Vagabond Craftsman, the hedge mystic. There are similarly great rambling titles ("The Slippery Slope To The Lost Art Of Conversation"), the sense of sunlight on water, scraps of mumbled conversation, and the same hint towards the minutiae of mental illness.

This album is from 2010, but there is another due out patriotically on 1st March. The title track,"Beautiful Isolation" fits the title - but there is a manic edge to it. It is the beauty of the man staring at the sky watching an invisible sun blaze behind the clouds. The scary transcendental moment that threatens to snatch any of us away some time or another. "The Deserter" can be felt thinking and speaking inside Kingbastard - "I don't want to meet people/I've got nothing to say" - with his mouthorgan and delicately plucked guitar; before "Open Up Your Mind & The Door" clutches together more found sounds into a wind-tunnel of contemplation, a Nick Drake like guitar line fluttering in the slipstream.

"Multicolour Octopus Ink Nightmares" is maybe the best yet. Treacly thick medicated layers of barbiturate night. The more warped, distended domestic noises loom up from below the surface of the music like microbes under a magic 3D microscope projector. "Sound The Alarm, There's a Dark Sea Rising" is a soft harmonious treat, reverberating with Beach Boys before floating away into that searing cloudscape again. The man must have tungsten corneas, staring down the sun like that. Then some drums arrive, which doesn't happen very often, before it ends with a woozy, Once Upon A Time In The West whistle.

The final track, "Hapus A Ddaeth i Ben (Croesi Bysedd)", which translates into Happy Ending (Crossed Fingers), is as long as complex as all the others. There's some almost Super Furrys multi-track vocals around a simple sliding guitar tune. Before more Eno-like Sputnik electronic twinklings. It all sounds so happy and uplifting. Before it echoes and splutters out.

Rating: Get That Strange Man out of The Garden Shed

The 2kDozen 500: #70 - Mark Stewart v Primal Scream, "Autonomia EP"

Not strictly an EP, I might argue, as it contains five versions of the same tune, "Autonomia". But this is Primal Scream being moved away from their Stones pretensions, so it has to be worth a go. And I've never listened to enough of Mark Stewart or The Pop Group, even though "She Is Beyond Good and Evil" is great. Also this will be "album" number six today, so I'm going a bit easy on myself. The album itself, "The Politics of Envy" is due out at the end of March.

The original Radio mix (which isn't on the 12inch, but is online) is infected with the lazy Stones problem, scratchy guitar and pub vocals about "keeping the dream alive". But it gets more interesting with the remixes - split between Bristol dubwork and Glasgow techno. Pinch's Apocalyptic Rework gives an idea of what's on the tin with husky vocal fragments about "attack dogs, rubber bullets, tear gas" coming to the front and the pub rock element submerged beneath chilled layers of electronic ice. Bobby contributes a faint "be-bop"; always looking to shortcut revolution into music, that lad.

The video above has a strange Alan Partridge feel - leather driving gloves, middle age spread and some Toblerones melting slowly in the glove compartment.

JD Twitch of Glasgow's Optimo distorts the middle age rage in his Total Destruction mix, initially over a vaguely Orb-feeling chug but dumping more and more trippy junk on top until it creaks wonderfully. Even Stewart's posh voice urging "total resistance" at the beginning works. The instrumental version is even better. It churns and clatters and walks the fucking walk and I've a disagreement waiting here in my coat pocket for anyone that feels differently. Optimo should produce the next Primals album - that would fly right up my flagpole. You don't hear enough kitchen sink remixes these days.

Rating: Dub No Revolution out of My Head Man

Sunday, 19 February 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #69 - Edzayawa, "Projection One"

Some teen mid-Seventies Afro-rock from Ghana via Fela Kuti's Nigerian compound. Influenced I read on the Soundway label's website by the 6/8 rhythm with the Ewe people from south east Ghana and western Togo. Strange to think of influence moving in that way over rock music, but I suppose this was 1973 and there were flautists in cod pieces cleaning up across the Midwest United States. I shouldn't be surprised.

The opener, "Darkness", has a positive message for the kids about freedom and love. Although "give yourself to God" doesn't have a deafening ring of freedom to it. The bass has a pleasing clipping rasp to it. If it is a bass. But the lyrics are not around for too long: it's much more about the groove.

"Naa Korle" fills a funky gap, as you might expect. Trembling guitar, insistant organ and waves of percussion. Instrumental - although the language barrier is far more of an added extra than a problem. (Especially when you are as poor at listening out for lyrics as I am.) I suppose it's just like listening to Y Niwl for people from outside Wales.

Odion "Comrade" Iruoje, the producer, is widely credited (from what I've read) as being the creative force with these young Ghanian lads. The Albini to their Cloud Nothings. I don't know enough about African music of the Seventies or any other decade to pronounce on that question. But he is at least a shaft of light falling across an outfit otherwise rather too obscure for even the interweb to spill about.

I'm aware that I'm circling around a vague imperialist trap of enjoying the ethnicity of it all. Oh, how fascinating, these chaps have a Hammond organ! But aside from the time signatures and the language, it sounds like rock music. Or is that the danger? Oh, my head spins!

"Abonsan" is sleeker perhaps than all the rest, absorbing more of the funk feel - but it changes gear than once, with greasy guitar licks set against optimistic harmonies. "Obuebee" and "Adesa" are a little more frantic. All three have a bit of laddish choral singing. But it's all chained together by the organ sound. Similar bones to The Specials: Lagos twinned with Coventry? I'm reminded a bit of north Wales rockers Jen Jeniro as well. Just a sense of a room full of quiet, intense young fellers.

This was their only album and they called it a day a couple of years later. Shame.

Rating: Reaching To Me out of Somewhen Else

The 2kDozen 500: #68 - John Talabot, "Fin"

Nice oily beginning. All spooky, misty jungle choirs and polyparanoiac gunfire in Eighties films about Colombian druglords. And those laughing parrots. And 808 handclaps. The cover also looks like a black oily fingerprint.

I've been hoping to hear this album for a wee while. I liked the sound of the jib I heard described in articles about the Catalan man.

"El Oeste" and "Oro y Sangre" could soundtrack a great 8-bit Western. I can see the giant pixels of Monument Valley now, basking in a glorious bloody two-colour sunset. The first is slow and impressively mushy and cloud-bound. The second is more cheerful VHS territory, even beginning with a schlocky video nasty scream.

I'm struck by a strange sensation of a mumbling robot Kriss Kross at the beginning of "Missing You", telling me in their tiny voices that they'll make me "Jump! Jump!". Some robot warbling kicks in and a tensile snap of an elastic bassline. Sleek and appetising stuff. I imagine myself in some seriously swanky urban, ocean-side bar. Like in an imaginary SuperPorto. Where the port flows like wine.

"Last Land" has a lovely, warm party feel, a chopped-up samba party made into a good vibes smoothie. A happy wee voice bobs about in the mix. This is the second time I've thought about little voices. "Estiu" has them dancing around big disco machines as well. I suppose that is the scale of it. These disco machines have glinting, laser-planed edges on them too, whirring balletically. It ends with a sensitive little bacon-y crackle.

There are no trite sounds on this album; it's all pretty fresh. Fresh to my ears at least. But it can also drift by before you've really starting listening. I'm back in that ocean-facing bar again. "When The Past Was Present" is bumping fists with House's early Gospel-soaked movements, shivering in an echo chamber. "So Will Be Now" also rolls around the same area, but with a more Depeche Mode feel. Music I could be persuaded to do Cocaerobics to. Provided I'd first dibs on the leotards.

Rating: Beach Party out of Record Collection

The 2kDozen 500: #67 - Ital, "Hive Mind"

OK, so I don't spot the Lady Gaga source of the opening track, "Doesn't Matter (If You Love Him)", although I did spot the Whitney fragments. The Stool Pigeon had to point it out to me. They also pointed out that Mr Ital was a DC Hardcore individual some decade or so ago. That's interesting.

Title suggests that Ital is not a fan of the disco escape path. It's a big, brawling statement of intent to open a mini-LP with, eh? Fading into Chris Morris-like time-delay chaos at the end, as it does.

"Floridian Void" is anything but, crowded and with Michael Mann ocean keyboards washing up at our sock-less slip-ons. The air is pretty thick with the hipster moider about Klingon and what have you weaving in and out reminding me of Beck's "Heartland Feeling".

"Privacy Settings" doesn't have the house backdrop of the first tune, but slips and slides around in a minimal-beat undergrowth with metallic sibillant whispers and a lupine chorus belting out orgiastically in the woods out back. A fairy tale gone viral inside and out. You're listening to maggots, Michael.

Ideas about foliage grow up around "Israel" too - a lush Antarctic anti-forest reaching for the distant sun around a sample about the evils about the internet that washes in and out of the mix. Then melting cowbells and a bongo-ish groove come to the party, skidding about the tarmac while a tsunami of gelid synths tower above threatening to crash over the portals of the New Jerusalem and lay serious waste. Shimmering house thud. A glorious ten minutes of it.

"First Wave" carries on with the Eighties baton, bunting of the stuff hanging from the ceilings and fashioned into screen curtains to keep the flies away from the meat within. It struts along very cool with chunky bass digs and artificial organ pipes.

It's a wobbly Polaroid of house, sick on 'flu and poor life choices, experimental bad dreams about its future dripping from every pore. Good, good.

Rating: Sculpture out of Unsculpture

The 2kDozen 500: #66 - Cloud Nothings, "Attack on Memory"

Bring me the production talents of Steve Albini!

I've heard some Cloud Nothings before, played them in my dormant podcast series, Insidious Junkbox. But I'm pretty sure they weren't as Albini as this before. I seem to remember a cloudier version of guitars. Now here come the thunder! A real rain is going to wash the bubblegum off the streets.

There's the epic distance between instruments that points out the Rapeman, the shredding of vocal cords against the big, blank indifference of life. He does make music for the little guy, don't he? Is there a mutual attraction between him and bands like this? Or does he drag out their inner Steve?

The cover of the album is like an attack on memory itself, an out of focus black and white picture of a harbour wall and lighthouse. The kind of image you imagine popping up in the flailing mind of a dying person, while their brain looks for any information that could help them survive.

The opener "No Future/No Past" has a bit of The Exorcist in its back pocket, a grunge malevolence and a noise like the tube coming to a station. Baldi leaves pieces of his throat on the studio wallpaper as he urges us to dwell nihilistically in the moment. "Wasted Days" does not give a flying fuck, fucks flying about it like monkeys in a convent. Very Nirvana,  and all disappointed with himself at the age of twenty - "I thought I would be more than this" - before getting into some sparse heaviosity.

"Fall In" is weaker, though it does wail in around the middle. "Stay Useless" should be anthemic going by the title, but it too moves itself nearer to Green Day than might seem wise. "Separation" comes in at more angles, most of them jangling and some jaunty.

This is very much a manifestal album (so I make up new words, so ensueify me!) with "No Sentiment" barking out "no nostalgia" and "Our Plans" pithily spitting "No one knows our plans for us/We won't last long" over a growling, broody backscape. The guitar gets oddly airbrushed into the distance of the latter, an attacked memory.

"Cut You" is a neatly teenage jealous rage, where everything seems at stake - but nothing at the same time. I'm patronising. I'm sorry. It's a weakness of the bearded.

Rating: Pick The Albini out of That, Son

The 2kDozen 500: #65 - King Creosote, "Bombshells"

After discussing the King Creosote/Jon Hopkins album with a friend on the Twitter, the album I managed to listen to with my earphones attached improperly and therefore got a ghostly version of widescreen pipers and smudged voices and no main vocal, after all this, she urged I give "Bombshells" a go - as it was currently lodged in her head.

So here I listen, earphones properly inserted. A Fifer with an accordion and a sad and sweet, slightly faulty voice, who lives by the sea and wends his own way along the pebbles and cracked shells. To my limited imagination, he sounds like a more mellifluous Ivor Cutler, whose dry Scots flavour evokes all kinds of witty oddness. Damon Gough is another marker, but perhaps one best skidded over.

Typically, the version I'm listening to has the tracks in the wrong order. So that actual intro "Leslie" is later on in my version. Sounds a powerful cry for help, not in the barbiturates and brandy sense; but a reaching out to another magic person. "Home in a Sentence" is a bit Snow Patrol for my liking. "You've No Clue Do You" is a bit too much of an indie disco thumper, a bit Bloc Party. Opening line, "As with all your rules of thumb/This comes with an index" is a beaut, mind - as is the boardgame conceit.

Might "Cowardly Custard" be addressed more to the government ("Did you just have me wired/Keeping tab of my motions?") than to an imagined human-sized stalker? If not, it's at least a deft piece of Metaphysical sleight of metaphor.  "There's None of That" is also a contrarian joke about increasingly unlikely signifiers of romantic life before concluding "Giving up before we've started/Back-pedalling excuses...There's plenty of that."

"Bombshell" is angry. Angry thumbs jarring angry strings. I can't help thinking this is at Blair and Brown and New Labour Dem and the wars they were responsible for, they "shut out the decent wardens". This is before the Credit Crunch and a different Britain, when the anger was more about conduct abroad and erosions of civil liberties at home then the scabrous treatment of our own poor and weak. He holds on to the words of the chorus for a electrically vitriolic long span of time, daring them: "now drop your bombshells".

"Don't let you eyes stray low...Keep the Springtime at bay" ("Spystick") is a poet's guide to a first date and no mistake. "Cockle Shell" is about "pretty maidens in a row" and a private inferno of being a non-comittal romantic "airhead" fit for the guillotine, and has a sweetly-intoned masochistic streak a yard across - "Choke me/Blind me/Cut off my hands".

"Girlfriend, it's you I'll scuttle ships for/Make my first mate walk the plank for..I'm Admiral of nothing at all" somes up the power of words and images and how little power they really generate, no matter how big they might make you feel. This sense of scale runs through the whole album, and I like it much. Muchly much.

Rating: Thank Ali out of Gratitude

Saturday, 18 February 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #64 - Tennis, "Young and Old"

By my reckoning, my current pace will leave me 30 albums short by year's end - so I need to apply myself more.

Patrick Carney of The Black Keys produced this, I understand. So you got your zeitgeist right there. It certainly sounds pretty fresh and crisp with the piano and bass combo pushed to the fore as you might expect. It swings back and forth in an indie ballroom kind of way. Or like a tennis match doth.

It's probably wrong of me, but I find her voice a little squeaky and annoying. (Again with the gender-based critique of the voice. I need to try harder.)

No real danger, no gamble. I'd look for a bit more drama. Maybe it's more cheerful than I'm feeling at the moment. The couple at the centre of the music have gotten themselves married to one another since the last one (their first), so maybe that would explain the happiness.

"When I pass away/All this will fade away." A very sweet form of nihilism.

Rating: Happiness out of Wedlock

Friday, 17 February 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #63 - Suzanne Ciani, "Lixiviation"

Piccadilly Records alerted me to this fascinating wee album.

Suzanne Ciani was a later Julia Derbyshire type stitching together (ooh, gendered!) electronic music back in the dawn of circuits in the 1970s using her Buchla Analogue Modular Synthesizer. Most of the tracks on the compilation are background jingles for Atari products or TV promos; but then there are a couple of hypnotic full-length numbers as well. And she herself was a classical pianist, whose sound effect work for ads was massively in demand. She even contributed effects to the disco version of Star Wars, which seems to have brought her face before the cameras.

The title track has the air of an abandoned playground, rusty swing and all. Or a complicated form of living chess played in an imagined future, parallel to our past. "Paris 1971" sounds as though it was pretty cold there that year. And that a lot of walls were stared out with great de-focused intent. It's the sound that the things in the corner of your eye make when they're trying to get your attention. "Princess With Orange Feet" burbles in a highly irregal fashion. It has has a sense of her machines trying to express themselves and I'm not sure how much her equipment may have been left to its own devices.

"Second Breath" is intense. A long electric throb of a beginning that never ends, pressing my ear to an enormous bug zapper in massive slow motion. Something is combusting in this sound. Maybe it has a meditative purpose. My tinnitus chimes in with this grey noise. The soundtrack to the scariest public information film you'll ever see. Boards in Canada in purgatory. I like it: all nine minutes.

It's the smaller pieces that illustrate more of the effect that Ciani had on pop culture. The electronic flags that fluttered from a thousand TV stations, corporations and video games. They seem empty in a sense and difficult to tie in with her later New Age fame without taking a cynical view of one or both enterprises. So I'll try not to.

"Sound of Wetness" rounds it off with the classic "computer brain" tinkling noise and some squelches. Bam!

Rating:  Entrepreneurial Quids out of Motherboards of Invention

Thursday, 16 February 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #62 - Burial, "Kindred EP"

Need to move fast as I'm still horribly behind for the month. New Burial EP.

Burial knocked everything into a six-foot hole back in that there 2007. Big noises became small, and the tiniest glitch and hiss became enormous, became everything. Ghostly vocals struggled to keep in touch.

Little seems to have changed in the world of Burial, which in itself is quite interesting. Had I the time I'd listen back to "Untrue" (although it's not that long since I last listened), I'd make more direct comparisons - but... Boards of Canada kind of moved on from their original sound, however glacial their recording speeds. Perhaps it's the case that Burial still has areas to explore within his original sound. He seems an ornery enough customer not to be pushed or pulled where he has no wish to go.

The title track reminds me of Photek, at least in its rhythm track. The sound of drum'n'bass cutlery being sharpened on the flinty hearts of the assembled movers and shakers. But it's boughs are still heavy with K-Soul weight and avalanche bass twitches.

"Ashtray Wasp" has an Aphex Twin title - in fact, perhaps the perfect Aphex Twin title. The usual sounds of tortured magnetic tape and rusted beats robbed and rubbed of any crispness. They should have delayed making Bladerunner until Burial was around to do the soundtrack. Maybe they should make a silent version so he can do the soundtrack album. (We have established he's a he, haven't we?) But soft! Amongst the asphalt crackles and wobbly, muffled AM radio vocals, is there a differentness? Some heavenward arpeggios that give the track a worn-down, mossy KLF kind of fell?

I think I like it. I'm not yet sure. To the Burialmobile!

Rating: Got to Get to Work, out of Time

The 2kDozen 500: #61 - Air, "Le voyage dans le lune"

I should really be watching the movie at the same time; but I'm too stingy to spring for it off iTunes as well and too impatient to hunt it down for free. So I'm going to go from memories of the sci-fi classic from the eaarly stirrings of cinema and my impressions of the album as an audio experience alone; then try and work out at what point the rocket sticks in the Moon's eye.

Liquid bombast for fuel from the off; which is surely a crucial ingredient. Queen soundtracked "Flash Gordon" for the sake of fuck, and that ought to be illustration enough.

"Moon Fever" sounds like classic Air. Indeed, there's a kind of lunar delirium that lurks behind a lot of their music. It also sounds a piano was fused to the skeleton of "Right Here, Right Now" by Fatboy Slim and buoyed up with enormous flatulent keyboard swirls. Then things get right progressive with "Sonic Armada" with the sound of a race of wasp aliens trying to communicate through interpretive dance exactly how we could improve the universe. It shudders nice.

"Decollage", I've just learned, means "take-off" in French, but there must be some conceptual overlay with the idea of creating new art by ripping pieces off some other piece. Or maybe not. I'm wading in waters outside of my easy knowledge. "Cosmic Trip" has the mustard of a driving paranoid rhythm track that represents the queasy momentum I'm sure I'd be feeling moving through space. I certainly don't need a large, echoing, professorial voice talking about "enormous mushrooms", thanks.

"Lava" sounds cool and serene - much more as in lamp than as in eruption. Although there are some banjo tectonics some of the way in. Banjotronix.

I've loved Air even since seeing "All I Need" on MTV in a front room in Belgium late at night with headphones on. This kicks in no heads, but I like it. I will bring this when I travel to the starosphere.

Rating: Jazz Warp out of Lunar Orbit

The 2kDozen 500: #60 - Laura Gibson, "La Grande"

It's a mix up of the antique and the fresh, this album. Much has been made of its harking back to a nineteenth-century Oregon and nostalgia and Old World instrumentation; but it sounds pretty contemporary to me at first. Then I'm currently sporting a big backswood beard, so I'm probably not qualified to judge. As she says herself on the penultimate track: "Time is not against us".

The title track is all Old West clip clop and spidery acoustic guitars, seemingly a tribute to the hands that worked the soil that shaped the new West. Clay on hands this and dust on boots that. I've not quite seen eye to eye with the Americana music since I first encountered its gathering together in the pages of Uncut. But I can sort of see the point of this: it has a bit of the leaden playfulness of Tom Waits.

"The Fire" sets off a borderline ham-fisted Les Dawson piano tangent halfway through, which is nice. "Feather Lungs", which is a great title, begins with a grumbling gramophone rattle. "Red Moon" has a quirky Mediterrean cafe feel. Some steel guitar sneaks into "Skin Warming Skin" and that is always welcome. "The Rushing Dark" summons up a tiny chapel, a rickety low-key Gospel workout, in which she mumbles in her "woody whisper" that: "I could not/Repent enough".

I think it's in the clarity and the meandering of Laura's voice where I hear the present, the modernity. When she sings "My love is fierce/Leaving your limbs/Barefoot and honey wild", I hear the now, not some ancient woodland in the Pacific Northwest. No matter how much the backing reaches to past musics.

 Rating: Mellow Now out of Spooky Then

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #59 - Sharon van Etten, "Tramp"

I read a headline of Everett True's a few weeks ago that had stuck with me: that all the interesting, good pop music (or rock music, I'm not sure) was being made by women. Or rather, that none of it was being made by men. This may be why I've been quite aware of how many people that happen to be women have been responsible for the last 59 albums I've been listening to.

I don't really have any conclusion to draw from that. I wonder if there's any influence over how I listen, react or report? I might take a look back over previous thoughts to check.

So this is a fairly straightforward rock album, right? There's a back story that I've read about - the abusive boyfriend who told her that her music was shit because there was no distance. And some music people that heard her CD-Rs and stole her away from that monstrous life. Now, I quite like an ironic distance in a composer and even more so in a lyricist. So what might I make of this? I will be listening out of course for how much of this back story can be inferred from the songs within.

"Leonard" sounds familiar. There's a flutter to the vocal that matches the sweet tension in the music. "In Line" has the shuffling desert feel of slow motion dawns and cavernous hums and mournful, coyote cries. It gets to sound monochromatic after a while and I suppose how far you plunge into this musical world would depend on how closely your mood might run with hers. Sounds a cool route to run alongside her though. "All I Can" builds on the confidence, voice growing in power and a laid-back strut to the backing band. Only the words suggest the confidence is built on uncertainties.

"But my memory steals every moment I can feel./What will it take?/We all make mistakes."

"Tell me I'm wrong/Tell me it's not been that long" suggests another look back over theback story. There are magic, twinkling, uplifting noises swelling up behind "I'm Wrong" in a sliding, brassy fashion. This tune might best sum up her movement to where she is now; I suppose that's for her to know and me to guess at. Belief and trust are big lyrical themes right up until the last track, "Joke or a Lie" ("Put your coat on/Then believe me/I tried" are the closing words).

Rating: Desert Blooming out of Cellar Glooming

The 2kDozen 500: #58 - Field Music, "Plumb"

Back to the north east after Beth Houghton, but on more familiar territory. 6 Music loves these lads - and I suppose we should expect them to. They tick all those literary, intelligent, musically-complex boxes that middle-aged, thoughtful BBC acts ought to tick. That's not a criticism, but it's not a ringing endorsement either, is it?

The album cover is interesting, a combination of design and actual photos -  "A New Town" they've been thinking about half-sketched out. Plenty of questions in the titles ("Who'll Pay The Bills?" and "How Many More Times?"), all carrying a kind of sense of the domestic. Definitely music for the kitchen table, staring out at fast, grey skies. Where people hear XTC (and maybe have people have heard the same pastoral pop tones), I also get a strange sense of a Kate Bush backing band, a version without the eye-catching figurehead; or an organic Clor. The Brewis Brothers are always linked with Clor in my head. I think they emerged about the same time and shot the same cracked melodic rainbows out while they were at it.

"(I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing" sums up the self-reflexive pattern of the album, holding the same idea in the mind's eye, turning it over and over. "A New Town" has got to be the most-winningly bloodless syncopated unfunk I've ever heard. "Choosing Sides" starts like the theme to "Pob", which is good - a Saturnine tuba on the moon of Encephalus: "There is no model for what we have/It's only ever/Ever won by  accident." It seems the key track to the album after a couple of listens at least.

"I want a different idea of what better could mean/Which doesn't involve/Treating someone else like shit/I'm so complicit" There's a moral for city life right there that some of the more doleful elements of Mancunian society could pick up on. A northern Fight Club antidote.

"So Long Then" is a farewell to some love with McCartney-like cellos churning and epic gong crashes for no apparent reason, but it's just a slip of a thing lyrically: "See you there in the evening/Glass of wine and a beer for me/That was the thing you were leaving/Got the notes that you sent me/No reply but I wish that I/'d seen you before you had gone." And that's it.

Restless, soulful finger symphonies trying to examine what is going on and how they feel about it. Just peachy.

Rating: Drawing Plans out of Cloudy Premonitions

Monday, 13 February 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #57 - Simple Minds, "Reel To Real Cacophony"

Inspired by footage of the (orsum!) BBC4 documentary "Big In America" that showed a 1979 Simple Minds not being terrible on stage at some trendy, tiny club in New York, when I was browsing at a local vintage place and saw the vinyl of this 1979 release I forked out the fiver and ran all the way home.

I liked how vaguely shifty and callow Jim Kerr looked in the film (which I think was shown on the Old Grey Whistle Test that winter) and the blend of a sturdy, insistent bass lope with keyboard washes and heroic Bowie-esque guitar lines. (I suppose that should be Mick Ronson-esque.) I guess this was a pleasing mid-point between Johnny & The Self-Abusers first punky outpourings and the "Don't You Forget About The Belfast Child New Gold Dream And Kicking On The Waterfront" beast of pomposity they became.

"Changeling" (which I think may've been the lead single from the album) has a nice, juddering feel - partly from sub-Gary Numan electronics. "Citizen" starts with some nice claustrophobic drums and the long shadow of the Seventies ("Romance is no escape/But I'll escape") darkens it both lyrically and in the close production. I'm not sure whether "Factory" would be titled in homage to Andy Warhol or 
Anthony H Wilson - the echoey Hannetisms of the latter and the shiny ambition of the former.

In looking for pictures of SM in their alienated pomp, I read about how highly thought-of the rhythm section was at the time - post-punk idolatry up there with the Wobbles and the Tina Weymouths. (Is that "up there" strictly speaking; perhaps "out there" would be better?) Also the influence of Magazine is mentioned and I can tell why Kerr sounds different than in later years: he's doing a Howard Devoto impression. Nice.

"Premonition" has now been added to my Impossible Final Disco.

Rating: Seventies out of Eighties

Sunday, 12 February 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #56 - Beth Jeans Houghton & the Hooves of Destiny, "Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose"

I've been kept from my blogging activities the last couple of days by the tingle of romance and the lure of strong drink and decent television. As a result, I've fallen badly behind the pace. Should be over 60 albums by now. So may have to be a bit of a blog blur while I speed through them that I've heard.

Houghton is a Geordie with a folky background. The album sounds more than a bit like The Fiery Furnaces in places, which is not necessarily a good thing. But in her mouth, the kookiness sounds a little more convincing. The voice is certainly clearer and more powerful.

There's an occasional tinge of rockabilly ("Atlas" being a good example) and there are naked women with the heads of lions on the cover. "Nightswimmer" is much better than that REM number - it has imitation harpsichord and a wry spring in its step. None of that baleful piano hammering. Even though it sounds as though her fella has flooded the bathroom.

Chamber strings are put to excellent pop use throughout ("Franklin Benedict" a fine example of that) - playing all the right notes necessarily in the right order. There may even been some bells in there. I get the feeling of a pop Quixote, but I can't work out the windmills.

Thumbs aloft.

Rating: Best Thing To Come out of Newcastle Since Carter

Thursday, 9 February 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #55 - Boy Friend, "Egyptian Wrinkle"

First problem: I have no idea what an "Egyptian wrinkle" might be. I suspect it's a phrase for something interesting and I will turn ever so micrometrically in my moist grave, if I die without finding out what it is.

Second problem: In my attempt to discover what an "Egyptian wrinkle" might be I came across a review in the NME that consigned this album and the peeps in Boy Friend to some nth circle of Hell for making a record that lacks any "lingering conceit, construct or standout moment" and is the "welcome ... final nail in the coffin" of chillwave/witch house. My problem is that I'm quite a latecomer to the chillwitch party (and it makes great late party music, I'd suggest) and still not sure which genre stands where and who means what and how much it can drink before passing out.

I may have an oversimplified idea of the NME as a tightly-editorially-controlled hype machine and underestimate the degree to which freelancers can wander from any party line. BUT a lack of "lingering conceit" rarely seems to have troubled their writers in the past - unless "we're the best pack of landfill reptiles making music about deathly-dull, cocaine-hampered partying on the planet right now" counts as a conceit. It lingers on the parts of my tongue reserved for sensing creative bankruptcy, I can tell you that much. Ptooey!

So... It starts beautifully. "Rogue Waves I" could be the theme of a late Sergio Leone film: Once Upon A Time In Austin, perhaps? (They're from Austin, see?) Muted but with a cinematic fuzzy guitar line and a nice line in birdsong before an apocalyptic rumble takes over. "Rogue Waves II" book ends at the other side with the track reversed: rumble to "Julia Dream" style keys to fade. I'm a sucker for the backwards track.

"Lovedropper" puts down some "waste of time" with uplifting, blunt chords. "In Case" is a put down to a character that lies to themselves, although the lyrical message gets submerged in more reverb sweetness. "I didn't know the love we had wasn't your first," they sing on "Lazy Hunter", and I finally realise the band's name describes what this side project is about: all about the love life, oui? "Egyptian Wrinkle" (Aaaahhhhh!!! How my brain itches!) slides and glides in and out of witchy dream pop gears nice and smooth.

Nothing that will shatter the Earth, but warm and touching the right spots. Especially if you're looking to numb a broken heart with shivering sounds.

Rating: Witch Nails out of House Coffin

The 2kDozen 500: #54 - Julia Holter, "Tragedy"

This was Boomkat's #1 album of 2011, a response to Euripedes' "Hippolyta" (a warning against overzealous chastity and the vengeance of repressed sexual love) and quite a spooky affair.

I don't know much about Greek tragedies; but this is packed with atmosphere - in fact, atmospheres; like the mulitples of air pressure. There's a hefty feeling of David Lynch ("The Falling Age" in particular) and of Hitchcock - the theatrical double bass and fog horn of the "Introduction" give way to an eerie hummed vocal, presumably Holter herself.

"Try To Make Yourself a Work of Art" struts delicately like a Japanese opera. There's tape hiss too and a wheeling, ecclesiastical voice that has been trapped in a cathedral deep under the sea. Holter is from Los Angeles - Val Verde, more specifically - but there is a lush, yet ghostly quality to this music. Motley Crue it amn't.


"Goddess Eyes" has a crunchy, antique feel with the Talkbox vocals. "Celebration" takes on the appearance of pop trying to fashion itself with new fingers, but is a piece of classical composition at its core, including a woodwind freak out. And the pitched down sound of a combustion engine heading somewhere. Into the next track, "Lillies", in fact, which is full of chatter and birdsong and some Eurpidean text thrown in. Concrete music business with discrete pieces looming into focus and then back into the rear view.

The "Tragedy Finale" begins with some icily-creepy, dissonant organ sound - like Les Dawson guest starring in "The Birds". Choirs float in, only to be met with more woodwind, muttered male voices in fractured Anglo-French translations and doughty piano. It's a wintry album; suspended animation and big, black smudged noises in the corner of the woods. With the occasional baroque passage echoing in some cathedral out in the jungle on an ice-floe.

This feels different, a blend of composition, concrete music and whatever else seems to fit. The Greek theme continues with "Ektasis" next month, out for which I will be keeping an eye. And/or an ear.

Rating: Tragedy out of Cathedrals

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #53 - Cocteau Twins, "Stars and Topsoil: A Collection 1982-1990"

This is being re-issued following its original appearance in 2000, a compliation of songs the Twins released on 4AD between 1982 and 1990. Seems pretty timely too - a less scribbled-over template for the dream pop that drips from the blogosphere today.

I was aware of Cocteau Twins at the time - especially by the time their last album on 4AD "Heaven or Las Vegas" in 1990 - but never listened to any of their albums properly. So ears on and let's (un)rock.

Interesting to hear how things have changed in twenty-odd years. The Eighties arrangements are crystal clear, not gauzed in fuzz; and the vocals sit cleanly on top, not swallowed as today by layers of angsty noise. And there is the matter of the made-up language that Liz Fraser trilled and swooped about with: not so many folk have run on with that baton. In fact, I can't really think of anyone else.

Big, icy drum machine beats set the first few tracks firmly in the era of Mutually Assured Destruction and Thatcheromics. But as the tracks are roughly chronological, you can hear the chill of the drums shrink into the background as Joy Division fades and New Order looms. The melodic bass throughout sounds like Peter Hook is chugging away in his Revenge-era, leather trouser pomp. After opening with tortured guitar on "Blind Dumb Deaf", confidence grows through the album until by the end, the jubilation has won out.

"Pearly Dewdrop Drops" is perhaps the closest thing to a hit that I recognise, not counting the 1990 stuff - as I devoured that year musically with the enthusiasm of a recently-socialised seventeen year old. It soars and swoops and swings its head from side to side at the indie disco as expected. Tickled a new coral shade of pink I am.

They can take as long as they like on this, it feels; time is as irrelevant as language. Something to be bent to their will. "Pandora" is certainly in no hurry; and Fraser's curious Latinate lyrical scat is in full swing. "Pink Orange Red" is Twin Peaks slow and (obvs) dreamy.

By the time of the tunes from "Blue Bell Knoll" in 1988, the band have achieved a pop self-confidence that has wormed its way into the structure of "Orange Appled" and "Cico Buff" as songs, reflecting the confidence that indie guitar music was building up with Pixies and REM and The Smiths and a myriad of other acts towards the end of that decade. It's not a straightforward version of pop; it's pop with its head inside out and the dreams trailing outside like a massively unruly hairdo.

"Fifty-Fifty Clown" and the last track, "Watchlar", have a very contemporary mix of some dessicated guitar wail, fluttering vocals and panther-like electronic throbs that could as easily have come out this month as 22 years ago. I can just hear them sound-tracking "Skins" now.

Impressionist and opaque. Were they the least Scottish-sounding Scottish band ever? (Possibly excluding Average White Band.)

Rating: Bluebell Dewdrop out of Orange Sugar Luck

Monday, 6 February 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #52 - Django Django, "Django Django"

Avant-pop from Edinburgh via Londonchestershire.

I've narrowly missed listening to this a few times already. Other albums have stolen in and seized my attention. But now I sit watching the Superbowl 46 and it's time to try and soundtrack it with some tunes.

Beta Band in my face. "Default" is sodden with their influence, vocally in particular. The three/four of them singing together in near harmony with Lothian accents. Guitars twinkle in and out as you might expect from a band named after M. Reinhardt. "Firewater" has a pleasing psychedelic stomp, going off on a "Day in the Life" style busride to close off. Hot Chip are another reference point: any thoughtful pop group comprising gauche young men getting out of their heads. Or early Depeche Mode. "Waveforms" breaks down into staccato baroque moves around the middle like The Beach Boys might. "Zumm Zumm" has a touch of the harpischord as well; very welcome.

Lyrically, I haven't been able to pin them down quite yet. "WOR" seems to be walking the path of the war/love metaphor, but is too slippery in plain sight. It also has a nice air-raid siren cranked out on it, which I hope they managed to drag into a studio somewhere, though I suspect they didn't. "Storm" is crisp and peacocky. "Skies Over Cairo" has a funny electro-boogie feel running underneath its cod-Egyptian business. "Silver Rays" quicksilvers its way to close the album.

Oooh. Spotify has a cunning version of the album with two of the band explaining what the songs are about. Lyrical themes include going-through-the-motions hip hop beefs, getting drunk, melancholy dancing, time travel to guide mankind through "the pitfalls of war and money", getting lost and losing what you're looking for, road trips, the romance of surf life, the vastness of history and being shipwrecked on a beautiful island. I'd say the chief lyrical inspiration is being in a band, a bunch of buddies in isolated places and a sense of joining in the flow of pop music history.

"Stitch the phrases together/Until something starts to make sense."

Playful, warm and clever with itchy melodies. Approved.

Rating: Sailing out of Mischief

Sunday, 5 February 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #51 - Hype Williams, "Find Out What Happens When People Stop Being Polite, And Start Gettin' Reel"

Pointed in this direction by the mighty Yaaard (@yaaard) after a discussion on the chillwave/dreampop wonkblur phenom.

I'd got Hype Williams stuck in my head from another era and consequently thought it was guy from YooEss; but it was in fact (and remains) two art school graduates in Hackney, YooKay.

"Rescue Dawn" opens with an Autotuned baby screaming a nice wee tune and then lists Pokemon, mumbling a "Gotta catch 'em all" mantra. I like the kick in the gold teeth of the ubiquitous AuTune. "Blue Dream" sketches out a detective series set on the sun. "The Throning" comes across like a memory of a sexy dance looping as morning and the alarm breaks in.

The cover is a blurry Polaroid of a blow back. I don't quite buy the idea that all this blurry, tape hiss fake analogue wobble is an expression of nostalgic yearning. It's more of an invention than that. Yaaard traced it back to Boards of Canada. I think Burial gave it real momentum as well. Although the truth is probably more connected with advances in affordable tech. It says as much about time in the present (liquifying it and passing it through vials and diodes) than time in the present (experiences ready for re-processing at a moment's notice). My main gripe about the nostalgia idea is that my experience of imagining the distant personal past is very sharp and immediate, not distorted and phased at all.

So if it's not nostalgia, then what language are they using? Perhaps it's more a case of the massive clipping in our minds as we try to process all the information (both real and imagined) that presses on us at every turn: the fuzz of too much signal. The nostalgia for an era when things didn't work so smoothly perhaps - the Bladerunner future, the Dark Star future that may already have been digitised out of existence. This chillwave is the sound of culture unable to cope. Pop never got to eat itself: it got took up in the tide of itself instead.

Rating: Untitled out of Insouciance

The 2kDozen 500: #50 - Porcelain Raft, "Strange Weekend"

Felt quite well disposed to this before I'd heard it. Although the name didn't make so much sense - smooth travel, perhaps?

"Drifting In and Out" opens things neatly. It has that chillwave thing going on, but wrapped around a pop-rock sensibility. Touch of the MGMTs. "Shapeless & Gone" even has a resemblance to The Jam's "That's Entertainment". That kind of snappy melancholy that Noel Gallagher is always reaching for with his stubby little toe-like fingers.

Then comes "Is It Too Deep For You?" and I'm starting to think I may grow a little tired of the blur. It's beginning to sound a bit passive-aggressive: "I hope you're in a nice hotel/../With someone who cares over you". And his voice sounds slight; "No, you didn't mean to hurt anyone/I'm sure". And it becomes more and more apparent he's just strumming away on an acoustic guitar. He's not drifting off into an oblivious cloud with world-weary resignation (as some reviews have suggested), he's hiding in the gaseous sound to take catenaccio pot-shots. "Needless to say I had the last reverb..."

By the time we get to "The Way In", I'm already on the way out. Do you read what I did?

Rating: Mama's Boy out of Roma

The 2kDozen 500: #49 - Azari & III, "Azari & III"

Everything I've heard of Azari & III up until now, I've loved. So this album is going to have to work pretty hard to fuck up my good vibrations. A classy House revival number like this will always get my thumbs up.

A carnivorous attitude to enjoying themselves and (as with The 2 Bears) very much on the up. But this is a less communal vibe, this is eyes locked across the dancefloor. More than just eyes: sweaty bodies and all that. I'm not sure whether this is just association on account of nights spent in sweaty rooms taking in the detail of other bodies, but this is not the music of escapism. It's a willing indenture. Maybe it's the titles - "Reckless with Your Love", "Hungry for the Power", "Manhooker", "Tunnel Vision". It's not a trip to the moons of Saturn, is it? It's not an astral expedition to the Himalayas of the soul. It's about getting nasty.

But I like to think that there's part of the music that also lights up the more tingly circuits in the middle parts of the brain - not primal, not lizard; but the more mammalian, glandular parts of human nature. Most of the frequencies sit within that cocaine-friendly, AOR upper register - all handclaps and congas, no Millenial doomy bass-bins. All tongues and the hairs on the neck, all electrical, all skin. No guts, all shimmering glory.

Nice cover art as well: an Empire State handjob. Ambition is the utter appetite that burns through the middle of this album. Everything is there for the taking. Even the architecture.

"Infinity" (as you might expect) and "Change of Heart" reach out a little further for the phasers: the latter with acid arpeggios, a sleeker 4 to the floor mechanism and a breathy female vocal line, drifting over and over.

By the time we're at "Undecided" the keyboard stabs and bouncing bass thums are reaching a febrile sense of urgency again and cavernous paranoia - "Undecided/Is there something not true/Inbetween me and you"? Even touches of Prince to the vocals here - maybe laying a finger on exactly the sexually ambigious spot where Mr Nelson used to hang out. The she with desire in her eyes in the closer "Manic" is "so schizophrenic" and they give her the soundtrack to match.

It's not out in the UK yet - but there is a link here - http://azariandiii.com/post/news/8044269491/albumpreorder on their website.

Rating: Steaming out of Every Pore