Review Of The Year 2014: 20 Albums

My views on end-of-year roundups in general are quite aggressive, and can be read at greater length in the introduction to last year’s selection, here. Suffice it to say that I think anyone claiming to know which are the best few albums released in any given year is seriously delusional; my selection is simply some of the records I liked the most out of those I happened to come across. These records are all seriously good, but there were over a hundred other albums that could equally well have made it onto my list; my advice is, yes, investigate these records, but more importantly, go hunting for …

Regal Worm – Neither Use Nor Ornament (avant-prog)

‘A small collection of big suites’ is the sub-title applied to this ‘mini-album’; I can’t concur with either characterisation. Taken as a single work in several movements (it’s really two long suites with three short pieces as an entr’acte) this would be, at forty-six minutes, a respectable length for a Classical symphony. In other words, it’s quite short for a prog-rock album, but it’s a pretty substantial work; its predecessor, Use And Ornament, is about fifteen minutes longer, and I guess that the language by which this record is being promoted suggests we should expect a substantially longer release in the …

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

Wayne Myers, singer, songwriter and principal instrumental culprit, sent me this mini-album in early February according to my records, but it somehow slipped through the net and never got reviewed. Well, better late than never. Sleeping Beauty is pure poetry. I intend that as a value judgement, but also a literal description; Myers is a poet who works in the medium of song. Now I’d think of it as a species of insult to say that this was an EP of poems set to music, but that’s not what I mean: these are songs, written as such, and the musical materials they incorporate are neither a commentary …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

Richard Pinhas and Yoshida Tatsuya are legendary figures in the French and Japanese experimental rock scenes, respectively. ‘Experimental’ is a term that implies a bit of diversity, and the projects they’ve been involved with have covered quite a range of approaches, so there is nothing predictable about this record, and nor would there have been, whatever it sounded like. Pinhas is a guitarist with a penchant for live looping technology, which he uses here to create shimmering skeins of sound rather than hard-edged rhythmic repetitions, mutating colour fields with texturally filigreed surfaces and pelagically roiling depths. He uses quite pronounced distortion, which takes the music into the fringes of noise, but it is soft and warm, amniotically …

Regal Worm – Use and Ornament (avant-prog)

‘Detail’ seems to be the watchword by which this album was conceived and constructed; I hesitate to say that it’s all about the arrangements, as it’s clearly about much more, but a conspicuously enormous amount of effort has gone into them. Ideas abound in every area, in an album which is clearly a paean to much of the best music that progressive rock has produced; stylistic cues come from many sources, including folk, jazz and sixties psych-pop, and melodic or harmonic devices are presented in a rapidly cycling kaleidoscope of nuanced affective conditions. However, it is in the constant, subtly modulated…

Matt Stevens – Lucid (avant-rock)

Matt Stevens has a particular approach as a solo performer; he gigs on his own, with an acoustic guitar, and he plays instrumental music. He’s a great player, but he doesn’t tackle the challenge of solo performance by throwing a heap of complex technique at the problem; instead, he uses live looping technology to accompany himself. He builds up a pattern of rhythm and harmony, in anything from one to several layers, and plays melody over the top (or not, depending on what else is going on). You can see this if you go to one of his gigs. He’ll start playing, then after a while he’ll stop, but what he’s just been …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

In the best tradition of underground music, it’s not entirely clear what Milktoast Music is; probably not a label in the traditional sense. More likely a collective of closely related musical projects, I would imagine. This album includes tracks from four of the six acts listed on their website, with those by Richard Pickman in preponderance, and several credited to the label, which are presumably collaborative efforts. The music is humorous and wantonly bizarre, although also quite accessible, and peppered with science-fiction samples. In style, it echoes the timbres of chiptune, with retro digital synths and …