Top albums of 2013: 3

Overview | Part 1 | Part 2 | Mentions | Longlist

Buke & Gase  General Dome

Buke & Gase - General Dome

My favourite part of the latest Buke and Gase album (the buke is Arone Dyer’s modified baritone ukulele and the gase is Aron Sanchez’s guitar-bass hybrid) is called ‘Split Like a Lip, No Blood in the Beard’. The song is made up of regular twelve beat sequences, which shift irregularly and entertainingly between rhythmic sets of three 2/4 bars and two 6/8 bars. Like this (each number or dash is a beat, and it goes fast – listen here):

1-2-1-2-1-2- | 1-2-1-2-1-2- | 123123123123 | 123123123123 | 1-2-1-2-1-2- …

And this isn’t the only place that they produce the kind of holy laughter-inducing musical shift that I probably shouldn’t be allowed to listen to in public.

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Daughn Gibson  Me Moan

Daughn Gibson - Me Moan

Slide guitar: check. Hazy electronics: check. Lone bagpiper: check. Semi-comprehensible Elvis-type baritone: check. Here the descriptions end, and your compulsion to seek out Daughn Gibson’s second album is supposed to begin. Meanwhile, I’m off to find the debut.

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John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts

John Grant - Pale Green Ghosts

John Grant’s second solo album should probably be unlistenable; it’s intense and confessional, an unpleasant cocktail of heartbreak, loathing (for both Grant’s former lover and himself) and upfront acknowledgement of his recent positive HIV diagnosis. But it’s compelling – Grant’s voice, smooth and resonant, and changes of pace between piano and guitar led ballads and quasi-dance tracks like ‘Sensitive New Age Guy’, kind of escape as well as convey the pain and anger.

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Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light

Colin Stetson - New History Warfare Vol. 3

The final part of the New History Warfare trilogy continues where the previous left off, with bass sax virtuoso Colin Stetson’s thrilling technique. Accompanied this time by occasional vocals from Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, Stetson’s music is an onslaught of deep saxophone notes, harmonics, grunts, wheezes and the percussive clicks and thuds of sax keys.

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Top albums of 2013: 2

Overview | Part 1 | Part 3 | Mentions | Longlist

The Knife  Shaking the Habitual

The Knife - Shaking the Habitual

In a time when social inequality is widening, it’s depressing that indie music is so lacking in protest. By explicitly challenging the status quo on matters of the environment, feminism, gender and the ‘problem of extreme wealth’, The Knife’s latest is the great anti-establishment album of the year. The thrilling opening three tracks provide a microcosm of the kind of music contained on the album; electronic sounds dominate as ever, but amid the wilder techno workouts, there’s room for acoustic bells and strings in its darker, ambient moments.

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The Revival Hour  Scorpio Little Devil

The Revival Hour - Scorpio Little Devil

Another duo, The Revival Hour is made up of DM Stith (occasional Sufjan band member) and John Mark Lapham (formerly of The Earlies). Their low-profile debut album marries present day electronics to a soup of earlier influences from 1960s R&B and pop, and elements of gospel that might betray Stith’s church music based upbringing.

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Bill Callahan – Dream River

Bill Callahan - Dream River

Since moving from Chicago to Texas about a decade ago (he stopped recording as Smog soon after), Bill Callahan’s output has been intimidatingly consistent. Dream River begins and ends earthily, with unobtrusive percussion and acoustic guitar complemented by a folk fiddle. The middle six songs meander softly through images and emotions like a river through landscape. They replace violin with guitar effects and a flute that flits about, pinned down only by Callahan’s regular lyrical motifs of birds, flight and rivers.

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These New Puritans – Field of Reeds

These New Puritans - Field of Reeds

I was reading this interview with TNP auteur Jack Barnett a couple of weeks ago, about the same time I decided to include Field of Reeds in this list. Barnett reminds me a bit of Björk, working with instrumental forces traditionally used in a way different to the one he envisages – his work here is led much more by instinct than training. It’s the combination of classical instrumentation and non-classical songwriting that makes the album sound “simultaneously ancient and futuristic”.

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Top albums of 2013: 1

Overview | Part 2 | Part 3 | Mentions Longlist

Van Dyke Parks  Songs Cycled

Van Dyke Parks - Songs Cycled

Prolific composer of Americana and orchestrator Parks (probably best known for his work on the Beach Boys’ Smile and Joanna Newsom’s Ys) turned 70 in January. His joyful compilation of recent 7″ singles mixes new songs with revised versions of older compositions, including a Saint-Saens orchestration for steel pans. What’s not to like?

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My Bloody Valentine  mbv

My Bloody Valentine - mbv

It’s satisfying when a band that was meant to be good 20 years ago (this was the first time I’d really listened) turns up unannounced still making the right noises. Bits and pieces of modernisation emerge as the record progresses from an introduction of classical shoegaze, but there’s nothing on mbv that feels dated.

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Neon Neon – Praxis Makes Perfect

Neon Neon - Praxis Makes Perfect

With Super Furry Animals’ hiatus still ongoing, it’s comforting to hear Gruff Rhys’ voice. He and his Neon Neon collaborator – American producer Boom Bip – have lately cornered (created?) the market in ’80s pastiche synth pop biographies. Their second album is all about Italian communist Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, the original publisher of The Leopard and Doctor Zhivago.

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Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Push the Sky Away

Nick Cave’s trademark lyrical themes – sexual depravity, the apocalypse and searches for knowledge from God to the ‘God Particle’ – are all there on his latest album, on which he’s backed by a light-handed Bad Seeds. At least musically, this is among their least aggressive albums, although the tension is maintained by the quiet juddering of Warren Ellis’ loops.

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Top albums of 2013: Honourable mentions

Overview | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Longlist

2013albumsHM

Eels – Wonderful, Glorious
Future of the Left – How to Stop Your Brain in an Accident
M.I.A. – Matangi
Torres – Torres
Mount Eerie – Pre-Human Ideas
Cate Le Bon – Mug Museum
Blitzen Trapper – VII
Melt-Banana – Fetch

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Top albums of 2013: Longlist

These are the new albums (and in some cases non-album things) to which I’ve been listening this year. Expect some sort of ‘favourite albums’ post to follow.

!!! – THR!!!ER
Actress – Silver Cloud
Adam Green & Binki Shapiro – Adam Green & Binki Shapiro
Alasdair Roberts & Friends – A Wonder Working Stone
Alela Diane – About Farewell
Anaïs Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer – Child Ballads
Andrew Bird – I Want to See Pulaski at Night
Anna Meredith – Jet Black Raider EP
Apparat – Krieg und Frieden
Arcade Fire – Reflektor
Arctic Monkeys – AM
Atoms for Peace – Amok
bEEdEEgEE – SUM/ONE
The Besnard Lakes – Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO
Bill Callahan – Dream River
Bill Callahan – Expanding Dub / Highs in the Mid-40s Dub
Blitzen Trapper – VII
Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest
Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and the Marquis de Tren – Solemns
Bryce Dessner – Aheym (performed by Kronos Quartet)
Buke and Gase – General Dome
Camera Obscura – Desire Lines
Cate Le Bon – Mug Museum
CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe
Clogs – The Sundown Song
CocoRosie – Tales of a Grass Widow
Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light
College – Heritage
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Darkstar – News from Nowhere
Daughn Gibson – Me Moan
Daughter – If You Leave
David Bowie – The Next Day
David Byrne & St. Vincent – Brass Tactics EP
David Lynch – The Big Dream
Death Grips – Government Plates
Deerhunter – Monomania
Dent May – Warm Blanket
Destroyer – Five Spanish Songs EP
Devendra Banhart – Mala
The Dodos – Carrier
Dr Dog – B-Room
The Duckworth Lewis Method – Sticky Wickets
Dutch Uncles – Out of Touch in the Wild
Earl Sweatshirt – Doris
Eels – Wonderful, Glorious
Elvis Costello & The Roots – Wise Up Ghost
Emiliana Torrini – Tookah
Euros Childs – Live 2007
Euros Childs – Situation Comedy
Everything Everything – Arc
The Fall – Re-Mit
The Field – Cupid’s Head
The Flaming Lips – The Terror
Four Tet – 0181
Four Tet – Beautiful Rewind
Franz Ferdinand – Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action
Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus
Future of the Left – How to Stop Your Brain in an Accident
Glasser – Interiors
Golden Suits – Golden Suits
Goldfrapp – Tales of Us
Grizzly Bear – Shields: B Sides
Grouper – The Man Who Died in His Boat
Grumbling Fur – Glynnaestra
Haiku Salut – Tricolore
Haim – Days Are Gone
The Haxan Cloak – Excavation
Hollow & Akimbo – Pseudoscience EP
Hookworms – Pearl Mystic
Hot Chip – Dark and Stormy
Iron & Wine – Ghost on Ghost
James Blake – Overgrown
Jamie Lidell – Jamie Lidell
Janelle Monáe – The Electric Lady
Joe Gideon & The Shark – Freakish
John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts
John Zorn – The Mysteries
Jon Hopkins – Immunity
Jonwayne – Rap Album One
Julianna Barwick – Nepenthe
Kanye West – Yeezus
The Knife – Shaking the Habitual
The Knife – Let’s Talk About Gender, Baby
L. Pierre – The Island Come True
The Last Hurrah!! – The Beauty of Fake
Laura Groves – Thinking about Thinking EP
Laura Marling – Once I Was an Eagle
Laura Mvula – Sing to the Moon
Laura Veirs – Warp and Weft
The Leisure Society – Alone Aboard the Ark
Lisa Germano – No Elephants
Local Natives – Hummingbird
Lorde – Pure Heroine
Los Campesinos! – No Blues
Low – The Invisible Way
Mark Mulcahy – Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You
Matmos – The Marriage of True Minds
Maya Jane Coles – Comfort
Mazzy Star – Seasons of Your Day
Melt-Banana – Fetch
MGMT – MGMT
M.I.A. – Matangi
Midlake – Antiphon
Moby – Innocents
Moderat – II
Mount Eerie – Pre-Human Ideas
Mount Kimbie – Cold Spring Fault Less Youth
Múm – Smilewound
My Bloody Valentine – mbv
Nancy Elizabeth – Dancing
The National – Trouble Will Find Me
Neko Case – The Worse Things Get…
Neon Neon – Praxis Makes Perfect
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away
Nicolas Jaar – Brian Eno/Grizzly Bear Remixes
Nils Frahm – Spaces
Of Montreal – Lousy with Sylvianbriar
Ólöf Arnalds – Sudden Elevation
Omar Souleyman – Wenu Wenu
Os Mutantes – Fool Metal Jack
Pet Shop Boys – Electric
Phoenix – Bankrupt!
The Revival Hour – Scorpio Little Devil
The Revival Hour – The Wipeouts EP
Rilo Kiley – Rkives
RocketNumberNine and Four Tet – Roseland
Rokia Traoré – Beautiful Africa
Sam Amidon – Bright Sunny South
Savages – Silence Yourself
She & Him – Volume 3
Sigur Rós – Kveikur
Shearwater – Fellow Travellers
Short & Curlies – At the Dance
Sleigh Bells – Bitter Rivals
Son Lux – Lanterns
Steve Mason – Monkey Minds in the Devil’s Time
Sweet Baboo – Ships
Teitur – Story Music
These New Puritans – Field of Reeds
Thom Yorke – Dazed Digital Mix
Thundercat – Apocalypse
Tim Hecker – Virgins
Todd Rundgren – State
Torres – Torres
Tunng – Turbines
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
Van Dyke Parks – Songs Cycled
The Veils – Time Stays, We Go
Villagers – Awayland
Volcano Choir – Repave
Waxahastchee – Cerulean Salt
White Denim – Corsicana Lemonade
Wooden Shjips – Back to Land
Yo La Tengo – Fade
Youth Lagoon – Wondrous Bughouse

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Stevie Wonder, Weill’s Threepenny Opera and the Proms

It’d be easy to make excuses for not doing much real blogging of late, but I won’t. I haven’t been holding onto the six listens rule quite as much this year and I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time with music by 10 or so bands/musicians who have had quite enough written about them by more knowledgeable people already, so I’ll only scratch the surface.

About 18 months ago, I broke the bad habit of a lifetime and finally listened to Stevie Wonder. I started with Innervisions, and continued this spring to work through the rest of his Best (according to Google) Few Albums. Those months didn’t quite match the all-encompassing Prince phase of ’08, but he’s made some great albums. Nothing beats Innervisions, though.

I spent a lot of time with Nina Simone during the same period, starting from her dramatic live recording of ‘Pirate Jenny’ from Weill’s Threepenny Opera, versions of which I’d been working through voraciously throughout the winter. My passion for that work returned last week, when I took an extended lunch break from work for the BBC Chamber Prom by all-Norwegian all-female brass dectet tenThing. I mostly wanted to see their version of a suite of eight songs from the Opera, which is embedded below.

The BBC deserve lots of credit for putting so much from this year’s Proms (the lunchtime ones, at least) on YouTube in addition to the time-limited iPlayer option. Last year’s most memorable Prom experience – Bernstein’s messy but spectacular MASS – can barely be found online, apart from a couple of small extracts on YouTube, which is a real shame.

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The Playlist 27: Some recent listening

This is a playlist from a couple of months ago, reflecting special early year efforts made with Burt Bacharach songs, Nina Simone (and Weill’s Dreigroschenoper), Stevie Wonder and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

Listen on Spotify

234. Dionne Warwick – ‘(In the) Land of Make Believe’
235. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – ‘Finishing Jubilee Street’
236. Astrud Gilberto – ‘Berimbau’
237. Stevie Wonder – ‘Creepin’’
238. Nina Simone – ‘Pirate Jenny (Live)’
239. Buke & Gase – ‘Revel in Contempt’
240. Eels – ‘I Am Building a Shrine’
241. Robert Schumann – ‘Dichterliebe, Op. 48 – 9. Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen’ (Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Alfred Brendel)
242. Pet Shop Boys – ‘Left to My Own Devices’
243. Scott Walker – ‘Jackie’
244. Benjamin Britten – ‘Cello Suite No. 1, Op 72 – 8. V: Bordone: Moderato quasi recitativo’ (Alban Gerhardt)
245. Joe Gideon & the Shark – ‘Higher Power/Where Have All the Good Times Gone’

Read the whole playlist.

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