Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Best Albums of 2013: 1. Midget Ninjas

1.  Soviet Bass - Midget Ninjas (Self-Released)

A remarkable album on several fronts, taking various elements from Russian and Soviet history, pairing them with intoxicating beats and setting the whole thing loose, picking up collaborations with the likes of Baauer and Major Lazer along the way.  Its triumph is in remaining aloof from mere gimmickry and in fusing such elements together so that the whole thing works brilliantly whether you're alive to the historical references and ironies or not.  Also remarkable is that the whole collection is available as a free download from here.  

Season's greetings and remember you can hear the first broadcast of the Festive Fifty from midnight tonight (UK time) on Dandelion Radio.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Best Albums of 2013: 2. Fuck Buttons

2. Slow Focus - Fuck Buttons (ATP)

My last.fm page tells me that my seven most listened to tracks of the year were the seven tracks from this album.  I suppose you might conclude from that that it ought to be my number one of the year, but it just got edged out by an album that regular listeners to my show won't be surprised to see at number one - but more of that later.

Both of the earlier Fuck Buttons albums were great favourites but this one managed to be even better, taking that glorious electronic fuzz, meticulously placed rhythms and beguiling changes to such heights that you really wonder where this incredible duo might take us in the future.  For now, they have their particular field to themselves.  They also produced the best live performance I witnessed in 2013, with their set at the Green Man Festival.  If you're wondering how two blokes standing behind computers can generate such a spectacle, I advise you to go and see them without delay.

The album, needless to say, is easily available, but can be got here among other places.

I suppose I ought to start reminding you now that you can hear the first broadcast of the 2013 Festive Fifty from twelve midnight on 24/25 December here.  Join us for an hour before midnight where some of us Dandelion DJs will also be playing some of our favourites of the year.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Best Albums of 2013: 3. CRAWANDER

3. Cartoon Core - CRAWANDER (Sacrifarce)

The debut album from Croatia's finest took so long to emerge I was worried in case they'd done something stupid like split up or had a terrible accident or something.  Thankfully, neither of those scenarios occurred and, in September, 2013, Cartoon Core saw the light of day and was everything we hoped it would be, and more.

Our anticipation had already been well and truly moistened by frenzied gems like 'Pro Bono Vox', 'Prophit' and the pizza-fuelled anger of 'No Problem Like My Problem' but we really had no right to expect that the brilliance encapsulated in these glimpses into the crazy world of Crawander should be replicated so wonderfully across sixteen tracks.  In the event, there isn't a bad one on the album and, remarkably, it's available purely as NYOP from here.  I'd advise you give generously - this is an album that will keep you dangerous and unpredictable company for the rest of your life.  

Monday, 16 December 2013

Best Albums of 2013: 4. Anata Wa Sukari Tsukarete Shimai

4. The Lost Charles Underscore - Anata Wa Sukari Tsukarete Shimai (Bearsuit)

Astonishing stuff from the excellent Bearsuit label, who put out many good things during 2013 but excelled themselves with this album of brilliantly twisted psychedelic-punk-pop-noise strangeness that crams so much into itself that, at the end, you feel you've digested an entire year's worth of brilliant music rather than a mere twelve tracks.  When the preview track 'Doll' pummeled my lugholes I didn't dare hope that the rest of the collection would be equal to it in magnificence, but it was and the proof is here.  

Mark Barton is The Sunday Experience said it 'belches along a grizzled dust racked highway once frequented by a youthful Tom Waits channelling the spirit of Beefheart', but he was only talking about a single track.  Utterly spellbinding.

Get it here

Friday, 13 December 2013

Best Albums of 2013: 5. Dissolved

5.  Surge of the Lucid - Dissolved (Daddy Tank)

While there are many labels that deserve a massive pat on the back for their support for great music and constant capacity to surprise, Daddy Tank deserves particular appreciation for its consistent ability to stay ahead of this very strong pack.  Every time you think the label's gone about as far as it can, another release comes out that cranks the quality level up another notch and sets the standard that others must be judged by.

No Daddy Tank release since that Twiggy & The K-Mesons album a couple of years ago has achieved this quite so spectacularly as this.  If we felt our love for Dissolved's work could not increase in intensity, Surge of the Lucid came along to push us to insane emotional depths.  It's an extraordinary nine-track panorama of experimental electronic wizardly, the technology barely concealing a playful touch that, at all the right moments, unleashes a very human intensity too often absent from the work of those who treat their electric toys as if they were an end in themselves.  In Dissolved's hands, they are a means to something very different, something that's much more difficult to define but, whatever it is, Surge of the Lucid is its most astonishing manifestation yet.

Download it from the Dissolved bandcamp page here or get it on CD from Daddy Tank here.  

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Best Albums of 2013: 6. JD Meatyard

6. Northern Songs - JD Meatyard (Probe Plus)

No other collection in the vast discography of John Donaldson showcases the extraordinary breadth of his vision like this.  The former Levellers 5/Calvin Party main man is currently making the best music of his long career as JD Meatyard and Northern Songs is its finest outpouring thus far.  Teasingly, though, he opens so many different possibilities in this album that you sense the future might see him plundering still richer artistic territory.  We'll see.

For now, this'll do just fine.  It takes us from the fervent, uncompromising political comment of 'Jesse James' and 'A Political Song (Blow It Out Yr Arse) all the way through to the intensely personal emotions of 'Sweet Wine' and 'Jesus Call' and every stop on the way reveals yet another masterfully crafted layer and suggests those reservoirs of rich possibilities still to come.

Get it directly from Probe Plus here.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Best Albums of 2013: 7. Acid Mothers Temple & The Cosmic Inferno

7. Doobie Wonderland - Acid Mothers Temple & The Cosmic Inferno (Parallax Sounds)

Always an amazing thing when a band that's been going for quite some time, making music that's of a recognisably high standard, suddenly cranks up the quality to levels you hadn't imagined were possible.  Such was the case this year with Acid Mothers Temple, whose album managed to fuse elements of krautrock, acid rock, Parliament/Funkadelic and god knows what else and not only avoid being a conceptual nightmare, but turn out to be one of the releases of the year.

Five tracks here, all of which offer lengthy journeys into a hedonistic musical soul that inhabits a den of inquity where the best drugs share elbow room with glitterballs and Can's Tago Mago and where frenzied, open jams transport you to otherworldly spaced-out climes you didn't know existed, but hoped in earnest that they would.

This may be the best release yet from the marvellous Parallax Sounds label, which is saying something in itself.  Get it on CD here.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Best Albums of 2013: 8. Nac/Hut Report

8.  Angel-Like Contraction Reverse - Nac/Hut Report (Double Hallucinative)

Stunning release from this Polish/Italian duo who take guitars, loops and various other noises and channel them brilliantly into nine raucous yet strangely melodic tracks.  Overlaid with Brigitte Roussel's bewitching vocals, each raw slab of noise mutates into something discernible as a song, the layers of meticulously placed sound ensuring you're not easily able to identify where it ends and a dark sonic wilderness begins.  

As I suggested when I reviewed it earlier this year, this isn't something you can put on and do the ironing too - unless you want to run the risk of self-mutilation.  It demands your attention: give it.

Get it here.  

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Best Albums of 2013: 9. Cloud

9. Comfort Songs - Cloud (Audio Antihero)

The Audio Antihero label probably had its most productive year yet and the crowning achievement (in a close race with the rest of that Jack Hayter series) was this, an album of delicate brilliance that you could line up against Mercury Rev's Deserter Songs and The Flaming Lips' The Soft Bulletin and it'd win without breaking sweat.  

The songs in this collection get soaked up by your consciousness and become part of you: you find them popping into your head at odd times and it takes you a while to remember where you heard them, then you get used to it and you know straight away.  There can be no better antidote to a 'mainstream' music industry more obsessed than ever with the transient and insubstantial.

Deservedly, it got a lot of great reviews including this one from Contact Music: "Comfort Songs holds a strong claim as one of best albums under the ill-defined umbrella of 'indie-rock' that has been released in the last decade or so - 10/10."  

Get it on CD or download here.  

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Best Albums of 2013: 10. P.F.A.

10.  Less Talk More Oi! - P.F.A. (Self-Released)

Of all the great things that came out of Hungary in 2013 - and there were many - my favourite was this, a masterpiece of curt punk diatribes from this Veszprem band who manage to cram 26 songs into 28 minutes, leave you breathless, panting, wanting more and in no doubt that the shit that goes down in their country has a distasteful universal resonance and that they've nailed it perfectly.

Titles like 'Closet SS' and 'Carnivore Punks Fuck Off' give you the general idea, while 'Piss Puddles of Hell' probably deserves to be recognised as the best song title of the year - and the content doesn't disappoint either.   There are two one second tracks here too: in fact, they come in as only a fraction of a second which is why bandcamp lists them as 00:00.  The whole thing is an angry melee of some of the best raw punk I've heard in years.  

NYOP here.  

Friday, 29 November 2013

Best Albums of 2013: 11. Mark Wynn

11. Social Situations - Mark Wynn (Self-Released)

Stripped down bare, a lone voice and guitar can deliver a sparse eloquence that relies for its potency on the quality of the individual behind it.  Mark Wynn produces that potency with ridiculous consistency.  Line him up alongside Roy Harper, Billy Bragg and Jeffrey Lewis and see him slug it out with the best.  Seriously - he's that good.

His prolific output produced many of the delights of 2013 and there were so many high points it's difficult to do justice to them all.  My favourite was this, which came out as a split LP with The Sorry Kisses and also as a separate download on Mark's bandcamp site. It's like a Fast Show for the ears, only better. The scattergun delivery and acerbic humour pepper your ears and mind with a barrage of images that build into a panoramic private glimpse into a world where popular culture rubs up against mundane, brilliant obsessions and the listener wins every time.  

Get it here.

This will be my last post before voting closes in the official festive fifty, so make sure you let us know your three favourite tracks of the year before midnight on 30 November here.  

My top ten countdown begins from 1 December.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Best Albums of 2013: 12. Bill Baird

12. Spring Break of the Soul - Bill Baird (Pau Wau)

For the second year running, there's a place in my top twenty for the twisted pop of this Austin, Texas artiste.  Less immediate that last year's offering, Spring Break of the Soul nonetheless creeps into your consciousness and leaves a mark there that's both vivid and indelible.  Baird's basic artistic palette has its roots in late psychedelic strangeness, but there's so much more to this seventeen track collection: the man has a restless consciousness that means he leaves few stones unturned in his sometimes bizarre quest for interest and inspiration.  For the listener, this is an enigmatic and playful romp through a million shades of pop goodness.

Get it as a download here or on double vinyl from Pau Wau here.  

Two days left to vote in the festive fifty here.  

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Best Albums of 2013: 13. Nnevteiga

13. NnEvTeIgA - Nnevteiga (Tendress)

Crazy brilliance from this Japanese band who take loads of disparate elements and glue them together with demented noise.  The result is a mad brainshaker of an album with too many high points to list here among its twelve tracks, but I'll try one: 'ItA EkUTshI' crams more into its two minutes than most bands could come up with in a lifetime.

Get it as NYOP here.

Just three days left to vote in the official festive fifty here.  

Monday, 25 November 2013

Best Albums of 2013: 14. Banque Allemande

14. Willst Du Chinese Sein Musst Du Die Ekligen Sachen Essen - Banque Allemande (SS Records)

Sledgehammer attack of an album from this Berlin band, whose debut seemed to come out of nowhere a couple of years ago.  Then, this suddenly appeared in 2013 and tore my head to shreds both mentally and physically with its ferocious combination of visceral guitars and charging beats, a restless  and dangerously lively intelligence underpinning it all.  I've heard comparisons with the Velvets but, apart from the obvious, I don't see them: I'm thinking more Big Black at their very best, piling into a studio that Laibach had used and taking what they needed.  Limited edition LP of 400 copies and last I heard they were down to double figures, so you might want to move quick: get it here.  

Five days left to vote in the official Festive Fifty at Dandelion Radio here.  I should also mention that randomly drawn out voters will get some bunches of CDs picked by individual DJs.  

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Best Albums of 2013: 15. Laurence Made Me Cry

15. The Diary of Me - Laurence Made Me Cry (Self-Released)

Sometimes a release forces me to reassess my in-built preference towards the raucous and noisy and reconsider my often-held opinion that good music doesn't usually come from people who can sing and play their instruments well.  The Diary of Me is one such release.  Jo Whitby can sing, and she can play too, and she also has a tendency to surround herself with people who can do these things too and are able to complement her remarkable talents.

So, on this album, we don't just get a whole collection of masterpieces penned and crafted by Jo herself; we also get contributions from the likes of Paul Foster (Dementio13) Diane Marie Kloba, other artists whose remarkable talents have done much to light up 2013.  The album is a treasure trove of introspective delights that, conversely, still manage to reach out and illuminate so much of the outside world.   CD or NYOP download available here.  

A lot of people seem to be following this countdown - thanks for that.   Tell us your own favourites of the year by voting in the official Festive Fifty at Dandelion Radio here

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Best Albums of 2013: 16. Sieur et Dame

16. Amour et Papouasie - Sieur et Dame (Kythibong)

Another release from the incredible Kythibong label, and another from Nantes, this time an astonishing collection that veers from nightmare cabaret to crazed opera and stops off every now and again for a quick flirtation with one of those Shock-Headed Peter type nursery rhymes that frighten kids half to death.  The dual vocals can simultaneously take you to humanity-transcending heights and make your flesh want to creep up your arse.  The overall effect is stunning: a unique album from unique performers.

Get it on CD or LP from here.  

Friday, 22 November 2013

Best Albums of 2013: 17. The Fall

17. ReMit - The Fall (Cherry Red)

One of the finest Fall albums of recent times.  So why is it only at number 17? Simply because there were sixteen albums released this year that I enjoyed more, and because 2013 was an especially productive year for high quality releases.

With The Remainderer imminent and another album to expect in the new year, we might be entering one of those prolific periods for the band's releases and, if this one was anything to go by, we're in for a treat.

Remember: get along to this link to vote for your favourite three tracks of 2013 in this year's official Festive Fifty.  

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Best Albums of 2013: 18. - The Healthy Boy & The Badass Motherfuckers

18, Carne Farce Camisole - The Healthy Boy & The Badass Motherfuckers (Kythibong)

The excellent Kythibong label brought us many great things during 2013 and one of the best was this, a simmering monster of growling bluesy folk, featuring the menacing vocals of The Healthy Boy - somewhere between Nick Cave and Jacques Brel in a pact with Satan - and the brooding musicianship of the Motherfuckers, from Nantes.  This was nothing like what I expected on seeing the band's name and a perpetual unearthing of surprises and wonderful destruction of expectations is a feature throughout the collection.  Get it on vinyl from here.  

Remember: nine days left to vote in the festive fifty.  Tell us your three favourite tracks of the year here.  

Best Albums of 2013 - Number 19: derTANZ

19. Kaktusz - derTANZ

As in 2012, there was plenty coming out of Hungary to get excited about this year.  One of the very best was this album from Budapest experimental punkers derTANZ, an album of blistering yet meticulously channeled noise, recorded entirely live.  Probably best summed up by the comment Sand left on the album's bandcamp page: "Strange album, after many listenings I still can't pinpoint it well, but I like it a lot.  It is strangely easy to listen and captivating."

Well put, Sand.   The album's available as CD or NYOP download from here.  

A timely reminder, too, that there are now only ten days left to vote in the offiical festive fifty at Dandelion Radio.  Tell us your three favourite tracks of the year here.  

Monday, 18 November 2013

Best Albums of 2013: 20 - Churn Milk Joan

20.  8 Black Postcards - Churn Milk Joan

Churn Milk Joan have had a busy year, but for me their finest moment was this brilliant part-improvised five track collection they recorded in their Hebden Bridge studios. 

They quote this from my review on the album's bandcamp page: "...another stunner... a taut percussive backdrop against which sparse guitar patterns interweave, Tago Mago-esque musical interludes rise and fall and something not unrelated to a funk vibe drags you into a sonic blender into which sounds are tossed before coming out of the other end entirely transformed, as indeed is the listener."

Couldn't have put it better myself.  Oh.

Get it as NYOP here. 

Sunday, 17 November 2013

The 2013 Listen To Me Top Ten - Nominations

As usual, my December show on Dandelion Radio will feature the Listen To Me Top Ten - a selection of my ten favourite bands or artists who've contacted me during the year and introduced me to their music, for which I'm very grateful.  The numbers doing this during 2013 were greater than ever so the ten selected came from a very large pool and inevitably form an extremely strong shortlist.

During the show, I'll attempt, with great difficulty, to put them in some kind of ranking order, but for now the ten selected bands and artists are listed below.  I'd recommend you check them out if you've not done so before, because they're all extremely worthy of your attention.

The nominations:

Burning Condors (Bandcamp)
Jude Cowan (Website)
DerTANZ (Bandcamp)
Dot Dash (Bandcamp)
Indidginus (Soundcloud)
Diane Marie Kloba (Website)
Labasheeda (Website)
Laurence Made Me Cry (Website)
Music For The Muted (Soundcloud)
Nac/Hut Report (Website)

A reminder again that you can vote for your own favourites of the year in the official Festive Fifty at Dandelion Radio here

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Top 40 Albums of 2013: 25-21

Concluding the bottom half of the countdown:

25. Images Du Futur - Suuns (Secretly Canadian)

Great live band and this album finally translates that into a truly memorable collection of studio recordings.  Excellent remixes EP recently released too.

24. The Ring of the Rise - Micah Blue Syndrome (Immune)

Its understated brilliance works on you until you submit and are forced to admit that barrages of noise, while they unquestionably have their place, are not something you should build your life around completely.

23. Last Test - Dementio13 (Self-Released) - Above

A man who releases so many albums I invariably lose track of where he is with them and sometimes find myself back-tracking. This is him at his eclectic electronic best: available as NYOP here.

22. Zabraneta Planeta - Bernays Propaganda (Self-Released) - Below

The live session from this Macedonian band broadcast on my show was one of the highlights of the year for me.  Many of the tracks feature in their studio versions on this fine collection, also available as NYOP.  Get it here.

21. Silence Yourself - Savages (Matador/Pop Noire)

Giving indie popularity a good name for the first time in years.

A reminder that you can let us know your favourites of the year by voting in Dandelion Radio's official Festive Fifty here.  Half of the voting period has now gone: get yours in by the end of November for it to count.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Top 40 Albums of 2013: 30-26

I know this is a bit early, but I always start it at this time of year and it still takes me up to Xmas Eve before I get to the end.  And I want to get it done and dusted before the first broadcast of the Festive Fifty which, as usual, will be on Xmas Day.  A reminder you can vote for your favourite three tracks of the year here. You've got till the end of November.

In this  chart, these are numbers 30-26:

30.  Hunting a Schizophrenic Wolf - The Fucked Up Beat (Daddy Tank) - Above

Abrasive and apt to stir your body to move in strange, unhealthy directions.  Yet another work of wonder from one of the finest record labels of our time, if not the finest.

29. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - Bonnie 'Prince' Billy (Astro Black)

Out of the blue release that turned out to be one of Will Oldham's best ever: this finds him at his quirky, melancholy best.

28. Why Can't You Write Something Nice For a Change? - Tingle in the Netherlands (Nerve Echo)

A collection that brings together this irreverent duo's work together in one neat, nasty little package.  Irrepressible ditties that offend in a world that needs offending.

27. Lunar Collection - Lee Negin (Passing Phase)

A regular visitor to these annual charts, still knocking out electronic music that manages to be both familiar and surprising at the same time.

26. A Wonder Working Stone - Alasdair Roberts & Friends (Drag City) - Below

Understated neo-folk from one of a small number of masters of the craft.

Numbers 25-21 coming soon...

Monday, 11 November 2013

Top 40 Albums of 2013: 35-31

Continuing the countdown...

35. Wait to Pleasure - No Joy (Mexican Summer)

Shoegaze-tinged indie pop with a timeless freshness.

34. You Owe Me Nothing But Love - Comanechi (Tigertrap)

By turns spiky and tuneful.  The uncompromisingly brash 'Patsy' is one of the most astonishing tracks of the year.

33. Tomorrow's Harvest - Boards of Canada (Warp)

Cracking return to form - retains all the elements that made their earlier work such a delight, but endowed with the masterful touches of veterans.

32. White Light - 65daysofstatic (Century Media)

Another triumph of the tried and tested - sublimely atmospheric and powerful.

31. I Surrection - Talisman (Sugar Shack) - below

Reggae veterans still carrying an awesome punch.

Let us know your favourites of the year.  Vote in the official Festive Fifty at Dandelion Radio here

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Top 40 Albums of 2013 - 40-36

Commencing my countdown of the year's best albums...and what a great year it was:

40. Mowgli - Mister Lies (Lefse)
39. The Big Dream - David Lynch (Sacred Bones)
38. The Moths Are Real - Serafina Steer (Stolen)
37. James X Boyd & The Boydoids - James X Boyd & The Boydoids (Self-Released)
36. Fetch - Melt Banana (Azap) (below)

Numbers 35-31 coming soon.  Don't forget voting is open in the only chart that really counts - the official Festive Fifty on Dandelion Radio.  Vote here

Monday, 21 October 2013

Dot Dash - Half Remembered Dream

'Pop band, some songs,' the message said and that's always a good sign.  I could choose this point to go off on a rant at promoters who assume I'm going to be swayed to play something because they sound like someone else or because someone on another radio station has already told them, but I won't because I'd rather talk about Dot Dash.

Dot Dash are a four piece from Washington DC.  All four of them have histories with other fine bands and I'll admit to being excited that Jim Spellman from Velocity Girl was a member, because I particularly loved them, but other than that by far the most important thing about them is not biography but, of course, the tunes.   And the tunes are fantastic: potent post-punk guitars, diverse rhythms, irresistible hooks - the works.

I've said before that, while I dread the day when a pile of guitar-shredding noise or pounding electronica doesn't excite the hell out of me, sometimes I'm most impressed of all by a band that has a load of great songs and can play them with style and imagination.  That's where Dot Dash come in, because their album Half-Remembered Dream is chock full of such things.  And, as a bonus, this is melody-fuelled guitar music with a real edge to it: 'Do Re Mi', one of its many highlights, wings along on frantic drums and a guitar line to die, while a big favourite already is the urgent 'A Light In The Distance', where clipped, choppy guitars are the frame for Banks' vocal dexterity.  Great to hear a singer who can clearly sing but doesn't come out like a soulless automaton.

I'm playing the excellent album opener '(Here's To) The Ghosts of the Past' in my October show on Dandelion Radio, which continues to stream at various times until the end of the month.  The album can be downloaded from the band's bandcamp site here or on CD from their Canadian label The Beautiful Music here

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Sieur et Dame - Amour et Papouasie

When I begin my annual rundown of the best albums of the year next month, I'll have a tougher task than ever, so excellent a year 2013 has been.  This is partly, though not fully, because about half a dozen labels in particular have been prolific not so much in the number of releases they've put out but in the astonishing level of quality they've maintained.  Kythibong is one of those labels and, with Amour et Papouasie, they've done it again.

In fact, this is probably my favourite Kythibong release of all.  Sieur et Dame weave together the classical and the contemporary, the earnest and the playful in a bewitching manner that messes with listeners' minds just as much as it engages and fascinates.  Consider as an example 'Terrible', a tune that creeps around your brain, with the duo's dual vocals combining the sub-operatic and the near-spoken to leave an imprint on your mind that's far removed from what normally floats my boat, but easily as intoxicating for all that.  Or take the carnivalesque brilliance of 'Torride', which spirals to a frantic finale only to rest
finally on a few sparse piano notes, or the pummeling, upbeat 'Ours Molaire'.  There's plenty more besides: all ten tracks have a kind of unique and perversely enigmatic quality that allows them to inhabit roughly the same fascinating territory and yet stand out by themselves.

This is music for the soul and it transports me to places that few releases this year, for all the many good ones there have been, have taken me.   In my October Dandelion Radio show, I've chosen to play the album opener 'Chalheur Malheur', partly because it suffuses so majestically pretty much all of the album's many intoxicating elements and partly because its appropriation of 'Frere Jacques' is a piece of impudent brilliance that both moves and, yes, entertains me every time I hear it.

Get the album here

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Anata Wa Sukari Tsukarete Shimai - The Lost Charles Underscore

Inevitably, the most exciting ones are the ones you find it hard to trace the origins of, identify what the band have been listening to or even anticipate what the next track will sound like.  In the music of Anata Wa Sukari Tsukarete Shimai (often shortened, conveniently, to AWSTS) reference points fly by often enough, but they're fleeting and quickly replaced by something else that burrows through the headphones and into your ears, leaving you in a state that fluctuates between stunned bliss and numb wonder.

Headphones are optional, of course, but recommended, because this is music you need to fill your head with.  The band's album has been put out by the very fine Bearsuit Records and for me it's their best release yet.  Apparently the people responsible for AWSTS go by the names of Bunny and Gnomeform, which only makes me like them even more.

 But the names, great as they are, fade into irrelevance when the music starts up.  I love the strange elusiveness of the grooves, its warped fuzziness and the way so many parts of it hang together that probably shouldn't.  I love the teeth-on-edge melodic spasms of 'Drink It Up', the mellow yet troubled vibes of 'I Can Make Footprints With My Eyes' and the way 'Backyard' sludges around my brain and threatens never to end.  I love, perhaps more than anything else' the skewed beauty of 'Doll', which you can hear in my Dandelion Radio show this month.  And I love the rest of the twelve tracks too, but it's hard to find words for something as elusively brilliant as this.

Get the album from the Bearsuit Records bandcamp site here   And bookmark the site while you're there, because they're putting out some seriously interesting stuff and you'll almost certainly want to go back.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

20,000 & Counting

That recent JD Meatyard review took Unwashed Territories over the 20,000 mark for viewings.  Thanks!

To mark the occasion, here are the top ten most viewed band/artist reviews.  The list doesn't include general reviews of things like festivals and end of year lists, just individual acts.  Pleasantly surprised that Sugarbrute top the list, even though the band broke up (I think) some time ago:

1. Sugarbrute (below) in session (12 May 2011)

2. Zabraneta Planeta - Bernays Propaganda (3 May 2013)
3. View of the Outer Rim - Lee Negin (23 October 2012)
4. Alchemical Postcards - The Chasms (6 September 2011)
5. Icon Give Thank - Sun Araw & M Geddes Gengras meet The Congos (27   November 2012)
6. Lunar Collection - Lee Negin (below) (24 March 2013)

7. Let England Shake - PJ Harvey (24 December 2011)
8. Demoni - Kottarashky & The Rain Dogs (20 March 2013)
9. Relic - Matt Stevens (4 August 2011)
10. Doobie Wonderland - Acid Mothers Temple & The Cosmic Inferno (1 September 2013)

Interesting that Lee Negin's the only artist to feature twice.  Notable that the ten artists are also spread over six different countries.  Wonder how many changes to this list there'll be when we reach 30,000?  On current form, that should be around February 2014.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

JD Meatyard - Northern Songs

You could make a good case for claiming that John Donaldson's JD Meatyard project is yielding his best work to date, better even that what he produced with the remarkable Calvin Party and Levellers 5.  A remarkable, even contentious claim, but if his debut album hinted at its truth, Northern Songs states it boldly.

Donaldson has matured into a singer-songwriter of remarkable power and versatility.  Here, he moves with ease between the gently romantic 'Dance With You', for instance, to the bluntly acerbic 'A Political Song (Blow It Out Your Arse)', showing an artistic dexterity it's hard to imagine many even attempting.  Ditto, the courageous honesty of' 'Jesus Call' or the humility of 'Standing on the Shoulders of Better Men', where he runs through a roll-call of great artists and comes up with some of the most poetic comments ever written on the subject of Mark E. Smith, to name just one.  It's fitting that the title of the song adapts a quote from Bernard of Chartres that's more popularly attributed to Isaac Newton because a balancing of the spiritual and the material gives a metaphysical framework to JD Meatyard's work that few can approach.  It's this that raises him well above the run of the mill political observer, not that there are enough of them around at the moment anyway.

I've chosen to play the powerful 'Jesse James' in my October show on Dandelion Radio this month.  That's partly because I've already played a lot of the other songs here over the months building up to this release and partly because it's an irresistibly forceful retort to the crisis in modern capitalism that's always been there and which those with an interest in sustaining it are hell-bent on covering up.  The need for an outlaw figure to take back, literally in these times, money that's been taken from the poor and given to the rich becomes, in John Donaldson's hands, a political move so urgent it's disturbing there's a shortage of similar voices, a suggestion lent force by this sparse yet powerful guitar-driven clarion call.  Yet it's a sign of this artist's considerable scope that he can make a song like 'One Last Waltzing' sound just as imperative in its potential to rescue the human condition.

JD Meatyard lives in a world in which governments have witnessed the spectacular collapse of an economy driven by greed, plugged the gap using public money and then blamed public spending for the crisis in the first place.  And they look like they're getting away with it.  It's the same world you live in too.  His manifesto is Northern Songs, an album that calls up political outrage and human tenderness as two sides of the same coin and, as such, it's one of the most important artistic statements of the age.

Get it from the Probe Plus store here.
You can still hear the session JD Meatyard did for my September Dandelion Radio show here.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Katie Gately - Pipes

Blue Tapes have already released some of the most intoxicating music of the year, so it was with a sense of fevered anticipation that I approached their latest offering, a C30 cassette from Los Angeles sound artist Katie Gately.  To say I wasn't disappointed would be an understatement: on first hearing it was apparent that this was in contention for the best release yet from the label and on second I decided there was no question that it was.

Pipes is a fourteen-minute masterpiece of sonic exploration and, if that phrase conjures up thoughts of cold, atonal experimentation then dismiss them immediately but this is anything but.  Remarkably for a work made purely from tones of the human voice, it has a defiant and heady kick and a distinct and bewitching sense of harmony, albeit harmony of a kind you'll rarely find even hinted at in the mechanic industrial factory fodder of yer average pop song.  Gately strips all that away to leave something pure and brilliant and the fourteen minutes we're left with is sublime, sparse and entirely enthralling throughout.

Apparently it took Gately six months to put this together and, given its meticulously crafted power, that's entirely believable.  The tape's limited to a run of 200 and, given the praise that's already been lavished on the release and on Gately by the likes of The Wire, the 405 and my own Dandelion Radio colleagues, among others, you'd better get in there fast.  Get it here and hear the piece in its entirety in my October Dandelion Radio show.

Find out more about Gately's work at her soundcloud site here.  Here's a free sample of something else to get you started:

Thursday, 3 October 2013

In Session in my October show: Helena Dukic

There's something about the songs of Helena Dukic that sets them apart from everything else I'm listening to at the moment.  Perhaps it's because she's a classically trained artist coming at popular music from an entirely different angle and armed with a different artistic template than most of the performers I encounter.  Or perhaps she's just got that certain indefinable magic about her that all great artists have.

The history I refer to includes spells at Music Academy Zagreb and Cambridge University after a childhood spent playing the piano.  She might easily have ignored the world of what you and I listen to all together, but thankfully she hasn't and the refreshing affection she clearly brings to her work is comparable with, say, David Lynch's forays into music following a long upbringing in film.  Not that there's anything remotely similar about what they produce, but the unconstrained abandon and sheer job evident in the works of both make for a similarly fascinating listening experience.  Except, with due deference to Lynch's work, I like what Dukic does more.

I first encountered her on the Audio Antihero benefit compilation earlier this year.  Even in such exalted company as the great Jeffrey Lewis and Darren Hayman, Helena stood out and the song she contributed - 'Come Along' - is one of my favourites of the year.  I immediately approached her to do a session for the show, she agreed and the results can be heard on my Dandelion Radio show this month.

The three tracks she's recorded for us all have that sublime, magical quality I referred to earlier.   If I had to single one out, I'd probably go for 'Don't Know How to Hate You', which has a beguiling quality that has allowed it to settle in my head and make a little nest there, right next to 'Come Along'.  But thankfully I don't need to and can hear them all along with all the great stuff Helena has placed on her soundcloud site too.  Give it a visit: it's free, in more than one sense of the world.

Here's a (non-session) taster: Magic Toy Shop

Friday, 20 September 2013

CRAWANDER - Cartoon Core

To be honest, I'd almost given up on it, thought they must have broken up or something, so long had I been waiting for the debut album from CRAWANDER, which was mooted well back into last year.  As it turned out, all I really had to do was check the band's Soundcloud site, where many of the tracks have been available for months.  That'll teach me for not paying attention.  Thankfully, the band were, and a message from them put me right.  The album's now available and it's called Cartoon Core.  Was it worth the wait?  You betcha.

If the smattering of teaser downloads that surfaced last year were anything to go by, the clear suggestion was that CRAWANDER might well be the best band in the world at the moment.  It was a big call, but Cartoon Core confirms that promise.  The sixteen tracks include those teasers, including the playfully acerbic 'Pro Bono Vox', the storming 'Prophit' and my personal favourite, 'No Problem Like My Problem', which includes perhaps rock and roll's finest ever lyrical reference to eating pizza.

The new tracks don't disappoint either.  'I Hate Teenagers', which I'll be playing in my October show on Dandelion Radio, and 'Sirens', are fine examples of the vibrant frenzy that characterises this band's approach, comparable with anything that came out to whet our ravenous appetites last year, while album closer 'I Sense Death' is a churning growler of a finale that makes you want to run through the whole thing again.  But it seems wrong simply to pick out examples, because there's simply not a bad track on Cartoon Core.  In fact, there's not even an OK track here: the same level of excitement and energy is maintained throughout and every one is an absolute corker.

The band's facebook page has a biography that suggests they're an original beat combo from Liverpool.  Clearly there's something here that fits in with the whole odd and playful aura surrounding the band's identity, though I can't quite work out what (which is possibly the point), but my understanding (unless this is part of it too) is that they're from Croatia.  But none of this really matters, because where they really belong is in my music collection, and I would suggest they should find a place in yours too.

Get the album from here.

Individual track download of No Problem Like My Problem if you need to, but just skip it and go straight to the whole thing. 

Monday, 9 September 2013

The Flatmates: A Legacy Worth Returning To

The original line-up of The Flatmates came together in 1985 and quickly became one of the key bands of the C86 era.  Back when there was such a thing as a meaningful indie singles chart, The Flatmates recorded six singles within a two-year period and every one reached the top twenty.  Now, guitarist Martin Whitehead has reformed the band with original drummer Rocker on keyboards and three new members and they've got a new single out, 'You Held My Heart', which you can catch, among other places, at the end of my September show on Dandelion Radio, streaming at various times throughout the month at www.dandelionradio.com.  

It’s fitting that the band should choose to reform now, with indie pop enjoying somewhat of a renaissance and so many cracking young bands around paying undisputed homage to The Flatmates and their C86 brethren.    At my recent foray to the Green Man Festival, among the many and varied delights on offer, by far the most exciting new discovery for me were the Argentinian three-piece Los Cripis, who belt out their own loud variety of old school indie with a deliriously infectious energy.  And they certainly aren't the only ones doing it.

It may be felt that, in returning to take their place among so many perky young offspring of the music they brought so much early life to, The Flatmates might run the risk of appearing mere tired old folk, like the embarrassing dads and mums who wreck the kids’ party by dancing like chickens.   Any such doubts are dispelled with one hearing to the new single, which comes out via three separate labels, no less: the band's original Subway Organisation imprint, Rocker's Local Underground and Archdeacon of Pop.  It's a sublime piece of indie pop, written by new vocalist Lisa Bouvier, and backed by a Whitehead composition, 'One Last Kiss'.

Band reformations can, it’s true, be a hit or miss affair, but The Flatmates have returned to the party with a bang in the form of a cracking release that ensures the wave of bands they helped inspire welcome them not as mere godparents who deserve respect for what they did almost three decades ago, but as a force that remains as productive and as stimulating as it ever was.

Get the single here or here.


Thursday, 5 September 2013

COPS - Cry Now, Cry Later

For those not familiar with COPS, I expect ears to prick up considerably when I mention it's a new project from Harry Cloud, whose Indian Pussy album so delighted me last year and which I probably even under-valued until I found myself getting stuck into it repeatedly towards the end of 2013.

For this project, Harry's teamed up with Chloe Mandel and Paul Roessler and together they've put out this three-track EP, which you can get as name-your-price at their bandcamp site here.  Unless you're one of those sadly inadequate individuals who found Harry's album last year - and, indeed, Ocean Song, which I rather clumsily overlooked the release of earlier in the year - a tad on the brutal side, you're going to love this project, which loses none of what made Indian Pussy such a triumphantly violent ride through the sensibilities of humanity and adds some sublime touches into the bargain.

Cry Now, Cry Later doesn't ask for much - less than twelve minutes of your time, in fact - and gives a hell of a lot back.  Opener 'Tiny Little Hole' might even charm you, its slowly evolving riff growing behind voices from the primordial soup of some semi-apocalyptic soundscape, before 'Somebody Shitty Hitting On Me' lays a breathy female vocal across undulating guitars.  I've chosen this track to play in my September show on Dandelion Radio, which you can hear streaming at various times through the month, although I might easily have gone for 'Deserve To Suffer', the EP's final track, which takes what I assume is Chloe's voice over a buzzing riff and meanders through the enigmatic corridors of sound that are plastered all over this fine release.

COPS have a pugilistic appeal that's served slowly, via sludgy masses of ground-out noise, but is no less powerful for it.  Indeed, their oozing packs a far more lasting wallop than so many of the visceral speed-merchants I stumble across on my daily search for something to tickle my increasingly warped fancies.  Allow me to save you much unfruitful browsing - go straight to COPS.

Download the EP here.  

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Cloud - Comfort Songs

Does this review even need to be written?  So much has been said already about Cloud's Comfort Songs that it would probably suffice simply to give an overview of reviewers' comments, such as Pitchfork's view of it as 'astoundingly accomplished', Tom Ravenscroft's 'a great record', the 8/10 awarded to it by Drowned in Sound or the 10/10 from Contact Music, all of which simply scratch the surface of the praise heaped on what is unquestionably one of 2013's finest achievements.
But to do so would just be lazy and, although I'm quite prone to laziness on occasions, it wouldn't do here and I feel the need, albeit belatedly, to add something myself.  On approaching Comfort Songs, I had the same feeling I got when listening for the first time to The Flaming Lips' The Soft Bulletin.  Not that there are that many stylistic similarities, but these are both releases that hit the listener in places you didn't know were even part of you.  They possess a transcendent appeal.  You're never sure what's going to come along next, are never able with any absolute security to anticipate the next chord change or where the song's structure will take you.  An album that aspires to greatness must have four or five such moments: here, Cloud lays them across all eleven tracks.

I played the single 'Mother Sea' in my August Dandelion Show, a preview that gave us fair notice of what to expect, and yet still it only scratched the surface of this amazing collection, containing only barely a hint, for example, of the whimsical beauty of 'Wish Little Fish' or the epic magnificence of 'Desperation Club'.  At the moment I think 'Authorless Novel' is my favourite track on the album, a meandering, bewitching piece of music that can take you anywhere without you ever feeling you know it completely.   Hear it in my September show on Dandelion Radio.  Audio Antihero, who've already brought us so many great things in the past and during this year, have surpassed even their own high standards with this release.
So often it's the case that a new album captivates me for a few weeks or perhaps at best months before I move on to something else, such is the sheer wealth of great music around.  But this is one that I know I'll be going back to again and again for the rest of my life.  When a certain mood strikes me, and where formerly I reached for The Soft Bulletin or Grandaddy's  The Sophtware Slump now I'll be making my first move in the direction of Comfort Songs.

Get it here

Free download (but don't stop here): Mother Sea