M M & M’s 100 from the noughties – 2005

Perhaps it’s an indication of how the internet was breaking down national barriers and making it easier to hear stuff from all over the globe, or perhaps it’s just happenstance, but my ten for 2005 includes artists from the US, Australia, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Sweden and the UK.

BOOKS – Lost and Safe (Tomlab)
Some found the addition of vocals to the (so far) most recent Books album distracting, but I thought it added an extra dimension to the New York duo’s playful electronic folk.

DIRTY THREE – Cinder (Bella Union)
A great sprawling 19 track collection from the trio saw them exploring many areas that had lain untouched before, including two tunes with guest singers Cat Power and Sally Timms. The power remains undimmed. It always seems like messrs. White, Turner and Ellis are all playing in their own bubbles, and yet the results never seem awkward or dissonant.

KRAFTWERK – Minimum-Maximum (EMI)
With a group as precise as Kraftwerk, you’d have thought a live album would be a bit pointless. But Minimum-Maximum shows off gleamingly retooled, and in some cases completely remodelled, takes on the classics, as well as punchier versions of the Tour de France Soundtracks material. If you just wanted one Kraftwerk album (and I don’t know why you would), I’d say that this was almost a perfect primer.

MONO / WORLD’S END GIRLFRIEND – Palmless Prayer / Mass Murder Refrain (Human Highway)
“Full of sound and fury; signifying nothing”. That quote from Macbeth would sum up the opinions of Mono’s critics, and I do have some sympathy. The thing is, the sound and fury is just so damn gorgeous and exciting! Katsuhiko Maeda’s contribution to the band added a new neo-classical element to the sound – one which they would push even further.

MURCOF – Remembranza (Leaf)
Album number three from the Mexican genius, and the brew of dark beats and classical samples was as heady and intoxicating as ever.

NATIONAL – Alligator (Beggars Banquet)
The National’s breakout album. Simply a collection of brilliant, uplifting songs dominated by Matt Berninger’s desperate baritone. It climaxes with “Mr November”, one of the most cathartic songs I’ve ever heard.

BJ NILSEN – Fade to White (Touch)
Props to Scott at Mapsadaisical whose glowing testimony led me to check out Benny Nilsen’s music. “Fade to White” is essentially an ambient drone collection, but the somnambulant drift is punctured by moments of terrific sonic violence.

PORT-ROYAL – Flares (Resonant)
This came out of nowhere. A collection of instrumental rock and electronic atmospheres that verges between heady post-rave to serene ambience and holds the interest throughout. It’s still an album I play fairly frequently, and can pick up new nuances every time.

SHINING – In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be a Monster (Rune Grammofon)
Try sticking this in a pigeonhole. Avant-prog-jazz-metal? There’s nothing Shining like more than twisting your expectations into knots. Oh, and battering you over the head with a sound like a runaway train. Not that they don’t do subtlety too. Genuinely exciting music.

VEX’D – Degenerate (Planet Mu)
Disc one is the album proper, disc two a collection of singles, but it works perfectly well as a whole. Dark, creaking monstrous dubstep with skeleton rattling bass frequencies. The balance of the rhythms seems so precarious, like the whoosh you get in your head when you stand up too quickly.

Album – BLEEDING HEART NARRATIVE – Lung Mangled Bear (Tartatuga 2009)

Just a quickie to let you know about Tartaruga’s Christmas Pressie for all you lucky people. Lung Mangled Bear is a sixteen track, 80 minute remix collection of tracks from Bleeding Heart Narrative’s superb Tongue Tangled Hair album from earlier this year.

Some of the remixes are more like complete reconstructions. All are well worth hearing. The Talkingmakesnosense mix of “David Foster Wallace” stretches the original to three times its length, burying the vocal line in blankets of drone until it’s barely audible. Elsewhere tracks are stripped down to virtually a single component, or taken into weird new directions (drill ‘n’ bass, thudding beats, even neo-prog). It’s definitely worth your time, as is its parent album. You can download it for nowt at www.tartarugarecords.com.

Tracks
01 A Dialogue (Brassica’s Dark Side of the Live Aid remix)
02 All Your Words (Brometer remix)
03 Tongue Tangled Hair (The Exploits of Elaine remix)
04 David Foster Wallace (Talkingmakesnosense remix)
05 Turn Colours Turn (Max Bondi remix)
06 Tilted The Wall (Ala Muerte remix)
07 A Dialogue (Okkam remix)
08 Port and Cigars (Ladyscraper remix)
09 Protect Short Samples – Feeding Art Larynx With (DJ Topgear remix)
10 Henry Box Brown (Throwing Stones remix)
11 Fuchsia (Keyboard Choir remix)
12 The Cartographer (Destructo Swarmbots remix)
13 The Vast Museum of Insignificant Things (Euhedral remix)
14 A Your W (JRS Nocturne remix)
15 Hedlitez (Blinddate remix)
16 At The End of It All (DJ Floorclearer remix)

M M & M’s 100 from the noughties – 2004

ARCADE FIRE – Funeral (Rough Trade)
It built a following slowly, largely by word of mouth, before the journo hype machine jumped on the bandwagon. A prime target for the hipster “I never really liked them anyway” brigade, but it still sounds terrific to me. Less said about the follow up the better, though.

BLUE NILE – High (Sanctuary)
They pop up every decade, stick out an album that still uses a palette of sound that could come from their eighties heyday and promptly burrow away back into hibernation. As a fully paid up fan, I guess we wouldn’t have it any other way. High is far from perfect, but when it does hit the spot, it does so in a way that no other band can. And I could listen to Mr Buchanan singing his grocery list quite happily. Time for a follow up Paul?

FENNESZ – Venice (Touch)
My personal favourite of Christian Fennesz’s records. The ten minute section of “Transit”, with David Sylvian, and “The Point Of It All” is about as close to perfection as any music I’ve heard.

LISA GERRARD & PATRICK CASSIDY – Immortal Memory (4AD)
It sounds like a requiem suite, with nods to Arvo Pärt and Gorecki. Slow, stately and stunningly beautiful.

MURCOF – Utopia (Leaf)
On paper, a slightly ragbag collection of remixes and three new tracks. But it hangs together as well as any of Corona’s studio albums and gets played round these parts as often.

PAN AMERICAN – Quiet City (Kranky)
Another missive from Mark Nelson of quiet wonder with David Max Crawford’s trumpet and flugelhorn adding a yearning element that reminds me of Miles’s Ascenseur Pour L’Échafaud.

PAN SONIC – Kesto (Blast First)
Nearly four hours of music that ranges from the ear-splitting to the ambient (the uncharacteristically reflective hour-long drone piece “Säteily”). It covers all bases of the duo’s sound, and some new ones too.

MAX RICHTER – The Blue Notebooks (130701)
The notebooks in question were written by Franz Kafka and the recording is peppered with extracts read by actress Tilda Swinton. Pianist Richter is accompanied by a string quartet on an album whose mood is as reflective and yet slightly disturbing as Kafka’s writings.

TOM WAITS – Real Gone (Anti)
Real Gone is unusual in ol’ Tom’s canon in that it’s largely an album recorded with a standard guitar, bass, drums rock ‘n’ roll line-up. The absence of pump organs and the like doesn’t make the music any more conventional. The surrealism is intact, but there is also a harsher side, with an uncharacteristically angry side of the laconic Waits coming through.

WILCO – A Ghost is Born (Nonesuch)
Just as good as its predecessor, with pop, country and experimental wig outs rubbing shoulders perfectly happily.

The musically fragmented decade – a few thoughts

I’ve been posting my 100 albums from the noughties recently (more tomorrow) with a year-by-year selection. Others (and there are many, many others!) have been doing top 20s, 50s, 100s etc as a decade long overview. Simon Reynolds noticed a very marked tendency for albums from the first half of the decade to garner 80-90% of the top ten placings in the various listings and offered some compelling reasons why in this Guardian article.

I pretty much agree with nearly all of his points. The internet and download culture has made it cheap and easy for musicians of all stripes to self-release their music. Some in a hope of attracting the attention of a record company, some just because they want the fruits of their labours heard. As a result the number of releases have reached unprecedented levels. I have no scientific basis for saying this, but I bet there was more music issued in 2009 than in all the years up to the end of the seventies combined if you include both physical releases (and the endless repackaging of old material) and the rapidly expanding download cottage industries.

The results of this hyperbolic increase in music released has led to the mainstream and the majors becoming more and more safe and conservative. They realise that their most reliable income streams are from a) ‘fifty quid bloke’ – the Mojo reading male with ready cash whose tastes are firmly planted in ‘classic’ rock, and will happily fork out for remastered reissues, box sets and all manner of fancy but pricey special and limited editions: things like the Neil Young Archives, the Pixies’ Minotaur and the rest. Then there’s b), the great majority for whom music isn’t central to their lives, but they like a nice tune. These are the people who buy Susan Boyle, X Factor and Katherine Jenkins records as well as the more conservative and tasteful indie rock such as Keane and Coldplay. Outside of that, the music industry knows that its consumers are picky and risky to market to and are no longer willing to invest in music for its own intrinsic value.

So we have a self-perpetuating circle. The more adventurous music enthusiasts are finding less and less new stuff that interests them in their local HMV, and are finding that more and more of it comes from small labels, both physical and web based.

Is this a problem? Well, for consumers, no. For bands who dream of being the next Radiohead, very likely. I can’t see there ever being a next Radiohead – a band who appeal to the masses and yet remain sonically adventurous. It’s a divide that will soon become impossible to bridge. This is something that has already happened with classical music and jazz, where people who pushed the music forward ended up losing the mass audience. Most enthusiasts of both those genres probably listen to very little that’s contemporary.

Returning to Reynolds’s article, I think it’s inevitable and unavoidable that the idea of any kind of consensus is doomed. People are zooming off in their own directions, picking tips up in their own virtual communities, and finding music that feels personal to them and that’s their own discovery. They’ll have favourites, but it’s unlikely that their list will tally with anyone else’s, simply because it’s unlikely that any two people will have heard the same things. You can see this in the end of year lists (tallied with admirable patience by DJ Martian). There’s very little sense of any pattern.

Rock (in its broadest sense) isn’t dead – far from it. But its days of being a mainstream cultural force are. Whether that matters or not is beside the point. I can see there being no let up of interesting, creative and terrific music during 2010 and beyond. Just don’t expect any of it to really penetrate the mainstream.

Album: INVERZ – Slow (Phantom Channel 2009)

Slow consists of four treated guitar works by Greek musician Sawas Metaxas. The pace is glacially slow, and the mood reflective. “Home End” is stripped of almost all adornment, leaving the basic plucking of guitar and bass accompanied by the fizz and whine of radio static. Nothing else on the album is that barren, though. Ambient washes of sound bring a lushness to second track “Everything In Order” and the title track mashes up some gentle acoustic playing and rinses it through with loops of static pops and clicks, almost like a Basic Channel mix of John Fahey.

Saving the best to last, “New Found Lands” mixes cello drone, feedback hum and glassy ambience to create a long meditative piece of considerable depth. As with most Phantom Channel releases, Slow is a free download, and as with most is highly recommended.

Tracks
1 Home End 12:56
2 Everything In Order 6:56
3 Slow 5:04
4 New Found Lands, New Found Sounds 14:52

Websites
www.phantomchannel.co.uk
www.myspace.com/inverzb

M M & M’s 100 from the noughties – 2003

ARAB STRAP – Monday at the Hug and Pint (Chemikal Underground)
For me, the Falkirk miserabilists most rounded and consistent record, ranging from the near hysterical grumpiness of “Fucking Little Bastards” to the tender “Who Named the Days”.

WILLIAM BASINSKI – The Disintegration Loops II (2062)
Simply speaking, the four albums in the Disintegration Loops series were old tape loops that Basinski found that were beginning to decay. He played them and recorded the process as they literally fell apart. What sounds an interesting, but essentially dry experiment, can be astonishing. The 42 minute “DLP3″ that closes volume two is one of the most haunting, melancholic pieces of music you’re ever likely to hear, and to listen to it in full is to hear the sound of music, and a little bit of the past, dying.

JOHN FAHEY – Red Cross (Revenant)
I think these were Fahey’s last recordings, but I may be wrong. There is a stripped down primitivism to the guitar playing here where all that’s left is the naked sound of wood and wire. Ragged, primal music that snags the senses like barbed wire.

JAGA JAZZIST – The Stix (Ninja Tune)
Fantastic electronic jazz from the Norwegian collective who epitomise the Scandinavian attitude of giving two fingers to the purists by fusing electronica, crunching rock and horns into something wonderful.

LAIBACH – WAT (Mute)
The Slovenian satirists’ finest album for a while. All the usual hallmarks are there – the military drumbeats, the Wagnerian sturm und drang, and the ludicrous pomposity. Thing is, they both ridicule and celebrate European nationalism by making it seem both rousing and yet at the same time very silly.

MIDNIGHT CHOIR – Waiting for the Bricks to Fall (Glitterhouse)
This was the final album by an underrated Norwegian trio who operated in the same kind of territory as Tindersticks and the Walkabouts. Most of the songs are slow, and most are infused by an aching, irreparable sadness.

MIRA CALIX – Skimskatta (Warp)
Chantal Passamonte is one of the few remaining artists on Warp who still explores the untapped possibilities of electronic music. Recently she’s been lauded for her installation work. It was her second album from 2003 where she really found her feet – a 21 track collection that spanned a wide variety of scale and style.

RACHEL’S – Systems / Layers (Quarterstick)
I Don’t know if this will prove to be the last Rachel’s album, but I reckon it’s their best. Generally, the tracks are shorter and more concise than on any of their previous records, and there is a greater variation of material. My album of 2003.

SET FIRE TO FLAMES – Telegraphs In Negative / Mouths Trapped In Static (130701)
SILVER MT ZION MEMORIAL ORCHESTRA & TRA-LA-LA BAND WITH CHOIR – This Is Our Punk Rock (Constellation)

Finally, two Montreal collectives with their roots at the Hotel2Tango. The first is a sprawling double album that takes Godspeed You Black Emperor’s apocalyptic soundscapes down a more experimental and less bombastic route. The second is the first SMZ record that establishes the choral vocals as an element that’s as important as the instrumentals.

M M & M’s 100 from the noughties – 2002

The year I migrated north to Glasgow from the relatively tropical climes of Manchester. Jeez, was it that long ago.

BOLA – Fyuti (Skam)
Rumours have been heard that Darrell Fitton is reconsidering his retirement from music making, which is a good thing. Fyuti was his second Bola album, and maintained the momentum set by his debut Soup, expanding his sound into ever more lush introspection.

DEADLY AVENGER – Deep Red (Illicit)
Another case for the missing persons file. Damon Baxter released this excellent collection of filmic breakbeat electronica. Then the label went belly up, and a 2007 follow up called Blossoms and Blood never seemed to materialise. The fabulous “Lopez” was one of my tracks of the decade.

JÓHANN JÓHANNSSON – Englaborn (Touch)
Rereleased a couple of years back by 4AD, Englaborn introduced a composer who deals with a romantic minimalism that’s deeply emotional. The opening setting of a poem by the Roman Catullus is simply stunning.

MURCOF – Martres (Leaf)
The first of five albums released during the decade by Mexican laptop wizard Fernando Corona, and they’re all in my 100. Self-indulgent? Perhaps. But the man just makes brilliant records.

MAX RICHTER – Memoryhouse (BBC Late Junction)
Dusted off and reissued on Fat Cat’s 130701 imprint just last month, Memoryhouse is the perfect introduction to pianist and composer Max Richter. Wistful, nostalgic – like postcards sent from the old Europe that was torn to pieces by two world wars. A world of Kafka, Webern, Berg and expressionist cinema.

RJD2 – Deadringer (Definitive Jux)
He might have emerged from the, um, shadow of Shadow, but Ramble Jon Krohn’s debut is chock full of great moments. Sampledelic hip hop at its finest.

THE STREETS – Original Pirate Material (Locked On 679)
The Observer newspaper made this the album of the decade. I wouldn’t go that far, but I can see their point. It’s certainly one of the most influential. And it still sounds surprisingly fresh and unforced.

UNDERWORLD – A Hundred Days Off (JBO)
They took a lot more than 100 days off following this album. In many ways it looked back to Dubnobasswithmyheadman, combining energetic beats with a kind of nocturnal world-weariness.

TOM WAITS – Alice / Blood Money (Anti)
OK, they were two separate releases, but they came out the same day and as such always seemed to me as being of a pair. So, are Waits and Brennan our age’s Weill and Brecht? Discuss.

WILCO – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Nonesuch)
I saw the band live around the time Summerteeth came up and thought they stank. I was a huge Uncle Tupelo fan and to see Wilco piss away their legacy as a kind of pseudo Black Crowes pissed me off big time. The records were OK, but not that inspiring. Then they delivered a record that Warners refused to release, were picked up by Nonesuch, and, crucially, replaced Jay Bennett with Nels Cline. The results are there to be heard. When I saw them live again in 2004 they were awesome!