Archive for January, 2010


My Albums of 2009

January 18, 2010

Tsk, typical. I procrastinated for ages on doing my list and making it all nice and readable, but now I’ve got to the point in the month when I need to knuckle down on work for the next issue of AU (which will be free!) so yer getting a plain list and not much else. Sorry.

I found that there were loads of albums I really liked but not so many that demanded I cling them to my bosom the way Why?’s Alopecia did on 2008, or Interpol and British Sea Power’s debuts back in 2002 and 2003. But that’s probably down to the amount of music I’m exposed to these days as much as anything else. There was certainly plenty to enthuse about anyway, and every one of these 50 albums is well worth investigating. I will be back in due course to add links, videos and maybe some nice words. PROMISE! In the meantime, here’s my 2009 in list form.

PS: That’s correct, no Animal Collective. Yeo! Read the rest of this entry ?


My EPs of 2009

January 8, 2010

I’m – finally – going to post my Albums of the Year list shortly, but first I’ll start with ten EPs and singles that helped to soundtrack my year, since I’m not including them in the main list. Inclusion is based on them being standalone releases, not lifted from an existing full-length album. But it’s pretty loose. And there’s a bonus at the end which doesn’t apply.



Here’s a link to a piece I wrote about the London electronic duo on recently.




Click here to read a piece about the wonderfully named Ernest Greene, for Washed Out is he. And he is fantastic.




“Lead track ‘10pm’ is the pick – it builds from a repetitive synth arpeggio into a euphoric floorfiller, all sexy bass, housey piano stabs and the constant patter of bongos bubbling under the surface.”

From my review of the EP on
Click here for the feature I wrote in the mag.

(I can’t find a video for any of the tracks, other than the one remix I don’t really like! Give me a shout if you find one.)
















(I shot this video myself! Apologies for terrible sound, it was just done using my stills camera)










This track appeared on the excellent 5 Years of Hyperdub compilation towards the back end of this year, and following Burial’s collaboration with Four Tet earlier in 2009, it reaffirmed in my mind that the man is a) a genius and b) working on something pretty special. It’s now over two years since Untrue, so let’s hope we get a third album in 2010. This track, though not exactly a progression in his sound, is getting me positively moist in anticipation. What he does, he does better than anyone else, so he can keep on doing it indefinitely for all I care. Enjoy.



My Albums of the 2000s

January 5, 2010

Towards the end of the year just gone, a few friends and I had a bit of an email list orgy, where we compared Albums of the Decade lists, and bleated self-indulgently about why these 10 records (it was only 10 – sorry) mean so much to us. Here, with any overt references to the people I was emailing edited out, is my contribution. It was written quite quickly, and from a very personal point of view, so bear that in mind.

First, some honourable mentions in no particular order:

Ellen Allien & Apparat – Orchestra Of Bubbles
Fugazi – The Argument
Viktor Vaughn – Vaudeville Villain
Deftones – White Pony
Liars – They Threw Us All In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top
Apparat – Walls
At The Drive-In – Relationship Of Command
Deerhunter – Microcastle
Ikara Colt – Chat And Business
The Field – From Here We Go Sublime
Shackleton – Three Eps
F*ck Buttons – Street Horrrsing
Idlewild – 100 Broken Windows
Elbow – Asleep In The Back
TV On The Radio – Dear Science
Yeah Yeah Yeah – Fever To Tell
Lightning Bolt – Hypermagic Mountain
The xx – xx
LCD Soundsystem – s/t
Future Of The Left – Travels With Myself And Another
Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Belle & Sebastian – Dear Catastrophe Waitress
No Age – Weirdo Rippers
The Shins – Chutes Too Narrow
Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
Boxcutter – Glyphic
Radiohead – In Rainbows
Portishead – Third
Holy Fuck – LP
Midlake – The Trials Of Van Occupanther
!!! – Myth Takes
Boards Of Canada – Geogaddi
Sigur Ros – Agaetis Byrjun
LCD Soundsystem – s/t
QOTSA – Songs For The Deaf
Skream – Skream!
The Rapture – Echoes
Martyn – Great Lengths
David Holmes – The Holy Pictures

OK, enough of that. Here’s the top 10:

10. The Knife – Silent Shout (2006)

The first I’d heard of The Knife was with all the chatter about Jose Gonzalez’s version of ‘Heartbeats’, but I hadn’t heard them until I happned to see the video for ‘We Share Our Mothers’ Health’ on MTV2 one night. It completely floored me. Off the back of that and reading reviews, I took a punt on Silent Shout and it was a fine decision, helping to get me into a fair bit of other electronica along the way (including Orchestra Of Bubbles by Ellen Allien & Apparat, which just missed out on the top 10). The album is quite varied in terms of tempo, but it’s still very much of a piece. There’s a spooky, icy atmosphere than the Anderssons can summon up that puts them ahead of nearly everyone else in a similar sphere (see the Fever Ray album for proof). It’s really transportive stuff.


9. mclusky – mclusky Do Dallas (2002)

I think I stumbled across mclusky on Amazon, maybe through reading reviews of Pixies records. Anyway, everything I read about them made them sound like they’d be right up my street, and so it proved. This album was like a cross between Big Black’s Songs About Fucking and Surfer Rosa – unsurpisingly it was produced by Steve Albini. It rocks like fuck of course, but there are plenty of hooks too, as well as Andy Falkous’ unmistakeable potty mouth and sense of humour. It’s got all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, but I love it so.


8. Burial – Untrue (2007)

This album was a gateway drug for me, and it is almost single-handedly responsible for my love of dubstep and other bass-heavy electronic music. I got hold of it because of the deafening buzz online, and it turned out to be totally justified. As with Silent Shout, atmosphere is what makes Untrue such a great album. There’s a desolation there, and an acute detachment that is often described as being the sound of inner London at night. Others would be able to tell better than me whether that’s true, but it makes for uniquely evocative listening. And the combination of two-step garage beats, cavernous bass and Burial’s trademark chewed-up vocal samples works like a dream. He’ll do well to top it.


7. British Sea Power – The Decline Of British Sea Power (2003)

I have BANG magazine to thank for this one. The mag was amazing until a few issues in, when they decided to basically copy Q‘s dadrock editorial slant. A couple of issues later they had folded. A terrible shame. Anyway, they wrote some very nice things about BSP, and then I saw the album for £8.99 in HMV in Lancaster (where I went to university) in its week of release. I bought Hot Hot Heat’s Make Up The Breakdown at the same time, I seem to remember. I got it home, listened, and very soon fell in love. I hadn’t come across such an interesting band since Pulp and their mix of influences and lyrical and visual eccentricities really appealed to me. They, along with mclusky who I discovered around the same time, were a band to get behind; to invest emotional energy in. I certainly did that for a few years. I’m still a big fan (the last record was one of my favourites of 2008) but I’m not the superfan I once was. The Decline still stands up, though.


6. LCD Soundsystem – Sound Of Silver (2007)

No lucky punts here. I think my good friend Ric first turned me onto LCD when ‘Losing My Edge’/’Beat Connection’ came out but I hadn’t given them that much attention until ‘Yeah!’ and subsequently the first album. By the time Sound of Silver emerged, though, I was a genuine fan. Of all the dance-punk acts of the 2002-4 era, they are the most enduring (followed by !!!), and that’s precisely because James Murphy is too savvy, too experienced and too goddamn talented to be defined by one sound. That was already apparent on the first album, but Sound Of Silver showed another side to him – proper heart and soul. You can’t imagine Moving Units coming up with something as life-affirming as ‘Someone Great’ or ‘All My Friends’, can you? And yet Murphy still managed to break out the dancefloor stormers – ‘Get Innocuous!’ is a proper statement of an opener, and then you have the tense and itchy ‘Time To Get Away’ and ‘Us Vs. Them’, which is just unstoppable. James Murphy is a fucking genius, y’hear?


5. Why? – Alopecia (2008)

This was another case of believing the hype. I’d been vaguely aware of Why? and had enjoyed the video for ‘Sanddollars’ off their previous album, but it was the shouting and yelling of online strangers that led me to download and subsequently buy Alopecia. The best way to describe it in terms of other bands is The Shins’ sense of melody and lyrical dexterity with a bit of Pavement’s slacker style and the indie hip-hop of early Nineties Beck. But it’s all about Yoni Wolf – his lyrics are chock-full of “the kind of things I won’t admit to my headshrinker” as he puts it. It’s a head-spinning journey through his innermost thoughts – some enlightening, some funny, many uncomfortable – set to the best melding of indie-rock and hip-hop I’ve ever heard. Chiming indie-pop, head-knocking beats and quotable lines galore. The best album of 2008 by quite a distance.


4. Primal Scream – XTRMNTR (2000)

My first memories of this album date from before I’d even heard it. In 2000 I had (foolishly) switched from the NME to Melody Maker. I was a late developer in terms of music taste, and I think their Godspeed and Aphex Twin covers freaked me out a bit. MM was safer. They liked JJ72. But despite me swapping sides, I was aware of what NME were doing (they advertised in MM every week) and I was somehow cognisant of the fact that they had been jizzing themselves over XTRMNTR. Never having been interested in Primal Scream, and at this point scornful of the NME and its (then, to my immature mind) muso slant I had no intention of hearing the album. But then I heard ‘Swastika Eyes’ on the Radio 1 Evening Session, and saw the band perform on Jools Holland, and I began to take notice. A short time late I did eventually buy it (along with Moon Safari by Air – good trip, that) and it has been a constant of my listening habits ever since. I’ve never gone through a period of being obsessed by it, but it’s always been there, and when it came to compiling this list it belatedly occurred to me that it had to be up there. I’m still not a Scream fan, and I still think Bobby Gillespie is a pillock, but there’s something about the marriage of naïve sloganeering and all-out sonic warfare on this record that is just impossible to deny. You try listening to ‘Exterminator’, ‘Swastika Eyes’, ‘Shoot Speed/Kill Light’, ‘Kill All Hippies’ or ‘Accelerator’ and see if you can sit still. It’s unbelievably exciting – aural speed.


3. The Bronx – The Bronx (I) (2004)

Speaking of exciting records… Again, this was an online recommendation and in my Soulseek days I grabbed three tracks and left it at that. Then came Reading 2004 and I saw them play an early in the Radio 1 tent. Gig of the weekend if I’m not mistaken. Hardcore is a genre I’m less than knowledgeable about, and that hasn’t changed, but I’m pretty sure I will love this record until my dying day. Pure fury from an absolutely shit-hot band, and it sounds absolutely ENORMOUS. In fact, the production is one of the main reasons I love it so much. Guaranteed to get the blood pumping every time.


2. Radiohead – Kid A

I have a confession to make – I only rarely listen to this album. But my relationship with Radiohead is a strange one. I’ve never really given their albums heavy rotation except for when Hail To The Thief and In Rainbows came out, I’ve hardly ever in the mood to listen to them and yet I revere them over pretty much any other band. OK Computer is in my top five albums of all time (at least) and here we have Kid A at #2 in my list. For all that, when it comes to ranking it, it’s difficult to say that almost anything else is actually better. Maybe I’m being influenced by their critical canonisation, but I don’t think that that’s the case. It’s just that their music is so perfect and so intense that it is just not made for casual listening. It demands a certain mood and even a measure of preparation. But when those conditions are satisfied, there aren’t many better musical experiences than listening to Kid A. You don’t need me to tell you what it sounds like or how good it is. But that’s why it’s at #2.


1. Interpol – Turn On The Bright Lights (2002)

This is the album that defined my university years, but why have I put it at #1? I mean, it’s nakedly derivative of several bands (Joy Division, The Cure, The Chameleons), the lyrics are oblique to the point of being complete nonsense (and it contains that “her tales are boring and stuff, she’s always calling my bluff” line) and by all accounts the band members are complete pricks (my ex-editor at AU says Carlos was one of the most unpleasant interviewees he’s ever had), but despite arriving 24 years after the birth of post-punk, the band have refined that aesthetic as far as it will likely go.

There is nothing about the instrumentation that I would change. The interplay between bass and drums borders on genius. Kessler and Banks’ guitars take The Chameleons’ template and perfect it. Banks’ vocals have just the right combination of intensity, desperation and vulnerability (and make Editors’ Tom Smith sound like a karaoke contestant). And the songs… my god. I mean, ‘The Specialist’ didn’t even make it on for fuck’s sake. The whole album is a procession of classic after classic, and it is sequenced to a tee. It’s like what I was saying about Silent Shout – it’s of a piece, with an overarching atmosphere that means that all the songs just sound as if they belong together. Antics was great too but it didn’t have the same magic. Our Love To Admire was a crushing disappointment. But we’ll always have the autumn of 2002.


AU61: Oppenheimer In The Studio piece

January 4, 2010

Here’s a curio for you. This article was published in November, a month before Rocky and Shaun announced that they were splitting up . So although the interview is all about their upcoming third album, that record will not now see the light of day. And they sounded so optimistic and all… Oh well. Apparently they are going to release an EP culled from these sessions, so we can look forward to that. And wish them all the best for the future.



WHAT: Third album
TITLE: TBC (potential titles, Nightmare On Ice, All In With The Kicks)
PRODUCER: Self-produced
STUDIO: Start Together, Belfast
TRACK TITLES: ‘One Day Your Life Will Flash Before Your Eyes – Make Sure It’s Worth Watching’, ‘Let’s Get The Hell Out Of Texas’
COLLABORATORS: Tim Wheeler, Hornby, Tom McShane, string arranger Van Dyke Parks (TBC)
RELEASE DATE: Spring/Summer 2010

Big changes on planet Oppenheimer. Since the release of 2008’s Take The Whole Mid-Range And Boost It, Rocky O’Reilly’s (and friends) Start Together Studios have gone from strength to strength, while partner in pop Shaun Robinson has got married and decamped to New York. We dropped in on them when Shaun was last in town to get the skinny on album number three.

How’s recording been going so far?
R: We’re both living very far apart at the moment, and we’ve been recording songs by ourselves and sending them to the other person. It’s the first time we’ve been so isolated. It was initially a problem and really weird, but it’s turned into something really cool because we’re developing the ideas in a different way. [Shaun]’s not restricted by me being the engineer and sound-finder – I’m writing lyrics and trying vocals, which is terrifying.
S: One things that’s changed for me is that I’ll play a song for three days until I’ve got it totally live, one take, so it’s a real human being. We play it straight and rely on machines to record it, but rely less on machines to, erm, polish that turd.

What’s this album about, for you?
R: I want this to be about the stuff we’ve been listening to and the bands we’ve been touring with. I want it to be about people, and for that human angle to connect with people. We both got to see The Bronx play in New York this year and that was just life-changing, because there were 800 people tearing down the walls of this building and it was rough as anything, but amazing. We toured with The Presidents of the USA, who believe that if you can’t play it in one take, you shouldn’t be writing it. It’s not quite that extreme because we can’t play anything in one take but, you know, it’s definitely taught me about different ways of writing and recording.

How are the songs sounding?
S: Well, Rocky’s rapping, which I think is a brand new thing.
R: A terrifying new thing.
S: Writing songs, this time round I had a piano in front of me rather than an acoustic guitar. So I’ve written some Pink Floyd-esque monstrosities – there’s one song that’s nearly eight minutes long, which is a complete departure.
R: The way Shaun’s been writing, and the way that I’ve been writing as well, it’s much more structured around the song than about the process or the production.
S: Plus, changing the rules or having a blast at doing things. One album that I’ve been quoting is Midnite Vultures by Beck. [On] over half of the tracks on that album, there comes a point where it just turns into a completely different song, and it never goes back to the way it was before. It just goes… zhoink! It’s something that I’ve thought about. You’ve got to be playful sometimes.

Do you think people will be surprised when they hear it?
R: I think it’s one of those things where they’re still going to hear Oppenheimer in it because it’s still us, but for people who’ve written us off as an electro, synth-pop duo, deliriously happy – those days are gone. We’re not happy any more.

Are you collaborating with anyone on this album?
R: There is going to be, hopefully – budget allowing, a collaboration with a string-arranger who has come forward and wants to work on the album. We just need to find the cash to make it happen. That’s going to take us in a completely different direction, and in a way that we never thought possible.

I take it you’re not naming names?
S: His name’s Van Dyke Parks. He did the instrumentation for Smile by Brian Wilson.
R: The Bear Necessities for The Jungle Book, U2, Silverchair. It’s remarkable. And he just contacted us saying that he really, really liked us and let’s find a way to make this happen. So possibly, at some point, we’re going to be in LA watching an orchestra playing Oppenheimer songs, which is incredible.


AU61: Why? interview

January 4, 2010

This one’s tinged with sadness, because Why?’s latest album was my single biggest disappointment of 2009 (review here). Maybe in time I will come to embrace it, but after the glorious Alopecia, Eskimo Snow was an almighty let-down. Nevertheless, I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to speak to Yoni Wolf myself and ask him about it. Of course, i didn’t tell him how gutted I was about his new album, but it was interesting to get his perspective on how different it is from Alopecia, and why that is. Incidentally, the interview was conducted over two days – he had to break off first time round because he was about to have a big slap-up lunch with his brother’s family. And the next day, he seemed to be eating while talking to me. Sound enough to chat to though, despite that.



Little more than a year after releasing one of last year’s summer-defining – and best – records in Alopecia, indie-rock wordsmiths Why? are back with a radically different follow-up. Eskimo Snow and its predecessor were written and recorded in the same sessions in early 2007, but sonically they are poles apart. Where Apolecia was a wry, witty concoction of indie-pop and languid hip-hop, Eskimo Snow is as dark and – at times – bleak as its title, an album that sees mainman Yoni Wolf recast as a country troubadour, obsessed with sex and death.

“It is different,” he affirms from his brother (and drummer) Josiah’s house in rural Ohio. “It’s kind of a small, consistent, melancholy type of record. If Alopecia is kind of large in scope and out in the world and erratic, I would say that Eskimo Snow is a bit more consistent and internal.”

That manifests itself in a brief and sombre set of songs – “pretty mortality-based” as Wolf admits. The gorgeous, fragile title track closes the album with a lyric that is typically opaque but full of arresting imagery. According to Yoni, it made sense as the album title – the song that “really represents the album”.

“Eskimos have a million words for snow,” he explains. “They live so close to it, it’s so much a part of their lives that they see it as if through a microscope – very clearly and in all its intricacies. So [the line] “all my words for sadness, like Eskimo snow”. I just feel like that word ‘sad’ is such a vague, basic word. Any of the words for emotion, like happy or sad. I feel like what I do is take those kinds of words and figure out the long answers – the things that can’t be explained in one word.”

The songwriter’s background is in underground hip-hop act cLOUDDEAD and as part of the Anticon. collective, but rather than the dextrous rapping that has marked out so much of his previous work – including Alopecia Eskimo Snow often sees his voice reduced to a resigned croak, albeit one that has a lot of startingly vivid things to say. But then lyrical ingenuity is nothing new on Why? records. The lack of any remnants of hip-hop is. Not that Wolf wants to engage with that.

“Throughout my career, I’ve run into people always wanting to categorise me,” he says a touch frustratedly, “and I just don’t think in those terms too much. I listen to a lot of quote-unquote rap music, yeah. I say rap more than hip-hop. When I grew up, hip-hop was the culture and rap music is just that someone is rapping. Whatever, I don’t have a problem with all that stuff.”

It’s something that has and will continue to come up a lot when this album gets discussed, because it sounds so very different. Is that something Yoni is conscious of or worried about? “I’m not worried about it,” he says bluntly. “I’m conscious of the fact it doesn’t sound like rap at all. Alopecia sounds like rap music, or half of it, and this doesn’t. Who cares, you know? It’s a record – listen to it for its own sake.”

Remember, though, that this is just one record pulled from those bewilderingly diverse sessions in 2007. Next time round, Yoni hints, things could be very different again. “I’ve been writing some rap-type stuff, I would say – rhythmic and hyper-rhyming, and I imagine the next record will be kind of like that.”




AU61: Crimea X Incoming piece

January 4, 2010

Crimea X are an Italian duo who first came to my attention via their Phoros EP, which I reviewed last year. They recently released a follow up, and I was able to do a short email interview and write this piece about the band. Check them out if you have any interest in cosmic disco.


MEMBERS: DJ Rocca (programming, keys, flute), Jukka Reverberi (bass, keys, vocals).
FORMATION: Reggio Emilia, Italy, 2009.
FOR FANS OF: Holy Ghost!, Prins Thomas, Lindstrøm.
CHECK OUT: Chorne More EP, out December 6 on Hell Yeah. Phoros EP out now.

Disco speaks of nothing so much as hedonism, a genre built for dancefloor escapism and largely unencumbered by intellectualism and politics. Not so with Italian duo Crimea X, two men driven by a fixation on Soviet Russia. “We were raised up in leftist families where it was quite usual to look in the eastern direction, [and] Jukka comes from a village where they still have a Lenin statue in the main square,” explains Luca (aka DJ Rocca), and indeed each song on new EP Chorne More (‘Black Sea’ in Russian) is named after a figure from those eastward-looking childhoods – Jurij Andropov was the head of the KGB in the Seventies and Eighties, while Varvara Stepanova and Liubov Popova were prominent avant-garde artists in the 1910s and 1920s, before the anti-intellectual Kremlin banned abstract art.

The pair describe their music succinctly as “socialist krautdisco” and, musically as well as politically, there is a lot going on, especially in the pair’s debut EP Phoros, which provided one of the tunes of the summer in the sublime ‘10pm’. Luca and Jukka used the three-tracker (plus remixes) to explore the synthesised textures of Krautrock bands like Tangerine Dream, Neu! and Harmonia, skilfully blending them with the arms-in-the-air, spaced-out euphoria of cosmic disco. “Daniele Baldelli’s lesson is a clear influence,” says Luca of the DJ credited with inventing the genre at the Cosmic club on the shore of Lake Garda. “The way he mixed genres in his old tapes or live sets is truly inspiring. We love also the German cosmic adventure made by the cosmic groups from the Seventies and Eighties. They demonstrate that it is possible to have a national musical scene outside USA and UK.”

Chorne More is significantly different from Phoros, evidence that the fledgling act have much more to offer. It’s poppier and more direct, as the glitterball leftists raise the tempo, brighten the tone and, on lead track ‘Jurij’, incorporate a hooky vocal line from Reverberi. Luca puts the change down to the pair’s divergent backgrounds – he as a prominent DJ and Jukka as a member of post-rockers Giardini di Mirò – and indicates that the band themselves don’t even know what their debut album might sound like. “Balkan folk? Nope. We don’t know. We are working on it. We’ve got tons of material, but a full-length is not only a collection of different songs but it is a journey in a musical world. So we need some more time to work on it and think about it, but we honestly [think it will] be ready in the first half of 2010.”

Meanwhile, look out for live shows – nothing in Ireland as yet, but the two Italians have played in London, and they are keen to stress the musical aspect of what they do. “We are both musicians!” says DJ Rocca. “So along with programming we play live bass, flute and some synthesisers. In the future, we’d like to have a more live experience with our marvellous vintage synth collection and a real drummer to perform with us.” The hammer and sickle, we suppose, are optional.


AU61: Floating Points breaking through piece

January 4, 2010


REAL NAME: Sam Shepherd
BASED: London
FOR FANS OF: Boxcutter, Joy Orbison, Mount Kimbie.
CHECK OUT: Vacuum EP, out now on Eglo.

Sam Shepherd is a restless soul. Originally from Manchester, the young producer has put out a series of platters this year on various labels, but we are still no nearer to discovering what Floating Points is really all about. His contribution to Mary Anne Hobbs’ recent Wild Angels compilation, ‘Esthian III’, was glitchy and fidgety, while a swinging 12” single on Planet Mu, ‘J&W Beat/K&G Beat’, placed him neatly among that label’s roster of dubstep and garage icons. However, his latest EP, Vacuum, is another matter entirely. Here, Shepherd tries his hand at deep house and disco, and comes up trumps. The lead track ‘Vacuum Boogie’ rides on a 4/4 rhythm and a deep, rolling bassline, but the genius is at the top of the mix, where fluttering synth lines swoop in and out of each other, under an all-enveloping haze.

All of this oscillating between styles is a perfectly natural consequence of Shepherd’s background and stupendously catholic tastes. He studied jazz piano and composition at music school, then almost ended up at the Royal College of Music before thinking better of it and doing a degree in pharmacology instead. Now, he’s working on a PhD and sees the music as “just a bit of fun”. Serious enough for him to perform live with a 12-piece ensemble, though. His Dublin appearance at the Twisted Pepper on December 5 is down as a DJ set, and if we know Sam Shepherd at all, you can be sure that it will be no hostage to genre.

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