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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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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 #25 : Best Albums of 2012

Posted on by 5:4 in Best of the Year, Mix Tapes | 7 Comments

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL!

Today marks 5:4‘s fifth anniversary, & so i’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who regularly read, share & respond to the articles & music explored here. Since 2008, the blog has grown from being an occasional hobby (reading the earliest articles, that fact is rather painfully obvious) to something that now receives significantly more time & attention. i very much hope that 5:4 can grow & become even more interesting & useful in the next five years; all comments, criticisms, suggestions & other feedback is always very warmly encouraged.

But to return to the present, & to continue our annual tradition, here is a new mix tape featuring one track from each of the forty entries on my Best Albums of the Year list. The mix includes more extreme dynamic variety than in previous years, so while i’ve done a little to mitigate that, be warned that at times the music veers between extremely soft & very loud indeed. As ever, if you like what you hear in the mix, please support the artists & buy the music; links are included on the last two days’ posts.

i’ve remarked in the past on the provisional nature of all ‘Best of’ lists, & so to keep things current, i’ve updated the summaries of the Best Albums/EPs of the Years, to reflect further listening than had been possible at the time; the revised lists can be found under The Lists on the main menu.

The mix tape lasts a little under 3½ hours; here’s the tracklisting in full: Read more

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Best Albums of 2012 (Part 1)

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This is a list surrounded by other lists leading to other lists, lists … that explain everything by being gateways into worlds of sound, feeling and information…
…the love of making lists is an attempt to remind us of what it is that has happened, and what is happening, all at once, as time and humanity collapses into itself. …
The list is a collage of hopes and wishes, of knowledge and exhibitionism.
(Paul Morley, Words and Music)

So we move on to the list of lists, the forty albums that have made the greatest impact over the last twelve months. Here are the first twenty to have made the cut.

Read more

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Mix Tape #23 (Modern Troubadours)

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Creatively, my thoughts have been heavily focussed on song in the last couple of months, so i’ve made that the focus of the new 5:4 Mix Tape. Songs as we think of them today more or less conform to a generic, prefabricated mould that’s often at odds with their lyric content. Not all artists are prepared to compromise so readily, though, & the sixteen songs on this Mix Tape represent a rather more rare breed of song. i think of these artists as modern troubadours, for whom the the content of their song is such that it demands a break from convention, & the opportunity for a more experimental type of expression.

These songs, which range in duration between 7 & 17 minutes, encompass a wide variety of approaches to the art of song. Some, such as those by Deerhoof & maudlin of the Well, take experimental & progressive rock as their starting point, while Frankie Goes To Hollywood & Transvision Vamp opt for episodic epics, betraying the legacy of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Janelle Monáe‘s approach is to create what amounts to a 9-minute musical, while Kevin Barnes’ of Montreal beg, borrow & steal from a plethora of pop, dance & rock idioms to convey his typically bizarre narrative. By contrast, Dead Can Dance tell their tale via a hypnotic, circling music that pushes the words firmly into the foreground; despite the complexity of their electronic backdrop, Ulver achieve the same result by speaking their lyrics. Julia Holter makes her words count, summarising them in the first three minutes & allowing them to radiate for another ten; Fovea Hex do something similar in their rethinking of folk music. Others have more to say & take longer to do it; Jenny Hval puts herself on a kind of musical knife-edge, fragile before a pale, sparse backdrop, while David Sylvian surrounds himself with a network of improvised lines & motes that would be impenetrable if they weren’t so scattered. Tori Amos turns to her trusty Bösendorfer in what is still her longest song to date, whereas Joanna Newsom (in her longest song) has her complex harp epicentre heavily enriched by lush orchestrations provided by Van Dyke Parks. Beginning & ending the mix are songs by perhaps the great troubadour of our age, Scott Walker, a pair of songs from his last two albums that explore a depth of lyrical expression that’s pretty much unique in the history of song. Read more

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