So I end up reviewing the year

So the thing is, this blog has kind of been ditched over the last year. It was started so I would start writing before going back to uni, then I was at uni and too busy to write anything else, and since leaving I’ve started writing for other people. But something will come of Lillian Trotsky. Even if she does insist on starting sentences with ‘but’ and referring to herself in the third person, under an assumed name and a presumed incorrect gender. Shit, this blog is fun and I need to do more. So in many ways, the scraps below are means of an apology – for being lazy, for broken promises and for playing away. They’re also a way of actually addressing why I’ve picked these ten records as my favourites this year, particularly since this list has played a part in deciding the eventual year end lists at God is in the TV, WOW24/7 and Drowned in Sound, as well as what I’ve posted over at Open Ear over the year.

Enjoy. Have fun. Let me in on your thoughts. Merry Christmas.


immunity
1. Jon Hopkins – Immunity
OK, so this is a straight copy/paste from an article of mine that’s just appeared on WOW24/7 as it’s also their album of the year. I would say I see no point in repeating myself… but an amended version also just went up over at God is in the TV Zine as their No.3 pick… [I’m a whore, with only one trick to turn]

Justifying why one album is better than all others to yourself is a tricky business. Why is Jon Hopkins’ Immunity better than everything else released in 2013? Certainly it had an immediate impact, capturing my imagination from the first spin. It was obvious from that first listen that the album had depth, nuance and cohesion, and over repeat listens this has become only more apparent. Yet, while these things help, a lot, in making this my album of the year, it’s actually how Immunity relates to everything else I’ve loved this year that really sets it apart.

2013 has been a great year for electronic music, particularly the more instrumental end of things. I’ve found myself listening to more piano pieces than guitar riffs for the first time, and despite a long running passion for broad, textural electronica, I’ve found that there’s been a renewed focus on expanded soundstages in many of this year’s releases that has had me, at times, mesmerised.

Hopkins has succeeded in striking alchemical gold with an amalgam of electronic beats and analogue instrumentation, nothing new in that but it does capture the essence of what this year has been about in the realm of electronic music.

Withlove
2. Zomby – With Love
A solid 80 minutes long, this is by far and away the best long-player of the year. Perhaps most interesting are the little nods and references, which come thick and fast, to earlier tracks. It’s not so much that he’s sampling himself, it’s more that he’s using the same palette in a different way – but the connection is clear. I think I love this album because it feels like a stretched and fucked Greatest Hits, where everything has been toyed with so much they’re now completely new songs. Think of it as a set of dubs maybe? Versions.

Nils Frahm Spaces
3. Nils Frahm – ‘Spaces’ (Erased Tapes)
OK, so I’m cheating again. Here’s my review for God is in the TV Zine.

Live albums tend to be the preserve of the completist, or at the very least the more inquisitive fan. Occasionally, however, they retain a wider appeal as a document of a band at their ferocious best as is the case with The Who’s ‘Live at Leeds’. At other times, they can highlight details of a band’s work not seen through studio albums, as with Nirvana’s ‘MTV Unplugged’. Very few live albums succeed as a standalone piece, barely discernible in quality from the acts studio albums, though some like Talking Head’s ‘Stop Making Sense’ get close. Even fewer still manage to be the finest thing a band ever record, though the magnificent ‘Stupidity’ by Dr Feelgood is a notable exception.

With ‘Spaces’, which has been in the pipeline for two years, Nils Frahm succeeds in taking elements of each of the most important aspects of live albums, and combining them in a manner that not only captivates, but at times inspires awe.

Using a Juno synthesiser, Fender Rhodes electric and full-on Grand pianos, as well as tape delay and the natural acoustics of his surroundings, Frahm’s live sets are reasonably simple affairs. ‘Spaces’ takes an assortment of live recordings, some taken from reel-to-reel or cassette recordings, and arranges them into a work that feels both intimate and all encompassing. Frahm has referred to this as a ‘collage of field recordings rather than a live album’ and each track does have an aura of its own, marking it out from all the others in its subtleties. Indeed, in many ways this is a document of individual instances and the focus of tracks such as An Aborted Beginning and Improvisation for Piano, Laughs, Coughs and A Cell Phone attest to this in their capturing of unique moments of audience interaction that here become punctuation marks to the vagaries of the music. For-Peter-Toilet Brushes-More, the longest track here at 16 minutes in an album an hour and 15 long, captivates as much with the use of the pounding of a toilet brush on piano innards as with the unexpected roar of audience adulation at track end.

‘Spaces’ is an apt title for an album that takes Frahm’s already emotive and affecting music and places it in a context that, when taken together, is nothing short of breathtaking. Through its reverberations, ‘Spaces’ displays a prescient sense of nostalgia that transports the listener to places they have never been before. Whilst all live albums capture moments and act as time capsules, no other live album has captured the feeling of meditative harmony that comes with the uncanny quite like this.

djkoze
4. DJ Koze – Amygdala
Electronic records don’t typically provide a whole lot of narrative storytelling, yet with a little help from Apparat’s Sascha Ring, Caribou’s Dan Snaith and Matthew Dear, amongst others, we have here a record packed with playfully endearing tales. Analogue instrumentation in the way of bass and horns, in particular, flit in and out of the mix throughout making this a surprisingly warm and swaddling listen. This is not just the work of a great producer, this is the work of a great song-writer, and how often is that even considered in so much of the electronic world?

islandcometrue
5. L. Pierre – The Island Come True
While DJ Koze may be a great producer showing himself to be a great song-writer, here under his L. Pierre guise we find Aidan Moffat proving that he’s not only a great song-writer but also a great producer. Made up from samples of old reel-to-reel tapes, complete with tape hiss, this is a work that sticks to the Aidan Moffat formula of using the uncanny and the nostalgic to move the listener. ‘Sad Laugh’ is a standout track of the year in the way that tape hiss becomes percussion and the vocal track towards the end takes a path that is both sweet yet saddening.

lesrevenants
6. Mogwai – Les Revenants OST
How on earth a soundtrack album got into my albums of the year list I’d normally not be able to say. It’s easy to explain this one though – it’s Mogwai and it’s fuckin’ great! I first heard the EP version of this, before getting to know it as an album and then as the soundtrack to the marvellous Les Revenants/The Returned – the Canal+ telly show that I’ve been blabbing on about to anyone who’ll listen all bloody year. This is exactly what you’d expect from a Mogwai album; emotive, instrumental, transcendental and worth playing loud. Sure, you don’t get the visceral impact of full-bore Mogwai guitar attack, but when you can bask in pieces that are up there with ‘Christmas Steps’ in their beauty, then who can complain?

virgins
7. Tim Hecker – Virgins
Here’s another already published at God is in the TV Zine. They’re good people, who publish great stuff, you should go check them out.

Much like the universally acclaimed Ravedeath, 1972 Tim Hecker’s new release demands a lot of the listener. Hecker’s work is, above all else, textural and often requires consideration and empathy from the listener before it becomes decipherable, let alone accessible. In this respect Virgins is much like its predecessors. In other ways, however, it differs from his most recent work, containing a softer palette of textures and a percussiveness that breathes a certain bodiless life into the proceedings.

As might be expected with an album titled Virgins, there is a recurring theme of innocence that runs through this work, often in a hymnal, lyrical sense. Yet this innocence, which often sparkles with life, is repeatedly underscored by a foreboding or a threat of what is to come. It is not dark per se, rather it is a continual suggestion of uncertainty and change. At times there are stuttered hints at a revelation but all too often we return to where we were; keening for something that we’re wary of yet feel is inevitable, or confused and alone not knowing what has just been missed.

In spite of this, as far as Hecker’s work goes this is a relatively open work, and only ‘Live Room’ feels punishing in its oppressiveness. Elsewhere there is always some space, some light, some escape, perhaps particularly so in ‘Live Room Out’ which is far warmer and looser than its companion piece.

The biggest surprise is saved for last, however, when after an album full of uncertainty ‘Stab Variation’ provides a transcendent moment. With the atmospheric subterfuge lifting, and Hecker’s love of leaving hints of source material shining through, the narcotic remnants of a distant house track are revealed.

Virgins highlights the acute focus Tim Hecker brings to his work, both though the carefully constructed textural waves that keep the listener continually guessing what is to come as well as through the rich and intimate live recording that keeps the listener engrossed throughout.

 

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8. future of the left – How to Stop Your Brain in an Accident
We had to get this far before we found a loud, full on rock album? What an album it is though. Choppy guitars, drilled percussion, a few deviations into keyboard-led, electric noise that has become familiar as future of the left have grown into one of the most interesting and relevant guitar bands we have. What exactly it means to be relevant I’m not actually sure… apparently it’s lyrics about BBC-paedophilia and the best guitar riffs of the year. I’m starting to think that these guys are the closest we’ve come to the Butthole Surfers on this side of the Atlantic. Aye, I think they’re THAT good. Also, check out their Christmas song ‘The Real Meaning of Christmas‘.


Chvrches
9. CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe
So much has been said already about CHVRCHES, and there’s no doubting you’ve heard at least something from this great album. Though I enjoyed driving around in the last days of summer to this one, it’s the way that it has hooked itself to me as my ‘Go to’ album for a run that has made me realise how great it really is.

It’s so easy for an album that was anticipated, and in some quarters hyped, so much to be a bit of a let down on release. The fact that this one not only defied expectation but stands up to regular, repeat listens mark it as something special. It’s also great to see an indie-pop band wearing their morals and politics on their sleeves, particularly with Lauren’s much talked about Guardian article and the lesser known TYCI gig this past weekend. This is how to do a debut.

Push-The-Sky-Away
10. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away
I’ve an admission to make here. I love Nick Cave. He’s written some of the greatest songs I’ve ever heard, from ‘Release the Bats’ to ‘Stagger Lee’ and a whole lot more. The thing is though… I’ve never really fallen in love with his albums, instead finding them hit and miss and generally considering them solid rather than anything more quixotic. So to say that this is the album that has suddenly made me click to the Bad Seeds would be a fair way of describing my feelings for Push the Sky Away if it were not such an understatement. Instead, this album captures exactly how I’ve always felt about Cave’s best songs and captures this feeling in an album that works, in total, for me for the first time. The strange thing is that’s not to say this contains Cave’s best songs, though with ‘Jubilee Street’ and ‘Higgs Boson Blues’ we’re getting close, instead it’s simply his most solid set yet, and somehow that has a beauty all of its own.

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So Reviews, eh?

It seems that I’ve turned my hand to reviewing things lately. It’s a good job me and Lilly have an open relationship, because you’ll have to click away to read them.

Try here:

God is in the TV – Tim Hecker: Virgins – 30/09/13

and here:

WOW247 – Live_Transmission: Joy Division Reworked – 02/10/13

More to come on Open Ear over the next few days too.

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The Summer Song of 2013

Well summer is almost over, and while summer always starts with Arab Strap it ends each year with a different tune; one that’s stuck around through the balmy afternoons and star-specked late nights. These songs can be fleeting moments, dancing through your world for a few short weeks or they can be the start of a lifelong relationship, much more than a simple summer romance.

The first summer song I recall is Tribal Dance by 2 Unlimited from way back in 1993, a song that really only holds nostalgia value, not even being worthy of being played with ironic knowingness. The first summer song I remember taking to, deeply and lovingly, however was This is Hardcore by Pulp. It was 1998 and I was 11 years old and while I was aware of music that sounded more dangerous and more seedy, I’d never heard anything that lumped in a healthy dose of sexiness besides. Now, I’m not saying that’s how I’d have articulated it at the time, it was no doubt a confounding mess to my pre-pubescent self, but that’s certainly how I feel about it now and its allure certainly hasn’t softened with time. More importantly, I’ve realised that to be a true summer classic a song really needs a certain level of sex appeal. Short shorts, dripping phallic ice-cream cones, and chafed bits (from sea water and sand, of course) are what summer is all about and a great summer song should channel those things.

This leads me nicely to The Summer Song of 2013. It’s called BIPP and it’s by Sophie, a producer based in London with little bio available. It was released on Numbers in June and I owe Auntie Flo a debt for putting me onto it back in June in a Little White Earbuds mix. It’s a great tune, that really has its tongue wedged in its cheek, which must be hard going considering how sickly sweet it is; it just makes you want to lick your lips all the way through. OK, so I’m over-egging it a bit, but I’ve sung this on top of mountains and I’ve sung this to my cat so it sure has that catchiness that all summer songs need, and it hasn’t worn half as badly as I expected it to (I’ve listened to it on repeat while writing this, I may be getting sick of it soon…)

The hardest part of loving it, I suppose, is that it’s a bit obvious. Repeat listens do wear off some of that tongue-in-cheek sheen and the lyrics can seem a little try-hard (though that is, clearly, the point). As I say, this has its benefits in that BIPP is a real earworm, and I’ve found myself singing it in some uncomfortable spots. The bit I’m, perhaps, a little apprehensive about is the first real verse (below), mainly because the word ‘felt’ sounds awful like ‘fucked’, and I don’t want to be caught singing that and sounding like some kind of mad splosher. All in all though, I think it’s going to be on summer mixes for a few years to come, getting brought out with the sun cream and the mini-Heinekens (which everybody knows are the best summer beers when chilled).

You gotta be crazy, thinkin’ you can resist this,
Y’know, yeah y’know you can’t help yourself.
I bet he can’t take it, yeah I’d like to just see you try,
You should try, if you don’t you might never know,
How it tastes so good; sweet like whipped cream,
Soft and smooth, like you felt in your dreams.
So whatever your heart desires, what you need,
If that’s what you want boy, then you know where to find me.
So.

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Where do you stand on this?

Or more exactly, where to stand at a gig? I found myself in Nice ‘n’ Sleazy’s this evening, standing at the back next to the bar all on my tod. I reckon it was the best ‘seat’ in the house.

It’s an odd thing finding your own wee spot to enjoy a gig from. Often it’s a case of intuition and other times it’s just wherever you can find some space. Mainly, I reckon, it depends on why you’re there, or more exactly, what your motivation is. If you’re seeing a festival headliner then between 10 and 50 people back, front and centre is going to be about right. You’ll feel close enough that you can occasionally see something on stage, the sound is catering for a field so will never be any good no matter where you pick, and you’ll be in the middle of all the drunken jumping up and down – which is (at least) half the point of seeing a festival headliner. Any further forward than that and you’re part of the crush barrier.

The same is true of that hardcore band you love. Get in the front third of the venue and you can jump around like a loon. Again; this is the fucking point.

How about seeing someone like My Bloody Valentine or Mogwai or anyone else where the band is boring (some lights, and not much else to see) but the sound is all important? For that, I want to be just behind the jumping, and as close to the middle as possible. You definitely don’t want to be far enough back that people think it’s ok to chat, and you don’t want the clinking of a bar in your left lughole.

What if you’re seeing a band where the visuals do matter? Lemon Jelly do great light shows, but really the sound isn’t going to differ too much from the album. In that case, you better hope it’s a seated venue where you slouch about in your seat, relaxing as much as possible.

Tonight, I found myself right at the back of Sleazy’s, next to the bar. I missed the start of the first support, so found myself there by default as the rest of the audience was seated up front. By the time Mount Eerie came on, 90% of the audience had got to their feet and made their way to the front of the stage. Anyone more than two rows back, and smaller than 6’0” was only going to be left with glimpses of a band with very little emphasis on visual aesthetics. So at the back I remained. The PA in there ain’t bad, and with such a small audience, being a little further back allowed the sound to form in front of me rather than behind me. Even better, I could see Phil Elverum the whole way through and let’s be honest, do you need to see anyone else when he is Mount Eerie? Yet, I was left all on my own as people climbed on seats to get a view and stood up close to the backs of the 100 people in front of them. I’m not sure why we do that. Mount Eerie are a great small venue band, with the sound rising and falling throughout. At times you’re left with only Phil Elverum’s voice while every now and then they build up those guitars and drums and you feel like you’re about to get an aural assault, but it never comes. It is the perfect gig to be viewed from afar and it’s the first time I’ve wanted to stand out on my own, away from the crowd.

Am I right? Am I just geeking out about sound too much? Or, heaven forbid, am I getting… old?

[Mount Eerie at Nice 'n' Sleazy's Glasgow on 21/05/2013]

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I Don’t Trust the Reviews of Hungry Music Critics

I am not a music reviewer. I am a fan who likes to blether shite about new releases and gigs I’ve heard and have something to say about. I am not a professional. I am media graduate and a student of the music industries.

So here’s the problem. It’s hard to slag. I’m an amateur (at best), with little audience and I don’t rely on being first to a story, nor do I rely on hits generating income through associated advertising revenue. That said; I do care.

Today what I care about (vehemently) is the treatment of ‘The Next Day’ the new album by David Bowie. You can read reviews by the likes of Alexis Petridis, Andy Gill and Neil McCormick right now. That’s right, full album reviews up of an album released hours before, with no promos released (to my knowledge) and no announcement. So these professional journalists have reviewed this album in what? One or two listens? Maybe they listened to the single three or four times. Y’know, just to be sure.

That’s not an album review. An album, any album, deserves more than that. I can understand fans doing it; it’s exciting when something new turns up that excites you and you want to share your thoughts. It is generally accepted that these thoughts are just that, thoughts for the moment – they’ll change as you and an album grow together or grow apart. We see these all over blogs and message boards and I read them all the time and I love them. It’s people engaging with music, sometimes in the actual moment of listening.

But a professional review, with stars and everything is different. The speed of these reviews isn’t about engagement with the music, excitement at a new release or even just a childish ‘FIRST!’ This is about fishing for hits. But fishing for hits by racing to be first is like fishing for fish with a grenade. It’s not part of the game – it’s survival. It’s no longer about the enjoyment, or even the consideration, of music. That’s why I don’t trust the reviews of hungry music critics. They’re so hungry they can’t see what’s on their plate.

That being said, here’s my review. I’ve not actually heard the album yet but I’ve heard ‘Where Are We Now?’ about six times, and I listened to ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’ once, half-distractedly, earlier today.

It’s not ‘Low’, is it?

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Dinos Chapman now does music?

Apologies for the continued silence. There’s still lots of reading and thinking going on but writing efforts are being diverted elsewhere at the moment. Plans are afoot however for a transformative experience. Keep it under your hat Guv’ but you might be hearing a whole lot more of Lilly T in the near future.

In the meantime, let’s talk ‘art’. I’ve long been a fan of the YBAs – mainly because I don’t follow the art world so closely so they’ve never become old hat. I’ve seen my Hirst‘s and my Emin‘s and my Grayson Perry‘s but I’ve long regretted not going to see my Chapman‘s but now comes the next best thing – Dinos Chapman is making music.

Hosted on the Guardian website is an exclusive preview track from an upcoming album. Have a listen and then click through for more where you can read some thoughts…

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The Knife – New Single!

I’ve gone all quite of late and for that I’m dearly sorry-ish.

But I’m back with excitement in my being. There is a new single by The Knife, it lasts a little over nine minutes and it is fucking stonkingly good! Now Heartbeats was, and still is, a fantastic song but Silent Shout is where the real gorgeousness of The Knife resides. Until now. Full of Fire, the new single, is quite frankly spectacular.

I’ve always looked on Silent Shout as oddball brilliance; it seems to home in on a certain aesthetic that demands art, while remaining great pop. This new stuff though… The closest musical sensibility I can attribute to it is that it reminds me of Captain Beefheart. Musically it’s way off. Aesthetically, corporeally, whatever, it’s howling at the moon in just as entertaining a manner.

Word is the album will be over an hour and a half long!

Give the single a go: Here!

Update: Here’s the video! Also, listening again when I haven’t just come in from a night out and I’m starting to think I was a little OTT in my praise. I’m looking forward to hearing how this fits in the shape of the album.

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