irr. app. (ext.)

Best EPs of 2012

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The list is what brings a world of chaos into some kind of pattern. The list fixes a broken world floating out into the outer world of emptiness. The list links us to ourselves, places us together, puts us in order. The list soothes us in the way it organises memory and shapes the consciousness. Everybody loves a list for making sense of the awesome nature of all the stuff that surrounds us. The list is at the heart of everything. Everything is part of a list. Humanity is one long list linking nothing with something.
(Paul Morley, Words and Music)

Paul Morley telling it how it is, & as the year starts to fade away, it’s time once again for the series of lists detailing the best of the best that’s passed through my eardrums in the last 12 months. We begin, as ever, with the ten most outstanding EPs. Read more

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Best EPs of 2011

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Lists help you believe that there will be a future – by reminding you that the things you are listing have happened, in a time that was once a future, and that therefore there will be a future where things will happen that can then be listed and taken forward to remind us of a past where stuff was generated that made us believe there is a present and so, ultimately, a future. (Paul Morley, Words and Music)

Here we go again, then, with my own series of lists summarising what i believe to be the best music of the last 12 months. As usual, i’m going to strew caveats all over them—these lists are only what i presently believe to be the best and if i made them again in a few months’ time things would likely have changed, and in any case i haven’t heard every release this year, and while we’re on the subject there are still three days of the year left and we all know how much can happen in just three days—but regardless, these lists, in all their provisional tentativity, are, right here right now, definitive. Okay, so bearing all that in mind, let’s get the ball rolling with the ten EPs that have stood out most through the last 12 months.

10 | Hecq and Exillon – Spheres of Fury
It’s hardly worth repeating Ben Lukas Boysen’s 2009 claim that “beat-science can’t go any further with me”—his unique take on the world of grime and dubstep through the last couple of years has been blisteringly exciting. Spheres of Fury lives up to its title, a sleazy track with indelicate beats and bass—the accompanying video, featuring a wonderfully over-dramatised waterfight is hilarious—but it’s the last of the four tracks that’s even better. The “Stochastic Process remix By Techdiff” goes way beyond the scope of regular remixes, turning Hecq’s masterly original into a flawlessly-executed glitch-fest that ends with a twist, the sedate pace abruptly doubled, ending up as a frenzied dance track. [Juno Download]

9 | Fovea Hex – Three Beams
Clodagh Simonds doesn’t mess around when she gives her music to other musicians to play with. Her 2007 release Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent ended up in the hands of no less than The Hafler Trio, and this time around her latest songs have been given to Michael Begg, Colin Potter and William Basinski. With its detail and surface filigree, it must be hard to know where to start reworking Fovea Hex material, but this fine little EP (available only as a bonus CD with her new album) proves what’s possible. Predictably, Basinski’s is the least inventive, but the other two “beams” are outstanding, Begg and Potter refashioning the material into soft, surrounding ambient soundscapes, reverently celebrating those aspects that make the music of Fovea Hex as unique as it is. [Janet Records]

8 | Pablo – In Hurricanes
i know precisely nothing about Pablo, and only discovered this EP by accident when roaming the iTunes store some time back. There’s something of the retro quality that pervades so much synthpop at the moment, but it’s not a throwback; analogue synths are only one colour in Pablo’s palette. Each of the three songs has a lightly cheeky quality that’s most endearing; second track “Rock Bottom” is a delightful encouragement to those facing hard times: “son, you have to fall face first, hit rock bottom, to learn in life”. Pablo’s voice is splendid, and his heartfelt lyrics never feel trite, the music keeping things light and airy. [iTunes]

7 | Yugen – Ae’shT’aT’aQ
David Sani’s Yugen project is hard to define or even to describe. To some he’s better known through the lowercase music he’s released as Shinkei, but i find this new departure of his to be far more impressive. He brings to mind the soundworld of The Hafler Trio in Ae’shT’aT’aQ, an episodic work that explores some utterly captivating and immersive textures. The title is Aramaic for “he stood in silence”, and Sani has used (in his words) “some old middle east archival recordings” as source material, but they have been so extensively worked on and processed that there’s barely any clear trace of them. Yet, while the origins are indistinct, the grain of the music is tangibly evocative, which together with the fascinating techniques used throughout, sets this album apart from the majority of experimental electronics. [Free download]

6 | Ex Confusion – Too Late, They Are Gone
Ambient music can’t always withstand being presented in smaller, shorter formats, but this is where Atsuhito Omori’s music is most at home. and it’s the miniature size of these tracks (reviewed back in March) that makes them as powerful as they are; while lesser minds endlessly play with loops dully repeated ad nauseam, Omori condenses his ideas into pieces barely three or four minutes long. Their short span blurs the nature of their content (is it a looping fragment? or is it a part of something much larger?) thus freeing one to focus entirely on the resulting music, which—in part, again, due to the duration—is imbued with real fragility, enhanced by such titles as “Too Late, They Are Gone” and “It Doesn’t Last Forever” (one of my favourite tracks of the year). The five amuse-bouches on this EP are like the last streaks of colour in fading photographs—beautiful and very moving—and i love how Omori leaves the start and end of each track rough and unfinished, which only adds to its authenticity. [Bandcamp]

5 | Uh Huh Her – Black and Blue
Uh Huh Her have been around since 2007, but don’t seem to have found their sound until this year. Their particular marriage of synthpop and rock is finally given perfect expression on this EP, almost every track of which is a winner. Leisha Hailey and Camila Grey bring a delicate lyricism to their music that’s very impressive, and songs like “Never the Same” (with its simply gorgeous chorus) and “I’ve Had Enough” somehow navigate through the tropes of ballad and light rock, emerging with real emotional power. The more electronic tracks are certainly infectious, but despite their pace are kept relatively low-key (Hailey and Grey often singing low in their registers) and always at the service of the words; definitely some of the best songs released this year. [UhHuhHer.com]

4 | Clem Leek – Home Outside
i must admit to having mixed feelings about Clem Leek’s music, which has had as many (if not more) misses than hits. But when he gets it right, as he does on this 17-minute, single-track EP, the results are breathtaking. There’s a lovely balance between the deep, omnipresent richness of the underlying drone and the mournful, string-inflected wailing above (redolent of Richard Skelton). There are all kinds of sound sources involved in the piece’s dense texture, but their details are kept hazy and they thereby become more able to hint and evoke, without the need to be specific. Leek judges the duration perfectly, and insodoing has crafted his best work to date. [Bandcamp]

3 | Tetra – Live at Gallery of Modern Art
Tetra is an offshoot from the Australian group Ektoise (comprising Greg Reason and Jim Grundy), focusing primarily on ambient atmospherics. This 27-minute live improvisation is the second of just two releases the duo has created so far, both of which are available free. Guitars are at the epicentre of the piece, but they’re suffused and surrounded with shifting layers and clouds of sound, creating a huge sonic space. Apart from the oblique beauty of the music, what stands out most for me in this recording is the restraint, Reason and Grundy keeping things moving but never pushing them along, drifting but always with a discreet guiding sense of purpose. [Bandcamp]

2 | irr. app. (ext.) – The Famine Road/Celestial Laminate
After a number of years seemingly in the wilderness, Matt Waldron’s irr. app. (ext.) project has gloriously returned in 2011. The focus this year has been digital, Waldron releasing a slew of new and remastered material via his Bandcamp site. i’ve been unable to choose between these two; The Famine Road, a collaboration with Diana Rogerson and her noise duo Fistfuck, originally appeared in 2008 in an edition of just one copy (auctioned on eBay). Waldron has now made it available to everyone, together with two revised versions; all three are devastating in their abrasive impact, pushing Waldron’s extreme and surreal experimentalism to its limits. Celestial Laminate is no less dense, but begins with a superb drone-based piece, around which large quantities of sound have accreted. [Bandcamp]

1 | Christopher McFall and David Velez – Credence
When it comes to working with field recordings, few demonstrate more innate understanding and technical control than Christopher McFall. In this remarkable collaboration with David Velez, McFall’s tendency to focus on the dark, amorphous nature of sound is coloured by overtly melodic material, seamlessly integrated into the sonic fabric. “Seamless” doesn’t really do it justice, though; Credence is, no doubt, a collage of elements, but the skill with which they are brought together, juxtaposed and intertwined is truly astonishing. Nothing ever feels remotely out of place; on the contrary, the way in which the piece comes across—as is usual for anything McFall is involved with—is like an unadorned field recording in its own right, such is the naturality of the result.

i dare say Credence won’t be for everyone; it’s gentle, yes—but equally it’s perhaps the most pitch black music i’ve ever heard. Like a cross between Twin Peaks and Lustmord, vast, yawning noises ponderously arise from unfathomable depths, emerging into an ominous nocturnal landscape. Evoking foghorns and organ pedals, deep melodic fragments circle like a funereal ground bass, at times made arboreal through the noises of birds and other creatures, othertimes aquatic with creaking boat wood. Although it projects an acute, vivid sense of isolation and even desolation, there’s much, much beauty to it all, which only makes it more moving. As only the best music can, Credence ultimately transcends words and communicates the immensity of its vision at an instinctual level. An absolute masterpiece. [Free download]

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Mixtape #17 : Lay the Voice to Rest, Dear Mist (In Memoriam Danielle Baquet-Long)

Posted on by 5:4 in Anniversaries, Mixtapes | 2 Comments

How quickly a year passes. On this day, 12 months ago, Danielle Baquet-Long died, bringing to an abrupt end the remarkable musical project that she and husband Will had crafted together for several years. Of course, music, like life, goes on regardless, and the prospect of plenty more releases yet to come from both Celer and Chubby Wolf (Dani’s solo project) continues to be an exciting one.

To mark today’s sad anniversary, the new 5:4 mixtape is in Dani’s memory, bringing together a diverse selection of music that broadly falls into the ‘ambient drone’ category. Drone has entranced me since i was pretty young; in the right hands, it has a quality that always seems familiar, yet somehow achingly inscrutable and difficult to define; close and intimate, yet also impossibly distant. But this kind of music (and certainly on an occasion such as this) is perhaps best not written about in too much detail; suffice it to say the examples here range from vast, dazzling textures that seemingly envelop everything in sight to gentle half-heard whispers. Of course, Dani’s own music is included, the final (very brief) example of which gives the mixtape its name.

In total, two and a half hours of music to commemorate the life of one of ambient’s more insightful and imaginative figures. The complete playlist is as follows: Read more

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Mixtape #14 : Best Albums of 2009

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A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL!.

Today marks the 2nd birthday of 5:4, so a big thank you to all of you who are regular readers for your time and interest in this blog. Following yesterday’s run-down of my favourite 40 albums from 2009, here’s the accompanying mixtape, featuring a track from each album. It’s probably the most diverse mixtape yet on 5:4, and lasts a little under four hours. 2010’s going to have to try pretty hard to surpass this remarkable music—enjoy!

Here’s the tracklisting in full: Read more

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Best Albums of 2009

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

Embarking on another list such as this, i’m reminded again of what i think of as “Paul Morley’s Dictum”; in his superb book Words and Music he writes of the provisional nature of all “best” lists, describing how they could (and perhaps should) change, perhaps quite radically, from day to day. i think he’s absolutely right, and there are many albums released in 2009 that i haven’t heard, so feel free to treat the following as the gospel truth with a pinch of salt. Put it this way, it’s true now, at the end of the year, and that’s perhaps as good as anything else. There really has been a dazzling display of imagination and innovation this year, of which these forty are, in my view, the best. 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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Mixtape #8 : Versions

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After far too long a hiatus, here’s a new mixtape, this time exploring some of my favourite cover versions. To be clear, none of these tracks are what i’d call ‘remixes’, which i think of as a separate, quite different discipline; these are good ol’-fashioned covers of some great original songs.

t.A.T.u.’s version of The Smiths‘ “How Soon Is Now?” stands out on their first album, 200Km/h in the Wrong Lane, partly because it’s the only cover version, but more because of how utterly good it is. While i always was a fan of The Smiths, i’d actually far prefer to listen to t.A.T.u.’s rendition of it, their vocals somewhat less restrained than Morrissey’s. “Here’s Where The Story Ends” has been covered by many artists, and i’ve included the most recent, by Tin Tin Out featuring Shelley Nelson. Their version of the song is rather passionless, but this remix of it (the “Canny Remix”) saves the day, a dance version that shows off Nelson’s superb voice admirably. An old classic, “Blue Moon”, is given a fantastic big band treatment by Cybill Shepherd, taken from the soundtrack to the 80s TV series, Moonlighting. Shepherd’s voice is simply astounding, in what is my favourite version of this timeless song. Tori Amos makes several appearances in this mix, simply because she takes a more imaginative approach to her covers than any artist i’ve come across, always presenting the song in a new light, teasing out new connotations from the original. First up is her utterly deconstructed version of 10cc‘s epic ballad, “I’m Not In Love”, taken from her album of covers, Strange Little Girls. All sentimentality has been stripped, the music standing bare and heavy, with a palpable sense of menace; it’s beautiful and gently horrifying all at the same time. Read more

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