Welcome to our eighth best-of-the-year list, and our second as a crack team of four. It’s patently obvious that 2016 has been thoroughly rubbish*, but at least we’ve had plenty of good music to set against the headlines, bowings-out and splittings-up. The compilation of our Top Thirty Records of 2016 was less painful than usual too, the smooth working of one well-oiled machine (we call him Pete). Still, those of you who come back every year will see that despite the neatness of the electoral process the list shows the usual surfeit of eclecticism.
So we invite you to view our shiny baubles, our fresh and seasonal produce. Not a turkey to be seen, apart from the four above. See you in 2017 – at the very least it won’t be 2016. Cheers!
(*although angrybonbon got married to the love of his life, so 2016 wasn’t all bad for everyone. Cheers!)
In the bubbling under category: Apostille: Virile Strain Transmission; The Belbury Poly: New Ways Out; Bob Mould: Patch the Sky; Weaves: Weaves; Radar Men From The Moon: Subversive II: Splendor of the Wicked; Ben Chatwin: Heat & Entropy; Steve Hauschildt: Strands; Hen Party: Glitter Sweats.
Reissues: Sweet Billy Pilgrim: We Just Did What Happened and No One Came
The Top Thirty:
30. Galcid: Hertz
29. Ogre & Dallas Campbell: Night of the Living Dead (Original Motion Picture Rescore)
28. Peter Baumann: Machines of Desire
27. Mugstar: Magnetic Seasons
26. Factory Floor: 25 25
25. Vanishing Twin: Choose Your Own Adventure
24. Barberos: Barberos
23. Goat: Requiem
22. Opeth: Sorceress
21. John Carpenter:Lost Themes II
20. Go March: Go March
Add Go March to your list of famous Belgians as this Antwerp band lay out a striking debut of spiky motorik and krautrock.
19. Juan Atkins & Moritz Van Oswald: Transport
Two of the heavyweights of techno come together as Borderland to produce the deepest beats and phasing loveliness.
18. Yak: Alas Salvation
Fearsome guitar noises, shouting, tunes. Victorious!
17. Grumbling Fur: FurFour
Mind-expanding pop music, featuring biblical patriarchs from outer space.
16. The Heartwood Institute: Calder Hall: Atomic Power Station
Sizzling with radioactivity, the polymath that is The Heartwood Institute delivers a beautiful slice of electro-hauntology.
15. The Pineapple Thief: Your Wilderness
Somerset’s greatest prog band return to form with King Crimson/Porcupine Tree drummer Gavin Harrison along for the ride.
14. Teleman: Brilliant Sanity
The second collection of slightly wonky but brilliant pop songs from a band who seem to be able to produce them without breaking a sweat.
13. Thee Oh Sees: A Weird Exits
San Francisco psych rockers manage what looks like a crossover smash on their first of their two records for 2016.
12. The Mortlake Bookclub: Exquisite Corpse
The only soundtrack you need for the Folk Horror Revival. Four movements of palimpsest drone that both spooks and moves.
11. Martha: Blisters in the Pit of my Heart
Reminds you it’s still possible to do quite a lot with the raw materials associated with ‘punk’ & ‘pop’ if you’re as smart and lively as this lot are.
10. worriedaboutsatan: Blank Tape
Brooding, ambient electronica and hypnotic atmospheric rhythms. Antoher top class album from this duo to follow last years’s Even Temper.
9. Posthuman: Back to Acid
12 tracks of caustic pleasure, from the robotic march of ‘Six Hundred’ to the delicious twang of ‘Beat Down’, via the excellent atmospheric throbber ‘Mezzotint’. I’ve said it before, Acid House is the new Dad Music.
8. Warning Light: Life Death Suite EP
Entrancing clatter and looping tones as a taster for the full album.
7. Teenage Fanclub: Here
It’s been six years since the last one, but the Fannies shine just as brightly as they ever did.
6. A Year in the Country: The Quietened Bunker
Nothing quite says 2016 like a compilation album on the theme of abandoned cold war structures and bunkers, because underground is where we’ll all be living soon after the nuclear button gets pressed. Unsettling drone, snatched samples, glitched beats and claustrophobic synths; it’s all here.
5. Meilyr Jones: 2013
So rich, extravagant, and strange that it sounds like a ‘best of’ album covering several years in an artist’s life; no single track can do it justice but this will do fine here:
4. Voyag3r: Are You Synthetic?
The perfect SF adventure album. From laser duels on frozen planets to war rockets being dispatched to Ajax, this album oozes class and sophistication whilst not taking itself too seriously. It’s the sound of a band having stupid amounts of fun and tracking ‘Flash Gordon On Ice: the Musical’ whilst they’re doing it. Utterly brilliant.
3. Gnod: Mirror
Our Salfordian troubadours picked up the guitars (or banjos as they like to call them) once again and proved why they lead the pack when it comes to enveloping sludge, resistant noise and all-consuming terror.
2. Matmos: Ultimate Care II
Two men, one washing machine and one track. Every sound made from said cleaning device. From intimate glitch to all-out pounding techno. Too see this live, replete with the machine, was to marvel at the wonder and genius that is Matmos. Amazing.
1. Oscillotron: Cataclysm
The purest and deepest space music. Cosmic kosmische of the highest order. An album that let us take flight and escape the hideousness of this worldly reality, especially as it unfolded this year. Transcendental.
So you can do yourself a big end-of-the-year favour and go buy some or all of the above albums. They are available from shops and sites – independent ones, big shiny ones, online ones (who pay their taxes), 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.
Merry Xmas and a happy Newest Year one and all.
angrybonbon, JKneale, matthewpetty & Pete Collins
Bonged out openers for this much anticipated psych-fest were Horrid, a band I literally had passing knowledge of: I’d caught sight of them through a window at this year’s Sounds From The Other City, but given the offer of only Heineken to drink in the venue half of our party had decided we weren’t to stay. That afternoon, bedecked in hoods fashioned from sacks, they were making a wonderfully trashy and lurching racket. Thankfully tonight the costumes and the sounds were present again as they performed what was apparently or allegedly only their second gig. Consisting of one long industrial/spaced-out throb piece, interspersed by chants seemingly emanating from under the singer’s head sack, Horrid’s set was perfectly timed in its peaks and troughs, and got a series of heads nodding. Horrid are definitely worth keeping a (third) eye on (sorry).
Next up were Dwellings & Druss, two (core) members of the GNOD collective and the originators of the submerged techno dread of GNOD Presents. For some the idea of watching two blokes twiddling knobs on an array of samplers, mixing desks, compact synths and looping pedals is not entertainment. For me, however, it is heaven. Reversed sampled voices mixed and layered with reversed engineered neo-Acid. White noise and serrated interference stitched with bubblings and bangs. It’s hard to describe and praise enough this set of rabidly diverse leftfield rave noise. This is how improvised electronica should be and attests to the brilliant artful talent of GNOD and their multifarious offshoots.
I thought the evening had peaked. Then along came Mugstar and battered us with a truly sonic assault of riffed-up space rock. Pete Smyth shook his head from side to side with so much vigour you wondered whether he was auditioning for a remake of Jacob’s Ladder. Steve Ashton’s drums and Jason Stoll’s bass were unyielding. It was beautifully relentless. The music and strobed visuals held out a meditative intensity that made you question whether you were being subjected to and/or incorporated into some ritual of unknown aim and intent. Amazing and the best I’ve seen them.
When a band decides to change direction one inevitably thinks ‘Jazz Odyssey’. When the curve ball of artistic diversion involves one of your favourite outfits the worry is doubled. Fortunately, given the avant-garde output of Gnod in the past, and the sheer quality of their oeuvre, those fears are reduced; you just know that whatever they turn their various talents to is going to be worth a listen. So when Gnod Presents… Dwellings & Druss was previewed a while back anxiety turned into a twitching joy at the possibility and potential.
Consisting of three tracks of throbbing industrial techno Dwellings & Druss is a fantastically transcendental listen and evidence that this isn’t Gnod’s first communion with transistors, samplers and machines. The low-end bass is all-consuming, the reverb chilling and the modulation dizzying. It’s akin to Basic Channel filtered through a turbine and then submerged and played out fifty fathoms down. It’s skull-shaking in its intensity, but obscurely calming and meditative despite or because of the clanks, whirls and pulses.
Gnod Presents… is out on vinyl in February on Trensmat records. But if you pre-order now you get the album for download replete with an extra track of improv techno wobbles and shimmers clocking in at a mighty 49:49. That’s called value that is.
[We are proud to have the nearly award winning Pete Collins on board for this review. His interjections are cleverly formatted in italics for your extra pleasure. Normally, he can be found here. Plus some of the pictures are his]
With home printed programmes, highlighted with our preferences for the running order, we discussed our day at Sounds From The Other City with a warm up pint. What we should’ve done is fashion said printouts into little boats and sent them down the bloody Irwell given the use they were – this turned into a day of enjoying the odd full performance, but mostly catching glimpses of bands, the ends and beginnings of sets and completely missing others. What laid waste to our wish lists were inappropriately-strong-for-early-doors bottles of booze from the Gnod bar at Islington Mill and a nice glass of sherry kindly provided by the Manchester Modernist Society and their pop-up shop. Bless and blame them both for the paucity of this review.
It was after drinking at the Gnod bar that some of the day’s events began to resemble what can only be described as a strange trip. A very strange trip indeed. Now, I’m not saying that the two things are necessarily related, that’s for you to decide.
The first slither of a set we did catch was from Electrelane’s Verity Susman: replete in moustache, sampling a recorder into some haunting electro-pop, the one tune we did catch was a lovely opening to events.
So, a woman with a moustache. Not the oddest thing ever, but that was only the warm up to seeing a group of people dressed in tin foil jumping up and down. And up and down some more. They might have wiggled a bit too and made some noises, but I was too busy rubbing my eyes in disbelief.
Via the delights of the MMS, we then managed to catch the whole set (crikey!) by NASDAQ as part of Bad Uncle and Hear Here’s stage at The United Reform Church. As a highlight of last year’s SFTOC we knew this stage would be worth the punt given the idea of acts soundtracking a film. NASDAQ chose to accompany the 60s French SF abstractions of La jetée with (mostly) their ‘Dead Peasants’ piece and it worked nicely.
Plus, there were three deflated party balloons hanging limply from the ceiling, which normally could have looked quite tragic but instead I thought added a certain something. But remember I had just followed up some sherry with a can of red stripe. A heady mix.
Schedules falling apart further, we headed back to Islington Mill for Sunless 97. Whether it was our timing (most likely), a no-show or the damnable booze again (second most likely), but this three piece had somehow morphed into a twenty-odd strong drum collective bedecked in black cloaks. Given the propensity of BBO for anything in cloaks this was more than fortuitous; pounding rhythms with proper dance floor breakdowns obtusely gave the old minimal techno bone a good scrub up and jolted the senses perfectly.
I believe it was a laptop meltdown, and the market for unplugged electronica isn’t that big yet (although no doubt that’s a genre for somebody…). But people dressed in black cloaks banging drums added to the weird way the day was going. And they made everybody in the room smile. It was enough to even make my cynical face crack into a grin.
Mistaking the upstairs of the King’s Arms for its downstairs (yes, indeed) we caught the first two tracks of Molly Nillson’s set instead of Apostille. The hipsters and the fey seemed out in force for the former and we reacted with some surprise at the queue to get in when we took our leave.
It was becoming clear that the more people there were in the audience wearing woolly hats the less I’d enjoy the band. And Molly Nillson had plenty of people wearing woolly hats watching her. And worse still, people in woolly hats and the dreaded red trousers. Get out of the way and let me down the stairs people! The rabid pigeon eating a chip in the road outside was more fun.
At this point, something granted us serendipity and grace for our arrival at the Underachievers stage at The Salford Arms furnished us the surprise package of the day – The History Of Apple Pie. The sound and its origins might be obvious (think shoegaze, think Pixies, think The Primitives) but through the power of sweet melodies and a three guitar attack, grins and exclamations of delight were delivered to our jaded and cynical party. Really great stuff.
I also liked that there was a man who looked like Eugene Levy stood right in front of the band, and every so often he would lick his index finger. I don’t think this was a sexy display or anything. At least I hope not. But now I can dream that someone stumbles upon this review by typing the words “Eugene Levy licking his finger” into Google.
Time to walk back to Islington Mill again to catch a much hyped new band. Would we make it in time? Well…
The last song of buzz outfit Pins sounded good as probably the rest of the set would have if we’d made it on time (bored yet?). And given their association with Jack White the first twenty minutes of the goth attired Black Belles made comparisons to The White Stripes inevitable (in a good way, mind).
Can’t really go wrong with a group of black haired ladies with guitars can you? CAN YOU? I don’t think so anyway.
And then to the main event: Teeth Of The Sea performing ‘Reaper’, their re-imagining of Neil Marshall’s Doomsday. This was never going to be missed given our love for TOTS here and we weren’t disappointed. The sheer viscerality of the music – comprising stabbing trumpets, military beats, e-bow scythed guitars, rumbling and soaring synths, four-to-the floor technoid rhythms and screaming – in combination with the cut-up and effected visuals – taking in burning corpses, future-medieval gladiator battles, Mad Max-esque car chases, screens soaked in splats and spurts of blood and fluid – was mind-blowing (possibly actually as well as metaphorically). I would recommend ‘enjoying’ this at your earliest convenience, but it’s probably the last time they’re going to do it. I say probably as I have it on good authority that an invite to perform it in Berlin or Hawaii would coach TOTS’ ‘Reaper’ from its gruesome pit.
I am holding TOTS (and probably the sheer amount of alcohol I consumed) responsible for me dreaming about being thrown into a burning cauldron of lava over and over and over, soundtracked to their music. They were quite simply magnificent though, so I’ll forgive them.
And to our very much more inviting and perfumed pits we returned in the knowledge that nothing else would surpass this finale.
(Note: half of our party chose the brilliant Lovely Eggs instead of TOTS. The account relayed to me by Miss S spoke of speaker climbing antics, banter and cracking tunes. This is to be expected as we know they’re fantastic, as below proves:)
So, Sounds From The Other City you are brilliant. Next time = less booze, more music.
Schokoladen is very much the Berlin alternative/anarchist social centre type place that most districts of the city seem to have a least one of: dark, effortlessly and beautifully shabby, oozing atmosphere before anything even gets going and constantly on the verge of being shut down. We’re here for an early start as the music has to be finished by ten due to complaints by the locals about the noise – y’know, the very music, as part of the area’s cultural capital of cool, that no doubt attracted the young and trendy to live their in the first place. It would be a more cynical man than I to suggest these are the same people that are trying to get the place shut down. Much more cynical.
Gnod appear just after nine and fashion the sizeable audience new orifices, as the hackneyed phrase has it. The divinity of Gnod is their ability to fuse a whole series of leftfield sounds into something bowel shakingly original – it’s a bastard saintly mix of space rock, psyche, drone, motorik, a different type of drone, ritualistic throbbing improv and some more differently tuned drone. Only Teeth of the Sea can match their magnificence and if they were up against them tonight it would be a close run thing.
The lead singer – well howler cum extra drone dimension – pops up from the audience, returns to the audience, screams, smokes, disappears into the audience again and returns to centre stage for some more echoed vocalisms at the end of the set. The guitarist – yes, I don’t know their names – enters a staring competition with the audience (although no one in particular) and puffs his cheeks as if he’s exhaling fire. And the two bassists are a blur of dreads and bopping concentration that combine with a fixated and zoned drummer to give Gnod their almost signature throb and strangely heavenly pulse.
A version of becoming classic ‘Tony’s First Communion’ finishes the set and the guitarist apologises for the lack of encore – Gnod don’t want to threaten any further the venue’s existence. Gnod are the sound of the alternative eternal and here’s hoping for the infinite longevity of Schokoladen too.
Afterwards, the nice guitarist gave me a copy of Science and Industry – originally a US only release it can now be purchased as a handmade CDR here. And it is worth it: very much so, because not despite it being only two tracks, especially the ceremonial and gathering crescendo of ‘Deadbeat Disco in Paper Error Shocker’. And the other, ‘ Big Chief’, can be heard below.
Here’s Gnod at the Roadburn festival doing ‘Tron’, another highlight from their Schokoladen set:
It seems that the real cool kids on the blog don’t do end of year lists. Well we like them and hope that those miserable sods slip in their paper shoes and find other people’s dirty hankies in their bobble hats.
Those artists who will be sobbing into their pillows tonight because they didn’t quite make it onto our list include blistering aural adventures by: Wooden Shjips, Cave, Dead Skeletons, Eat Lights Become Lights, The Field, Moon Duo, Blanck Mass, Hills, Benjamin Shaw (sorry, Jamie), Gruff Rhys, Dels, White Denim, King Creosote & John Hopkins (robbed!), and Mike Watt.
So let’s get down to it boppers. In now traditional reverse order:
10. The Indelicates: David Koresh Superstar
How do you follow two great albums of bile and wit and proper pop songs? You make a concept album about the Waco siege, that’s what. Thoughtful and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, the scope of this record – the research and understanding – made most of the year’s records seem pretty unambitious. jkneale treasures his lyric booklet.
Indelicates – ‘I Am Koresh’:
9. Parts & Labor: Constant Future
By the time this list is published Parts & Labor will have done their penultimate show before going on an ‘extended hiatus’. On the strength of Constant Future this ‘break’ should and must be stupidly short. Rock n’ roll needs forward thinking bands like Parts & Labor. We will miss them.
Parts & Labor – ‘Echo Chamber’:
8. Jonny: Jonny
Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub joins forces with Gorky’s Euros Childs for thirteen songs of slightly off-kilter pop and gorgeous harmonies. “Could be in Mexico, could be Japan, could be in Fishguard with another man”. Sunshine on a rainy day, and jkneale’s most-listened to this year.
Jonny – ‘Circling The Sun’:
7. GNOD: INGNODWETRUST
Two songs equalling two assaults on all that is holy and sacred. A lesson in sonic desecration and sense fucking. GNOD can and will save us all.
GNOD – ‘Vatican’:
6. Pete and the Pirates: One Thousand Pictures
A dark horse this one. It’s here because of two killer singles heard on the radio and loved immediately – you know, like it’s still 1986 or something. Wriggling with earworms; jkneale has played this to death.
Pete and the Pirates – ‘Half Moon Street’:
5. The Advisory Circle: As The Crow Flies
The pinnacle of all that is deemed hauntological. Electronica that makes you misty eyed for all the things you thought you’d forgotten and thought that bored you in the first place. Remarkable.
The Advisory Circle – ‘Modern Through Movement’:
The Advisory Circle – ‘Learning Owl Reappears’:
4. EMA: Past Life Martyred Saints
This is on a lot of lists this year but that’s only right. BBO is old and grumpy enough to know hype when it sees it, and you could be forgiven for fearing a bit of that with EMA, but this is such a strong record. One of the live performances of the year, too (for both of us).
EMA – ‘Endless Nameless’:
EMA – ‘Angelo’:
3. Mogwai: Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
Are you over post-rock (or ‘hipster jazz’ as Jamie Audio Antihero has it)? Don’t let any of that nonsense stop you from listening to one of Mogwai’s best albums for some time. One of us saw them twice this year and is still twitching.
Mogwai – ‘Music For A Forgotten Future’:
Mogwai – ‘Mexican Grand Prix’:
2. White Hills: H-P1
Guttural glitter soaked sleaze, experimental guitar spanking, wheeling circling solos and pummelling interference: White Hills took what can be nominally called space rock and made it as mesmerising, hypnotic and intergalactic as you’d always it hoped it could be.
White Hills – H-p1 (Live at SXSW 2011):
White Hills – ‘The Condition of Nothing’:
1. British Sea Power: Valhalla Dancehall
At #1, the band who are pretty much guaranteed a place in our end of year lists every time they issue an album (see the 2009 and 2008 lists). This came out so long ago that you might have forgotten what a blast it is and how much we need bands like British Sea Power right now. It’s them or the book burning rats.
British Sea Power – ‘Who’s In Control?’ live at Westminster Reference Library:
British Sea Power – ‘Mongk II’:
We hope you like our likes and thanks to anyone who has read our mutterings this year.
Jkneale and Angrybonbon
[All of these lovely records are available from shops – independent ones, big shiny ones, online ones, 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]
Gnod’s 2010 collaboration with White Hills (Gnod Drop Out With White Hills II) was and remains a brilliant voyage through space rock, psyche and krautcore. However, with INGNODWETRUST, Gnod have delivered an album that deviates from these well trodden paths into something utterly enthralling and extraordinary.
Consisting of only two tracks, clocking in at 20:04 and 13:14 and taking up one side of this vinyl only release each, you might think you’re being short-changed, but how wrong you’d be. Side A, ‘Tony’s First Communion’, presents a mesmerising throb of bass and drums, swirling guitars and incantations that can only be a soundtrack of cathartic resistance to memories of the ritual indicated by its title.
Yet it’s on Side B’s ‘Vatican’ where Gnod have really delivered something very special: a heretical thomp of distorted drums and eschatological noise that shifts six minutes in – after a breakdown of demonic voices and hellish organs – to the sound of all that is apocalyptic. I’ve been living with this track for a few weeks now and it’s still as disturbing a listen as when I first encountered it. The sound of The Tribulation and no mistake.
Get overcome by the power of our Lord Gnod Almighty here.
Vatican (not uploaded by the band so of dubious legitimacy I suppose):