Aphex Twin

Mix Tape #32 : Best Albums of 2014

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HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone!

Many, many thanks to all of you who have followed the blog through the last 12 months, particularly to all those who have commented and tweeted in response or retort. As usual, here’s my new year mix tape featuring a track from all forty of my Best Albums of the Year. i said yesterday how 2014 had been a breathtaking year, and listening to this 3-hour condensed version of its best music, i really think that becomes obvious.

Enjoy! – and assuming you do, please support the artists wherever possible; links to purchase each of the albums can be found on the last two days’ articles.

Here’s the tracklisting in full, followed by the download link; and you can also stream the mix tape via Mixcloud. Read more

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Best Albums of 2014 (Part 1)

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* Please note this list has how been superseded by the one on the Best Albums of the Years page *

And so to the main course: the countdown of my forty best albums of the year; part 2 will follow tomorrow.

40 | Bora Yoon – Sunken Cathedral

Korean-American composer & singer Bora Yoon’s latest album is a fascinating intermingling of traditional and experimental elements that Yoon describes as “a sonic journey through the chambers of [the] subconscious”. Her songs are personal yet aspire to and evoke heights of mystical ecstasy; my review summed up Sunken Cathedral as “heady, even intoxicating stuff, with absolutely no sense of novelty to any of it … a tour de force of the most imaginative kind of avant-garde lyricism” [Innova]

39 | Anna Þorvaldsdóttir – Aerial

Þorvaldsdóttir’s approach to composition is heavily informed by an interest in textures, heard to excellent effect on the six works on this album. A recurring feature—and a beguiling one—is her predilection for rendering sounds vague, bereft of an obvious point of origin—no mean feat in instrumental music. Yet for all its unfamiliarities, her music is in the best possible sense accessible, employing structures and juxtapositions of material that are often disarmingly simple, making their point with utmost clarity. [Amazon]

38 | Weeping Willows – The Time Has Come

Anyone with a fondness for the easy listening of the 50s and 60s will find much to love about Weeping Willows’ latest album. The Swedish group’s adoration of its tropes makes the inevitable elements of pastiche forgiveable, but transcending the air of homage is singer Magnus Carlson’s voice, which here comes close to lyrical and vocal perfection. The arrangements are sumptuous and sensitive, but they wholeheartedly serve Carlson’s singing, conveying alternate waves of elation and sorrow. [Amazon]

37 | Gwenno – Y Dydd Olaf

Time away from the flogged-dead-horse The Pipettes clearly does Gwenno Saunders a world of good. Hinted at in a collection of singles that began emerging last year, Y Dydd Olaf boldly enters a soundworld informed by crowd-friendly pop yet drenched in an unmistakable ambiance that harks to a more monochromatic past (without resorting to ghastly ersatz retroisms). These twin forces, inviting and distancing respectively, establish an equilibrium of sorts but Gwenno’s vocals—sung in her native Welsh—gently undermine this, making her songs sound at once familiar yet wonderfully strange. [Peski]

36 | Jenny Hval & Susanna – Meshes of Voice

Not quite the explosion of vocal ingenuity one might have expected, yet Meshes of Voice nonetheless charts a pretty fearless path through new realms of song-writing. What constitutes the foreground in these songs is an aspect ever in flux, with vocal lines often submerged in multiple layers of material, the half-glimpsed words only one—and by no means the most important—part of their communicative language. Elsewhere, folk tendencies arise strongly, rooting the music in an authenticity of utterance that prevents it from losing itself in mere expressionism. [Norman Records]

35 | Deerhoof – La Isla Bonita

One of the beauties of Deerhoof’s music is that it manages to have its tongue permanently in its cheek while maintaining a capacity to invent and challenge conventions. Perhaps that’s just another way of simply saying that Deerhoof find music-making endless, immense fun – something that radiates throughout La Isla Bonita, from the playful cowbell repetitiveness of ‘Paradise Girls’, the stop-start metric shuffling of ‘Tiny Bubbles’ (a song seemingly going at three speeds at once) and the leftfield construction of seemingly straight-faced album closer ‘Oh Bummer’. As ever, wonderful stuff. [Boomkat]

34 | Black Swan – Tone Poetry

Black Swan’s unique take on hauntology has featured in many of my Best of the Year lists, and their latest offering is no exception. Tone Poetry is less caked in detritus, with the result that its surface is not merely strikingly visible, but often brilliantly bright. This surface becomes the focal point for a series of searing lyrical episodes, some (‘Prophecy’) packed with muscular strength, others (‘Rapture’) barely emerging from the dazzling light noise that fills them. Hauntological artefacts remain, though, occasionally coming forward to cast a sepia wistfulness on everything. [Bandcamp]

33 | Paul Dolden – Who Has the Biggest Sound?

Dolden’s particular compositional angle has much to do with layers—lots of them, stacked on top of each other way beyond the point when the structure should come toppling down. But this outrageously reckless approach is one of the key things that makes his music so strong and so appealing, coupled with a mischievous sense of fun, which has arguably never been more obvious than here. As i noted in my review: “the combination of voices and orchestra is used to initiate some almighty pile-ups, along the way peppered with weird carillon/jazz mash-ups with more superimposed saxes than you could shake a stick at, florid episodes running at Nancarrow-like breakneck speed, rock-out reveries a la Buckethead, Zappa-esque synth ensemble passages and a surreal take on country music”. How could anyone resist that? [Starkland | iTunes]

32 | Gazelle Twin – Unflesh

While Unflesh didn’t (because it couldn’t) live up to the hype and expectations that preceded it, what Elizabeth Bernholz has created here came as a genuine surprise. Gone are the roaming, elevated forms of melodic lyricism that characterised The Entire City and last year’s Mammal EP, replaced by an aloof, clinical sense of detachment. Beats and patterns predominate, the lyrical content obsessed with what it means to be human—with the combined result sounding like an alien’s perspective on the subject. Fascinating and unsettling in equal measure. [Amazon | Bandcamp]

31 | Poemss – Poemss

Trying to second-guess what Aaron Funk is going to do next is a mug’s game. All the same, few could have even imagined Poemss, a collaboration with fellow Canadian Joanne Pollock, eschewing Funk’s trademark breathless break beats in favour of laid back tempi, dreamy atmospherics and delicate melodies, executed with the kind of self-effacing, authentically unpolished vocal delivery one rarely hears from established artists. The electronica is as intricate and imaginative as ever, though, accompanying and encasing their voices in a veritable celebration of the joys of analogue synths. [Planet Mu] Read more

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Mix Tape #24 : Noir

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It’s time for a new Mix Tape, and once again it reflects my current predilections and listening habits. Film noir, and particularly its musical analogues, are much on my mind at present, so the new Mix Tape reflects that, drawing on 23 examples of muted monochrome. The similarities between these pieces are often very strong, yet the range of language used is considerable. The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble, Tor Lundvall, David Lynch and This Will Destroy You opt for heavy-laden music pulled by a sluggish pulse, throwbacks to the past from the cusp of an apocalyptic future. Tangentially related, Ulver, Demdike Stare and Asher find regularity in the artefacts that litter the surface of their hauntological materials. Gareth Davis and Frances-Marie Uitti, Aphex Twin, Paul D. Miller (DJ Spooky) and Cosey Fanni Tutti and Philippe Petit all offer a kind of fin de siècle melodic scrutiny, while First Human Ferro, Access to Arasaka, Angelo Badalamenti and Sleepy Town Manufacture and Unit 21 grimly obsess over chord progressions, some fragile, some aching with nostalgia.
Naked City go further by doing less, unable to move much beyond a bleak repeating chord, while Andrew Liles (remixed here by Jonathan Coleclough) is similarly inert, viscous music drifting slowly in a void. Johan Söderqvist, Deaf Center, Ben Lukas Boysen (Hecq) and The Stranger (Leyland Kirby) tease out the tacet malevolence ubiquitous within noir’s unique atmosphere. Jonathan Coleclough retreats into a despair of off-silent impenetrabilia, but the most substantial example of that comes at the centre of the mix. The apparent ‘absences’ in Rebecca Saunders‘ music are as significant and disorienting—if not more than—the sounds themselves, pulling the listener into a sightless struggle against, seemingly, reality itself.

Two hours of silhouettes and shadows; here’s the tracklisting in full: Read more

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Mix Tape #20 : Dancefloor

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Happy Easter!. Having finally emerged from the dark days of Lent, i thought it would be fitting to have a new mix tape, with an upbeat theme. As i’ve mentioned on previous occasions, dance music has always been a parallel love of mine alongside the avant-garde, and this mix tape will, i hope, prove to be an irresistable selection. As always, there’s a mix of old and new, the oldest being around 13 years old, the newest released last month.

Delphic were included in the BBC Sound of 2010, not exactly a good sign to be sure, and while they’ve failed (as yet) to distinguish themselves, this song isn’t at all bad, and this remix makes it perfect. Above and Beyond are, in my view, the champions of contemporary trance music, and they feature on this mix tape four times; “Stealing Time” is one of the standout tracks from their lovely album Tri-State, released 5 years ago. Connected to Above and Beyond via their Anjunadeep label is Michael Cassette; this is his latest single, a delicious throwback to 1980s synths. Ahead of Delphic in that dreaded BBC 2010 list was Marina Diamandis, better known as Marina and the Diamonds; she’s proved herself to be a real talent, and while “I Am Not A Robot” is pop perfection as it stands, this hard-to-find remix is outstanding. If you’ve never heard of Bloodgroup, they’re an up and coming band from Iceland, specialising in a rather unusual brand of electropop (with occasional similarities to The Human League); this track comes from their latest album and is a good introduction to their music. Read more

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Mix Tape #18 : Hallowe’en

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Caught up as i am this Hallowe’en weekend in a flurry of horror movies, it seemed only right to make the new 5:4 Mix Tape suitable for the occasion. For this Hallowe’en mix, i’ve trawled my library for music that’s particularly unsettling—so don’t expect to hear ‘The Monster Mash’ or anything like that.

Not surprisingly, a number of soundtracks are featured, of very different styles and manners. The opening of Johan Söderqvist‘s score for Let the Right One In is a masterpiece of foreboding tension; Joe LoDuca explores rapid-fire percussive sounds in this nervy section of his music for the classic The Evil Dead (and the image on the artwork is a beautiful still taken from the equally beautiful blu-ray transfer of Sam Raimi’s brilliant Evil Dead II). Christopher Young draws on evocative metallic clangs and the ominous tinkles of a music box for his Hellraiser soundtrack, going to the opposite extreme for its sequel, Hellbound, the overture of which aspires to the operatic. Angelo Badalamenti—featured twice—establishes an almost immobile, horribly enclosed mood in his music for season 2 of Twin Peaks and, even more so, Mulholland Drive. The extreme, though, is Lars von Trier and Kristian Eidnes‘ soundtrack to Antichrist, one of the most unconventional ever created, and certainly one of the best. Jerry Goldsmith‘s score for Basic Instinct functions like a vast orchestral suite, often eschewing dramatics for music that slowly builds with masterly restraint; Thomas Bangalter—in a break from being one half of Daft Punk—accompanied one of the most horrific scenes of film violence with this ludicrously effective and queasy bit of sound; and David Lynch‘s own music for his exhibition The Air is on Fire is an impossibly deep and dark ambient cycle, occasionally—as here—introducing elements of hauntology. Read more

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Mix Tape #6 : Piano

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For years, the piano has been to me an object of fascination and awe; its range of capabilities, expressive potential and timbral variety are breathtaking. Also for years, these qualities were the very things preventing me from attempting to compose something for it. Listening to piano music is a supreme joy, and so this new Mix Tape is a concoction of some of the more interesting examples that have been occupying my ears of late. It also represents some of my favourite composers, all of them bringing something unique to the instrument. Read more

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Mix Tape #5 : Beats

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If music was my first love, then my fascination with rhythm was the first part of that attraction; beat-driven music—particularly early hip-hop and electro—dominated my earliest teenage years. My taste in beats has evolved since that time, of course, and the selection represented here (which may well come as little surprise to regular readers) is a selection of relatively recent music. Each of them has something distinctive, something that separates it from the terrible plethora of dance music that predominates the current musical landscape (at least, the popular landscape); each of them, too, is in my opinion one of the very best tracks by that artist. Read more

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