So because we are always on the pop pulse, I missed the news that the great Fanfarlo have shut up shop. I hate it when bands we have loved (since 2008!) fold, but at least you can hope that each member will go on to produce interesting new music. That’s certainly the case with Cathy Lucas’s new project Orlando, who share this cassette/download release with Tomaga. RAM Tapes (or The Association for the Re-Alignment of Magnetic Dust to give them their full title) re-use old tapes for that essential crackle and pop experience, and the theme is suitably 80s: video game soundtracks, kerbside frogs, ghost mazes, etc. It’s too sophisticated – at least to these cloth ears – to be just more chiptune landfill but it’s extremely playful all the same. The Orlando side is closer to Cornelius in terms of its invention and charm; the Tomaga side is a little more spacious, dubby, dronish. As an album it’s a pretty irresistible combination.
Orlando’s opening track brings you the croaks of a telepathic amphibian, a bit of bossa nova and a steely science-fictional theme, all in 3 minutes and 25 seconds.
While Tomaga’s ‘Giant Bitmap’ made me wonder whether Pacman ever got the cold sweats while cruising those haunted midnight mazes…
Highly recommended. Of course the tapes sold out long ago but the download is available from Bandcamp here. We look forward to the next RAM Tapes release.
Yes, that’s right dear reader: such was the overwhelming amount of top music this year we’ve given our end-of-year list a dose of max enlargement pills and extended it to a mighty top twenty.
Those that didn’t make this engorged run-down and hence reside in our honourable bubbling under category include: Swans – The Seer; Toy – Toy; Monolake – Ghosts; White Manna – White Manna; Easter – Innocence Man; Bass Clef – Reeling Skullways; Umberto – Night Has A Thousand Screams; The Eccentronic Research Council – 1612 Underture; and Mouse on Mars – Parastrophics.
A special mention goes to British Sea Power’s EPs 1-6. Well it wouldn’t be one of our lists without them, would it? If we could have counted these as one album it would have made the top five. Obviously.
So here it is, Merry Listmas. Everybody’s having fun (somewhere else).
20. Eat Light Become Lights – Heavy Electrics
19. Alexander Tucker – Third Mouth
18. White Hills – Frying On This Rock
17. Fanfarlo – Rooms Filled With Light
16. Wishmountain – Tesco
15. Drokk – Music Inspired by Mega-City One
14. Mugstar – Axis
13. Fighting Kites – Fighting Kites
12. Belbury Poly – The Belbury Tales
11. Euros Childs – Summer Special
10. Egyptology – The Skies
This analogue symphony had us frothing on about ancient astronauts and the geomancy of Giza back in July. It’s still taking us somewhere weird and wonderful. The best of the seemingly never-ending fascination with old synths and arpeggiators that pervades the world of electronica. Long may this fascination continue.
9. Deerhoof – Breakup Song
All over the shop, but in a good way, Deerhoof’s Breakup Song threw all kinds of idea together to make another off-kilter pop hit. Needs to be played loud.
8. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
It came from nowhere, and nowhere on BBO will you find the review this album richly deserves. Yet it does exactly what you want a Godspeed! album to do, and then some. Colossal drones, magisterial builds and releases, and immense noise, all suffused with a politics for those that know.
7. Bill Fay – Life is People
Two astonishing albums at the start of the 1970s and then another one in 2012. The voice is warmer, but even more haunted, and Fay’s conviction still burns through as clearly as it ever has: “I personally need to believe that this world just can’t go on and on and on in the way that it goes.”
‘Be At Peace With Yourself’:
6. Beak > – >>
A marvellous pulsing head throb of analog musings and music from this threesome. Retro-futurism might not be a thing, but this sounds so extra-temporal we can’t help looking at the future through the past (and often vice-versa). If we had a record label of the year award it would probably go to Invada Records as well.
‘Mono’ (Ok, not technically on the album, but it’s a cracker):
5. Fang Island – Major
Like a cheeky-monkey off its bits on riffs. With shit-eating gurns and post-ironic chest bumps all round, Major is always there for the dark days and the light days. Simply…YES!
4. Plank! – Animalism
Owls and pigs. Owls, pigs and fighting ferrets. Animalism is nothing short of an extraordinary debut of Neu-proggish grooves and looped noodling and funk. Looked into the Owl’s eyes and agree. You now agree.
‘Dying for Pigs’:
‘King Rat I, II, III’:
3. Sweet Billy Pilgrim – Crown and Treaty
Prog, pop, country – Sweet Billy Pilgrim will do you an album containing all of those elements, and live they’ll throw in an a cappella version of ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ just to keep you guessing. Crown and Treaty is the sound of a great, genuinely original, band still discovering what they’re capable of.
2. Bob Mould – Silver Age
Ignore those people who tell you this is a ‘return to form’ – the amazing thing about Bob Mould is not that he’s produced an album reminiscent of the best of the Sugar records, but that he’s been writing songs this good since the early 1980s.
1. Goat – World Music
The hype realised for once. An album that possesses you. We called it a transnational psyche agenda for the weird underground and we stand by these words. Syncretic brilliance. Stunning.
Det Som Aldrig Förändras/Diarabi:
A massive thanks to everyone who has supported us, read these ramblings and listened to anything we’ve recommended this year. You probably will never know how much we appreciate it.
jkneale and angrybonbon
[All of these lovely records 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, so if you like any of this and haven’t already bought them, go on! They’ll be cheap by now]
Mr abb is right, this has been tougher than usual. I’m pleased we worked it out and even more pleased we’ve hit on a top four after extended negotiations more convoluted than the US healthcare wrangles and Copenhagen put together. Finally we can walk out to the armoured car in our blue UN flak jackets, shake hands, and pronounce the Big Four. A roadmap to tinnitus, essentially.
But before that, my other top records, following angrybonbon’s tremendous ten…
1 – Sweet Billy Pilgrim – Twice Born Men
I promised a review of this back in January, describing them as “one of the most interesting and completely underrated bands around”. I got a copy early, seemingly hand-posted from California by David Sylvian. Cue Mercury nomination, baffled reactions from all and sundry, etc. Did I review it? Did I hell. Anyway, it’s a superb album, developing the subtle craft of the first album into something much more expansive – especially the widescreen soundtrack of ‘Here It Begins’ – while still retaining the intimacy you get from recording in a shed. Still highly recommended.
Truth Only Smiles
There Will It End
2 – Fanfarlo – Reservoir
In the same post, I bade you all watch the glorious ascent of Fanfarlo. And didn’t review that album either, partly because it got released three times (I think). But it’s another surefire winner – the production does, as everyone noticed, conjure the Arcade Fire, but that just gives Fanfarlo another set of choices, a beefier sound to set against Simon’s voice and the spot-on instrumentation. This is great pop music and Fanfarlo’s hard work is surely winning them friends.
The Walls Are Coming Down
3 – Micah P. Hinson – All Dressed Up And Smelling Of Strangers
I’m a sucker for covers, and to be honest MPH could cover the oeuvre of Nickelback and I would have to consider buying it… but this goes beyond by-the-numbers stuff. Exhibit A:
In The Pines
4 – Bob Mould – Life And Times
Bob is a bit of a fixture here, but if your teenage heroes continue to make fantastic records, what can you do? Writing his autobiography is clearly making Bob go back to the different stages of his career – Husker Du, solo work, Sugar, it all seems to inform this album. Apart from the superb ‘I’m Sorry, Baby, But You Can’t Stand In My Light Any More’ this is a stand-out, a song for Bob’s gay punk band:
5 – Super Furry Animals – Dark Days/Light Years
There was stiff competition for the coveted 5th placing but I ended up going back to this. SFA have been around so long they might seem in danger of going stale but this is a cracking album. One of the Welsh ones:
6 – Lightning Bolt – Earthly Delights
7 – Circulus – Thought Becomes Reality
8 – The Flowers of Hell – Come Hell Or High Water
9 – Art Brut – Art Brut vs Satan
10 – The Joy Formidable – A Balloon Called Moaning
Thanks everyone who visited or emailed us this year, and apologies if we haven’t replied to you – we’re a bit snowed under with other stuff. Anyway, cheers!
I haven’t consulted my partner-in-music-crime about this but after our triumphant round-up of 2008 we should probably do one of those posts where we say that x will be big this year. The only problem is that I seem resistant to various buzzes. The White Lies, for example… Jude Rogers’ review in the Grauniad today has confirmed my reaction to single ‘To Lose My Life’ (we agree on the ‘Girls on Film’ thing, though where she hears Joy Division I hear Dead Or Alive; so gloomy it’s camp). Or Florence and the Machine, briefly reviewed in horrified tones here, or to remind you: “If you think Kate Nash is irritating, avoid Florence and the Machine like the plague. My teeth are still grinding. It was so awful that I was driven to heckle”. Again, the mighty Jude is entirely in agreement with me here, down to the Nash thing. Funny – I sometimes think I’m doomed to disagree with Jude Rogers’ pop column, though I’m a big fan of Smoke magazine, but here we seem to be in agreement.
Similarly the always-excellent Sweeping The Nation provides a critical take on the excitable ‘these guys are going to be massive!’ stories the press always run in January… which are ‘groupthink’ because they always pick the same bands, in an PR-friendly kind of way; compare with STN’s much more interesting choices or Simon’s weekly trawls of MySpace.
So I’m not going to try to plug a band you can read about in those magazines. I’m not much good at the really under-the-radar stuff either; my colleague is more likely to find that kind of thing. So all I can tell you is what I’m looking forward to this year.
1. The apparently-imminent first album from Fanfarlo, who – believe it or not – are set to support Snow Patrol in various enormodromes soon. Institute for the Musical Paranormal video for ‘Harold T. Wilkins’ below:
2. The second album by Sweet Billy Pilgrim, one of the most interesting and completely underrated bands around. I’ve been playing their first to death since it appeared in 2005 and have high hopes for the next one. This (very pretty) video gives you the first third of ‘Stars Spill Out Of Cups’ from We Just Did What Happened And No On Came as a taster.
3. The publication of Bob Mould’s latest, Life and Times, which will be out in April. Sounds like it will be one of the raw ones, which should be interesting. And if we’re really lucky the autobiography too, written with Michael Azzerad, author of one of the best books on music ever, Our Band Could Be Your Life. Husker Du, the solo stuff, Sugar, LoudBomb, sexuality, and pro wrestling – it’s going to be a page-turner. Husker Du’s ‘Could You Be The One?’ below
I’m very pleased to see that Fanfarlo seem to have had a great time at SXSW, winning fans and positive bloggage despite some technical problems. Backing from the NME too; Fanfarlo are news. This is their cracking single from last year, which I’ve been whistling for months: mournful indie pop, very classy. Possibly the only band that could tempt me into Twee As Fuck…
Fire Escape – Fanfarlo (m4a)
Lots more streaming on their website