Duologue

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* Please note this list has how been superseded by the one on the Best Albums of the Years page *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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Best EPs of 2014

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It’s that time once again, so as the year starts to sputters to its close, here’s my annual round-up of the best encounters i’ve had with 2014’s crop of new releases, beginning with the top 10 EPs.

10 | Deaf Center – Recount

Feel the solemnity; Norwegian duo Erik Skodvin and Otto Totland’s latest missive comes drenched in autumnal melancholy, an aimless piano picking its way through the penumbral space that is ‘Follow Still’ while the ground shifts beneath. Ominous sounds lurk at the periphery, dispelled in second track ‘Oblivion’, a beautiful essay in the darker forms of ecstasy. [Boomkat]

9 | Monolake – X I E

Having toyed with both ambient- and beat-based materials in the last few years, Robert Henke’s new release (his first in two years) brings them together. Bookend tracks ‘Xor’ and ‘Ethernet’ are pretty delicious slivers of hectic electronica, held together by a cluster of clanging rhythmic loops, but it’s central track ‘Inwards’ that, despite being the shortest on the EP, goes deeper, a timely reminder of just how fresh ambient music can sound in Henke’s hands. [Hard Wax | Boomkat]

8 | Dwntwn – Dwntwn

Whereas dance-oriented music has been the focus on their previous EPs (The Red Room and Cowboys, both released in 2012), Dwntwn have placed much greater emphasis on song on the five tracks of this self-titled EP. ‘Til Tomorrow’ tops off its exquisite melodic writing with a gradual shift from delicacy to full-on impassioned outburst, while ‘Heroine’ folds the mildest of country touches into a heart-felt ballad packing considerable pain beneath its grace. [iTunes]

7 | Squarepusher – Music For Robots

“In this project the main question I’ve tried to answer is ‘can these robots play music that is emotionally engaging?’” The fact that much of this EP sounds essentially identical to Tom Jenkinson’s recent work, plus the ‘uncanny valley’ effect that such razor-sharp accuracy engenders (redolent of Zappa’s synclavier work) perhaps renders his question moot. Yet working with a trio of Japanese robot musicians has clearly unleashed a distinctive burst of imagination; ‘Dissolver’—a fiery quasi-extemporised workout—is arguably the finest demonstration of this unique collaboration, but ‘World Three’, involving the unlikely presence of a pipe organ, brings an oft-absent pensivity to Squarepusher’s output. [Bleep]

6 | Monty Adkins – Residual Forms

Monty Adkins’ work continues to plough increasingly deep furrows into material at the meeting point of ambient and experimental electronics. The results are uniformly beautiful, and this short piece is no exception, slow shifting chords and clouds matched by episodes of more blistered music, positioned with Adkins’ typically unerring skill so as to draw out a potent sense of inner drama. [Crónica – free download]

5 | Darren McClure – The World Is Made Of Words

Born in Northern Ireland, today based in Japan, Darren McClure’s latest release is a gorgeous and impressively focussed slab of electronics. The work’s drones seem immovable yet malleable, McClure often pushing and shaping them in such a way so as to obscure both their pitch and timbral qualities; a delicate garnishing of almost-identifiable noises on the surface keeps the music and one’s listening experience sharp. [Yugen – free download] Read more

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New releases: Duologue, OY, V/Vm

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Among the swathe of new releases currently jostling around the 5:4 jukebox, i want to start by flagging up two interesting recent releases, both serendipitous discoveries from the panning-for-gold approach to listening that is my modus operandi these days. First is Duologue, a five-piece from London whose latest EP, Memex, has initiated a host of earworms that are continuing to burrow around my subconscious at the moment. It’s an obvious place to begin, but their sound has more than a little to do with Radiohead, and not simply due to singer Tim Digby-Bell’s ululating vocals that often sound strikingly like a less defocussed Thom Yorke. Their songs share Radiohead’s interest in playing with the multiplicity of conventions associated with rock and pop. Thus, the EP’s title track melds dream pop and autotune to strange effect, crumbling into a hard-edged coda, while ‘Operator’ bumbles along at a fair old lick, with some nicely-judged harmonic shifts in a pair of softer episodes that break up the momentum—yet overall carrying a sense of ecstatic stasis, made manifest in the song’s energetic dancefloor-infused conclusion. But third track ‘Traps’ stands out way beyond either of these, evoking music from an earlier time while conjuring up a sense of balmy humidity; this is checked by the song’s regular structural shifts where major and minor tonality are superimposed (such a simple use of dissonance but still more-or-less unheard of in music of this kind) to delicious effect. Having also spent time with the group’s first album, Song and Dance (which i also warmly recommend), ‘Traps’ is definitely their strongest song to date, mature and subtle. The EP is available in physical formats (CD/vinyl) direct from the band and in digital from all the usual places, plus you can stream it below. Read more

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