Mix Tape #9 : Best of 2008

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Today 5:4 is one year old, and to celebrate that—and continue the celebration of the best albums of last year, here’s a new mix tape, featuring tracks from each of those albums. Not surprisingly, it’s the most eclectic mix so far, and also the longest, just a few seconds shy of 3 hours. Start 2009 with the best of 2008—enjoy!

Here’s the tracklisting in full: Read more

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Best Albums of 2008

Posted on by 5:4 in Best of the Year | 8 Comments
* Please note this list has how been superseded by the one on the Best Albums of the Years page *

It’s been difficult deciding what i feel are the best albums of 2008. Partly, because i’ve listened to so many (of the 667 albums i’ve listened to this year, 141 of them were released in 2008), but also because i’m conscious of a number of albums that i haven’t yet listened to, and which could well appear in this list. Anyhow, all lists of this kind are provisional, so as things stand today, here are the 5:4 Best Albums of 2008:

40 | Squarepusher – Just A Souvenir
On the one hand, this album isn’t as successful as Squarepusher’s last and best album, Hello Everything. On the other hand, Tom Jenkinson is just so talented that even failed experiments like this are better than most. Quite what led him to resurrect 70s electronics and seek to incorporate it into his style is anyone’s guess, but he’s hardly alone in doing so. At times it’s downright annoying, and overall there’s a diminished sense of unity across the album; yet tracks like “Tensor in Green” and “Quadrature” are brilliant demonstrations of the kind of synthesis of which Jenkinson is capable.

39 | Nurse With Wound – Huffin’ Rag Blues
NWW have turned down the absurdism somewhat on this release, allowing the jazz inflections to come through unfettered. Nonetheless, there’s still sufficient surreal juxtaposition of material for this to be a superbly eclectic electroacoustic outing. “The Funktion of the Hairy Egg” is especially effective, and the outstanding track on this disc, which also features irr. app. (ext.)’s Matt Waldron and is mixed by Andrew Liles.

38 | Gregor Samsa – Rest
Another great album from this band, who are able to sound simultaneously languorous and ecstatic. At times it’s a little too shoegaze for its own good, but most of the album is particularly effective, and sometimes strikingly delicate. The vocals, in particular, are often ethereal to the point of becoming inaudible, providing a wonderful mysterious surface beneath which the textures can drift and intermingle.

37 | Byetone – Death Of A Typographer
Despite being fairly typical Raster-Noton material, this album displays real variety, encompassing lovely ambient episodes along with the familiar glitchy electronica. There’s a markedly industrial tone to the beats, but they’re delivered with such panache that they never feel oppressive. It also lacks the coldness that seems to accompany, say, Alva Noto’s recent material (although, having said that, i really liked this year’s Unitxt, despite it not appearing in this list); this is surprisingly light and warm dance music.

36 | AGF – Words Are Missing
A rapid, insistent album, with Antye Greie’s voice (along with pretty much all other sounds) fragmented into a myriad shards. The constructions she makes from these pieces are consistently engaging, while not perhaps representing the best of her work; at times, the music are off-puttingly minimalistic. Nonetheless, the deep beats that permeate the tracks give them a potent physicality that is infectious; and, as in “Dread In Strangers Eyes”, influences of musique concrète and collage-like techniques give the album a fascinating variety.

35 | Ladytron – Velocifero
There are distinct traces of Curve in Ladytron’s latest release, which is most definitely no bad thing. This is particularly the case with “Runaway”, recently released as a single and easily the best track on the album. First and foremost, though, Ladytron have brought out their best album to date, filled with dirty, somewhat languid rock-tronica.

34 | Deerhoof – Offend Maggie
i wrote about this album back in October, and my initial disappointment about this album has, to some extent, given way to (i hope) a deeper appreciation. It still doesn’t quite capture the unbridled fire and passion of Friend Opportunity, but there’s a maturity present here that perhaps i wasn’t expecting. A flawed masterpiece it may be, but any group or album that can come up with a track as astonishing as “Jagged Fruit” is nothing less than brilliant.

33 | Stephan Mathieu – Radioland
A curious assemblage of thoughtful meditations, this is ambient from a more heavyweight perspective. At least, that’s the way it comes across, like vast heavy nimbus clouds, their complex inner structures ever shifting. The result is powerfully hypnotic, and often very beautiful, particularly “Auf der Gasse”.

32 | Implex Grace – Through Luminescent Passages II
i wrote a fair bit about this release back in November, so i won’t repeat that here. Since then Michael Goodman has made it clear to me that what i perceived as a lack of direction is something quite intentional on his part, and while i’m prepared to accept that, the brevity of the tracks, i feel, still militates against the kind of ‘meditative’ state he desires. All the same, it’s still an interesting counterpart to volume 1, focussing more on the noise end of the ambient continuum. It’s still available free of charge, here, in FLAC and mp3 formats, direct from Goodman’s netlabel, Distance Recordings.

31 | Ran Slavin – Nocturnal Rainbow Rising
Ran Slavin’s latest release is another free download, from the excellent Crónica netlabel. It’s a disc that demonstrates real skill at shaping sound, as well as formidable restraint, the tracks given space to develop at their own pace, never seeming forced along. Its use of bass frequencies to punctuate the material is very striking; “Pure Honey in Lack One” is perhaps the best example.

30 | Specta Ciera – Mystic Valley Parkway
Yet another free album, released through Distance Recordings, and available here. This is music reassuringly difficult to categorise, bringing together diverse sound sources into a melange within which they briefly become obvious before being re-absorbed. At times (“I Lost The Dream Archive”) it becomes really breathtaking, dazzling the ear with its restless activity. Read more

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Best EPs of 2008

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It’s been a fascinating year for music. And so, partly because i love making lists(!), here are the 5:4 Best EPs of 2008 (my top 40 albums will appear tomorrow):

10 | Belong – Colorloss Record
Creators of some of the most poignantly decayed music ever, Belong have excavated four more relics in this lovely EP. Whiffs of the source material hover just too far to be resolved, while chord progressions wistfully undulate somewhere far, far beneath. Quite how long they can continue in this direction is hard to say, but for now their originality in this kind of music is absolutely first-rate.

9 | Operator Please – Just A Song About Ping Pong
The best-known (but not the best) song by Operator Please, this EP (mentioned in my review a few months back) contains a superbly danced-up version of the title track: the Kissy Sell Out White Stallion Extended Remix. It, together with the original version, perfectly capture the wonderfully breathless quality of this band’s music.

8 | Operations – Cold Months
Beautifully packaged inside a piece of felt (photos of my copy can be seen here), sealed with a safety pin, Chris Anderson’s latest release is an introverted masterpiece. As suggested by the title, this comes across as ‘wintry’ music, conjuring up potent images of wistfulness and nostalgic yearning. The most outstanding example is the short central track, bearing the enigmatic title “( )”, where a fin de siecle gramophone record utters its last gasp of music, a rapturously beautiful fragment of clarinet and strings. It’s astoundingly lovely, and my favourite track from 2008.

7 | Ian D. Hawgood – Tents And Hills
The latest release from the interesting Luv Sound netlabel (free download available here), described by them as “a thick miasma of overtones and shifting colors”, which is a pretty fair assessment. Hawgood has a real gift for ambient, although for the most part the textures he creates are far too interesting to ignore—but that’s hardly a bad thing. All too brief, but very satisfying; opening track “October” is particularly good, its dreamy shimmering finally coalescing into rich octaves.

6 | irr. app. (ext.) – Enterruption Hermetic Archival Cassette Series 3
Just two tracks lasting barely a quarter of an hour, but this is Matt Waldron at his obtuse and recondite best. Not quite as glaringly surreal as his Aspiring to an Empty Gesture, also released this year, this is nonetheless a rich salmagundi, taking in a range of aural shapes that belies their brevity. A number of releases are supposedly forthcoming, so hopefully 2009 will be an exciting year for irr. app. (ext.). Read more

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Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols (King’s College, Cambridge): Lennox Berkeley & Judith Weir

Posted on by 5:4 in Advent & Christmas, Premières, Seasonal | 7 Comments

HAPPY CHRISTMAS!. To celebrate the feast, here’s a selection from the renowned Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols that took place yesterday at King’s College, Cambridge.

After the fifth lesson came I sing of a maiden by Lennox Berkeley, a sublime creation, its ostensible simplicity containing some lovely harmonic piquancy. Berkeley was the first composer to be commissioned to write a new anthem for this service, back in the early 1980s, beginning an admirable tradition of commissioning a new work each year. Read more

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Nine Inch Nails – The Definitive NIN

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Nine Inch Nails‘ music has appeared on here on a number of occasions. A couple of years ago, Trent Reznor unofficially released three compilation albums, each exploring a different aspect of his output. The three volumes of Nine Inch Nails: The Definitive NIN are titled The Singles, Deep Cuts and Quiet, and together they comprise an effective “Best Of” collection. These releases have previously only been available as torrents, but as they’ve now been around for a while, download speeds aren’t what they were; so below are links to download all three volumes much faster. All three are exactly as Reznor released them, including full high-resolution artwork and an HTML page with further information; the music is (sadly) in mp3 format, at (even more sadly) 192Kbps, but hey – it’s free. Here are the links, together with a complete tracklisting for each volume. Read more

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Approaching future pop perfection: Freezepop

Posted on by 5:4 in Miscellaneous | 1 Comment

2008 seems to be drawing to a close with surprising alacrity, and already i’ve started to see a number of “Best of 2008” articles appearing. Rest assured i’ll be doing my own individual pick of the year’s highlights towards the end of the month. Meanwhile, let’s turn our attention to a group whose last album was one of 2007’s best releases.

Freezepop only came to my attention earlier this year, through an episode of the latest season of The L Word, a show that features a surprisingly eclectic (and high quality) selection of music. Since then, i’ve trawled their back catalogue, and it’s been an interesting experience. To be fair, their earliest output is decidedly hit-and-miss, with emphasis on the latter of those epithets, but—and it’s an important but—nothing really bad afflicts those releases. Their first album, Freezepop Forever, released in 2001, sounds like a fairly typical J-pop offering (a Japanese track title seems to confirm the allusion), a kind of music that achieves popularity principally through downright quirkiness. It also strongly betrays Freezepop’s affiliation with the realm of computer game music; all in all, it’s just too transient and bound-up in stylistic conventions to be terribly engaging. The following year’s Fashion Impression Function is, on balance, even less engaging, but demonstrates the makings of a much more individual sound, smoothly blending electropop trappings old and new, introducing interesting structural variety and bringing new intimacy to Liz Enthusiasm’s vocals. Read more

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Advent Carol Service (St John’s College, Cambridge): James MacMillan, Simon Beattie, Jonathan Dove, John McCabe – The last and greatest herald (World Première) & Peter Wishart

Posted on by 5:4 in Advent & Christmas, Premières, Seasonal | 3 Comments

A new church year is upon us, and with it comes the first choral broadcast for the season of Advent. Yesterday, Radio 3 broadcast the Advent Carol Service live from the Chapel of St John’s College, Cambridge, the choir of which has a deservedly high reputation. They’re also innovative; about 6 weeks ago, they became the first choir of this kind to make their services available as weekly webcasts; for more information go here.

The service featured several interesting contemporary pieces. James MacMillan‘s A New Song is one of his most emphatically melodious anthems; its blend of high solemnity yielding to radiance is just right for Advent. Simon Beattie‘s Advent Calendar is broadcast here for the first time; it’s an interesting piece, not entirely successful, as it lacks a clear sense of direction, but with some nicely-judged poignant harmonic writing. Jonathan Dove‘s I am the day is a simple, delicate confection with a curious patchwork quality, weaving fragments that each sound familiar yet become something new; i like it. Read more

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