Compared to 2013, this year has been bloody marvellous. On the music front, when we came to sort this list out we weren’t sure that 2014 had been a ‘vintage’ year. Yet one of the many benefits (amongst the head/beard scratching) of compiling a ‘best of’ is that it makes you reflect on what has been released and the quality of the stuff out there.
We might not have had time (or the cash) to review all the music we wanted to this year, but that doesn’t mean we’re not listening and thinking about music as much as we can, and we continue to be racked with guilt that we don’t write about the things we love.
So here’s our list. It’s been tough this year as our separate nominations didn’t overlap that much. Hence, there’s a degree of arbitrariness to some of the placings. Yet it’s a fine list, chocked full of aural delights and counters those miserable naysayers who claim ‘there’s no good music these days’ (something we’ve heard a lot this year).
We hope it finds you dancing in the streets like the gentleman in the above picture is seen to do.
20. Mogwai: Rave Tapes
Mogwai’s eighth album is full of gems; like several albums on this list it came out early in the year and still sounds astonishing now.
19. Luke Abbott: Wysing Forest
Abstractions in machine agency, but with soul and the capacity to dream.
18. Teeth of the Sea: A Field in England: Re-Imagined
It wouldn’t be the BBO end-of-year list without Teeth of the Sea; their reworking of the amazing Jim Williams / Blanck Mass soundtrack to Ben Wheatley’s civil war freakout was appropriately mind-blasting.
17. Ben Frost: Aurora
Huge, sublime and downright terrifying at times.
16. The Drink: Company
It only came out at the start of the month, but it certainly grabbed our attention – as it did everyone else’s – with its tricksy-but-irresistable pop songs.
15. Goat: Commune
More instantly gratifying spiritual psyche fusion from the Swedish masked ones. We just hope the New Ageisms start to wane. Or we might have missed the irony. We’re not sure.
14. Peggy Sue: Choir of Echoes
A beautiful, and beautifully atmospheric, set of songs on this third album from Peggy Sue; two superlative voices, fine playing, songs of loss and desire.
13. Wizards Tell Lies: The Maddening Machine
Horror post-rock brilliance. There’s chaos magick rituals afoot here, we’re sure of it. And slightly scared of it.
12. Benjamin Shaw: Goodbye, Cagoule World
More twisted tales of misanthropy and hatred from songwriter Benjamin Shaw, with glimpses of sly wit and some actually rather beautiful arrangements.
11. Node: Node 2
Super groups are often problematic things, but when this bunch of mega-producers gathered and synced their modules, something incredible was birthed.
10. Perc: The Power and the Glory
Noise album of the year; gurning album of the year. Techno invented again.
9. Cuz: Tamatebako
The mighty Mike Watt teams up with the Go! Team’s Sam Dook and a varied crew of helpers for an album full of twists and turns, unexpected changes of direction and lots and lots of fun.
8. AK/DK: Synths + Drums + Noise + Space
Punk-rock-electro with bite, a gnarl, a sneer and a warm embrace. AK/DK injected energy into our booties, and made us gyrate with reckless abandon.
7. EMA: The Future’s Void
EMA’s follow up to Past Life Martyred Saints gave us a slew of concepts informed by William Gibson’s first novel – amongst other things; lots going on behind that Oculus Rift – and a whole load of great noises.
6. The Advisory Circle: From Out Here
A testament to the fact that end-of-year-lists are often published too early and hence would’ve missed this, Jon Brook’s incredible control of voltages and attuned minimalism has been rarely out of our ears since its release.
5. The New Mendicants: Into The Lime
Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake and Joe Pernice make an album with the all harmonies and glorious hooks you could hope for.
4. Trojan Horse: World Turned Upside Down
With this fully rounded offering it seems World Turned Upside Down has finally opened doors for the Salford boys. Ambitious as their facial hair, this album moved across genres, sounds and attitudes with bewildering speed and dexterity.
3. Plank: Hivemind
Intricate and intimate, majestic and magnificent, funky and fantastic, Plank’s ode to insect life crawled its way round our consciousness on many glorious occasions this year.
2. Grumbling Fur: Preternaturals
If we’d be on the ball (ha ha ha) last year’s Glynnaestra would have been in 2013’s Top 20. Grumbling Fur’s third album is a strangely euphoric slice of wyrd suburban pop, as the single ‘All The Rays’ makes very clear:
1. East India Youth: Total Strife Forever
Passages of electronic noise – by turns exhilarating, melancholic, furious – interspersed with proper pop songs. We both loved this. And great live, too.
In our bubbling under category this year: Dead Sea Apes High Evolutionary; Warning Light XXXI; Fennesz Bécs; Bob Mould Beauty & Ruin; The Hold Steady Teeth Dreams.
Now, please as to be so kind to stop reading our words and go buy some or all of the above albums. They are available from shops – independent ones, big shiny ones, online ones (who pay their tax), ones where there isn’t really a shop but you have to email some bloke. We like buying records – actually, we really do. And we think you should too.
Rodney and Del Boy
Benjamin Shaw is back!
It’s been more than two years since his first album was released on Audio Antihero, and while he’s been pretty busy since then this news of another is very welcome. For those of you who have somehow missed him, Shaw offers a superbly lo-fi mixture of guitars, hesitant vocals, buzzing-hissing-scratching noises and found sounds, like a singer-songwriter fighting to be heard over a swarm of lazy bees made of entropy. Or something. His last record, Summer In the Box Room, was pretty much all entropic bees; track it down on Bandcamp. But I think what makes this music valuably off-kilter is the way these things scuff up against the more straightforward songs; and, of course, Shaw’s superb lyrics, which are both hopeless and hilarious. Often at the same time.
‘Goodbye, Kagoul World’ is the title track of this new album, due out later this month. Available as a free download, it’s a lovely chiming stately thing – sounding a little like much-missed AAH labelmates Fighting Kites – that will make you feel comfortably glum. Lovely piano and trumpet by Lieven Scheerlinck.
The video is even sadder, filmed as it was at an animal rescue centre, but rather lovely too.
The album can be pre-ordered here in a number of formats, with or without the Benjamin Shaw Stress Ball. I’m really looking forward to my copy.
Big-hearted Jamie Audio Antihero has put together another excellent charity compilation – in fact I think this is the best yet. There’s the big names – well, you know what I mean – who are already Friends of the Label (Jeffrey Lewis, Darren Hayman, both lovely songs); the amazing turn-out of the label’s own stars (Wartgore Hellsnicker, Ben Shaw, Jack Hayter, Paul Hawkins & the Awkward Silences, Broken Shoulder and Fighting Kites… plus new AAH band Cloud, who we will be hearing more from soon); the post-AAH bands (The Jonbarr Hinge); and some established/emerging bands like The Society of Poor Academics and Internet Forever.
That sounds like a lot of tracks? Damn right it is – 31 songs, nearly 2 hours. And it’s great. The mighty Wartgore contribute nearly 8 minutes of craziness, the rest of the AAH roster contribute alternative takes and hard-to-find stuff, and there are other crackers scattered throughout the rest of the collection. It manages to be both a great AAH sampler and an end-of-term report on the class of 2013, like those cassettes you used to get on the front of magazines.
And it supports a very good cause – Rape Crisis England & Wales and Rape Crisis Scotland. You can get the compilation for a minimum donation of £3.99 or you could pay more. £4+ for 2 hours of music. What are you waiting for? Stream the lot then buy it here – though I should warn you that Jamie’s track-by-track guide includes puzzling wrestling chat.
If you want a taster then I suggest these two tracks. First, this lovely version of Jack Hayter’s ‘Sweet JD’, one of my personal favourites from his Sisters of St Anthony singles series, which is also highly recommended; find it here.
And second, this little belter from Internet Forever, from their album of last year. This is perfect pop, somewhere in the vicinity of Helen Love. The album can be found here.
Audio Antihero has released this fine seasonal single from label stalwarts Benjamin Shaw and Fighting Kites, who I was lucky enough to see perform as ‘The Benjamin Shaw Band’ at AAH’s second birthday bash last year. ‘This Christmas (I Just Want To Be Left Alone)’ is a lovely song, with some of the pleasure coming from hearing Fighting Kites playing a more straightforwardly-structured song than usual and the rest coming from Ben’s voice – which also works really well with a fuller sound – and his lyrics. Is he looking forward to Christmas? It’s not immediately obvious whether he’ll be putting the tinsel up, though despite the title I detect some ambivalence about the festival. Maybe this is his answer to ‘Last Christmas’.
This was actually brought out last year, on Darren Hayman/Fika Record’s brilliant advent calendar – which contained no end of fantastic tracks like this and was mentioned in this post. It’s been re-released, presumably because it’s ace and all good Christmas records should be re-issued every year, and because it’s a charity single – pay as much as you like, with all proceeds going to Shelter. Buy it from Bandcamp here.
Mr Shaw made this slightly odd video out of film scraps and it’s quite affecting.
There are lots of men with beards at End of The Road, but very few in Audio Antihero t-shirts. Despite this rarity, or because of it, they bring people together. When you meet someone else wearing one – like Matt White, he’s the one on the left – you have an overwhelming compunction to greet them like an old friend, talk about your love of the Nosferatu D2 album and Benjamin Shaw, and make your girlfriends take photos of you grinning like loons.
We even thought we’d send a signal to Jamie Halliday, boss of this most fascinating of labels, though it’s not all that easy to see what we’re doing:
If you want to experience the power of Audio Antihero in your life, you can find the site here. I think this particular t-shirt is sold out, but there are a lot of very fine bands on the label and you should buy some of their music. Here’s a lovely little film of AAH star Benjamin Shaw entertaining the people of Hackney with ‘How To Test The Depth of a Well’, for example:
More Audio Antihero magic for you very soon…
jkneale – photos courtesy of Matt White
There’s an awful lot of Christmas tunes out there this year beyond the usual gubbins of Carey, Como, et al. Some deserve to sit lonely and ignored in the further reaches of the interweb, like some cyber version of Eat Me dates, but some have piqued our Yuletide cravings and misgivings. Hence we’ve given over the second instalment of Sack of Streams to some big baubled tunes.
Santa’s perspective on the season he gives so much to is often ignored amongst the cacophony of pissed up jeers and board game family disputes. The Narrows have taken his viewpoint and filled it with yearning melancholia. The line “And in only a few years, you won’t love me. I won’t exist” can only bring a lump to the throat and a heaving of the chest [Bandcamp]:
Whilst we’re on the topic of work at Christmas we doubt you’ll hear a better lament to having to supply your labour on the day itself than this by The Wind-Up Birds. Although this seems to have been a voluntary move aimed at avoidance of all the people and pretence, the lyric “I forgot my packed lunch and all the shops are shut, but there are tins of chocolates provided by the bosses. So that’s my dinner right there” tickles the sentimental bone once again. Go buy it here – proceeds to charity.
Let us not forget that Christmas is also a time for the ghostly. Whether that be M. R. James’ supernatural orations or Andy Williams singing “There’ll be parties for hosting, Marshmallows for toasting, And caroling out in the snow, There’ll be scary ghost stories, And tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago”, the coincidence of this jolly season and the spooky is one that we at BBO treasure. And somehow Tribal Fighters have tapped into or subconsciously channelled this tradition on their (as yet entitled) ‘Xmas Song’: a frisson of the night and a decking of the haunted halls fills this little apported gift [Bandcamp]:
Next up is BBO fave Benjamin Shaw, covering ‘It’s Christmas Time For God’s Sake’ by original Audio Antihero heroes Nosferatu D2. Shaw has somehow managed to make Ben Parker’s sardonic lyrics about poundshop Santas even more xmassy; maybe it’s all the sleigh bells. “Call me sentimental, or maybe just mental, but I can’t get through this time of year without you.” Free download, on a free xmas album from the excellent HI54LOFI Records.
Finally we get to Paul Hawkins, another AAH recording artist, this time in the guise of Paul Hawkins & The Bleak Midwinters. ‘Tonight I Will Be Santa’ is a duet between a woman (Mary Boeker) who is woken in the small hours of Xmas Eve by a man who claims to be Santa, though she’s dubious: “You’re not a mythic figure, just a man who’s very drunk” Despite the ominous setup ‘Santa’ appears to be genuine about taking the big man’s place, rewarding good people, and cheering up his depressed hometown. From ‘Christmas in Haworth‘, a musical advent calendar from Darren Hayman, Fika Recordings and others with loads of free songs.
Paul Hawkins & The Bleak Midwinters: ‘Tonight I Will Be Santa’
Merry Xmas, and thanks to everyone who’s read stuff here or on our facebook page this year!
angrybonbon & jkneale
Audio Antihero is two years old. The label, ‘specialists in commercial suicide’, have released an amazing series of EPs over the last two years, bookended by Benjamin Shaw’s new album (reviewed here) and of course by the Nosferatu D2 album that started everything. And now Jamie Halliday is throwing a party, pretty much everyone associated with the label is playing or DJing, and YOU’RE INVITED.
So for absolutely nothing you’ll get to hear (deep breath) sets from Broken Shoulder, Jack Hayter, Benjamin Shaw (+ band!), and Fighting Kites; and DJ sets from AAH artiste Paul Hawkins, Ben Parker (Nosferatu D2 and now Superman Revenge Squad), and promoter Stroke Your Beard. Not bad for free, eh? All at the Miller, 96 Snowsfields Road, London Bridge, London SE1 3SS (click for more on gig and venue), doors at 7pm. Free entry.
To put you in the mood here’s two snippets from the split Fighting Kites/Broken Shoulder EP AAH put out earlier this year. A ‘side’ of Fighting Kites’ sunny post-rock and a ‘side’ of Broken Shoulder’s minimalist electronic noise, both highly recommended. You can still buy the EP from AAH here.
‘Wotjek The Bear’ – Fighting Kites
‘Organomegaly’ – Broken Shoulder
Anyway – any BBO readers in the London area should get themselves to this. Given our enormous audience it might be foolhardy to say I’ll buy you all a drink, but if you can work out who I am and say hello I might just do that…
Benjamin Shaw’s first album came out yesterday, on Audio Antihero Records. This is a very good thing as far as we’re concerned. We knew he had it in him after last year’s ‘I Got The Pox, The Pox Is What I Got’, and this release makes good on the promise of that EP.
Shaw works between the most apparently natural sounds – guitar, piano, voice, stepping uncertainly from one moment to the next – and a reservoir of fuzzy found sound and dissonant grumbling; sometimes this wash of noise takes over, and sometimes it’s happy to slosh about in the background. This is a pretty irresistible combination for me – it draws you in, ear cocked to hear the next line, to follow the broken thread of a melody; and then it sends you reeling back out with a head full of stuff. The title track and ‘An Exciting Opportunity’ are wordless, pretty much. But on the other tracks Shaw’s lyrics turn to everyday dread, love (or what passes for it) and misanthropy, but in a delightfully odd way that avoids singer-songwriter clichés. On ‘The Birds Cheep and the Sun Shines’ he sings ‘I never meant to stare into the abyss. CELEBRATE, GOOD TIMES, COME ON!’, in the least ebullient tones imaginable. ‘HULK’, or to give it its alternative title, ‘The Ballad of Dr Banner’, is a lovely, tender song about anger.
While this might sound a bit glum, it’s an album with a glimmer of hope, as the title suggests. The slow trudge of the single ‘Somewhere Over the M6’ builds into something epic and shoegazey, for example. I said the EP was ‘scabrous’; this album seems a bit less unhealthy, like Shaw’s been getting out more. Though there’s still a line about drowning Tories, which you can hear on this track we offer for your listening pleasure:
‘How To Test the Depth of a Well’ – Benjamin Shaw – There’s Always Hope, There’s Always Cabernet
The album looks great, too, with Shaw’s own art gracing the booklet (I particularly like his Hulk). So go on, buy it. Head here for the physical or digital versions, or it’s on Amazon, iTunes etc. And if you’re near London the official launch will take place near London Bridge on Friday the 25th Nov; more details here but the main thing you need to know is that there are lots of other Audio Antihero artists on the bill and entrance is FREE!
Folk, anti-folk, psych-folk, new folk, wyrd folk – you know it when you hear it though god knows what it means these days. I’m just glad it’s so healthy and so mixed-up, showing some hybrid vigour. Rough Trade have put out a series of fine samplers, and this psych-folk collection is an interesting mix of relatively old-fashioned acts, well-established recent ones like the Owl Service and Six Organs of Admittance, and things that were entirely new to me. The CD comes with a piece by Rob Young, author of Electric Eden (a book I think BBO should be reading) though not all of the bands on the sampler sound all that wyrd to me. Anyway, I’ve picked out two fine examples: Alsadair Roberts’ perfect example of how to do this in a way that is both immediately recognisable and fresh; and Lau Nau, a Finnish woman who provides an unsettling lullaby from the album Nukkuu. Nice acoustic drones there.
‘You Muses Assist‘ – Alasdair Roberts – Rough Trade Shops Psych Folk 10
‘Ruususuu‘ – Lau Nau – Rough Trade Shops Psych Folk 10
I might be way off including Benjamin Shaw here because there’s so much crammed into this EP, but musically the effect is similar to some of the tracks above – maybe not always songs your postie could whistle but recognisable songs nonetheless. His delivery is intimate, conversational, but not necessarily the sort of conversation you’d want to have with a stranger on the night bus. Actually, that’s what this is like: being buttonholed by a charismatic fruitcake who stoppeth one of three somewhere round the Elephant and Castle in the small hours. The lyrics are playful, bewildering, scabrous and sad, often all on the same song, and Benjamin can do ‘odd’ without also doing ‘whimsical’. Great stuff, highly recommended.
‘Thanks For All The Biscuits‘ – Benjamin Shaw – I Got The Pox, The Pox Is What I Got