I’m a sucker for a new sub genre, the more unpronounceable the better, so was thrilled to come across something called Gqom this week – apparently it represents “da sound u get wen u drop a rock on tiles”.
At first I was surprised that something that seems so Western and cutting edge like bass music/dupstep/electronica could find a voice in the poor South African townships of Durban, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense that a music that started out being made on Playstations by 15-year old black kids in deprived London tower blocks should resonate with 15-year old South African black kids in deprived Durban townships, especially when held against the college kid centred fratboyisms that twisted the urban grime of bass music into safe and inoffensive stadium-glo-stick-waving US EDM.
OK, enough rambling, here’s the lead track on a compilation album documenting the scene. The African musical influences are more than apparent and it stretches the genre in any number of new directions.
Listen to (and then buy!) the whole thing here and read all about the album and the scene.
Just a quick podcast to test out my first try at using Audacity. As you can hear, I think I still need a bit more practice! I couldn’t work out how to make the vocal tracks the same volume as the music ones at first. I sorted it out for the first part of Part 2, but the volume is a bit up and down in Part 1 and most of Part 2 – sorry about that! It was also a total pain the arse to get it all into MP3 format too…hmmm…..will have to keep tinkering!
In the meantime, the music here is a mix of underground and overground (mostly under) and is quite a good reflection of some of the less obvious stuff that I’ve been listening to over the last year, although it turned out a bit noisier than I thought it would.
(Edit: To get around the WP upgrade problem, I thought I’d try uploading to Soundcloud – hope it works!)
1 Stara Rzeka – Zamknęły Się Oczy Ziemi
Their first album made my number 5 two years ago and has only grown in my estimation since. This is the follow up and possibly final album from Polish uncategorisables Stara Rzeka. This album is slightly mellower than the first with more acoustic plucking and the more metal elements stripped back to dirgey droning, with an even more expansive musical palette. Stara Rzeka somehow manage to tie together every type of music that I hold dear: spacey drones, dark metal, reflective acoustic guitar, experimental electronica… it’s almost like an amalgam of my other 11 Best Albums of 2015 (well, most of them….not so much Sleaford Mods in there!) condensed into one beautiful, melancholic, shape-shifting indefinable whole. If this really is their last album, they have left behind a small, but perfectly formed legacy that I know I will be listening to for many years to come.
5 Akira Sakata, Jim O’Rourke with Chikamorachi & Merzbow – Flying Basket
In which veteran Japanese free jazz mentalist Akira Sakata teams up with Tokyo resident and experimental guitarist Jim O’Rourke, noisemonger Merzbow and drum and upright bass duo Chikamorachi. It might be expected that too many cooks might spoil the free jazz broth with each musician trying to out-crazy the other. Well, there are quite a few everyone-goes-fucking-insane-and-loses-their-shit-at-the-same-time moments, but overall this is a well-paced, nuanced and richly textured album with each musician bringing their skills to the table, but being respectful of the master, Akira Sakata, who keeps it all together with his shrill sax. Every time I hear it I hear something that I’d previously missed (although it could just be the new amp and speakers that I bought recently!).
4 Protomartyr – The Agent Intellect
Detroit Punk of the post- variety, with a brain and a whole load of hooks and earworming melodies. Last year’s ‘Under Color of Official Right‘ was good, but this album is much better and a great leap in songwriting from main man Joe Casey and music from the rhythm section (not quite sure what that means, but it sounded good when I wrote it!). It is packed full of intelligent and hummable tunes and was never far from my record player this year.
3 Sunn O))) – Kannon
A late edition to the list as it was only released a week or two ago. I’d been waiting for it to come out for a while though and it didn’t disappoint. Divided into 3 long tracks, it has the usual crushing guitars and deep bass riffs that are Sunn O)))’s trademark, this time welded to Attila Csihar’s chanting-singing that gives it a dark, hypnotic, almost psychedelic feel. Great sleeve notes by critical theorist Aliza Shvartz too that manage to convincingly intellectualise what is basically a noisy metal album!
2 Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
By far my most listened to record this year. I’m sure most of you are familiar with its perfectly wry narratives set to grungey 90s guitars and acoustic strummings, delivered without pretension in that wonderful Australian brogue, so I won’t waste time describing it! I’ll just say that the whole album is packed full of ace tunes from start to finish and was my default listen this year.
9 Sleaford Mods – Key Markets
Have been listening to the ‘Mods sweary vignettes for a while now (although Shane might have got there just a touch before me!) and loved seeing this album break them into the mainstream and onto Jools Holland (a brilliant performance). They managed it without compromising their sparse sweary-ranting-over-crappy-drum -machine sound, although the songs here do sound a little bit more focused to me and all the better for it. Not 100% sure what a “tit cake” is though…..
8 Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness
This was a record I kind of bought by mistake. I was in the record shop and thought I’d half-remembered reading a good review of it somewhere, and I may also have been seduced by the austere Joy Division-esque cover and the Domino Records label. When I got it home and dropped the needle it wasn’t what I expected at all. On first play I thought it sounded like Lana Del Ray (not that there’s anything wrong with LDR, I just never got into her) and I filed it alongside Starsailor on my why-the-hell-did-I-ever-buy-that shelf. But then the songs started to appear in my head at unexpected moments (even though I had only heard them once) and I found myself drawn back to it again and again. The voice was great, the music was pop, but verging on the avant-garde (classical elements, free jazzy parps) and the songs were …..well, songs, which are something of a rarity in my collection!
7 Prurient – Frozen Niagara Falls
I just finished writing a witty and informative paragraph about “Frozen Niagara Falls”, finishing with a flourish and the words “magnum opus“, a smug and triumphant grin on my face as I went to find a link, and found exactly the same phrase on the Bandcamp page. Had I unconsciously plagiarised it? Very probably. So I deleted the whole thing and am starting again. It really is a magnum opus though! I’ve been listening to the man that is Prurient, Dominick Fernow (and anything and everything he puts out on his Hospital Productions label) for a few years now, admiring and appreciating, but never quite loving his harsh unforgiving noise experiments. “Frozen Niagara Falls”, though, is a sprawling 90 minutes of uncompromising noise, power electronics and darkly ambient black metal, that can only be described by that most fractious of adjectives: art. Listening to the whole thing is a journey into the mind of a singular-minded artist that after decades making the noisiest of Noise is at the peak of his powers.
6 – 2 8 1 4 – 新しい日の誕生
They might well have called this album “Tokyo Nights”, such is the atmosphere of a rain-soaked, neon-lit urban nightscape that this record evokes. Except for the fact that it came out on Panther favourite Not Not Fun records , I don’t know too much about this artist or album. This was another late night listen for me this year. Especially when I worked late on Saturdays in Tokyo and was speeding back home on the express train watching the city disappear and the mountains come into view through the darkened windows. The dreamlike drone that hints of the future that never was served as the perfect way to wind down at the end of a long day.
Well, folks, it looks like it’s that time of year again. I don’t know whether it was the change of job giving me more time and space for listening to music, or whether it was a particularly good year. Either way, for me, there were so many amazing records this year that it was difficult to get it down to ten, so I went for the traditional twelve instead!
Here we go:
12 Squarepusher – Damogen Furies
I read all the reviews (something I usually try to avoid) before I finally decided to get this. They ranged from the positive: ‘a work of genius’ to the very negative: ‘ a load of misdirected noise’. Which both sounded pretty good in my book! I’ve been listening since Big Loada in 1997 and have got quite a few Squarepusher LPs, but he hasn’t always hit the mark in recent years. This, though, is a very much a return to form. Deep bass, loads of squelchy repetitive stuff and as aggressive as he has sounded in years. A great record!
11 Cat’s Eyes – The Duke of Burgundy
I loved Cat’s Eyes first album, the combination of Farris Badwan‘s (him out of the Horrors) deep baritone and Rachel Zeffira‘s lush arrangements (and voice) made for a perfect late night record. This album is the soundtrack for the art house S&M-themed lesbian love story film of the same name. Farris thought it would be out of place for him to have his male voice on the album as there are no male characters in the film. So instead we get Rachel’s clear soprano voice with Farris confined to lyrics (there aren’t too many) and guitars. I’m not usually a fan of soundtrack albums, but I like the way that the incidental motifs coalesce into a beautiful and coherent whole to give a perfect late night accompaniment to a glass of red wine and good (lesbian S&M) book.
10 Lightning Bolt – Fantasy Empire
This was promoted as the more accessible, family-friendly Lightning Bolt, which was very worrying for us long-time fans! Fear not, the Brians are as noisy and obtrusive as ever and ‘Fantasy Empire‘ slots easily alongside other LB classic albums as a brilliantly anarchic 50 minutes of noise. It also goes to show that a Panthersan Best Of… where LB only make number 10 means that 2015 was an amazing year for music!
One of my favourite podcasts, Sound Opinions, put out a repeat of their ‘Grand Slam’ episode this week that got me thinking. Apparently, a grand slam in baseball is when there are people on all three bases and the batsman hits a home run, meaning that a maximum four points is scored (I’m sure that that description sounds like an American explaining LBW!).
So, the challenge is to think of an artist/band that made FOUR great albums in a row. Sound Opinions went for Stevie Wonder, Led Zeppelin, Sleater-Kinney, Blur, XTC, Husher Du and the Velvet Underground.
It’s more difficult than it sounds, but I think I’ll choose Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Smog. Two similar artists who were both on an amazing creative roll at around the same time.
For BPB, from 1999’s “I See a Darkness” debut through to 2006’s “The Letting Go” (with a load of collaborations and aliases in between) is four albums of near perfection, peaking with “Master and Everyone” in the middle.
Smog took a bit longer to warm up and had already released several albums/mini-albums before his first masterpiece “Knock Knock” in 1999 through to “Supper” in 2003, again peaking in the middle with “Dongs of Sevotion”.
Well, that’s my pick (for now!), any other Grand Slam suggestions?