Portishead

Mix Tape #10 : Melancholia

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Lent—’tis the season to be dolorous, and so the tenth 5:4 mix tape has melancholia as its theme. Both songs and instrumental music are included, taken from a diverse selection of artists and composers.

It begins with the opening of one of the best of William Basinski‘s Disintegration Loops, “d|p 3”. While as a whole these albums constitute a thoroughly over-egged pudding, this track conjures up a rather wistful sort of atmosphere, like a sad sunset. The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble create fabulous nocturnal music, stylishly flecked with jazz mannerisms. All of Burial‘s work is shaded by melancholy; “Night Bus” is one of his shortest tracks, bereft of beats, its melody etching out the contours of a furrowed brow. Biosphere seems to capture remoteness in his work better than most, and “Poa Alpina” (from the remarkable Substrata album) is infused with this, underpinned by a deep bass that makes the music sound, literally, heavy. Fellow Norwegian Deathprod ploughs even darker troughs, and “Dead People’s Things” is like music from the end of time, postdiluvian, exhausted, its haunting melody falteringly singing surrounded by ruins. Perennial favourite of mine, Andrew Liles, has produced nothing so strikingly unusual as his “Concerto for Piano and Reverberation”; i included part of the opening in my Piano mix tape, but felt compelled to include it here as it creates such a black, velvety atmosphere, laden with gravitas. Franz Liszt‘s large-scale sacred work Via Crucis is modelled on the Stations of the Cross; two excerpts from the twelfth are featured here. It explores the moment of Christ’s death, beginning with his desperate cry, “Eli, Eli, lama sabacthani” and concluding with a gorgeous setting of the chorale, “O Traurigkeit, O Herzeleid” (which inspired my own setting). Thomas Adès‘ early string quartet, Arcadiana, has “O Albion” as its penultimate movement, and is a poignant comment on a lost world; Adès once described this movement to me as having two “chest pains”, the moments where the harmony shifts so painfully. Read more

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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

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* 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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Leave your high hopes at the door: Portishead – Third

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Engaging with music (or any of the arts) is one of the greatest, most edifying experiences life has to offer. Arguably the most insuperable barrier to this engagement is expectation. It’s a mistake that arises all too easily; our past experiences (pleasurable or otherwise) construct the likelihood of a similar future, resulting in a travesty of closed-minded thinking, masquerading as openness. But any encounter, afflicted with the weight of expectation, is distorted before it has even begun. Portishead‘s new album, Third (released on 28 April), causes this temptation to rear its head in a particularly powerful way. Their eponymous last release, in 1997, ranks as one of the most brilliant and original albums by any artist of the 20th century; that, followed by a 10-year wait for new material, makes the likelihood of expectations very high. But we must leave any and all such high hopes at the door; back in the 90s Portishead got our attention by surprising us, made their mark through a focussed, confident and innovative single-mindedness of expression. The most we can allow is to anticipate something of quality; anything more is an affront to their artistry—indeed it is the ultimate insult, demanding from them what we want to hear. Third—like any other release by any other artist (indeed, any encounter of any kind)—must be approached on its own terms, and be allowed to express itself in whatever way it needs to; our expectations can only stifle and obfuscate (or, worse, judge) what we are hearing. Read more

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