Review Of The Year 2013: 12 Albums

This is the fourth consecutive time I’ve written a review of the year’s albums, which is slightly scary, as I’m under the impression that writing about music is something that I’ve only just started doing. Still, as senility begins to work its erosional magic on the brain, the years do slip past without leaving so much cognitive residue, and as long as someone can confirm for me that I’ve been having a nice time, I won’t rail against it too much. At least I can look back through these annual articles, and although I’ll think it was someone else that wrote them and I can’t remember any of the music, I’ll know that a year took …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

My first exposure to Olds Sleeper was startling, and he’s yet to disappoint me, across four albums of his own and one collaboration with the beguiling Heidi Harris (not to mention the cigar-box guitar stuff he puts out as Jellyspine Jenkins). Using lo-fi production as a device to emphasise the pure materiality of his music-making, Olds Sleeper’s songwriting achieves a form of sincerity that can’t be contrived or dissembled; he gives voice to a particular form of American street-level experience, in a musical language precisely cognate with its cultural dialects. His songs speak from the soul of the alienated, hard- …

Godzilla Black – The Great Terror (avant-rock)

I wasn’t supplied with a lyric sheet when this album was submitted for review, so my assessment of its verbal content is a bit fractional, but there’s no mistaking the central thrust of things, as evident in the title, and in the baleful, malevolent eyes of the infant staring out at us from the cover. This is dark shit. I don’t know where Godzilla Black see themselves, in the grand continuum of not-mainstream rock music; there are certainly echoes of a great many interesting zones of creative practice, and given the great prog-thaw that has taken place in recent years, I have little difficulty in describing their music as …

Rael Jones – Mandrake (post-classical)

The running times of the nine pieces collected on Mandrake fall within the broad compass of the usual song lengths of pop and rock music, and they are gathered into a whole which may fall a little short of the usual length of a contemporary album, but whose duration would once have been a quite respectable proportion of the day to find occupied by the contents of an LP. But not all albums are curated on the same basis, some assembling a disparate selection united only by their ostensible author, some evincing a discernible sense of creative coherence, and others united by an overarching theme, which may …

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

Cassette mushes everything up and squeezes it together; on top of the warm, lush distortions naturally imparted by magnetic tape, the whole stereo recording is crammed onto half of a tape less than four millimeters wide. It takes some clever mastering to get a really spacious, clearly separated soundfield, but if what you want is a totally integrated sound then the format does half the work for you. This, you may be thinking, says ‘punk’ in brackets after the title, so why am I not talking about the songs? Production and other technical matters are a means to an end at best where punk’s concerned…

Karda Estra – Mondo Profondo/ New Worlds (avant-prog)

It’s far from unusual for me to beaten to the scoop on the music I’m sent to review, for various reasons, but not least because I like to spend a good deal of quality listening time trying to get inside the music before I set dactyls to chiclets and start spouting off. Little surprise, then, that Classic Rock Presents: Prog beat me to the punch on the Mondo Profondo review, giving me the opportunity to rip off any pertinent observations they may have shared. ‘Unclassifiable’ isn’t a characterisation with which it’s hard to concur, nor is it news to me (or anyone with a functioning pair of ears) that Richard …

Believers Roast presents The Exquisite Corpse Game

The game of Consequences has a long history, probably in the order of two centuries, but quite possibly longer. Back when parlour games were essential lubricants to the passage of time, a progress not demarcated by the dazzling increments of the media age, such diversions had a far more prominent role in culture, and could provide a touchstone to other, less frivolous activities. The Surrealists, a diverse creative group committed to the elision of distinctions between the absurd and the profound, between work and play, between dream and waking, found the non-sequiturs …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

You’ll hear a lot of familiar echoes in The Executioner’s Lover, but I can more or less promise that you haven’t heard anything quite like it. It opens with a song, ‘Half Life’, that is mainly arranged for ‘orchestral instruments’, but which also incorporates a rock rhythm section, which comes and goes at strategic moments; the song is a melodramatic number, which while it is not a ballad, has a narrative feel to it, like a piece from musical theatre or light opera. This is more or less the course followed by the album as a whole, but within those approximate bounds there is a huge diversity …

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

A combination of electro-acoustic and programmed sounds are used here to create a sound that pays clear homage to African polyrhythmic percussion music, unpitched attacks mingling with sounds similar to idiophones or lamellophones, although they might come from almost any source. Then there are the synths, guitars and lo-fi samples… No Security Through Numbers is far too complex to glibly summarise with a juxtaposition of stylistic labels or a list of other bands I think you might have heard of. Towards the end of ‘Super Symmetry’ a series of fusionesque stabs appear

Guapo – History Of The Visitation (avant-rock)

Guapo is a band with some form; since 1995 they have released a fistful of EPs and nine albums, and although the line-up and sound have changed considerably over that time, the name has been attached to music that shows a consistent and determined belief in the value of creative exploration. This music is progressive; it is also rock music, but if I were to juxtapose those terms too closely you’d likely jump to certain erroneous conclusions about the character of the sound. Although it has to be said that the prog-rock fraternity is a pretty broad church these days, and a noticeable proportion of its listening public would probably be eager to claim Guapo for their own; because what Guapo demonstrate emphatically is that there is room …

Tom Slatter – Three Rows Of Teeth (avant-prog)

Tom Slatter likes steampunk; he likes it enough to have used it as the thematic touchstone for all three of his albums to date. Now steampunk is not a musical style (Abney Park notwithstanding) but a genre of fiction, and a large body of visual culture derived from it. If you want a watertight definition you’ll have to go and dig one up yourself, but science fiction based on Victorian technology is not a bad shorthand, and Slatter’s brand thereof tends to incorporate a powerful element of the macabre, as well as elements of fantasy. To write and record music that is ‘in’ a literary genre obviously suggests an unusual approach to songwriting; the compositions on Three Rows Of Teeth are not the usual explorations of commonplace situations and …

Review Of The Year 2012, Part 2: 12 EPs

In previous years I’ve assembled my annual review solely from album length releases; it’s interesting to note that the vast majority of music I come across, whether I actively discover it or somebody sends it to me for review, is in something resembling album format (notwithstanding that most of it reaches me as a sequence of ones and zeros). However, I do receive EPs and singles, and some of the very best music I’ve heard this year has come my way in shorter releases. It’s clearly time I reflected this in my end of year review, and as it would seem strange to compare two track singles with seventy minute albums, I’ve decided to assemble my favourites in two parts …

Review Of The Year 2012, Part 1: 12 Albums

It’s that time of year again, the nights drawing in, the pointless over-consumption going into overdrive, and the music bloggers arranging releases into spurious hierarchies of how hip they think they make them look. Well, let me issue the same caveats I always do: I don’t claim that these are the best albums of the year, simply that they are the ones I like the most out of the ones I happen to have heard. There are lots of famous records I happen not to have heard, some of which I might think were fantastic if I did hear them, but quite honestly I haven’t had time in the past year to hear any more music than I have, and I consider it infinitely preferable to stumble across music organically than to be guided to it just because it’s famous …

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

Why do I write reviews? Largely so that I can blag free music instead of buying it like everyone else, and so I can kid my conscience that my inane ramblings are an adequate substitute for paying musicians their due. Of course I can (and will, given half a chance) list any number of more high-minded motivations, but I always feel that the transaction is balanced in my favour; so when this CD was pressed on me by guitarist Simon Rollo, and a review requested with the circumspection of a man asking me to clean the diarrhoea off his sofa, I was amused, embarrassed and confirmed in my impression of Three Thrones, which is that whatever they’re full of, it’s not themselves.