Alexander Teller @Camden Barfly 26/02/2014

Alexander Teller @Camden Barfly 26/02/2014

In the classic 1960s film ‘Blowup’, the main character, a fashion photographer (played by cult actor David Hemmings), states to a mysterious woman he meets, ‘You ever do any modelling? Fashion stuff, I mean. You’ve got IT.’ Well seeing Alexander Teller live, certainly left me feeling like Hemmings, because this line shot to the foreground in my mind and proceeded to haunt the rest of my evening.


Just who is exactly is this guy who has IT? Well, being a huge Jeff Buckley fan, my ears immediately pricked up when listening (as always) to Tom Robison’s Fresh on The Net Mixtape on 6 Music. Alexander’s track ‘The Clockface’ featured on a recent edition and it seriously intrigued me with its unusual (i.e. not boring) lyrics and impressive falsettos! Soon I found myself tracking the man down to the Camden Barfly for a weekday support slot. Like all, slightly pretentious, music geeks, I was initially quite ready to write off the young troubadour. For he sported a Buckley crop circa ‘Mystery White Boy’ and appeared to be entirely decked out in Urban Outfitters’ finest. But boy can inexplicable ‘hipster jealously’ fade fast because Teller turned out to be an absolutely extraordinary performer. Sporting the sort of voice that countless singer-songwriters desperately attempt to replicate with studio trickery and creative sound engineering live, the crowd were almost instantly spellbound. It was the result of that unmistakable and insanely rare quality that only a truly natural vocal performer can produce. In fact Teller’s voice at times was almost TOO good, with the PA in the Barfly revealing some signs of strain despite the best efforts from the mixing desk. Supported by an able group of backing musicians, Teller’s songs felt fully formed, and I was almost struck down with shock when one of his fans later told me by the bar that this was his debut gig! It is a testament to his immense skill that as the set progressed, his confidence was matched note for note with a perfectly executed delivery.


Like all great artist’s Teller’s sound is unique and difficult to pin down with lazy comparisons. The first song in the set, ‘Like a Dog’, carried the air of Buckley and Rufus Wainwrights influences but in later tracks, such as ‘Worn Down, Worn Out’, electronic arrangements and flourishes appeared seamlessly integrated. The highlight of the set was arguably the excellent ‘The Ritual’, a catchy slice of shoegaze brilliance that had the crowd all swooning in time.


I can count the number of gigs of ‘up and coming artists’ where the act has exceeded the expectation heaped on them on one hand, and Alexander Teller is now one of them. He completely blind-sided me, well beyond the initial intrigue and rapidly turned the entire audience into putty. This guy has IT and this review almost certainly won’t be last you hear of him this year.

Setlist

1. Like a Dog

2. No Awards

3. Worn Down, Worn Out

4. The Ritual

5. The Clockface

https://soundcloud.com/tellermusic

http://alexanderteller.com/

Top 30 best albums of 2013 (10-1)

10. Bosnian Rainbows – ‘Bosnian Rainbows’

Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s latest project ‘Bosnian Rainbows’ is a major vindication for his seemingly unerring quest (28 studio albums and counting!) to perfect a distillation of his signature jazz/rock/prog sound. After the inevitable demise of The Mars Volta, Omar unleashed this new band with a surprisingly low-key, back to basics tour. Despite the lack of promotion and fanfare however, Bosnian Rainbows are very much the real deal. An expert level band with top tier technical musicians playing a tightrope of impossible harmonies and fronted by an extraordinary front-woman in Teri Gender Bender. ‘Bosnian Rainbows’ is one of the best debut records I think I’ve ever heard, a flowing, consistent and mature record that always knows when to play it’s hand. It’s a testament to clear artistic vision and if this just the beginning of Omar’s more ‘collaborative’ phase of his career, I truly can’t wait to hear what he comes up with next!

9. LAMA – ‘Modanica’

LAMA are a Japanese supergroup, at their core the reunion of two of the Japanese underground scene’s legends Koji Nakamura and Miki Furukawa (both of the band Supercar). ‘Modanica’ technically came out right at the end of 2012 but was so tucked away by its lack of exposure (not to mention it’s non-existent international release) that I didn’t hear it until the following year. Needless to say, it blew me away. An intricate and mesmerising effort, the songs of ‘Modanica’ will send you to sleep in the best way imaginable. A sea of dreams, the musical journey that LAMA have crafted is awe inspiring, and shows a full meeting of their potential after an underwhelming debut record.

8. David Bowie – ‘The Next Day’

One of my all time favourite artists and an inspiration to pretty much anyone that hears him, David Bowie’s surprise return was the music story of the year. Perhaps the most shocking aspect of ‘The Next Day’ for me however (as I always figured he’d be back at somepoint and was just really gutted that he had stopped with ‘Reality’ after a run of 5 superb albums), was the overwhelmingly positive reaction it got from the general public. ‘The Next Day’ is a deeply uncommercial record, with all of its songs revelling in a seeping kind of dark weirdness ever present in the foreground of Bowie’s contemporary work. Even the supposedly radio friendly ‘Valentine’s Day’ quickly revealed itself to be in fact be a lyric about a boy gleefully killing all his classmates in a high school massacre! The pure genius of subverting popular culture is second-hand nature to Bowie and for nothing else, his achievements this year in getting The Sun to take notice of music videos where he pranced about as Jesus or Radio 1 to playlist a song where he rambled about wandering around different parts of Berlin, was a remarkable one. ‘The Next Day’ is a layered and challenging record, which greatly rewards repeated listens, it represents a landmark work in this artist’s incredible on-going story.

7. Shiina Ringo – ‘Ukina’

Like Bowie, Shiina Ringo is a highly gifted and significant artist, prodigious in the extreme and perpetually chameleon-like in her style, she personifies creative freedom. Unfortunately, she has had very little exposure in the West and as a result, I would recommend this latest collection as a great place to start as an introduction to her talents. ‘Ukina’ is a compilation album of Ringo’s many collaborations over her 15 year career and a superb showcase for her ability to effortlessly switch between musical styles an genres. The evidence that this is the case is there for all to see on ‘Ukina’, with Ringo quite comfortably handling jazz, pop, ballad, electro, hip hop, rock, neo-classical and even disco! For many artists such a hodgepodge would be an indulgent and messy proposition to say the least, but Shiina Ringo is such an unique presence and so exquisitely absolute in her execution of these styles that ‘Ukina’ somehow feels like a complete and flowing record, and more than the sum of its parts. Several of the compositions featured here were completed in 2013, giving it a freshness for existing fans too. The highlight is undoubtedly Ringo’s no holds barred collaboration with Yasutaka Nakata (mastermind of Capsule, Perfume and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu), it’s a triumphant track (‘Netsuai Hakkakuchuu’ that sums up the strands of tongue-in-cheek fun and edgy danger that colours her music.

6. The Icarus Line – ‘Slave Vows’

The Icarus Line are still Rock and Roll’s saviours and are the best band in LA by miles. ‘Slave Vows’ manages the almost impossible feat of bottling the lightning that makes seeing them live such an incredible experience. Everything about this record sums up The Icarus Line’s statement of intent; the world is full of fakers that force us to work shitty jobs whilst they live a life of fantasy. Songs like ‘Rats Ass’ and ‘Marathon Man’, explode into a vortex, whilst tribal offerings like ‘No Money Music’ drag you into a dark trance, the like’s of which haven’t been heard since Killing Joke last rocked the casbah. Featuring criminally underrated lyrics and an abrasive guitar wall of sound, ‘Slave Vows’ is the sound of a band that commands respect. They walk like they talk it and certainly aren’t in it for the cash (just ask Joe!). Forget the major label scum and music magazine bullshit, this is real Rock and Roll. If these guys go down, kiss goodbye to punk rock forever. If I were you, I’d head down to a record store pronto!

5. My Bloody Valentine – ‘m b v’

Another year, another broken Kevin Shields promise? Well actually no! The ‘Chinese Democracy’ of indie music, My Bloody Valentine’s follow up record to ‘Loveless’ has become the stuff of legend. Scrapped tapes, bankrupted record labels, rooms full of sound equipment, a drug-fuelled tour with Primal scream. The pursuit of one man’s artistic vision had left many casualties in its wake but unbelievably in 2013 Kevin Shields resurfaced with a record that no one actually thought really existed. Was it any good? Well, yes. In fact, just like Portishead’s incredible ‘Third’, ‘m b v’ blows away the legion of bands that shamelessly ripped off their sound, with an uncompromising piece of excellence. In ‘m b v’ Shields has taken the iconic sound of ‘Loveless’ to the next level, with mind-melting results. The final trio of songs (‘Wonder 2’ in particular) represent a both a sonic way forward and an incredible achievement in music making. Nothing on ‘m b v.’ feels anything less than essential, it is a monumental record that is more than a worthy successor to its parent record. Don’t believe me, just listen to ‘Only Tomorrow’ it’s possibly the best shoegaze song ever written! Every agonising second invested in the creation of ‘m b v’ then, was definitely worth it.

4. Wavves – ‘Afraid of Heights’

Wavves belong to a group of bands from California that have been increasingly influential. They join the ranks of The Icarus Line and Crocodiles as a band that simply cuts through the hipster bullshit and make the music they want to make*. This is rock and roll made by bad-asses and fuck all the media nonsense that goes with it. ‘Afraid of Heights’ is a surprisingly consistent and well planned out grunge rock record, which features everything from reoccurring samples to catchy nihilistic sing-alongs. Its title track is a superb centrepiece collaboration with the legendary Jenny Lewis, who lends her unmistakable song-writing style to the band (and reportedly when they recorded it a lot of hash cakes as well!). Every song is a potential single here and in the fullness of time I expect that ‘Afraid of Heights’ will hold its own when played alongside grunge classics such as ‘Nevermind’, ‘Pinkerton’ and ‘Live Through This’. I’m not the only person to take notice however, as Rockstar games invited the band to contribute a new track, curate a radio station and even have ‘Dog’ from this record play out at the end of the year’s biggest game (GTA V). Without a doubt this exposure will (ironically!) evaluate the band’s status even higher.

*An interesting side-note, all three of these bands have very close links to a female-fronted band. The Icarus Line are good friends with Giant Drag, Crocodiles with the Dum Dum Girls and Wavves with Best Coast. How’s that for rock equality!

3. Sleigh Bells – ‘Bitter Rivals’

It’s album number three for Derek and Alexis in as many years, and they show no sign’s slowing down! Easily one of the greatest bands to have emerged in recent years, Sleigh Bells have everything going for them, a unique sound, great songs, a cool aesthetic, a non-corporate but also deeply ambitious attitude, awesome personalities and real stage presence live. Criticisms levelled at their debut ‘Treats’ as being ‘all style, no substance’ were swiftly made to look rather silly indeed by sophomore effort ‘Reign of Terror’, a darker and far more intellectual affair that tackled themes such as family death and class war. There were however, some that felt the band was loosing its fun appeal because of this but worry not because ‘Bitter Rivals’ takes both approaches and melds them together in style. Can you have the best of both worlds? Yes! Songs like ‘Sing Like a Wire’ feature non-stop pop action alongside sweetly sung lyrics such as ‘By the middle of July you were buried in the dirt, Looking in the dark, saying your goodbyes’. It’s the sort of stuff that few bands would ever dare attempt, but Sleigh Bells are risk takers who are thirsty to share their music and deserve nothing less than global domination. If they continue to write songs like album closer ‘Love Sick’, we won’t have to wait long!

2. Manic Street Preachers – ‘Rewind the Film’

The self-proclaimed ‘Culture Sults’ have inspired multiple generations and on several occasions educated their audiences. Whilst many have two images of the band (angry punks or commercial middle aged rockers), the truth is that the Manics have achieved a distinctly unique sound on every one of their albums, ranging from the neon-glamour 80s Rock of ‘Gold against the sold’ to the electro-infused ‘Elegiac pop’ of ‘Lifeblood’. There is simply no one like the Maincs and few have ever attempted to emulate them. ‘Rewind the Film’ is no different, a dark, occasionally slow and beautifully crafted record, there are songs on it that feel so precious they might break. Always having one step in the past due to their love of history (both personal and cultural), ‘Rewind the Film’ feels like an exorcism and culmination of this major indulgence. There are examples from the Manics’ body of work where this dual-historical focus has led to extraordinary victories (‘If you tolerate this your children will be next’), but also admitted failures (James Dean Bradfield has mentioned in the past his own distain for the song ‘Glasnost’). To write an entire album themed on this was a major risk then, but the Manics pull it off in graceful style. Self-confessional lyrics such as ‘I don’t want my children to grow up like me, its too soul-destroying, it’s a mocking disease’, run alongside references to Lowry and Welsh mining, drawing parallels between personal and 20th century historical events. The use of guest stars is also daring, and whilst the Manics have dabbled in the past with this (earlier mentioned Kevin Shields appeared on ‘Know Your Enemy’), the choices here feel even more inspired and effective (Cate Le Bon’s contribution to ‘4 Lonely Roads’ is a particular standout). ‘Rewind the Film’ is a bold and experimental record, and like the Manics’ very best records (’The Holy Bible’ and ‘Everything Must Go’) takes you on a journey with the band. By the time the incredible ’30 Year War’ draws proceedings to a close, the past (and its ghosts) have finally been put to bed. If there is only one criticism that could be made at the time of writing, the band have been very honest with the fact that this is the first part of a themed ‘double album’ (its completed sequel ‘Futurology’ will be released in 2014), and as a result does at times feel that it is leading up to it’s companion piece. The idea of a cleverly themed pair of mirror albums is a great one, especially for the Manics who have managed to now conquer their achilles heel with this record, but without hearing its sister record it’s hard to know how it will play out. I have no doubt however, that it will be a huge success that elevates the themes of ‘Rewind the Film’ even further. Especially as in recent years the Manics have been writing some stunningly underrated songs that have tackled relevant socio-economic issues (‘Don’t Be Evil’ for instance from 2010’s ‘Postcards From a Young Man’ is an excellent dissection of social media and google, eerily predicting very recent events like the band have done several times in the past).

It’s difficult to articulate how much I (and many others) personally identify with the extreme hate, outrage and contradictions on the themes of class, privilege, credibility, hometown identity presented here. For me to see this record sit alongside respectable MOR acts such as Katie Melula on the shelves of Sainsbury’s is a deeply subversive act, and possibly the last act left in this antiseptic era of contemporary music.

1. Primal Scream – ‘More Light’

On Dorian Lynskey’s website biography for the Manics’ ‘Rewind the Film’, he suggests that only the Manics could write a song like ’30 Years War’. He would be right if he wasn’t forgetting one band who still have the grit, the determination and intelligence to write a protest song just like it. That band are of course Primal Scream! Easily one of Britain’s finest rock bands, the Scream’s latest record is also one of their finest. A startlingly focussed and fierce depiction of Cameron’s ‘Broken Britain’, ‘More Light’ trades in irony and outrage as it searches for ‘final solutions’. On career highlights ‘XTRMNTR’ and ‘Evil Heat’, Bobby Gillespie depicted an apocalyptic dystopian future. That future is now, the darkness has already fallen and nowhere is the urgency of that discovery made more apparent that with album opener ‘2013’. ‘Twenty thirteen!’ Bobby screams half in disbelief, ‘What happened to the voices of dissent? They’re getting rich I guess.’ It’s a great statement of intent that is followed up beautifully in spectacular style by the poetic cavalcades of ‘Culturecide’ (‘Living like a refugee in your own country’) , ‘Invisible City’ and ‘Sideman’. These bursts of moral fury are counterpointed with the more personal tales found in ‘River of Pain’ and ‘Tenement Kid’. There are also fantastic musical moments, where the experimental and ambitious grooves help to simulate, in a way that music only can, the emotional wringer that society is being put through. ‘Walking with the beast’ in particular feels like a dark and very real place that many people have been through over the last few years because of the economic crisis and Tory policies, and one that for the privileged few would be impossible for them understand. Album closer ‘It’s alright, it’s okay’ is the moment of revelation and release and also one of the best songs Primal Scream have ever written. It feels like a definitive song for them and combines the most iconic elements of their sound from their career with an lyric that successfully manages to waver between cynicism and self-affirmation.

‘More Light’ is the only album I’ve heard this year that completely successfully sums up the times we live in. Its stories are real and its themes are relatable. If you live in the UK right now, this album is the only true representation of the stark socio-political reality of our society. It’s like staring into a broken mirror and like the very best of contemporary art, it holds a truth within its razor sharp shards. It’s such a shame that, as this year has shown, the old heroes remain so relevant. Primal Scream, the Manics, David Bowie, these artists have never felt more important and essential for our times. They shouldn’t have to bear this cross. Where is the next generation of articulate and politically aware musicians? I hope I’ve been fair in this list and tried to raise the profile of some great new bands that are trying to fight the good fight. But for every ‘Big Deal’, ‘Horrors’ (whose album in 2014 I’m hugely excited about) and ‘Joy Formidable’, there’s a whole host of featureless hubris. Hermetically sealed, Brit School endorsed music made for consumption. Ellie Golding. Everything Everything, Alt-J; who exactly do these ‘artists’ speak for? Not me, and not the unemployed 25yr old betrayed by their parent’s generation. They are cowardly scum! 2013 is a turning point but can a change really occur? Only we can demand that it happens.

Most disappointing album of the year:
Placebo – ‘Loud like love’

Biggest missed opportunity of 2013:
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – ‘Mosquito’

Most pointless band reunion of 2013:
Nine Inch Nails – They never really broke up!

Best gig of 2013:
My Bloody Valentine at The Brixton Electric

Most overrated album of the year:

Kayne West – ‘Yeezus’

Most Underrated album of the year:

How to Destroy Angels – ‘Welcome Oblivion’

Most exciting records to look forward to in 2014:

The Horrors, Manics, Marilyn Manson, Garbage, Cornelius, Bowie, Beck, The Kills, Jack White, Jenny Lewis, Shiina Ringo and Radiohead.

Top 30 best albums of 2013 (20-11)

20. Soulwax – ‘GTA V OST’

Soulwax continue to hold a very special place in the hearts of anyone who’s had the incredible fortune to have see them live. Further vindication of Soulwax’s genius came this year, with a fantastic set that formed the Radio Soulwax station in GTA V; the show-stealing highlight being their great collaboration with Pulp for this year’s record store day, ‘After You’.

19. Nine Inch Nails – ‘Hesitation Marks’

Trent Reznor and his search for perfection has led him to some fascinating places in his career, with 2013 being a huge milestone. ‘Hesitation Marks’ is the first of two records from Reznor that feature highly in this year’s list and heralded a long overdue return to the ‘Nine Inch Nails’ moniker. A complex and surprisingly emotional record, the core of ‘Hesitation Marks’ is in it’s frank and honest lyricism. There are a number of stand-outs that make it an essential listen; ‘Come Back Haunted’ is now one of finest songs in the NIN canon, ‘All Time Low’ chews and spits you out and ‘Satellite’ is ‘Let’s Dance’ meets wikileaks!

18. Queens of the Stone Age – ‘Like Clockwork…’

QOTSA had been working on a follow up to their poorly received (but actually pretty good) ‘Era Vulgaris’ for what felt like forever, with their new material being repeatedly started and scrapped a number of times. Luckily for everyone concerned the immense effort was worth it as Josh Homme has made his most cohesive record since QOTSA self-titled debut. Few of these songs are radio friendly singles (unlike their past records), but this different focus matters little, as ‘Like Clockwork…’ is a hugely satisfying album that rewards a full and patient listen. It’s a shame that many people have focused on Arctic Monkey’s ‘AM’ over ‘Like Clockwork…’, ‘AM’ is a record that has Homme’s influence all over it and isn’t for better because of it. It’s far better to listen to the man from the source!

17. Towa Tei – ‘Lucky’

Towa Tei is a legendary DJ and producer hailing from Yokohama, who has made waves this year with this superb dance record. Featuring a record sleeve and music video collaboration with infamous pop artist Yayoi Kusama and a stunning vocal contribution from Shiina Ringo, ‘Lucky’ is a hugely entertaining listen. A great throwback to 90s Shibuya-Kei dance, the music here is peppered with well selected cut and paste samples and some very charming and upbeat melodies. All in all, a fantastic listen.

16. The History of Apple Pie – ‘Out of View’

The History of Apple Pie are a shining example that despite the endless parade of ‘popular’ lacklustre american dance and RnB, we are still capable in the UK of making exciting and vital new indie music. ‘Out of View’ has everything you want from a debut record, a flowing and consistent set of songs, an unique band ‘sound’ and a number of superb standout singles. The fact that it was also produced by a member of The Horrors tells you all you need to know really.

15. Tommy Heavenly6/ Tommy February6 – ‘Tommy Ice Cream Forever’/ ‘Tommy Candy Shop Sugar Me’

Tomoko Kawase is the ultimate musical heroine! At the peak age of 38, she not only has the energy and appearance of a 20yr old but also beats everyone at their own game producing some of the best pop music ever written. Originally the lead singer of ‘The Brilliant Green’, over the last few years Tomoko has focused on two projects, the first (Tommy Heavenly6) is in the pop punk genre and the second (Tommy February6) is inspired by Pete Waterman 90s pop. Both monikers have been relatively successful and have enabled her to write some great songs, however it wasn’t until this year that I felt that Tomoko had fully nailed the sound of these two acts. ‘Candy Shop Sugar Me’ finally got the heady balance right, melding together meticulously recreated nostalgic production (recorded on analogue tape and then reconverted to digital), dollops of subversive irony, camp fun and the creeping influence of modern dance beats. The result is a guilty pleasure record that features at its heart my favourite track of the year ‘Spacey Cowgirl’, a delirious neon lit camp disco post-apocalyptic showdown that inexplicably climaxes with a dubstep drop-heavy bridge section! ‘Ice Cream Heaven’ is equally as impressive and sets the bar so high that I really wonder if it will be possible for Tomoko to carry these projects on further. An essential and enormously impressive set of albums, they demand a listen from a western audience.

14. M.I.A – ‘Mantangi’

M.I.A. is one of my all time favourite artists, constantly on the run and under attack, her perpetual underdog status makes her a great source of admiration for a growing cult following, even if many of her enemies and problems are mainly those of her own creation! Being able to identify and tell the difference between enemies that are both real and imaginary is a theme that runs as thick as blood throughout ‘Mantagi’, much like it had begun to in her previous record ‘Maya’. A hard record to really love, like it’s predecessor, ‘Mantagi’ is nevertheless brimming with musical and intellectual ideas that run the gauntlet of the sublime and the ridiculous. Many critics have pulled out the terrible clanger of ‘I’m tangy like Mantagi’ for flogging but few have noted lines such as ‘the bombs go off when I enter the building’ or ‘There’s no other things I want to feel’, which betray a dark paranoid pessimism that lies beneath all the posturing and play fighting. As with all great artists, ‘Mantagi’ is, at times, an intimate snapshot of a person going through a great deal of personal problems and turmoil. Accused of being contradictory, naive and having ‘sold out’, M.I.A may be bruised but never more fierce when backed into a corner. It’s incredibly telling that when a woman single-handedly reinvents musical genres she gets accused of being a social climber and ostracised (New York Times hang your head in shame!) but when Kayne West shameless copies her, he gets lauded as a ‘genius’ and credited with the album of year by the music press.

13. How to Destroy Angels – ‘Welcome Oblivion’

In his second appearance on this list, Trent Reznor turns in an exemplary record with his How to a Destroy Angels project. A darkly intelligent piece, ‘Welcome Oblivion’ is remarkable for its ability to evoke an atmosphere that envelopes you with its subtle shifts from despair to the seductive and hopeful. Taking a strongly collaborative approach, Reznor designs an environment in which the other performers are given the space to individually flourish, with his wife (Mariqueen Maandig) notably stealing the show with her hushed vocals at the forefront. A work that deeply rewards repeated listens, ‘Welcome Oblivion’ commands respect.

12. Giant Drag – ‘Waking Up Is Hard To Do’

Annie Hardy is a true rock and roll survivor, for the past eight years she has battled a rare nervous disease, drug addiction, bankruptcy, constant band member issues, domestic abuse, almost entire mental collapse and being dropped by a major label. Her band Giant Drag was (in her own words) ‘cursed from the start’ with this sophomore record actually being mostly completed in 2011 before a series of major disasters struck. Thanks to her small but deeply loyal fan base and Icarus Line hero Joe Cardamone however, ‘Waking Up Is Hard To Do’ was resurrected, it’s surprising arrival enabled Annie to carry out a ‘farewell tour’ of Europe and hopefully gain some closure on this difficult part of her life. An extraordinary piece of songwriting, there’s much wisdom and inspiration to be found here. Tracks like ‘Seen The Light’ and ‘Garbage Hearts’ are great examples of Annie channelling her hardships into uplifting moments of clarity. If there is one thing that counts against ‘Waking Up Is Hard To Do’ it’s the obvious pain that Annie had clearly gone through, songs like ‘Meowch’ are heartbreaking and at times can make for an uncomfortable listen. Nevertheless, this is one survivor story worth celebrating, I for one am hoping that Annie will continue to fight against the odds and do what she was born to do!

11. Cornelius – ‘Ghost In The Shell Arise OST’

A geek marriage made in heaven earlier this year saw Cornelius (one of Japan’s most influential artists who has worked with Beck, The Beastie Boys and Blur to name but a few) hired to score the soundtrack for the latest instalment in the Ghost in the Shell series (one of Japan’s most influential pieces of science fiction). The result is ‘Ghost in the Shell Arise’, a dense, fluid and eclectic selection of compositions that rank among some of the artist’s best works. A notorious perfectionist, Cornelius typically spends years between albums experimenting, with this dedication to his craft being evident in every sound presented here. The best way to experience ‘Arise’ is on the most expensive headphones you can find, as it’s layered intricacies reveal themselves gradually and are positively awe-inspiring when you reflect on how they were made. In the past Cornelius has employed water drops, the rustling of leaves and even cicadas in his production, so the mind boggles at what he has used this time! Regardless of the process, ‘Arise’ is an unforgettable experience that features at its heart a standout contribution from unique singer Salyu (Cornelius wrote and produced her last record ‘Salyu X Salyu’).

Top 30 best albums of 2013 (30-21)

There have been lots of hyped-up records and some typical disappointments but if there’s one thing I hope this post does is turn people’s attentions to some really great records you won’t read about in the NME or Rolling Stone. I don’t pretend to have a true ‘world wide’ knowledge of the best records this year, but at least I’ve given it a go (unlike virtually all Western music journalists). Please let me know what you think of these records (good, bad or ugly!):

 

30. Dorian – ‘Midori’

An excellent lounge dance record that owes a great deal to Cornelius but has more than enough great moments to stand alone. 

https://soundcloud.com/doriandorian

 

29. Soil&”Pimp” sessions – ‘Circles’

One of the most exciting Jazz bands to have emerged in recent years, incredibly they actually make Jazz sound cool! 

 

28. Phoenix – ‘Bankrupt!’

Another consistently excellent record from France’s best indie band. My only criticism is how much further can they stretch their signature sound? Great fun though.

 

27. Franz Ferdinand – ‘Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions’

Everyone has their knives out for Franz, which is a bit unfair really. I’m pretty certain they don’t care, but if they can keep producing records this strong it will hopefully silence the naysayers. 

 

26. Boom Boom Satellites – ‘Embrace’

Boom Boom Satellites are Japan’s answer to Nine Inch Nails and have been making excellent records for well over a decade. ‘Embrace’ finds them continuing to push the envelope after career highlight ‘To the Loveless’, and would feature higher had it not featured a head crushingly bad cover of ‘Helter Skelter’ and one of the most bizarre track-listings I’ve ever encountered  (‘excellent instrumental intro track you say, okay then lets put it at track 8.’) Despite this, there are some incredible stand-outs (‘Disconnected’ being one of their best songs to date).

 

25. Cuushe – ‘Butterfly Case’

Cuushe is a superb new artist and her debut ‘Butterfly Case’ is one of the most immaculately constructed records you’ll hear all year. One of her earlier songs is called ‘Do you Know the Way to Sleep?’, and I think that abstract aesthetic permeates throughout this record. It’s sleepy, trippy, and powerful electronic shoegaze. A great companion piece to last year’s brilliant ‘Melody’s Echo Chamber’. 

 

24. EL-P & Killer Mike – Run the Jewels

Forget Tyler, forget Kayne, and forget Kendrick, this is the best Hip-Hop you’ll hear this year.

 

23. Arcade Fire – Reflektor 

‘Reflektor’ is a controversial album, not because it transforms and develops Arcade Fire’s traditional sound but rather because it smacks of over-indulgence. No, one except perhaps The Beatles have pulled off a double album and the back-peddling on this ambition is clear as the second part of ‘Reflektor’ draws to a close. Long instrumental endings and ‘hidden tracks’ of rewound tape can’t hide the fact that this is a record begging for a nice big pair of scissors. It’s agonisingly apparent when the standouts (like the incredible ‘Here comes the night-time’ and title track) are heard alongside the likes of B-side filler (‘Flashbulb eyes’ I’m looking at you!). Had ‘Reflektor’ been edited down and distilled, it would have topped most of the end of the year lists (this one included), instead it will be recognised as a flawed experiment with only moments of greatness. 

 

22. Big Deal – ‘June Gloom’

Big Deal are a great British indie rock pair, who have tons to offer and have produced a brilliant showcase in ‘June Gloom’. There’s bags of potential here and I can only hope that more bands like Big Deal will keep the fire burning for adventurous and eccentric British Indie-rock music. The fact that they’ve been sidelined and not championed by the music press in the UK (although bizarrely I saw a sizeable review for them in Rolling Stone), bemoans how irrelevant music journalism has become. 

 

21. The Joy Formidable – ‘Wolf’s Law’

A consistently excellent sophomore record from The Joy Formidable, clearly setting their aim very high. ‘Wolf’s law’ has lots of grand moments but perhaps is lacking in some of the more gut-wrenching intimacy that they are capable of. Great work though and a band very much on the rise! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top 10 Films of 2012 (10-6)

This is by no means an authoritative list for 2012, there are several films this year that I’ve still yet to view that almost certainly would had featured here; either due to missing them at the cinema on their original release (“Marlene, Marcy, May”, “Himizu” and “Amour”), or to arcane distribution delays (“Django Unchained”, “Evangelion 3.0” and “009 Cyborg”). Nevertheless, it’s been a really interesting year in cinema and boiling things down to a Top 10 is a hard task for anyone attempting it!

10. Argo

Despite my initial snobbery about this (heavily one-sided) account of 1979 Iran Hostage crisis, it’s hard to argue with “Argo’s” cinematic brilliance; it really captures the gnawing irrational terror of passing through passport control! Director Ben Affleck ratchets up the tension with artful precision, creating a fun and thrilling story that keeps you guessing throughout. Clear artistic licence has been taken with the subject material (most notably at its climax and with a dangerously flippant remark about the lack of help from Britain and New Zealand), but to the film’s credit, most of these choices were made to service the dramatic pace of the film. Such strong instincts mark Affleck out as an impressively capable director. Despite its occasionally dubious politics, “Argo ” still manages to be a highly satisfying cinematic experience, featuring impressive performances from a well balanced ensemble cast of legends and unknowns.

9. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

Cinematic documentaries have become increasingly slick over the past few years but few would deny the esoteric flourishes on offer here from director Alison Klayman. Ai Weiwei is a pop artist for the 21st Century, surrounded by an entourage of eager disciples and regarded with overwhelming hype in the West. Klayman’s intelligent documentary takes on the Chinese artist’s larger than life story with gusto, recounting his turbulent upbringing, early life in New York and his later transformation into a domestic political pariah/freedom fighter, with humanity and grace. Undoubtably “Never Sorry’s” finest achievement is its stubborn refusal to descend into unconditional platitudes for its subject, instead it paints a portrait of a man torn by his innate need to fight against a system that he knows is wrong and his apparent responsibility for the many others (family, employees and friends) that deeply depend on him. Jaw-dropping scenes involving the artist’s mother, son and wife, reveal the daily toll that this dilemma has. In its layered complexity regarding nationalism, reform, artistic integrity and human rights; “Never Sorry” is an essential warning shot to all who consider themselves citizens of the world.

8. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Of all the films released this year, perhaps the one who’s critical response has surprised me the most has been “The Hobbit.” The knives have truly been brought out for this, the first of three instalments based on JRR Tolkein’s children’s novel. There’s a couple of reasons why I think that such a response is unfair; particularly the complaints about the length of not just this film but the other still unreleased instalments. For anyone who’s actually read the novel, it’s more than evident that the story has been rightfully expanded, firstly because its necessary for work to make dramatic sense (it is after all a film “adaptation” last time I checked!) and secondly because this will enable it to link in more effectively with “The Lord of The Rings” film series. Also, for people that have complained about the tone, I personally found it to be no different from the other films and in fact was surprised that children in the audience weren’t more bothered by the gritty battle scenes towards the end! Overall, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is an excellent new instalment to the franchise, bringing back iconic characters with expected quality, whilst clearly setting up new dramatic developments to be resolved in its sequels. It also doesn’t hurt that it is grounded rather beautifully by a brilliant central performance by Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins (the titular Hobbit).

7. Life of Pi

“Life of Pi” adapted from the novel of the same name written by Yann Martel, is a true rarity; a film that is both glorious in its aesthetics but also unflinchingly brutal in its nature. More than any other theme, “Life of Pi” is about natural selection and the conflict this harsh reality has with concepts of spirituality. The film’s hugely enjoyable beginning scenes in India are deliberately set up as s juxtaposition with the crushing isolated struggle the central character, Pi, encounters afterwards. Whilst its up to the viewer to decide “Life of Pi’s” overall resolution to this conflict, the tale’s concluding twist acts a catalyst that complicates the need for answers further and brings you back to listen to the story again, very much in keeping with “the circle of life.” Supposedly “unfilmable”, director Ang Lee deserves huge recognition for his superb script structuring, technical wizardry and the sheer emotion that he manages to evoke despite the story’s periodically savage overtones. Not a children’s film or the sugarcoated popularist blockbuster its been curiously advertised as, but instead a mature, ponderous, modern masterpiece.

6. Coriolanus

Ralph Fiennes may have made waves in 007’s “Skyfall” adventure this year but his real achievement was “Coriolanus”, a truly stunning directorial debut. Very much a personal project, Fiennes’ battle to bring Shakespeare’s controversial play (Hitler would frequently order theatrical productions of it) out of obscurity and back into relevance is commendable. The resulting adaptation resets the play in a modern “middle eastern” nation state, riffing off the Arab spring to great effect. Even greater though, is Fiennes’ unrestricted central performance, which propels what could had been potentially tedious (political machinations and chest beatings) into a visceral, well paced and taut thriller. “Coriolanus” is a complete triumph, cutting away the superfluous aspects of the play and succeeding in portraying a man at war with himself. In my mind it stands tall amongst the finest cinematic Shakespeare adaptations (“Ran” based on King Lear by Akira Kurosawa and Roman Polanski’s “Macbeth”).

Top 20 Albums of 2012 (5-1)

    5. Crocodiles – Endless Flowers

Crocodiles are a fascinating group from San Diego, and are just like another personal californian favourite, The Icarus Line. If its a genuine rock and roll band for the noughties you’re after, these guys are the real deal! Notoriously hap-hazard live, Crocodiles may loose and gain members with the changing directions of the wind but at their beating core they have an essence of vitality and passion that completely outstrips other acts. “Endless Flowers” is in a way the band making good on their initial promises. For anyone who’s seen them live over the past few years or had their interest piqued by their previous album “Sleep Forever”, the songs on this record sound like a triumph. Crocodiles have evolved their rough and ready sound into something more powerful, pristinely clear and thoroughly enjoyable. There are some outstanding tracks on “Endless Flowers”; “My Surfing Lucifer” is an incredible pop rock singalong with a switchblade lyric about tragic surfer Bunker Spreckles, “Sunday” is a sure fire hit single from a deeply uncommercial band, and “Bubblegum Trash” is a polemic to the perpetual Californian lifestyle. There’s a huge amount to party to and hopefully an indicator of great things to come (well, if they can just get their shit together for the next tour!).


    4. Mars Volta – Noctourniquet

It was a longer than usual wait for this latest effort from the incomparable Mars Volta. Whilst still not quite reaching the dizzying career-high of “The Bedlam in Goliath”, “Noctourniquet” is a mighty fine record on its own terms, featuring the awe-inspiring array of instrumentation, superb lyrics and the outstanding singing we’ve come to expect from them. There are plenty of highlights; opener “The Whip Hand” with it’s shattering chorus, trip hop inspired “Lapochka” and the climatic “Zed and Two Naughts”. Sadly, the length of time waiting for this record was apparently down to a major argument between bandmates Cedric and Omar (perhaps complicated by Cedric’s recent alignment with a controversial religious group), with little promotion and only a truncated tour following its release. Both members are now working on side-projects (Omar Rodriguez-Lopez has perhaps predictably released three albums this year, “Octopus Kool Aid” is well worth a listen!), bringing the future of The Mars Volta into doubt. If “Noctourniquet” does end up being their last record, at the very least it will stand as a testament to a band who chose to use intelligence and ambition, instead of cheap genre tricks and gimmicks. Unmissable.


    3. Melody’s Echo Chamber – Melody’s Echo Chamber

Melody Prochet’s debut is indescribably beautiful and gave me one of those instant connections with a record which every music lover knows and dreams of. Stunning sweeping shoegaze guitars, and 60s Parisian pop sounds, carry the all-consuming atmosphere of lost elegiac summer evenings and bittersweet autumnal afternoons. Prochet’s glorious voice cuts through the haze and hovers in a place somewhere out of reach, seducing you to another dimension. Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker is the man behind the music, his incredible production stands up to scrutiny and marks him out as a great new talent. Disappointingly, “Melody’s Echo Chamber” has been seemingly overshadowed in the music press by Parker’s “Lonerism” record. The similarities between these two albums are glaringly obvious but personally, I think Prochet’s voice massively elevates Parker’s sound from a poor-man’s My Bloody Valentine rip-off to something fresh and emotionally entrancing. Tame Impala have a very generic singer in Parker and all the plaudits, whilst deserved for “Lonerism’s” technical achievements, smack of hype and a strange tinge of sexism when compared to the muted response this album has received.


    2. Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror

When Sleigh Bells first exploded onto the music scene in 2009, I (along with many others) was enraptured by their freshness, their “worn on their sleeves” pop sensibilities and their effortless style. After a series of impressive singles, debut “Treats” felt like a truly generational record; Sleigh Bells had managed to create a totally new sound, successfully fusing hip hop production, NY hardcore guitar riffs, and Riot Girrrl vocals to devastating effect. “Treats” was so fun in fact, that it led to the criticisms of “all style, no substance.” Not so, “Reign of Terror”, almost made as if in response to their perceived flaws, Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller have created a piece of work that fires on all cylinders. Miller’s production has developed further and the band’s signature sound has been expanded and made richer. Krauss is now much more confident in her vocal range, with the chemistry between the pair impressively enlivening their live shows. But above all else the lyrics that hide just inches below the excitable sheen are impeccable. Rarely has a band who’s been so hyped, and sold as being so hip and in vogue, revealed themselves to be as strikingly intelligent. “Reign of Terror”, unlike its predecessor, has something to say, and not all of its messages will go down smoothly with the affluent commercial audience that it occasional courts (“Comeback Kid”). In a lot of ways it’s a concept album about the desperation and tragedy of growing up in a dead-end town (see “End of The Line”). Krauss acts as the clairvoyant for Miller’s heartfelt tales of friendship (“Crush”) and gnawing sadness (“Leader of the Pack”), that evidently go hand in hand with his guilt of having escaped his home whilst his friends and family languish behind (“You Lost Me”). On first hand, Sleigh Bells may appear to be your typical Dazed and Confused/Vice Magazine fashion band but “Reign of Terror” betrays the real truth, this is a deeply genuine and personal record by an incredible pair of musicians and one that cries out for recognition.


    1. Shiro Sagisu – Evangelion 3.0 Soundtrack

Experiencing the television and film series “Neon Genesis Evangelion” belongs to a group of very select and deeply personal cultural events that have shaped my creative life. It stands up there with the likes of listening to “The Holy Bible” by the Manic Street Preachers for the first time, reading “Nineteen Eighty Four” by George Orwell, watching “The X Files” and “The Prisoner”, and viewing “Blow Up” and “Made In USA” by Michelangelo Antonioni and Jean Luc Godard. This record, three years in the making, is the latest development in Shiro Sagisu’s 17 years of soundtrack work for the franchise (it’s for the third, out of four, planned feature film retellings of the original series). Evangelion 3.0 features the input of over 200 musicians, London’s Studio Orchestra, a full choir and four recording studios dotted around the world (including Abbey Road). Continually evolving; Sagisu’s unique mixture of traditional orchestra, jazz, spanish and electric guitars, choir, synth and electro/dubstep beats, is simultaneously challenging, familiar and endearing. Without such musical genius for its backdrop, I suspect that Evangelion would have had far less of its now infamous emotional impact that has enabled it to so successfully transcend its medium. “Evangelion 3.0” is a prime example of this, an incredible concept record, that balances the series’ motifs (“Bataille d’Espace”) and classical references (“From Beethoven 9”), but manages to strike out in its own brand new direction (“Out of the Dark”, “The Anthem”). Dark, tragic, thrilling and tempered with glimmers of hope, it feels as though Sagisu has finally achieved his goal, in composing a genuinely convincing contender for a “modern classic” Opera for the 21st Century. More so than any other record this year, “Evangelion 3.0” manages to be fearless in its ambition, unfettered by any commercial goals, or striving to play to any audience other than its own creators, this is a rare work of pure artistic expression (and one that can be listened to completely apart from the subject material).





Most disappointing album of the year:
Muse – The Second Law

Biggest missed opportunity of 2012:
Garbage – Not Your Kind of People

Most pointless band reunion of 2012:
The Stone Roses

Best gig of 2012:
The Kills and Jack White at Alexandre Palace

Most Underrated album of the year:
Blood Red Shoes – In Time To Voices

Most exciting records to look forward to in 2013:

*New* My Bloody Valentine, Rilo Kiley, Boom Boom Satellites, Portishead, Killing Joke, Queens of the Stone Age, Nine Inch Nails and How to Destroy Angels

Top 20 Albums of 2012 (10-6)

N.B. Thanks guys for all the “likes” and views this past week, please let me know what you think about these artists in the comments section!

10. Tokyo Jihen (Shiina Ringo) – Shin’ya Waku

Another year and another chance to sing the praises of one of the most underrated alternative artists in recent years. Shiina Ringo is an incredibly talented singer, songwriter, producer and composer; her work has transformed the possibilities of underground music in her native Japan since her emergence in 1998 and she is regarded as a modern musical legend there, despite having no exposure in the West. This record, whilst not strictly an album (it’s a collection of career-spanning B-sides and rarities) by her band project Tokyo Jihen (Tokyo Incidents), is such a great demonstration of her talent that it simply wipes the floor with most other “new” releases this year. With a full band of handpicked musicians, Ringo was able to reach an even greater range of styles and genre experimentation, whilst also curiously producing some of her most commercial pop/rock moments in her career. There are some great examples of this on Shin’ya Waku; just check out the pop new-wave of “Too Handsome”, the scuzzy punk of “B.B. Queen” or the cabaret crooning of “Dynamite.” Tokyo Jihen sadly disbanded earlier this year (at the height of their critical and commercial success in Japan), so this is great chance to catch-up on what makes them (and Shiina) just so special. It is also worth noting that more songs than usual are sung in English on the record, so it’s doubly accessible for newcomers!

9. Metric – Synthetica

Metric continue to develop both musically and lyrically with this impressively consistent record from the Canadian four-piece. “Synthetica” has few radio-friendly moments (unlike their last album “Fantasies”) but rather instead focuses on being a rewarding collection of songs that deftly blend the personal and socio-political. “Artificial Nocturne” is effective build up, starting off proceedings with a typically provocative opening gambit from singer Emily Haines, “I’m as just fucked up as they say” she declares and proud of it! Perhaps the most interesting thing about the songs here is that they match this sentiment without becoming overwrought or preachy. There’s a mature subtlety that undercuts the murky slogans of “Youth without Youth”, and the title track. In its more introspective moments (such as in “Dreams So Real” and “The Wanderlust”), Haines manages to retain your attention whilst mercifully avoiding what I would term the “Courtney Love trap”, that ever so dangerous prospect of coming across as an intelligent and wealthy woman that revels in being mired in a teenage sulk. Luckily, Synthetica’s fate is to be remembered as a relevant, understated, polemic to a generation preoccupied by a lack of authenticity and prospects.

8. EL-P – Cancer for Cure

EL-P has continued to invigorate and attract attention from an eclectic group of admirers and collaborators both within and without the world of hip-hop. “Cancer for Cure” is a sucker punch of a record from him, full of energetic and witty hooks that mix up the song structure and beats that come down as rapidly as his flow mocks you. EL-P’s trademark propensity for science fiction references works to great effect here, lending the dark subject matter of many of the rhymes a dystopic edge. There are some great moments of angry fury at injustice here on “True Story” and “For My Upstairs Neighbour”, comedic hipster baiting (“Drones over Bklyn”), and personal poignancy (“$ Vic/FTL (Me and You)”). “Cancer for Cure” is the sort of record you wished all hip-hop artists were capable of; intelligent, inventive, unpretentious and deeply human, it brings shame to the big names in the business and so-called innovators (Kayne West are you listening?). Few records this year have as much (or rather ANYTHING) to say.

7. Capsule – STEREO WORXXX

Capsule are the long-term brainchild of super-producer Yasutaka Nakata, an electro-dance duo who give the so-called champions of the genre (Justice, Daft Punk, Soulwax, The Chemical Brothers) more than a run for their money! “STEREO WORXXX” is the latest in a series of more club-themed records that aim to replicate the experience of seeing Capsule live. For older fans (who still remember their initial 60s-style sugary pop singles) this may be an alienating sound, but for everyone else there’s lots to enjoy and party to! Slightly longer and more house-inspired than previous efforts, tracks like “Motor Force” and “All the Way” may require repeated listens to get the most out from them, but the fast hits of “Dee J” and “Feelin’ Alright” more than make up for this. If you haven’t heard of Capsule before, “STEREO WORXXX” is a great place to start.

6. Killing Joke – MMXII

It’s incredible to think that “MMXII” is a record made by a band that’s 34 years old, nothing (and I do mean nothing!) is stuffy or antiquated about the songs on offer here. Frontman and lyricist Jaz Coleman has never sounded more articulate, focussed and downright angry as he does on spectacular warning shots like “Corporate Elect” and “Colony Collapse.” Matching him pound for pound is the original line-up of the band; Paul Ferguson’s unmistakable fiery and intricate drumming keeps things unpredictable and tribal, Youth’s production and bass effects are strikingly modern and Geordie Walker’s superb riffs somehow make everything practically drip with vibrancy. In fact, listening to “MMXII” really gives you the impression that Killing Joke have incredibly upped their game once again (perhaps in response to 2010’s unfocussed “Absolute Dissent”), and it sounds as though every note could be their last. You simply don’t get this fearlessness in any other artist that has been around for a long as they have, and it’s this timeless punk rock aesthetic that I suspect will mean that whatever happens in the future, a “Killing Joke” of some nature will continue on into the next generation. It’s a crying shame that despite huge critical appreciation, few people have been talking up “MMXII”, it really is up there with the band’s very best (“On All Hallow’s Eve” is arguably one of the most moving songs they’ve ever written) and continues to cement Killing Joke as true national treasures. On an interesting side-note, one of the year’s most surreal music stories was related to the band earlier in the summer, when Jaz “disappeared” for several weeks, only to resurface in the Western Sahara desert! With a new record and career-spanning singles collection planned for 2013, don’t be the last to get back into this amazing band.

Top 20 Albums of 2012 (15-11)

15. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Soundtrack

Although strictly a release from last year, in the UK the film and accompanying soundtrack only really had a proper airing in January. With this soundtrack Trent Reznor completes the work he first began in 1999’s “The Fragile”, and later extrapolated on 2008’s much underrated “Ghosts I-IV”. As a result you could argue that this previously acerbic and volatile singer has now completely transformed his image, Trent now come across as an articulate and affable spokesperson for the creative music industry. However, if this is a sign as that he has somehow become acceptable and safe in his advancing years, that couldn’t be further from the truth evidenced here. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is a mature work that continually manages to evoke convincing atmospheric spaces, at times perpetuating an almost Hitchcockian thriller-like dread. Rarely has the teaming up of a musician and film maker complemented each other’s aesthetic to such as degree as this. David Fincher’s glacial neo fairy-tale mystery is propelled to a higher level by the strikingly varied and modernist compositions produced by Reznor and Ross. This a commendable progression from their work on “The Social Network” and is bookended by two absolute standout cinematic themes; “Immigrant Song” covered by Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O for the opening titles and “Is Your Love Strong Enough?” by Reznor’s new band How to Destroy Angels for the closing credits.

 

 

14. iamamiwhoami – Kin

A totally brilliant and dreamy slice of electro from Sweden, “Kin” is reminiscent of the pioneering work of Goldfrapp and Bjork, and like both those acts, the songs here veer precariously from mainstream dance/pop to experimental minimalism. Starting off as a mysterious multimedia project, iamamiwhoami captivated many in the Swedish music industry, triggering off a curious search to unmask the identity behind the music. With the secret recently being resolved (it turns out that rather than Lady Gaga(?!) the work was attributed to singer-songwriter Jonna Lee), this debut was released, accompanied by a full length video project. Whilst the jury is most certainly out on the value of the music videos (which are a bit too self-consciously kooky for my liking), the record is a gem and alongside the other strange dream-pop choices in this list, is most definitely worth a listen.

 

 

13. Deftones – Koi No Yokan

In a way there is nothing special about “Koi No Yokan”, rather it’s an excellent rock record by a consistently great band in a year where decent rock records have been virtually non-existent. With any luck, someone will give this (the Deftones’ Seventh record) a heavy listen and feel inspired enough by their greatness to kick start the next generation of era-defining rock bands. Consistently filled with their trademark emotional, hard-hitting and rocked-out tunes, this really is the marching of a band at the top of their game. “Koi No Yokan” gives the fans what they want in a big way (just hear “Leathers” and “Gauze”), whilst continuing to develop their signature sound (“Entombed”), proving you can have your cake and eat it after all!

 

 

12. Jack White – Blunderbuss

After more than a decade Jack White is still the hottest ticket in town, whether it’s with The Dead Weather, The Raconteurs or even (with a touch of wishful thinking!) The White Stripes, there’s simply no stopping Mr White’s steamroller of revivalist good ole fashioned Rock and Roll. But when the tunes are this inventive (and downright eccentric), who can really argue against it? “Blunderbuss” works hard to not rest on its laurels and whilst featuring more growers (“Freedom at 21”) than gold certified hits (“Sixteen Saltines”), it provides too much fun to attempt to sneer at. Like the man himself, this record really has to be heard live for it to truly make sense, and for those who had the wonderful opportunity to do so this year, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

 

 

11. Graham Coxon –A+E

Graham Coxon burst out of the wilderness (and out from under all the lengthy talk of Blur concerts and new albums) to release this, easily his finest solo effort to date. “A+E” caught everyone off guard when it was released earlier this year, with many (myself included) still digesting its dense assortment of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of indie rock. You’ll laugh (“Seven Naked Valleys”), you’ll cry (“Knife in the cast”), and you’ll dance (“What’ll It Take”), just whatever you do, don’t touch that dial, because it’s great!

 

 

Top 20 Albums of 2012 (20-16)

20. Bloc Party – Four

The very fact that Bloc Party’s latest record has the spectacularly unoriginal name of “Four” pretty much sums up the themes on offer here. This is an absolute mess of a record, with distinctly odd stylistic choices abound, which not so much as straddle the line of cynical music making but petulantly stomp on it. Manic in its execution, there are some true moments of superb, bitter, indie rock to enjoy here, alongside some of the most turgid and shockingly wonky songwriting that Kele has ever put his name to. Everything is compounded by the budget production, which makes many of the songs sound remarkably like they were recorded by a poverty stricken Bloc Party circa pre-major label signing. Complete with demo-style studio chat outtakes and other frankly odd sonic ticks, the record company would have you believe that this all results in an authentic “return to their roots” but it’s a not wholly convincing move. On “Kettling” missing in action is the lyricist who once made well-observed and (operative word here) subtle depictions of multicultural Britain (see the majestic “Where is Home?”), in his place is apparently now an angry, Occupy loving, Sixth Form poet, or rather, in actuality, a grown man pretending to be sixteen again. This may all sound a bit negative but the fact that anyone at all has mulled over the record’s (admittedly numerous) flaws is a testament to the flashes of genius and pure potential on show on many of the tracks here; “3×3” is what Biffy Clyro used to sound like, “Team A” is chock full of hooks, and “We Are Not Good People” is arguably one of the best rock songs in Bloc Party’s cannon. Not so much a step backwards but a boozy roadtrip sideways, here’s to “Five”!

19. Purity Ring – Shrines

Purity Ring hail from Montreal and like their Canadian cousins Crystal Castles capitalise on the minimal electro/hip hop lite production sound, regularly dubbed as part of the “Witch House” scene. Whilst in lesser hands this sort of pretentious sounding, hipster-naval gazing, would fall dangerously flat, on their successful debut here, Purity Ring have managed to craft something that is both musically flowing and strangely affecting. In fact if there’s a best way of experiencing “Shrines,” it’s through attempting to sleep to it. The fused beats and singer Megan James’ gently delivered lyrics about dreamy fantasy worlds and benign spirits are almost guaranteed to guide you off to a swift slumber. Standout singles “Belispeak” and “Lofticries” signify an afterlife in the wee hours at “cool” houseparties in Dalston.

18. Jonny Greenwood – The Master Soundtrack

Jonny Greenwood, Radiohead’s unsung hero, once again proved his worth this year (not that he really needs to mind), with this utterly brilliant soundtrack to Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master.” Managing to both capture sonically the era the film inhabits through its great song choices (e.g. “Get Thee Behind Me Satan” by Ella Fitzgerald and “No Other Love” by Jo Stafford) but also to, crucially, subvert what your very expectations of what a film soundtrack can do, through its series of intricate instrumental songs that continually wrongfoot you with clever twists and turns. Beautifully recorded and mixed at Abbey Road, this is the first of two highly impressive soundtrack albums in this list that feature the very best of British talent.

17. Silversun Pickups – Neck of the Woods

Silversun Pickups are a hard band to dislike; coming across as a shameful mix of Placebo, Garbage and The Smashing Pumpkins, there’s an inherent familiarity to their sound which makes this record highly palatable. With such lofty comparisons though, it’s easy to see why many have overlooked “Neck of the Woods” this year, perhaps dismissing it as being a touch unoriginal. To be fair, it’s partly their own fault, with cliché-centric sounding song titles such as “Mean Spirits” and “Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)”, but if you are prepared to look beyond the surface you will find a highly consistent, confident and ultimately satisfying album here. One that partly fills a void that widens by the year for exciting alternative rock bands. Sure it might not quite be “Gish” but its great fun nonetheless!

16. Crystal Castles – (III)

What can anyone really say about Crystal Castles? Forever lauded as being “unwitting” musical geniuses, their records to date have been everything but consistent, and whilst they are undoubtedly an engaging presence on stage, there has always been the chilly air of cynical calculation hovering somewhere in the periphery. “(III)” is a very tricky record to disassemble, and perhaps my own inability to really explain what the attraction is to such a challenging listen, is why it features here. There are moments aplenty of unremitting hopelessness (most notably on the pseudo-trance of “Sad Eyes” and the rather excellent “Pale Flesh”), alongside advert friendly background tracks (“Affection”) and noisy experimental-music that has been apparently plucked from bargain basement hell (“Insulin”). Yet somehow the whole thing hangs together, perhaps as some sort of soundtrack to a terrible, never-ending, drug-fuelled night out, or maybe a polemic to redemption. The reality is that there is something worryingly real and voyeuristic about listening to “(III)”. Despite hoping that it might all be a jokey piss-take at the music press’ expense, I have deep suspicions that “(III)” is in actuality the rather private sound of two people trapped in their own misery. The fact that it is not too hard to imagine them there, desperately moping about in a drugged-out haze, tearing each other apart in a tiny room for months in isolation, is perhaps the most disturbing and questionable thing about this record. Let’s hope Crystal Castles take some accountability for themselves as adults and get some help (instead of bragging in the NME about how fucked up they are). I for one would love to hear a cleaned up Alice Glass sing with her disarmingly beautiful voice for an entire record.

Top 50 Tracks of 2012!!!

It’s been a long old time since I last wrote a blog, but as par my self-imposed annual tradition, here is the first of several “end of the year” lists. This year has been a mixed one for music, with many artists choosing either to revel in weak faux nostalgia (Frank Ocean, Green Day, No Doubt, Garbage, Bloc Party etc), or turn their hand to heavily overproduced sludge. Nevertheless, in the 50 tracks below (represented by some absolutely stunning music videos) you will find a curious concoction of Russian pop, Japanese Rock, Italian dance, whimpering Witch House, banging Brooklyn Hip Hop, irritating Indie, manic depressive Metal and the best music to ever come out of Brighton!

50. Natsuki Mari – Cadillac

49. Crystal Castles – Pale Flesh

48. Boots Electric – Boots Electric Theme

47. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu – Fashion Monster

46. Graham Coxon – Ooh, Yeh Yeh

45. Omar Rodriguez Lopez – Where Are The Angels

44. White Rabbits – Heavy Metal

43. Marilyn Manson – Slo-Mo-Tion

42. How to Destroy Angels – Is Your Love Strong Enough

41. Muse – Follow Me

40. Garbage – Man On a Wire

39. Deftones – Leathers

38. The Duke Spirit – Glorious

37. Iamiamwhoiam – in due order

36. EeL – For Common People (The Hair Kid Remix)

35. Tommy heavenly6 – I’M YOUR DEVIL -HALLOWEEN REMIX-

34. Meg – Trap

33. Gaz Coombes Presents… – Hot Fruit

32. The Joy Formidable – Cholla

31. No Doubt – Settle Down

30. Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs – Your Love

29. Silversun Pickups – Bloody Mary

28. Heavenstamp – Magic

27. Tashaki Miyaki – Heartbeat

26. Little Boots – Every Night I Say A Prayer

25. Arcade Fire Sprawl II (Soulwax remix)

24. FABRI FIBRA & CROOKERS – L’ITALIANO BALLA

23. THE SHOES – TIME TO DANCE

22. Boom Boom Satellites – BROKEN MIRROR

21. Bloc Party – We Are Not Good People

20. El-P – “The Full Retard”

19. Radiohead – The Daily Mail

18. Serebro – Mama Lover

17. Meg – WEAR I AM

16. Melody’s Echo Chamber – You Won’t Be Missing That Part Of Me

15. Tommy february6 – HOT CHOCOLAT

14. School of Seven Bells – Low Times

13. Kylie Minogue – Timebomb

12. M.I.A. – Bad Girls

11.Killing Joke – Corporate Elect

10. Crocodiles – Sunday

9. Purity Ring – Belispeak

8. Charlotte Gainsbourg – Terrible Angels

7. Sleigh Bells – Comeback Kid

6. Shiina Ringo – Collateral damage.

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xqrnnx_pv-yyyy-yyyyyy-2012-05-16-720p_music#.UMO2ircgGc1

5. Metric – Youth Without Youth

4. Capsule – Feelin’ alright

3. Jack White – Sixteen Saltines

2. Hot Chip – Night and Day

1. Blood Red Shoes – Cold

Honourable mention –

Top 10 Films of 2012 (5-1)

5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

David Fincher’s remarkable remake of Steig Larsson’s hit novel didn’t fully get its due from both audiences and critics due to its muted, and frankly odd, release date around boxing day last year, as a result (and as I saw it in 2012 too) I’ve included it here. Whilst I concede that the Swedish original from which this is based is a mighty fine film in its own right, there is genius at work here that demands attention. David Fincher manages to craft landscapes that simply seep with a dreamlike atmosphere, whilst framing his shots with the incredible technical precision he is known for. Here he conventionally manipulates the audience but also subverts the cinematic language of the thriller genre. There are many scenes that have not left me due to the strength of their image (no doubt aided by Fincher’s excellent collaboration with Cinematographer, Jeff Cronenweth); the sweeping entrance to the Vangar family estate, the brilliant shots of Lisbeth racing through Stockholm on her motorcycle and the incredible opening sequence. It also doesn’t hurt that the all the performances and Trent Reznor’s score are top rate.

4. The Master

When I first heard about the premise of “The Master” my interest was greatly piqued, here was a Hollywood director seemingly about to directly tackle an infamous organisation, that could potentially put his career, friends and family in jeopardy. Clearly the risks were high and so when the film arrived this year it beguiled many with it’s apparent subtlety and ambiguousness. What is “The Master” really about? In a lot of ways the question is irrelevant, because instead of posing its arguments and critiques in a logical or conventional sense, director Paul Thomas Anderson has admirably chosen to use abstraction. As such it’s a picture that is pure arthouse heaven. For anyone who is open minded about the artistic and subconscious possibilities of the medium, “The Master” presents a near flawless example. The tale of troubled ex-serviceman Freddy (played extraordinarily with one of the best performances of the year by Joaquin Phoenix) and his manipulation by cult leader Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is more about a nuanced flow of exchanges and concepts, than character progression or resolution. In fact you could go as far as to suggest that all the characters return to where they were more or less at the beginning by the end of the piece. “The Master” is immersive experience that leaves you much to mull on and only asks in return that you do not judge, but rather try to consider its idealogical conflicts without preconception.

3. Outrage

Takashi Kitano’s Yakuza epic for the 21st century originally came out in its native Japan in 2010 but didn’t properly surface till earlier this year in the UK; with its sequel already out in Tokyo! Despite the long delay, I can’t sing its praises enough and want to mention it here in a vain attempt to ensure that other people check it out. If you are a fan of gangster films then “Outrage” is an unmissable experience (read my original review here: https://theexecutionofallthings.wordpress.com/2012/02/19/kitano-special-part-1-outrage/)

2. Cosmopolis

Many critics said that “Cosmopolis” is a hard film to love and maybe they’re right! At the screening I attended, I was dismayed, not only to find that the number of people queuing up for it was dwarfed by cinema-goers who had instead chosen to see “Moonrise Kingdom”, but to also hear someone heavily snoring behind me after only about half an hour into its running time. The sleeping audience member really did get to me, as you can say a lot of things about David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Don DeLillo’s novel, but it certainly isn’t disengaging. As sleek and well made as the limousine that the film’s plot is set around, Cronenberg seduces you into a world vision where banality is the ultimate trap and destruction is caused by nature’s inherent asymmetry. Like the director’s last picture, “A Dangerous Method,” this is a cerebral film seemingly about very little but instead dealing with the internal struggles and existential crises of its central character (Millionaire wunderkind Eric Packer played rather excellently by Robert Pattinson). The film’s way of doing things reminded me of Will Self’s Psychogeography theory (itself inspired by fellow Cronenberg collaborator JG Ballard), where feelings and conflicts are portrayed externally in the background and architectural surroundings, whilst the individual is almost completely drained of emotional expression. It is a testament then, that Cronenberg and Pattinson (along with their superb supporting cast; it’s particularly pleasing to see Mathieu Amalric show up) have managed to thread a line of black humour throughout that saves the film from being too po-faced, and in my mind succeeds in making it an entertaining watch. Unsurprising the thrills on offer aren’t to everyone’s tastes (this is Cronenberg after all!) but as an ambitious, low budget and thought provoking film that improves on its source material (hello ambiguity, goodbye poorly written rap song), you couldn’t find better this year.

1. Prometheus

In a year dominated by novel and play adaptations, sequels and endless comic book films, there was one picture that managed to be more original than all of them, that film is of course “Prometheus.” The hostile response to its release was undoubtedly the film story of the year, with many critics and audience members feeling hugely disappointed and frustrated. A lot of this criticism however is ill-conceived and unfair, and after seeing the film several times I feel certain that as time goes on “Prometheus” will be re-evaluated (in much the same way as its sister films “Alien” and “Blade Runner” have). Many have pointed to the script, firstly asking why original writer Jon Spaihts had been removed from pre-production (his script had a lot more references to “Alien”) and replaced with Damon Lindelof (of “Lost” fame); surely this was all his fault, filling the film with his typically unresolved mysteries. Why wasn’t it more like “Alien,” wasn’t it suppose to be the prequel? The truth is that neither of these writers can be blamed for any of “Prometheus” perceived flaws, and I would argue that anyone who has felt disappointed or angry has been quite pointedly played; there is one man who has made every single decision in this film (consciously I might add), no matter how minuscule the detail, and that that man is director Sir Ridley Scott. He’s been called many things, from auteur to visionary, but with “Prometheus” it is evident that he has once more become master of his own destiny. It is no secret that many people feel disappointed because they allowed themselves to go along with the enormous amounts of hype which Ridley himself orchestrated; they wanted something but they weren’t quite sure what, maybe “Alien” again? Scott ingeniously takes his own film “Alien” (itself a mishmash of B-movie genre conventions) and completely subverts it over the course of “Prometheus.” Nothing quite goes the way you expect it from previous cinematic experience (particularly if you are a loyal fan of “Alien”) and I am certain that Scott has cut the film in such a way that it’s deliberately unsatisfying. Is this another masterful (but cynical) move on his part to pave the way for sequels and directors cuts? In a way that doesn’t really matter, because being forced into having to return to the film actually causes you to release its wealth of riches. “Prometheus” is a remarkably well-made film, its sets designed within an inch of their life, its cinematography consistently stunning and its performances tantalisingly ambiguous (Michael Fassbender’s performance is so overwhelmingly good, you really have to see the film more than once to get a feel for the other actors). I originally saw the film in IMAX 3D and was stunned by its incredible visual achievements (the monitor displays and dream sequences were particularly unforgettable), and feel more pride than the London Olympics that “Prometheus” was made in the UK. I have no doubt that it will go on to inspire a generation of film makers in future and whatever the outcome of its mysteries, it was the most singularly unique experience to be had in 2012.

Honourable mention:

The Dark Knight Rises – It would be unforgivable to pass on briefly bringing up Christopher Nolan’s final Batman film. Sure it’s too long, has script structuring problems and has an unintentionally hilarious ending, but it also has a lot of heart and intelligence. Christian Bale’s continued nuanced and restrained performance as Batman deserves respect, as does the year’s “most eccentric moment in cinema TM” , by which I am of course referring to Bane’s voice.

Worst Film of the 2012:

The Hunger Games – The first film based on Suzanne Collins’ popular book series commits so many cinematic crimes that to list them all here would constituent to a massive rant. Needless to say, chief among them is the hideous ripping off of Kinji Fukasaku’s classic “Battle Royale.” Whereas in that film adaptation there was humour, pathos and satirical bite; in “The Hunger Games” there is jarring CGI, blandness and commercial cynicism. Perhaps I would be more forgiving if there was a reference made to acknowledge the debt owed to “Battle Royale” author Koushun Takami (not to mention Steven King!) but the fact that Collins’ and her director’s blank refusal to do so in interviews is without a doubt the most shameful thing about this whole enterprise.

Most Underrated film of 2012:

Carnage – This short and snappy film adaptation by Roman Polanski of the play of the same name may had been lacking in set pieces but more than made up for it with hugely enjoyable performances and great casting. The ever reliable Christopher Waltz was particularly spell-binding.

Best Actor of 2012:

Woody Harrelson – Typically dismissed as a TV actor and terminally underrated, Woody cropped up in several films this year (“Rampart”, “Seven Psychopaths” and “The Hunger Games”), turning in superb performances in all them (even “The Hunger Games!”). Perhaps the bravest gamble of his career was his remarkable central role in “Rampart,” where Harrelson portrays a deeply unsympathetic character with unflinching grit and conviction.

Runner Up:

Daniel Craig (“Skyfall” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”).

Best Actress of 2012:

Noomi Rapace – Described rather condescendingly as a “rising star” after her impressive turn in the “Millennium trilogy”, Rapace proved herself an already greatly experienced and accomplished international actress, who blew away the Hollywood naysayers this year with a supreme central performance in “Prometheus.” Rapace showed that she could more than hold her own against the likes of Michael Fassbender and Charlize Theron, and later on in the year even managed to out rock the Stones!

Runner Up:

Amy Adams (“The Master” and “The Muppets”).

Worst Actor of 2012:

Rafe Spall – Dear casting directors of the world, please do not be fooled by young Master Spall’s parentage or credits, unfortunately he is the cinematic equivalent of Ketamine, he will make even the most sturdy of audiences woozy and doubting if they are actually alive. This year he was given not one but two “Big Breaks” with the young Master appearing in blockbusters “Prometheus” and “Life of Pi”. In both films he manages to destabilise proceedings to such a degree that in Prometheus’ case several viewers, so confused by his B-movie style performance, devised a theory that his character “had brain damage caused by hyper sleep.”

Worst Actress of 2012:

Kirsten Stewart – Another year and another year of inexplicable plaudits piled on the (morally) dubious and (undoubtedly) dreadful Twilight series. Unlike co-star Robert Patterson (who has managed to prove that he is in fact actually an excellent actor), Kirsten Stewart continues to shrug and frown her way through a succession of dreadful performances (“On the Road” and “Snow White and the Huntsman” ).

Best Cameos of 2012:

Two famous muses of David Lynch turned up rather unexpectedly in films this year, with the great Harry Dean Stanton rather surreally lending a helping hand to the Hulk in “The Avengers” (on the subject of “The Avengers” I haven’t got a bad word to say about it, it was immensely great fun and in a lesser year would had featured here). Harry also showed up in a creepy flashback scene in “Seven Psychopaths”, whilst co-star Laura Dern pleasantly surprised me by appearing at just the right moment to spur on the action in “The Master.”