Sunday, 30 September 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #333 - Peace, "EP Delicious"

Opening track, "Ocean's Eye", has a big epic feel to it, guitars spiralling out across nebula and funky congas rubbing seductively against snaky bass. But it's only two and a half minutes. What's up with that? Someone's not been reading their epic cosmic rock handbook probably.

It slides on into "Bloodshake", which has some of that Afro-flavoured indie shuffle while keeping the atmospheric Eighties U2 guitar in position.

"Here's one for all the diamonds in the dark/..for the amblers in the gloom" could be the beginning to a great tune, but it becomes about a girl that "tastes like sunlight" or being "born to live". It's called "California Daze", which is probably a pointer to a bit of an imagination vacuum. The same empty moves performed over and over again and printed on the covers of NME over and over again; the undying loop of acting like a rock star should act in order to be a rock star and reinforce the same empty postures.

The final track expands to fill the ten minutes that you might expect of a grander scale, "1998 (Delicious)". But it doesn't really take me anywhere. It probably needs some dub in it, to get me into a spiritual spiral. This just kind of plods. This EP just makes me even more impatient for the Tame Impala album. Dammit!!

A video on YouTube sounds better than the EP. More baggy, in the early Nineties indie dance sense. The video recalls Fools Gold (or was it Made of Stone; I've never really worked out which tune that was shot for) and there are grungey crashes at the start of the choruses. But the lyrics are just about living forever, so No, thanks.

Rating: Tiny Epic out of Tired Vacuum

The 2kDozen 500: #332 - Kanye West, "Good Music Cruel Summer"

This might be a Kanye presents... type joint rather than an album as such, but his chunky chipmunk face is written all over it.

But this is not a classic soul regurgitation with chat about thrones and platinum arse scratchers. Hefty slices of newer sounds buckle the template - "Mercy.1" is squashed with cheap, heavy bass noises and generous helpings of Giorgio Moroder Scarface samples and vocal hooks that sound like Ragga Twins. Sweetly claustrophobic. Nothing that deals in Moroder can ever go wrong. ("You don't just walk into Moroder...")

"I believe there's a God above me/But I'm God of everything else."

"New God Flow.1" rattles and booms in a great many of the right places. "Higher" (featuring Ma$e and Pusha T) sounds like a Flight of the Conchords pastiche of itself, vocals pitched so high they look down on parody. John Legend crops up on "Sin City", as do a lot of dodgy rhymes with "-city" at the end. All the action takes place over Miami Vice synth stabs and an almost motionless bassline. So a bit like being in GTA San Andreas.

Plain gloopy is "The One", slow, saccharine Auto-Tuned bilge. A sampled "One" from Public Enemy Number 1 rips and bares its teeth over and over, showing up the standing-up-off-the-bar-stool sludge that is going on atop it. "Don't Like.1" sees Kanye compares himself to both Christ and Michael Jackson, which is nice. And the sky rains with the n-word until I can't tell where the clouds stop and the brainfilth begins.

Kanye's out of touch, but not in a cool Roky Ericksen kind of way. My bad vibes towards his bland grandiose wealthiness continue.

Rating: Baller Dreams out of San Andreas

Friday, 28 September 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #331 - Field Music Warm Digits, "BBC Radio 3 Late Junction Session EP"

This was the shit I was after before! I must have overlooked it.

Field Music have already knocked out one of the albums of my year. At least one of the top 300. (I kid. "Plumb" is ace and I'd love to see it win the Mercury Prize.) So I'm expecting steepling melodies, clever time signature changes and some classy, warm motherboards lending their support. A touch of Northern wit too perhaps.

"Snow Watch" has a really nice unfestive, warped feel to it. Wintry psychedelia with pianos floating in the cold air and every instrument treated to within an inch of its very existence, spilling out from that inch and discolouring the space around it. "Higgs" shakes a funky chunk or two. But there isn't the swoop, the delicateness I'd hope for. I'd hoped for a brittle contrast between the Brewis Brothers swerving pop sensibility and the more geological instincts of The Digits. Instead, they meet somewhere less exciting in the middle.

There's a fractured early-Pink Floyd feel to the guitar on "Elements of the Sun" and "Travelodge Blues" opens with a typical Brewis set of progressions, choppy and purposeful. (The title I also like.) But it's not the cross-germination I was hoping for.

Even by my own obtuse standards I'm not sure what I'm getting at here.

Rating: Pop Geology out of Northern Souls

Thursday, 27 September 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #330 - Warm Digits, "Keep Warm ... with The Warm Digits"

Saw that there was a collaboration between these guys and Field Music, which I thought needed to be heard. However, it didn't seem to be available, so I moved in this direction instead. Backwards in time to 2011.

I'd heard a couple of tracks before and had formed the impression of a friendlier Add (N) to X - vintage synths buzzing away while a live drum kit keeps things on their toes. Or something. "Warm Welcome" is the opening half-track, which is bursting with positivist scientific bubbling noises and happy feelings. No robots having sex with cartoon women anyway. "Trans Pennine Express" starts with a steam locomotive like grind, slowly picking up momentum - as though Kraftwerk had started in Darlington.

The pace continues, picking up a cowbell en route by the time of "Weapons Destruction", the electronic pulse now giving it a Holy Fuck momentum. It's quite musicianly, I hear jamming in the past. Chances are there is hair. Although the band are from different spots in the North, so that might not happen too often. Handclaps appear in "Grapefruit", slightly phased perhaps, which gives the track a woozy tang. Like off of a grapefruit.

"The Surplus of Seeing" is a bit more swampy and Quatermassy. Noises like pots and pans. "A Warm Front, Coming from the North" is back in the Kraftwerk space again, fanfares and metronomes. The stately progression of the Shipping Forecast, everything in its place. The slightest hint of a kids' drama series from the early Eighties.

The last track "Here Come the Warm Digits" seems such an Eno tribute that I suspect the band name was struck with this title in mind. There's something so gentle and un-rock'n'roll about the sound of Warm Digits; it gets me thinking about lab technicians and Rich Tea biscuits and afternoons. It's music for afternoons. This may be doing the pair a huge disservice. They may well consume half a Colombian hillside of recreational powders before breakfast and brush their teeth with lysergic-infused Jack Daniels. But somehow I suspect not. We need music in the afternoons most of all - to soundtrack staring out the window and wishing work was over.

Rating: Friendly Vintage Buzz out of Cups Of Tea

The 2kDozen 500: #329 - Efterklang, "Piramida"

This was another album I had to have on in the background while I was doing other things with my mind and fingers yesterday.

The most persistent thoughts I had while listening were COLDPLAY and A-HA. Maybe it was the Nordic twinge in the vocals, seeing as these boys are from the Denmark, that got the Morten sensors activated. But there's something about the structures that suggest a more laid-back Coldplay. His voice is of a very similar pitch but there isn't the cloying bombast.

The music chimes tastefully throughout. It has a classical jazzy shuffle of sorts; "The Ghost" in particular mixes the soft-brushed drums, avian guitar lines, warm brass and the musicianly air in a satisfying way. I read in the NME that there aren't enough choruses, which I can understand. It's quite a lateral album. "Black Summer" wanders too far into the detective soundtrack territory - a great many notes hanging in the air. Suspension in musical aspic.

I like it more when he sounds like Morten and less when he sounds like Chris Martin. I also read the description "adult pop", and I'm not sure about that. Is it the idea that it's adult in the sense that all the explosive, effervescent joy had burnt away and the shapes left behind in the dying light somehow represent adulthood. The sober surveying of the leftovers. I don't think I agree. (I don't think I agree with the idea I just made up myself based on reading two words.) But this album could fit that description: shapes made music that were left behind in the absence.

"Between the walls/I'm a werewolf"

Rating: Subtracting Bombast out of Coldplay

The 2kDozen 500: #328 - Wild Nothing, "Gemini"

And on to the debut album. Named for one of the more irritating signs of the zodiac and with an appropriately weird, double face made of photos of two women on the cover.

The introduction is so Johnny Marr, it's bordering on the hilarious. I imagine an updated version of Hank Marvin striding across some Stretford pavement, Rickenbacher in hand - all the way from Virigina. "I'd rather live in dreams/Than I'd rather die," he says, vocals a bit higher up the mix than the later albums. "Summer Holiday" has some full-on shoegaze background "aaah"'s that could've been cut out of a Ride record. After three albums full, I'm still not getting tired of the sound.

"Drifter" even cracks open a couple of Peter Hook bass solos. Blissfully Eighties alternative, this stuff; so many boxes touched and bases ticked. Sigh. How many albums would carry a title like "O Lilac" with s straight face? Maybe Jack Tatum isn't either. Even when the drum patterns get a bit ironically Hi-NRG on "Bored Games", it's still about slurred lyrics and gaseous melodies. "Where are you going?/Can I come with you?" "Chinatown" is a bit livelier too, but Jack still sounds largely unmoved.

How long might have gone within hearing these albums?

Rating: Three out of Three

The 2kDozen 500: #327 - Wild Nothing, "Golden Haze EP"

So, having enjoyed Nocturne I decided to stay my hand as Spotify scrolled back through two albums from 2010. The flow from one to the next was pretty seamless on first listen. A touch of drum machine that was less strict on this year's album. But the guitar lines are identically sweet. It gives it a bit of a New Order touch at times, especially with the keyboard stabs on "Take Me In".

"Your Rabbit Feet" sounds like a Smiths tune that has been pulled inside out. Even the lyrics have caught a touch of the same debilitated fever. "It was the hungriest night I ever knew/I was so hungry for you...What do you want to know/I'll take you anything!" Some low-level, near-inaudible muttering sees me off the premises as the shoegaze riff fades into nothing. "Vultures Like Lovers" has some sturdier teeth under the candy floss.

Reviving memories of times when indie meant something more than feather cuts and designer anoraks.

Rating: Drum Machine Drifts out of Indie Manufactory

The 2kDozen 500: #326 - Wild Nothing, "Nocturne"

So this all worked out nicely too. Again, not much time to record my thoughts - and my expectations weren't very high. Not such a promising title somehow.

But from the off this was cloudy, classy stuff. Perhaps I've drifted away from the floaty witch house/ kindergarten indie end of things of late. It felt a bit listening to bits of The Smiths or The Cure from their Disintegration era, pedals swelling up into the sky. Something about the chord progressions of the bass rumble. I don't know music.

Lyrics couldn't really be listened to, but seemed to be about highness, love and forgetfulness - as you might expect. "She's flooding my bloodstream/Every time I close my eyes", for example. But as a Pitchfork review I read pointed out - there are entire music scenes and many labels that spend all their time trying to recreate this sound. Technically, Jack Tatum has pulled off something pretty impressive - a bigger voice and some trickier lyrics and it would be epic.

Rating: Sweet Reanimation out of Leisure Clouds

The 2kDozen 500: #325 - How To Dress Well, "Total Loss"

It's been another one of those days slaving away over a noisy laptop, listening to tunes as I go, but without the opportunity or brainspace to note any thoughts as they pass through my head.

This album has a handsome cover of a head shaped iceberg afloat on calm waters. It sums up the business within, I guess. He's a Brooklynite that's made his way to Berlin. There's that Burial feel shimmering under the surface - the dirty bubble and the fragil soaring vocal. You know what I mean. It's definitely a London sound. "Running Back" has a hint of LFO in the bassline. Deep and dreamy.

There's some noise about him being a bit of an appropriate figure for an R&B man. There may be a racial element to this, or it may be some anti-hipster resistance. Who knows? I'm just spitballing here. (No, I don't know what it means either. Yes, it does sound very dodgy, dunnit?) I like the crunch at the beginning of "Set It Right" and the choral swoop, but then it deteriorates into a list of dead people that he misses in a wobbly falsetto. That sounds harsh.

Is the whole album about death?

Rating: Wobbly Brooklyn Falsetto out of South London Pavements

Sunday, 23 September 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #324 - The Sea And Cake, "Runner"

There is a Chicago sound, isn't there? Maybe the rumbling trains full of cattle one way and sausages the other has inspired this kind of motorik indie. It lurks beneath the surface of Tortoise and Shellac. There is your John McEntire involved, of course. It's unassuming in the way you might expect Birmingham indie to sound, from one Second City to another. (What does Birmingham indie sound like? I want to say Broadcast, but I think that's Supersonic Festival influence somehow.) Maybe where they are they can hear everything...

"A Mere" picks its way delicately between classy basslines and a hint of Sheryl Crowe. It's indie like Zach Braff would make a movie around; a sigh runs through it. "The Invitations" has a fried electronic tone running underneath, sweet and salty like the sea and cake, before some bass music comes in and things kick on into space...

"New Patterns" sounds just like that. It chugs in a familiar fashion, but somehow sounds like a remix of Eighties sounds, something about that sparkling drone in the background. A bit like The Stranglers' Always The Sun. It sounds delightfully bright and trebly on top of the steady bass. "Neighbors And Township" sounds like a remix of Joy Division's She's Lost Control at first - all cramped guitar and crisp snare attacks - before it flattens out into something more Midwestern and sure of itself.

This is a mixed book of styles like you might expect from a band that has rounded a few blocks in its time. My heart doesn't soar at any point, which may be a telling indictment of my sociopathic tendencies. But it is solid work and could support several repeat listens and planted seeds would throw some powerful fronds.

I'm not sure what to make of this stable sound though. Human emotion is represented by the vocals which are pitched at a kind of cute sigh, which fits but doesn't connect. I don't catch many lyrics either. So I'm not sure where I place myself, as the listening human, as the closing track "The Runner" opens with a lazy shimmer.

Rating: Cute Sigh out of Motorik Midwest

The 2kDozen 500: #323 - Texas Radio Band, "Bluescreen"

From last year, but I've kept forgetting to give it a listen. Almost all in English, but with the traditional Spanish language track as a Fuck You to monoglots. Some top pop nuggets too.

"See What You're Saying" might be about arguments. It fizzes with poppy handclaps. "Besamel" has a nice pop drift, not unlike Metronomy's English Riviera. The weight in the voice reminds me of Gruff Rhys as well and the musical has the broad pop palette (or palate) that takes the elements of classical pop and inflates them into more interesting directions without breaking any of the physics.

There's a cheery Eighties keyboard on "Things In You" as though Wax were building another bridge to my heart or The Hoovers were back in business sending satellites. "In the Valley" has even more swirls and a deeply unfashionable sounds. Well, they could be unfashionable. The lyrics are a wee bit opaque, so I've no insight there.

"Un Grifo En El Mar" has squeezebox and acid squirts. It's all broad strokes, a smorgasbord of words to describe a selection of slightly different things brought together. "Used to be randy/Waiting in the bed at night."

If I was able to spend more time listening to it, there are more treasures to be found and polished with time. But for now, I have a good feeling about it.

Rating: Smorgasbord out of Solid Pop Instincts

The 2kDozen 500: #322 - Sun Kil Moon, "Among The Leaves"

Took a couple of listens this one. I had stuff to do in the house, clearing and moving things to make room for Babber Firswood. So I put Sun Kil Moon on, as they were someone I'd listened to before and never successfully formed an opinion on. Guitars and vocals alone aren't really my strong point.

So it was lovely listening, mellow and melodious. The blunter edge that was carried by the lyrics wasn't obvious straight away. This was probably because I hadn't read many of the song titles ("The Moderately Talented Yet Attractive Woman vs The Extremely Talented Yet No So Attractive Middle Aged Man" or "Not Much Rhymes With Awesome At All Times").

What did come across first was that this was an album by a touring musician. There are plenty of references to places, travel and other performers, especially places. Two tunes about touring Europe ("UK Blues" and "UK Blues 2"), neither of which very complimentary about his time -moaning about a "fucking shuttle bus" on his way to Denmark ("Everybody's white/Everyone rides bikes) and about the riots in London ("As if this city isn't depressing enough/../It's all the rage/If your favourite colour's beige.") and about being heckled in Bristol. I'm with the heckler.

When he isn't complaining how ugly potential groupies are, he is aiming barbs at young, attractive women singers. "Red Poison" is about poisoning people with Chinese mushrooms and watching their skin change colour. He's exceptionally talented and underappreciated. A warm voice spilling out self-pity. It might be that he's an American Morrissey, arch and full of humour too clever for dull-minded listeners. But then I think Morrissey is a self-pitying eejit these days as well.

But he knows his way around a guitar, that much is plain. "Track Number 8" has a lovely classical role to it, while he sings about "empty Victorians that used to house whores". It's also about "how songwriting costs/It doesn't come free/Ask Elliott Smith" and how the song isn't too great and "will probably sequence at track number 8". You have to suffer to be a writer, see? - "It's hard to swallow your big, bright pills". He knows that they're "smothering something..eating at your guts". He has flow, but I don't much like the direction it flows. Even a song about a man that died who fixed his guitars has a hint of how inconvenient it is that he's not around.

My heart is not bleeding for him.

Rating: Vinegar Melodies out of Self-Pity And Talent

Thursday, 20 September 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #321 - Baltic Fleet, "Towers"

There are some portentous titles on this album - "Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse", "Winds of the 84 Winter" or "March of the Saxons". There are some brooding cooling towers on the cover as well. Phallic imagery, the lot of it. For men with horribly distended penises.

It's instrumental. It's a wee bit proggy. It was record of the week one week in Rough Trade apparently, which I find a little hard to believe. It doesn't tick so many boxes, but keeps on ticking the same box over and over until their hands are bloodied stumps. There are echoey drums and circling bass sounds. But they never really go anywhere and they get pretty repetitive pretty quick.

They're like Add (n) to x without all the robot sex and the live drums.Or the soundtrack for an Eighties cop drama in a very unglamourous city. Des Moines Vice, something like that.There is a track "Reno", which is slower but still not quite opening up. A slow night in Nevada.

Rating: Ticking Their Way out of The Same Boxes

The 2kDozen 500: #320 - Golden Fable, "Star Map"

Another band that have been spotted on more than one Rob da Bank playlist. I believe there is also a welcome Cymric dimension to them, a dimension I would do all within my power to stimulate and foster.

A curiously muted mist hangs around "Always Golden", due partly to the choir girl harmonies. When the rather stern drum pattern kicked in for "Be Alive" and the housey piano, I thought it might be about to launch into a tirade - but it's actually a question: "How does it feel to/Be alive?" "Sugarloaf" has the same curious mix of an insistent piano line (and even some electric geetarr) with icily somnolent lady vocals. It's an unusual mix - Marmite and peanut butter: one of my favourites. It's a curious voice to hear saying "We could start a war". Clouds drift about the mix, but bearing a rain of death.

On a side note, did people used to dress up to quite the same degree in the yoresterdays? It seems every one has to gun for eccentricity with such all-out ferocity these days. I take this as an example of the commodification of self-expression. There are so many bits and fucking pieces out there that folk can be endlessly styled in as many directions as they see fit. It shouldn't irritate me, but it do. Where are the cunts in basic leathers and tees, eh? Eh?

"Reconsider King" is perhaps the stand-out amongst the sweet things; all lightly-plucked banjos, shivering wordless coos and melodious heft. The closer "Restless Souls" reaches out for a medieval punch at the beginning before it flattens out into an old skool Belle & Sebastian like plateau of twee chugging. That sounds like I don't like it, but I've decided I like indie chugs. There's an element of Madchester in there that I can't quite pick out - the melodic swirl has a touch of rave cave underneath. Stately Wayne Manor with the Batcave looming underneath. "Be Alive" has some bassy sweeps along the bottom.

Eddying string sounds, lemon-scented vocals and a hint of the glo-stick.

Rating: Stately Coos out of Rave Cave

The 2kDozen 500: #319 - Nathan Fake, "Steam Days"

Nathan Fake is a name I've never fully written into my cultural logbooks these last few years. Drifts about he does, popping up on a Rob da Bank playlist or in the brackets of some hyped remix. He has an album with a cover made from molten WH Smith protractor sets and I will listen.

Opening track "Paean" has some of that IDM feel from ten years or so, the sense of a new space being opened up in the electronic genre for all manner of musical genre to roam around in and browse into healthy shape. But that feeling dips by the second track, fades into a meh-ish mist. It drops into a groove of medium-sized machines.

There's a vaguely underwhelming Songs of Praise feel to "Iceni Strings" that I can't quite poke my finger through. "Old Light" has a lot of the crispy old sounds you might associate with prime Boards of Canada and some acid twinkle in the middle; but is still a faint shadow of better tunes. It sounds weedy. "World of Spectrum" might signify where the music chips have come from. It's music with a 32k RAM pack. (Stitch that, obscure Eighties computer metaphor fans!) "Harnser" tries to build up some staccato bass tension and toothy analogue synth noises, but the outcome lacks fibre.

The machines are blindly reaching to out to other machines on "World of Spectrum". I'm starting to wonder whether Nathan Fake is a man or some kind of digital anti-Asimov, creating fake humans with Three Laws of Music that they are unable to break. He's way too pallid to be human, right? Individual notes seem to undergo a lot of scrutiny, shivering and cracking under the strain on "Rue"; but there is some drama lacking, something missing that would push it over from distraction to compulsion and really get me on the podium.

With a genius name like "Sad Vember" the track should be majestic, but it merely fidgets. However, the good news starts up soon after. "Neketona" is more like it - motorik, shining with burnished rubbery arcs of sound, sails inflated with momentum. "Glow Hole" also has the sound of a fax machine being violently brought back to life and some busy drum patterns, both of which I like.

"Warble Epics" is a sweet, dark closer with the BoC warped noise soundbank turned to better use. Corrupted snatches of snare smear some urgency across the palette. It's tightly wound against itself with harmonic fronds reaching out from the sides. It is a lesson to us all. I can see now why some people want his steady hands at the controls, setting them for the heart of the nearest silent moon.

Rating: Some Urgent Smears out of Spectrum Of Distant Moons

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #318 - Goat, "World Music"

This is what it sounds like when Swedes voodoo. Somewhere near Gothenburg there is a tiny bit of Haiti, broadcasting afro-kraut-global magic.

"Disco Fever" carries plenty of gut punch. Hot guitars lash about like Indiana Jones bullwhips. Keyboard wizardry fills the picture out nicely; The Doors dropped out of a plane somewhere in west Africa and forced to finger for money and victuals. The guitars are joyfully fuzzed out throughout, the air around them is thick with pollen - with a nice pastoral bit of interplay (with road traffic noises) at the end of "Goathead". "Golden Dawn" picks up the pace, congas smoking and guitars and sax coming in at unexpected angles.

The recording sounds so close up. It's a wind tunnel swimming with psychedelic consequences; music with its blood vessels about to blow. Ecstatic noise building up to a crazed chorus of "Let it bleed" at the end of "Let It Bleed" and sounding a bit more urban and Sabbath on "Run To Your Mama". Cosmic winds blow their hair back as they ponder the best way to look ceremonially menacing. Goat bells start off "Goatlord": you can't go wrong with goat bells. Goat certainly don't.

Them crazy Swedes.

Rating: Afro-Kraut Confluence out of Sweden Campfires

The 2kDozen 500: #317- Lianne La Havas, "Is Your Love Big Enough?"

As Tame Impala's new album is stubbornly refusing to be released until next month, I'm going elsewhere for my next listen - the Mercury Music Prize shortlist. I'm very wary of this being more Brit School "genuine" cachu. The title is not very promising: big enough for what, dickhead? But you know, my ears are open for now.

The opener "Don't Wake Me Up" has all the sleek emptiness that voice-based music seems to basically in, the shiny showcase ready for the execs to take a look. "Lost & Found" contains the lyric "You broke me/And taught me/To truly/Hate myself", which is a neat half-twist. The tune is shimmers glacially. But the emptiness echoes out like a Bond theme. There's a bit of wit here but it's smothered in tastefulness.

"Waste all your time writing love songs/But you don't love me," she almost snarls over a bare electric guitar on "Forget". This is much more like it. It feels like it could be from a genuinely good musical, with dancers throwing themselves around in a theatrical version of Costa Coffee in their office wear and doomed expression. It sketching out in big pop colours with room for some vocal gymnastics but not enough to turn the tune into a dog show. Lyrically, it comes from a slightly tricky place - obviously not a happy one. Don't like the fact the video has her smiling sweetly with posters for her album in the background. But this is commerce.

A whole load of songs about unreliable lovers gets pretty tedious after a while too. It's the Jack Black effect: if all the women in your songs are devil women, do you think you should be looking a bit closer to home for the source of the problem? That might disrupt the coffee table formula a little too much. "Gone" is about seeing through another guy, emoting over smooth piano. Yawn. It's one note Eastenders drama. If you're going to thrash away at one note, at least make it about snorting fun drugs and fucking into the sunset on endless repeat.

Sorry I couldn't keep my ears open for very long. But "Forget" was good, right?

Rating: Tasteful out of Tasteful

The 2kDozen 500: #316 - Matthew Dear, "Beams"

This is literally an album with all bells and whistles blazing. Well, there are whistle noises on the opening track at least, "Her Fantasy". It's a hugely hypertropical, lush shuffle house version of a Hamlet solilquy: "Am I grown man? Am I not a great design?" It's fucking ace. I think.

He has a very deep voice. He is apparently from Texas, but he sounds dead European - Berlin, Paris or Rome. One of them gaffs. He acknowledges a debt to David Bowie. He has a cupboard full of wobbly, rubbery noises that he can pull out to scatter over this album goodness. "Fighting is Futile" in particular marches steelily with bouncey purpose. "Up & Out" has a lovely chewy disco and hand clap combo from the offset. The lyrics are about "fashion underwater" or perhaps "passion". Yeah, I think "passion". It is dark and warm and glamourous, which is all you want from disco tunes.

The handclaps are back on "Get The Rhyme Right" (what is this?? 2003??) along with some plaintive bass tugging. The tune arrives squeezed in through a tiny filter and it's all moody and atonal. The lyrics slipstream around me a little again. "Ahead of Myself" again fills me up with 2003 as it sounds like the kind of tunes my brother was making in his tiny, leaky bedroom around that time - bits of human noise churned up and washing against a confessional vocal. A wider reference would be LCD Soundsystem, I suppose. But it's less about being a record shop nerd; there's an extra frisson of something. Sex, perhaps.

The closer "Temptation" wanders into treble-wobble chill wave territory. I've come to fear that sound almost as much as the beatless ooze of current hip hop; the denial of rhythm's proper place in the centre of dance and rap, as the crucial hook that so much hangs on. But the beats slip in and his dark croak looms and the bells and whistles make a reappearance as the riff builds to a slinky conclusion.

Rating: Hypertropical Hamlet out of Dark Chewy Disco

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #315 - Brother Ali, "The Bite Marked Heart"

I've read a bit about "Mourning In America And Dreaming In Color", but while I found I couldn't find it I found this. The newer album is presumably of a more political bent; this one is romance for the pants. Which cuts a little against the grain perhaps, as he's not handsome with his conventionals - an overweight, round-headed albino guy with a beard. A long D&D basement beard.

It's quite straight-laced though. No paranoid logorrhoea, no imaginative leaps to or from any great heights. The production is lush and dripping with soul arrangements, but there are no real surprises. Ali has some flow, but I'm more of a fan of the ODB school of crazy chat, arrhythmic in parts because brain fits don't make smooth patterns. There is nothing jagged here, but it is kind of sweet. Which I guess is the idea.

"Haunted House" seems to be about failing relationships, but there aren't any insightful metaphors. Just a dead female voice singing "Broken/Love foundations". Stuff about dawns and eyes and demons. Too straight, too strait.

His voice is smooth and full of self-belief but this is maybe not the best vehicle, it's no fun, "echoing a language from a long time ago".

Rating: Albino Dungeon Master out of R-Kelly's Closet

Monday, 17 September 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #314 - Land Observations, "Roman Roads IV-XI"

Pastoral Anglo quirk-rock. Tracing worn old thumbs out over antiquarian maps and listening out for legionnaires in the mist. A bit unexpected for the Mute label as well.

There's a lovely patience that underpins "From Nero's Palace". It puts me in mind of music from children's TV from a decade like the Seventies. Music to drink soup from a Thermos by. "Appian Way" pizzicatos the pace up a wee bit, spirals and fractals spilling off either side of the ordered Roman advance. "Portway" really stretches it out though, kicks in another gear: a gear with indie guitar-plucking and creepy progressions. In contrast, "Battle of Watling Street" starts out like some fuzzy felt folk piece, hiss in the foreground and a repetitive structure of mournful strings. It sounds very old - like campfires and rheumatism.

Very similar lines are sketched out as on the Drokk! album a few months ago. It's kosmische, it's a bit magical. But it's a bit flat too - like too many fields of grain on the horizon.

Rating: Patient Travel out of Pastoral Mists

The 2kDozen 500: #313 - Danny Brown, "XXX"

Wow! Now this lad sounds like a real deal. There are woozy noises, sick lyrics and all the Tweenties hip hip business we've come to expect from this murky decade, but he isn't afraid of beats either. Actual breaks, actual drum sounds! Head nodding business.

There's talk of "niggas" and gangster business and misogyny (seeming to settle on the metaphor "medusas"), which is par for the course too. But the rhymes are tight. "He made Black & Yellow/I'm a make Black & Emo" he spits on "Radio Song". He isn't too keen to play the radio game. Detroit seems to breed some acrid rap types. "Lie4" is a step back into the beatless ocean of the stuff that folk spit over these days; don't like it. Was this caused by a change in drugs? Or movement away from the streets? "I Will" is a blunt song of praise to the cunnilingual arts - "What he won't do/Bitch, I will". Which is nice.

"Detroit187" is nice scatological brain dribble of the highest order. "Monopoly" begins with some blaxploitative dialogue before some more cracked couplets sound like a battle rap: "What you write is all vagina/What I write is Wall of China". "Blunt After Blunt" speaks for itself. "Outer Space" actually uses the word "mysogyny" - "No apologies/For all the misogyny/I just want some company/To watch my pornography". It sounds like it's all a bit more a ballet of equals, although he still isn't going to stop talking about where he's going to put his dick.

"Adderall Admiral" is about speed. It's quite chaotic, sounds cropping up everywhere, but slow. It's not Motorhead. It gets more documentary on "Nosebleeds" with a bit of soulful business looped over, ending with the image of "blood on her lips". Matched by "Party All The Time" - subject matter and downtempo sounds. So this melancholy strain - not too maudlin - nudges him further into the interesting territory. He says he was born "one day before St Pat", which would make him a Pisces, which would make a lot of sense. This sounds like Piscean hip hop. "EWNESW" is his biographical tune: "I'm living in the city where the weak gets swallowed/Belly of the beast". "Fields" too. It has a taut, twisted loop of tortured guitar and snares:

"Money talk/Only broke people listen."

Cataclysmic, prog musical mash at the beginning of "Scrap Or Die" - like the music Monkey would rap over. If he telling the story of how gutting houses keeps people in food and/or cash. There might be a clever metaphor to pull out connected with sampling and hip hop and what have you: I have not found it. He is apparently a fan of Grime and "Witit" sounds like it - very Playstation, staccato beats. Good for him.

So, it's not Public Enemy; there's no thrill of ideas and breaks marching together with power. But he's a guy worth listening to and some of the production innovates my think bulbs. But this album is too long, as almost every rap album in history has been. And it still fucks with people it shouldn't. In my long distance opinion. More listening to be done...

Rating: Gap Toothed Amphetamist out of Monstrous Detroit

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #312 - Animal Collective, "Centipede Hz"

Listening to Grizzly Bear, I realised I hadn't listened to Animal Collective's album yet. That's how slick I roll, you understand.

"Moonjock" is a joyful, gibberish-y burst as you'd maybe expect. There are some space beeps as well, which are always a treat. It's all electronic and explosive and drifts from one track to the next in an ambient soup. The joyful yelps are all there. "Rosie Oh" is relating a story of something or other with a sea reggae feel or something. With squelches. There's that same Beach Boys-kind of joyfulness spreading underneath the music, warm and wet. Is music that's based on certainty or built up to cover the void of certainty's absence? It sounds very optimistic, but then so did The Beach Boys and there was something dark yawning open in the middle of that.

There is a woman at the centre of "Wide Eyed" as well. There are also goose noises. Or noises that sound like goose noises. "Father Time" sounds high Eighties like Howard Jones or something; not that I'm only hearing Eighties here. I seem to hear Eighties everywhere. "When I'm naked/Back home/Take my shoes off/Take my coat off" begins "New Town Burnout" and the music gives me the images of camels necking their way across the desert. Which sounds neither very Baltimore nor very Brooklyn. There are some cheap chiming sounds that bridge over into "Monkey Riches". The vocals go a bit Black Francis towards the end - maybe Americans always scream lyrics about monkeys, I dunno...

"Mercury Man" begins with bending noise and cheap electronics. "You always feel like mercury," he sings. Does that mean like poisonous? He has a rather accusatory tone. "Amanita" sounds a bit bassoony with Hounds of Love whoa oh oh's and lyrics about "misplaced futures" and "fantasy falling down" and missing storytellers.

"What are you gonna do out in the forest/I'm gonna out and remember my name/..I'm gonna bring back some stories and games."

Rating: Warm Spread out of Joyful Gibberish

The 2kDozen 500: #311 - Grizzly Bear, "Shields"

Some primo beatnik supplement-reading business here, I should think.

"Sleeping Ute" sails in on a slightly pomp, wobbly guitar sound and majestic bass with antique, icy keyboard stabs. Louis XIV blues - "But I can't help myself" over the sound of slow, watery volcanoes. Verily, there's a handsome pop instinct running through the middle of "Speak In Rounds", wearing out shoe leather in an attempt to keep up with itself. Happier touches of Arcade Fire. "Yet Again" has me wondering whether they are a Coldplay it's OK to like; and by extension if it's OK to like them or not. There's a similar weedy-multi-tracked vocals bit and some dirtier, skittery sounds too. But I'm erring on the side of enthusiastic clemency.

More of a hushed and muffled drums feel to "The Hunt", and from the lyrics it doesn't seem too clear who is hunting whom. So perhaps the title is ironic, yeah? "A Simple Answer" is something about a "tired mantra/Goes ever onward" and it doesn't sound as though that title is ironic. Pianos are touched in a jazzy chamber. "No wrong, no right/Just do whatever you like" over some fluttering and looming noises. Damned hippies.

"What's Wrong" evokes Sunday night ITV crime dramas. The illusion of some moral slide pinned through with certainties - in a musical form. But the ending is sadder and more complicated and subtler. "gun-shy" smells of the Eighties, not like rotting slip-ons and queasy quiff-gel might smell. Like the scent of Miami Vice lemon trees on a summer evening, Michael Mann-ing itself with grace and neon up the nostrils to the brain. It has soft crunches in the middle, like a loungey Lennon/McCartney break. The melodies stack up sweet and substantial, a stack of smoky pancakes.

There's always a longing touch of gaucho in the songs too. "Half Gate" finds the gaucho riding into an echo chamber pop scenario and finds it provides exactly the sunset he needs to be silhouetted against. "Sun In Your Eyes" is quite the ambitious work, movements here and there, fading in and out, with quite a delicious acoustic guitar thread worked through the middle that makes me think of sunshine on water.

Brooklyn throws out another successful frond.

Rating: Louis XIV Pop out of Sunday Night Jazz Folk

The 2kDozen 500: #310 - Teengirl Fantasy, "Tracer"

I've liked a couple of Teengirl Fantasy tracks before now. They made their way onto some Insidious Junkbox podcasts back in the day. So I was keen to cast an ear over this.

It's all a bit sterile. Too many styles being tried on without any feeling of something new being germinated. "Timeline" has a bit of a feel of House and percolating happiness, but still too studio-bound. Opening "Orbit" has a touch of Croydon about it. But too much of the album sounds like a dry run-through of some ideas for a Beverly Hills Cop XIII soundtrack.

 "Pyjama", the track with Panda Bear, contains more slow-moving shapes, musical manatees. Some drum patterns, but it's well, well worn stuff. Too many tinkling waterfalls of sound. Disappointing.

Ratings: Not Enough Time out of The Studio

Thursday, 13 September 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #309 - The xx, "Coexist"

I listened to this album last night. And then again a bit today.

Nothing much happened.

Message ends.

Rating: Po-Faced out of Bedsit Dance

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #308 - Toy, "Toy"

Prepared to be disappointed by this and when I heard their debut single a few months ago, I was excitedly imagining a clutch of shoegaze revival classics. And then I imagined that excitement dulling and falling flat. And that brought on waves of all kinds of regret and the kids of words that only French and German people have words for. But I venture in.

"Motoring" sounds like Sonic Youth with some extra eyeliner and a touch of Ride. "Dead & Gone" is a bit more mystical in its shoegaze momentum; it has some kraut motor thrub driving it onwards through a dark, twinkly nightscape. Touch of JAMC perhap. Bass growls get a bit lysergic again on "Drifting Deep", a touch of doom at the nugget. It twitches pleasingly, puts me in mind of Hawkwind. That can't be far from their intent. "My Heart Skips A Beat" has some lush sweep to bolster what might be some shaky lyrics.

Their hair is certainly gauche enough for them to pass convincingly as cosmic warriors of the Psychedelicon. The light shows don't do any harm either. I not seen such youthful bumfluff on a band since Duncan Black played the Rainbow theme tune on his Flying V (or whatever rawk guitar it was) during school Eisteddfod. But they don't quite stamp themselves on my brain in the same way that The Horrors have done in each of their incarnations. Early days for these yet, I suppose.

On balance: watchful but not disappointed.

Rating: Shoegaze out of Cosmic

Monday, 10 September 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #307 - Race Horses, "Furniture"

Silky pop, allegedly inspired by Soft Cell, Queen, Dexy's Midnight Runners and Quincey Jones. Ambitious in one sense; retreading old ground in another.

"Sisters" could be a Pulp tune from the mid-Nineties, a relative of "Babies" perhaps. That same kind of jangle, song structure and pleasing baritone voice. All calm and reassuring. "Oh, you/I preferred your hair when it was darker" is a bit creepy though on "What Am I To Do?", which paces around the same obsessional corners of sex and romance that Jarvis lorded over so elegantly fifteen years ago.

"World" is a bit of a lysergic interlude. And there is the spectral sense moving around inside the music, a feeling (perhaps entirely imaginary and inferred on my part) that separates Cymric tunes from those in other countries. "Bad Blood" ups the ante with some crisp Eighties technology giving the procedure a touch of the Michael Manns. This ante is upped further, chips shoved in with sangfroid, by a choppy synth entry to "My Year Abroad" - a longing, frustrated look out the window and dreaming of a foreign adventure to get out of a relationship. The album is about how people in a relationship become furniture to each other, I read.

There's a touch of Field Music here as well, the place where the feelings are pitched. This stands out on "See No Green". "All you lovers/Give yourself/To somebody new", Meilyr sings. That carnival of frustration again swelling up electronically around him. It's dissipated and discordant by the time of "Old and New" comes along. Mournful oboe. You get the picture. And this is where it ends - except the digital version has an extra track, "Dresser". There's a chance it's the best track and what is a good pop album.

"She said there's no word for this in your language/And so the only thing for me to do is eat it like a sandwich."

Rating: Glorious Pop Exit out of Tired Relationship

Sunday, 9 September 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #306 - David Byrne & St. Vincent, "Love This Giant"

You expect some quirk from David, and St Vincent woman, she's not the most straightforward fork in the drawer either, eh?

Some of the tracks sound flirty, in a strange fashion. Or perhaps that's just me. And there's lots of brass. That is always a good thing. "I Am An Ape" almost has a Latin ballroom feel. They seem to take turn on the tracks for the most part, which is a little disappointing. "Who" is a welcome exception.

"I Should Watch TV" swings with a bit of mental menace. The brass mooches about like hungry dinosaurs. It liquids out to fill the available shapes, doesn't it? Molding (or is it moulding?) itself to prop up, inflate or undercut emotionally, as required. "Lazarus" shows it taking on the aspect of magically floating gold waterbed. On "Lightning" the brass gives the action a bit of punch. This has become one long love letter to brass; look elsewhere for your apologies.

"The One Who Broke Your Heart" has another Latin carnival feel to it. A wee bit like a live action Dust Brothers. Would perhaps sounds less middle-aged if it was the result of crate-digging and sampling, but I suppose Byrne is a white-haired Scot; he's probably not that bothered whether he can feel the pulse on his thumb. And that thumb has touched some great tunes in its time.

Rating: Quirky Brass out of The Fork Drawer

The 2kDozen 500: #305 - Metronomy, "Late Night Tales"

Late Night Tales keeps on fucking trucking, eh? And while I wait for Metronomy to pull their fingers out and put together another album, this will have to do.

"Seabird" has that brittle soulful quality of Hot Chip, which you can hear in the Metronomy DNA. Even the Autechre track they go for is pretty smooth ("Fold4,Wrap5"), none of the usual dysmorphic mechanics. Geneva Jacuzzi's "Love Caboose" is a weird, wobbly slice of disco while Two Lone Swordsman's "You Are..." klings and klangs like the best krautrock electronica. And I can no longer say that I've never heard Tonto's Expanding Headband. So there's that. It was more electronic than I expected.

I tell you what is good listening as well. "The Day (We Fell In Love)" by Appaloosa. All parlour piano and bored sounding female vocals and sleek pulse. I sense a bit of Metronomy DNA there too. And I like the cajun pop number by Katie and Anna McGarrigle as well. And the Herman Dune drifts off just the way cloudy experimental pop ought. Just when you think it couldn't get any more tremulous - along comes Cat Power with "Werewolf". Her and her breathy mumbles. End of the campfire stuff. Before Paul Morley's unbedtime Rimbaud biographical poetry does the end.

Rating: Brittle Soul out of Smooth Mechanics

The 2kDozen 500: #304 - Swans, "The Seer"

Swans are scary - both bird and band. No news there.

"The childhood/Is over" Michael rumbles. It's that big, adult theatrical voice that The Residents use - and these scary, Apocalyptic bands. As someone who smells the Apocalypse round every corner, this is the kind of soundtrack that I cross the street to avoid, to step away from its dark, lengthening shadows. "Mother of the World", yeah? Big titles for biiiggg songs with epic themes on tectonic scales.

But there's something about the cabaret intonations that put me off the music. Maybe it's too wide an experience for me to be comfortable with. I think I get a sense of the carnival, the body writ gigantic - and I am not a fan of the body, whatever size. "The Seer" is a massive thirty-minute track that opens with a knotted mass of strings, pipes, percussion and deep, dread sawing noises. And the dread never leaves - even when the tubular bells arrive. I don't want to know what The Seer sees. And yet I hum along in most rumbliest hum.

"The Seer Returns" has more of a quasi-funky, club-footed shuffle about it. "Your life pours into my mouth/My life pours out of my mouth" It's a snaky ourbourous of a tune. And it's followed by more tension, centred around an incredibly cutting and squeaky instrument on "93 Ave. Blues". It's another mythical beast of a tune, more creatures stepping out of ancient lore. Perhaps that is what I'm not quite sure about - the mythology of this music doesn't really speak to me. It's street corners and blood and stormclouds; I'm more of an Apollo type.

"Song for a Warrior" starts off the second part, sounds like Karen O on the vocals. The second part on the whole is lighter, still urgent - but with more soaring and less grinding. But before long, this too builds up another intensity. By the end of "Avatar", it has a howling wind of sound gritting its teeth and wiping away tall buildings. "A Piece of the Sky" is more high intensity noise of heavenly chorus, ratcheted up to painful levels. It's twenty minutes long, but halfway through it shifts away from noise to something that I don't have the musicological chops to probably describe. "Apostate" is BritPop by comparison - five seven inch singles that get stick together with the word "space cunt" shouted over the middle. It cacophones and it gibbers - bad primate business seen out by a minute of drums like heavy rain.


Rating: Tubular Dread out of Tectonic Scale

The 2kDozen 500: #303 - The Pheromoans, "Bar-Rock"

Oddball, Fall-flavoured music. This seems to have fallen off the collective radar of late; or at least the tiny green sliver of it that I'm aware of. He is some. Weary, confused sounding Southern art rock. That diseased literary swagger with minimum musical interference.

"What is he going to say/When he finds out/He's not the biggest arsehole/In the building today?"

It seems they don't hang about, The Pheromoans - but then I suppose there isn't much to hold them back. They have a new album, "Does This Guy Stack Up?", which I'm not able to hear yet. But this is from only a few months ago too, I think.

This is music to hangover by. "They have big chins in there", he paranoias on "Men In Black Satin". Alcohol almost certainly plays a part. A much under-understood drug in the creative process, I think. It inspires such literary rambling and ideal levels of self-loathing, random aggression and shaky-handed paranoia to allow some dark grey creativities to flower. It's no accident that MES is a drinker. It's tragic, but it's not accident. (In fact, thinking of things along Grecian lines, you cannot really have a tragic accident; tragedy is fucking you up where you least expected, but deep down most suspected.)

I was watching again the Seven Ages of Rock: Indie Rock on the BBC the other day. It said that Manchester was the home of indie rock. Manchester has given the world a great any great bands - although nothing on any great scale since that monobrowed clutch of twat*; but a UK band like this could only function in London. There are bands that make independent-minded, awkward music that could not find a "home" in Manchester. If MCCR is the home of indie, it's an oppressive home that indie outgrew and shudders to visit. Manchester gave the world a plan of how to make music for yourselves, release it yourselves and cock snooks at the major label dem; but idealising the burg ignores the role of Rough Trade in making that happen.

"The Only Way Is Up" has a great Fall-ish rumblebilly strut, lyrics about "nightmares in the dream home". It's suburban stuff, reaching out to shape a world that reflects the difference that is felt inside. It's music with a brain stood in front of it. With a drop of piss on its trousers and the smell of something askance.

Rating: Drinky Brain Awkwards out of Unhappy Suburbs

*At no point did the High-Flying Berk refer to rock in musical terms, only in terms of its fucking symbolic accessories. I wish for withering death to take hold of his musical legacy and strike it from the Earth.

Friday, 7 September 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #302 - Dan Deacon, "America"

Modest title, Dan.

Nicely hyperactive. "True Thrush" sounds like an Orbital tune that's been micro-mangled by some kind of nano technology into a still-glorious but quite upfucked polygon. Perhaps this is the way Dan sees his home country. He wouldn't be the first. I've heard quite a lot of music that fits in those kinds of irregular holes of late. I'm not sure whether this is something in our time that inspires this musical direction, this nervy euphoria. Or whether it's just the technology. Which knocks on to my next question: is it the technology that liberates and expresses some previously incommunicable instinct, or is the composer subject to the technological will? Eh? Asimov that, my friends!

Either way, it's an enjoyable rush. Silicon percolation, a musical soda stream. The last four tracks assemble together under the titles "America I" to "America IV". They're given titles about trains and deserts and "Manifest". It's a little like watching the history of North America unfold from space while some machinery beeps in your ear. Part 2, "The Great American Desert" has a very satisfying squelch. Not very deserty, but it's nice.

Rating: Euphoric Nanotech out of Historical Orbit

Thursday, 6 September 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #301 - Cat Power, "Sun"

Chan Marshall. Sigh. Saw her at ATP many years ago and grew frustrated at her mumbling. I grew frustrated like a cunt that felt they were owed something. I also shouted at John Peel to stop playing such disappointing techno records. That might have been the same weekend, in fact. What a cunt I was that weekend, dear reader. But live performances aren't her forte, are they?

So this album is quiet and softly inspirational in places, as you might expect. A mystical touch ("Marry me to the sky") which suits the muted, mildly psychedelic hazy feeling that runs underneath the music. It's a campfire session of an album - a bit hypnotic, a bit intense in a quiet way. Low-key electronics here and there. Even a bit of Autotune on "3,6,9" doesn't ruin the mood. "Nothing But Time" is the stand out track, like a mellow Rolling Stones tune from a hidden decade somewhere between Sixties and Seventies.

And the music is very human-shaped, especially "Human Being". The message is pretty simple. Except when they sound autobiographical, like "Manhattan". So, never mind me. I'm just a bit of a cunt.

Rating: Mystical Mumbles out of Campfire Psychedelia