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Both Bars On: Top Twenty Records of 2014

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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

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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

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Abstractions in machine agency, but with soul and the capacity to dream.

 

18. Teeth of the Sea: A Field in England: Re-Imagined

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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

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Huge,  sublime and downright terrifying at times.

 

16. The Drink: Company

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Noise album of the year; gurning album of the year. Techno invented again.

 

9. Cuz: Tamatebako

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

 

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The Blog Sound of 2015: the longlist and BBO’s vote

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It’s that time of year again – time to predict who’s going to make it next year. The BBC has released its Sound of 2015 list, the day after the Guardian preempted it with their own list; and yesterday the Blog Sound of 2015 list was released. This last list, organised by Robin Seamer and Andy Von Pip of Breaking More Waves and the Von Pip Express blogs, was designed as an alternative to the BBC ‘Sound of’ effort, and is voted for by music bloggers, including us here at Both Bars On. The longlist contains 15 acts, and the overall winner will be announced on the 2nd of January 2015.

The 15 most popular acts, in alphabetical order, were:

All We Are, Black Honey, Chloe Black, Coasts, Deers, Fickle Friends, Flyte, Halfrican, Honne, Lapsley, Prides, Shura, Soak, Sophie Jamieson, Tei Shi.

You can listen to all 15 acts on this Soundcloud playlist.

There has, of course, been some angst from the organisers and others about the longlist and its relationship with the BBC’s list. This is inevitable given the Blog Sound List was designed to be an alternative to the BBC’s list, which is inevitably affected by the industry’s own sense of who will be big next year (a self-fulfilling prophecy). You can read the Breaking More Waves and Von Pip Express posts on the list here and here, for example. But it strikes us that there’s a problem with seeing the Blog Sound as just ‘an alternative to the BBC Sound of 2015′, because bloggers are asked to “vote for their favourite acts, irrespective of chances of commercial success”. Given that 62 blogs took part but only 148 acts were chosen, there clearly was some overlap, so the longlist is a kind of consensus – bands who might be popular, if not famous, next year – because that’s what the BBC poll is all about. However another 133 acts received at least one vote but didn’t get longlisted, so it’s obvious these blogs are also picking stuff they really love.

As a result the Blog Sound longlist is two things: the emerging acts people may love but certainly expect to be popular, and the 133 others are the ones they just love. It’s this dual nature of the Blog Sound idea which is always going to make people worry/complain about the comparison with the BBC’s list, when they are and are not quite the same kind of thing.

Anyway. We certainly think it’s worth doing and applaud the organisers for their efforts, though as usual we picked bands that didn’t make the longlist, and our choices are not on the BBC list either. But we do love ’em:

1. The Drink, reviewed Monday, here playing ‘At the Weekend’ live earlier this year:

2. Trojan Horse, reviewed in October, with ‘Jurapsyche Park’:

3. Dead Sea Apes, reviewed in October, here with Black Tempest:

The Blogs that took part this year were:

17 Seconds, A New Band A Day, A Pocket Full Of Seeds, A World Of Music And Madness, Across The Kitchen Table, Alphabet Bands, Beat Surrender, Beat2aChord, Both Bars On, Brapscallions, Bratfaced LDN, Breaking More Waves, Brighton Music Blog, Daisy Digital, Dots And Dashes, Drunken Werewolf, Echoes and Dust, Electronic Rumors, Even The Stars, Everything Flows, Getintothis, God Is In The TV, Hearty Vibes, Hitsville UK, I Love Pie, Just Music That I Like, Kemptation, Like 1999, Lipstick Disco, Little Indie Blogs, Love Music : Love Life, Music Broke My Bones, Music Liberation, Music Like Dirt, My Day By Day Music, Never Enough Notes, Not Many Experts, Notes For A Road Sign, One Album A Week, Popped Music, Queen Beetch, Rave Child, Scientists Of Sound, Some Of It Is True, Song By Toad, Sounds Good To Me Too, Sound Of Now Music, Spectral Nights, Sweeping The Nation, The Blue Walrus, The Devil Has The Best Tuna, The Electricity Club, The Evening’s Empire, The Mad Mackerel, The Metaphorical Boat, The Paper Penguins, This Must Be Pop, Thoughts On Music, Three Beams, Too Many Blogs, The VPME, What If I Had A Music Blog.

Go and listen to the bands, and check out all of the blogs. And here’s hoping we’ll be asked to do it again next year.

jkneale

Trojan Horse: World Turned Upside Down

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Trojan Horse song writing sessions must go something like this:

 “I’ve got this riff. It’s sixteen bars long” *plays riff* “What ya reckon?”

“Like it, but I got bored eight bars in. Can I insert this synth line after eight?” *plays synth*

“Yeah. What if we do that for four as, sorry, I got a bit bored halfway through, and then do some A Cappella stuff for eight?”

“Cool. And then change from 9/8 to 6/4…”

“…Midway through the A Cappella?”

“Yeah”

“Let’s stick load of weird noises over it. And a few flams?”

“Yeah”

[Band stops rehearsing to discuss what it is to live “under the foul austerity policies of an unwanted government.”]

This much is the joy of imagining how Trojan Horse make their tunes.

Opener ‘Jurapsyche Park’ is juggernaut full of Trojan goodies – heavy riffage, Jon Lord-esque keys and thumping drums. ‘Sesame’ is partly Cookie Monster gargling in a souk, and partly reminiscent of something from Cornelius’ Fantasma. The album’s title track is where we hear the self-proclaimed passion for Tears for Fears most strongly (and weirdly), delivering a chorus (inasmuch that the Horse do choruses) that sticks to the lips and should come with a #nowwhistling hashtag.  ‘Hypocrite’s Hymn’ is a real stand-out, delivering a brilliant piece of menace, claustrophobic atmospherics and a dub sensibility achieved more pleasingly than the more obvious attempt on live favourite ‘Scuttle’: this is the Horse proving that their (even) more experimental side is finely tuned. In fact, more is needed in this direction.

Never a band to be labelled short of ideas, the album is littered with interesting out-takes, snippets and re-workings, such as the two different versions of ‘Fire! Fire!’ – one as ‘Interlude’ and then a re-imagining of the single to the close the album. Elsewhere, moments of tenderness (although with a readiness to bite your heels) are present, particularly on the excellent mournful ‘Death and the Mad Queen’ (which wouldn’t be out of place on a Cope recording).

Many years in the making, World Turned Upside Down is so much more rounded than its predecessor and represents the Horse in confident, sometimes brash but always brilliant, mood. There’s no need to for gushing hyperbole when something is this genuinely good. Put simply, they’ve absolutely nailed it.

On ‘Sesame’ they sing “And I can see this going nowhere.” If there’s any justice they’re totally wrong. Be part of the movement for justice here.

Jurapsyche Park:

Sack of Streams #6

Let us begin this rummage into our bountiful sack with the always hirsute and sonically progressive Trojan Horse. Their Fire EP has had a troublesome gestation and birth, but the baby, we can announce, is bouncing. The title track (something of a live favourite round these parts) reveals an often hidden and forgotten aspect of their ‘prog nouveau’ moniker: their ability to snarl in your face and snap at your earlobes with a ferocious punk sensibility. And whereas the political in the punk has long evaporated amongst butter adverts and parody, the Horse aren’t afraid to opine on the state of society here through an aptly timed yet somewhat curve-ball cover of ‘Ohio’ by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Opening the launch of the EP in Salford a few months back with this, the proud multi-instrument talent of these hairy-faced upstarts – drummer on guitar, guitarist on drums – was plain to see. Join them in their adventures, including a crackling remix by From The Kites of San Quentin, here.

Drifting to the outer zones, next up is a composition in drone. Released on C20 cassette tape via the Manchester based label The Geography Trip, both tracks on Hot Cygnet Tape by Now Wakes the Sea are as imaginatively evocative, brooding and glacial as you can get. Order it here.

Next and I have to admit to be somewhat, if not completely, out of my depth in terms of reference points and criteria of judgement for this one. What I can tell you is that Peter Adams is a keyboardist and composer and ‘Pt 1 Dreams’ from Half-Light Suite (pts 1-4) is orchestrated through minimal keys and skeletal, barely audible, electronics. The result is truly poignant and moving. A free limited download of this track before the full release can be found here.

On this track ‘Fanfare’, Buttonhead come over on like a backstreet bastard art-school Arcade Fire or Spree. Elsewhere on their album 3D Opera Whale they are impossible to fully categorise as they skip through, filter and immolate a whole series of genres (even bucolic folk). Such skittish processing always impresses the senses and heightens attention:

 

And finally, the description “shambling pop” doesn’t even come close to ringing true for ghostandthesong. Instead I would go with catatonic-electro-lounge to describe this Berliner – although that’s hardly catchy. Available as a free EP on the ever brilliant Bad Panda Records, ghostandthesong deliver that thrill and pleasure of music teetering on the edge of collapse and implosion.

And a video that captures this process:

Right, onwards and ever sideways we go…

Post 200: For Japan

This is our 200th post. We’re both a little surprised that we got this far. Yet rather than celebrate our success (*splutter*) and write some bollocks that only a handful of people will read, we want to give some space to something far more deserving.

The images of destruction and suffering coming out of Japan recently have been staggeringly awful and unspeakably horrendous. Even the most cynical and hardhearted cannot fail to be moved (although it seems some are, such as the twitter twats who joked about Godzilla on the day of the earthquake and tsunami). The fact we’ve both got friends out there whom we’ve been privileged enough to go visit have made the images somehow more affecting.

Anyway, anything we try to say here about the pain or devastation will no doubt sound trite. All we can do is point you towards two marvellous musical endeavours that are doing their bit for the relief effort.

First up, those lovely people at Audio Antihero have put together a corking compilation of 34 tracks for a minimum price of £3.99. That’s 11.735294117647058823 pennies per track if you’re not generous to donate more. And it’s chocked full of BBO friendly artists (Nosferatu D2 and Jack Hayter, etc.) plus others that we probably should have reviewed. Go get it HERE.

Second, for Northern types, the post-prog/time signature shapeshifting/multi-genre spectacular BEAST that is Trojan Horse have assembled a line-up for The Ruby Lounge on the 14th of April that easily commands the title ‘Best in Manchester right now, k?’.

For a fiver not only do you get a roster of quality acts you get a raffle (I love raffles. I do hope there’s a bottle of Blue Nun and a box of Family Circle biscuits). Buy your tickets HERE. And while you’ve got your wallet out buy Trojan Horse’s eponymous début HERE (they need to fund their beard care after all).

That is all. Get donating.

angrybonbon & JKneale

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