Albums Of The Year 2005

This list has taken me bloody hours. I had to narrow down from 60-70 albums to this final top forty. None of the following are losers, in that respect. Whether they’re 40 or number 1, they’re this year’s essential albums. Unlike every other big list you’ll see, this is completely un-influenced by labels or advertising revenue. And I haven’t shagged anyone on here. Yet.

It’s all about the music.

(UPDATE: Since sticking this up, I’ve had a couple of emails asking why my list doesn’t include The Arcade Fire, like all the big music critic lists. It’s simple, their album was in my 2004 list. Yep, the mainstream music media is as on the ball as usual…)

Frog Pocket
40 Frog Pocket – Gonglot
Frog Pocket is John Charles Wilson from Ayr (Ayrshire, Scotland). Gonglot, on Mu, is a shivering, zithery, minimal electronic record. Wonderful folky melodies wander through a big sproingy, empty swimming pool.

Teriyaki Boyz
39 Teriyaki Boyz – Beef Or Chicken
The Teriyaki Boyz bring us good old party rap. No attempt at “authenticity” or pretending to be American, just good tunes knocked out by an assemblage of superstar producers. I wish I knew enough Japanese to know what the hell they’re rapping about.

Boy Least Likely Too
38 The Boy Least Likely To – The Best Party Ever
As twee as fuck. Wonderful songs about fur and kissing and warm panda cola. The Boy Least Likely Too. Brilliant!

Headphones
37 Headphones – Headphones
Pedro The Lion’s Dave Bazan goes a bit Dave Gahan (geddit?) with this gloomy, bassy synthpop album. Look no guitars! Whee! Like a very sad Postal Service with less fast stuff and more stuff about disliking George Bush a lot. Face it, Bazan’s one of the great songwriters of this generation. Try finding the bandsite on Google and not seeing ear-speakers. Headphones.

Riddle Of Steel
36 Riddle Of Steel – Got This Feelin’
Riddle Of Steel rocks the fuck! That’s right, they ROCKS THE FUCK! Nuff said. You FUCKS!

Self Scientific
35 Self Scientific – Change
DJ Khalil and Chace Infinite, Self Scientific, also rocks the fuck, but in a more hip hop, head-nodding fashion. A solid, solid, solid album! Who do they make music for? Well…

“Haha. Coffee shop chicks and white dudes, heavy asian, and hispanic. Hip-hop is a dichotomy of a bunch of different people. Hahaha. But who do we make it for? We make it for us! We’re selfish”

That’s me, the heavy Asian! Yeah! You FUCKS!

The Soviettes
34 The Soviettes – LP III
The Soviettes have made a great pop album in III. It’s a pity most folks will be too blinkered to check out it’s prime harmonies and short, sharp, shocks of songs. Part insane early Bis, part B52s, all good. Punk, pop and proud!

Isolee
33 Isoleee – Wearemonster
Pigeonholed as an “electronic” album but seeing as nobody records on wool any more, what does that mean? In Isolee‘s case, it means an album that’s like running through a huge cornfield, getting whipped in the face by throbbing corn cobs. Still too vague? Okay, it’s blippy, echoy, supremely melodious and ‘Schrapnell’ alone justifies purchase. Supreme electropop.

Andrew Bird
32 Andrew Bird – And The Mysterious Production Of Eggs
Review here, popkids.

Love Is All
31 Love is all – 9 Times That Same Song
Love Is All – crazy guys, empty website! Try here instead. Poppy, boppy, shouty songs about… guess what?

Seven Ark
30 Seven Ark – Noise Of The New
Seven Ark‘s album is sparkly, sometimes shimmery sometimes gloompy. Electroharmonies.

Wintersleep
29 Wintersleep – 2005
The album is called nowt but 2005 but Wintersleep need no steenkin’ titles when they rock so amazingly melodically. Twiddly, stop-starty but very poppy and accessible rather than dull experimentalism. Definitely file under “pop.”

Decemberists
28 Decemberists – Picaresque
Everytime I listen to ‘Engine Driver,’ I have to do big, girly harmonies. A gorgeous album. The Decemberists.

Bus Feat. MC Soom T
27 Bus Feat MC Soom T – Feelin Dank
Mini-review here, mofos.’

Sibiria
26 Sibiria – Norrlands Inland
I bought this album directly from Martin Sibiria, lovely chap that he is. Yes, it’s more fantastic, airy guitar indiepop from Sweden. Sing along in Swedish with the rocking Sibiria.

Tunng
25 Tunng – This Is Tunng
When I first heard ‘Fair Doreen’ by Tunng, I thought, ‘Oooh, lovely electrofolk! Hope the album’s good!’ It is. Good to see another musician who’s managed to survive growing up in Derby…

Lone Catalysts
24 Lone Catalysts – Good Music
Oh dear, their website seems to have been cybersquatted. Have a look here. Pure, uncompromising hip hop. As James Blunt is to Lenny Cohen, mainstream hip hop is to Lone Catalysts. Proper lyrics.

Clor
23 Clor – Clor
I’m amazed this album didn’t break through more into the mainstream. Clor have got the songs, clearly (clorly?). Is it because they weren’t fashiony enough? You should see me dancing round to this. On the other hand…

Architecture In Helsinki
22 Architecture In Helsinki – In Case We Die
They made one of my favourite albums of last year and now the buggers have done it again! And they’re all lovely people as well as being multi-instrumental geniuses. The bastards! Pics here. Oooh, nearly forgot – this album sounds like kids taken off Ritalin shut in a school music room on a summer afternoon. Yes, that good.

José González
21 José González – Veneer
Why is Gothenburg now dominating the international music scene? What’s going on in Sweden? Eh? In these days of paper-thin corporate acoustic singer-songwriters, José González‘ album is thick with slow imagery, tiny dynamine beauty and brooding revelations. If he isn’t mega-famous sometime next year, there’s something woefully wrong going on.

Grayskul
20 Grayskul – Deadlivers
Grayskul deliver on ‘Deadlivers.’ What? Oh yeah. A slap round your head, thunking beats in your ear and some beeeeoootiful rhymes.

Sufjan Stevens
19 Sufjan Stevens – Illinoise
Perhaps the peak of 2005 kitchen-sink production, you want it, Sufjan‘s bunged it on here. All used to frame his tender, funny, sad, startling songs about… well, everything. If you don’t like ‘Chicago,’ you must have piss in your veins. Do you remember when most indie music used to be this good? Yeah, me neither.

The Brakes
18 Brakes – Give Blood
Review here, my sweet-cheeked foraminifera.

Esborn Svensson Trio
17 Esborn Svensson Trio – Viaticum
The best new jazz album I bought this year but, to be fair, the only new jazz album I bought this year. Whatever, the Esborn Svensson Trio‘s classically-slanted piano womblings keep tumbling through my head. Essential, I’d say.

Modeselektor
16 Modeselektor – Hello Mom!
Are Modeselektor fucking-up electronics and then recording and releasing the result? Yep. Do they need their nipples tweaking for making such addictive choons? Yep. Are they naked? No, but I am.

Sage Francis
15 Sage Francis – A Healthy Distrust
There is an elitist theory that only a select few like good music. Bollocks. If that was true, why do I get people asking me about Sage Francis every time I play his tunes when I’m DJing? This is both hardcore, hyper-political and, like Public Enemy, supremely poppy and accessible. Who else could write lyrics like ‘Gunz Yo?’ The wordplay is incredible, the metareferences and allusions are true poetry.

Why
14 Why? – Elephant Eyelash
The best album Pavement never made. And Why? not?

The Chalets
13 The Chalets – Check In
Oh Pee Pee, oh Pony, why must you be so ravishing and be in one of the best pop bands going? You make me hurt in a wrong place with your hyperpopsongs about loser boys and smart girls. I’m crying now… damn your lovely eyes.

Jennifer Gentle
12 Jennifer Gentle – Valende
Slightly rambling review here, hyrax buffers.

Touane
11 Touane – Awake
I already jizzed on about this seedee here. Oh, just trust me and buy it, eh?

Phew! Into the Top 10 at last! And it’s only 5.49am…

Black Lipstick
10 Black Lipstick – Sincerely
I’ve listened to this album so much in the car, driving around at 3 and 4am. It fits sweetly then, the VU-ish chugging meshes with the empty roads and sodium-tinged panoramas like the perfect soundtrack. Black Lipstick make it sound effortless, as all great bands do, but there’s a patina of work here, the ease that comes of knowing who you are and what you want to say. The crime is that guitar indie bands without even one hundredth of BL’s talent are playing on MTV now. That should be BL. They’re that poppy, they’re that worthy of making a space for in your life. Oh, and I’ve rambled about them here too.

Venetian Snares
9 Venetian Snares – Rossz Csillag Alatt Született
A revelation. A refutation. A revolution. A redefinition. An album that could not have been made five years ago, let alone longer. Other artists dig up the 80s / 70s / 60s / when-the-fuck-ever, Venetian Snares goes mental and then releases, to you, his rotting hypothalamus. Supremely sad and psychotically fractured, it’s never easy but everything can’t be Norah Melua, can it? I’ve wanked on about it here too.

Adam Green
8 Adam Green – Gemstones
“Hello! It’s me? Remember me? It’s Fun. Yeah, F-U-N. I used to be in your record collection before MTV started putting all those emo bands on primetime. You got rid of me when you sold your Now comps and pretended you were cool like all your metalcore friends. Now you just listen to blokes with major label record contracts shouting about how bad their lives are over riffs filched from Poison b-sides.”

“Oh, I’m fine, I’m fine. Yeah, I’m with Adam Green now. No, he isn’t “crazy” or “wacky” he’s… well, he’s like me, I guess. He likes smiling and laughing, catchy choruses and pop songs about chubby princesses. And crackhouses. Yeah, I know people don’t take him seriously but I don’t care. He’s actually a much better writer than all that bellowing, teenage nonsense you like! I think we’re going to get married. Yeah, really. He’s serious about Fun. Oh, by the way, Honesty and Poetry say hi. They miss you…”

Reef The Lost Cauze
7 Reef The Lost Cauze – Feast Or Famine
Jean Claude van DAAAMN but this has been a top year for hip hop. I’ve had to leave shitloads of hip hop albums out due to lack of space but no way was Reef‘s opus going to be one of them. He soars, baby. He’s a madass rhyming eagle. He’s a crazy Fokker. His rhymes make me laugh out loud when I’m DJing and then people think I’m barmy. C’mon… ‘Give It Up’ has got some of the funniest, sharpest lyrics ever. That’s not to say this a comedy or party rap album, Reef just covers a lot of ground. If you’ve ever even nodded to hip hop in passing, you need to own this album.

Cyne
6 Cyne – Evolution Fight
Blip hop? Glitch hop? Be-hop? Boho tech-hop? Naah, just a scintillating, groundbreaking hip hop album that combines unusual aural finessing with lyrics you rewind to hear, they’re that “whaaaaht?” Oh, I know you’ll rip them off. Yes, you. One to play to ignorant indie kids who think all hip hop begins and ends with the Beastie Boys. I was going to do a joke with ‘Cyne on’ somewhere in it but I can’t be arsed now. There, are you happy now?

Refree
5 Refree – La Matrona
This album is so far above its peers, they’ll soon be seeing its head again. Consummate modern indie pop, Refree gambol through the world of songwriting, slinging bits of Randy Newman’s whimsy in their basket, next to Nilsson’s slippers and Ben Fold’s younger souffles. Everything is creamy in Raül Fernández’ music. Okay, he sings in Spanish so, for all I know, he might be singing about sewing mackerel to the legs of passing mystery shoppers. But I don’t think he is. Anyway, I don’t care. There’s not a duff track on here. I make up my own lyrics when I sing along. They’re about chucking bream at Shakers.

Danger Doom
4 Danger Doom – The Mouse And The Mask
Danger Doom is Danger Mouse and MF Doom. But that’s like saying 2Na[Au(CN)2] + Zn —-> 2NaCN + Zn(CN)2 + Au (s). What we have here is refined hip hop gold. How can anyone not like ‘El Chupa Nibre?’ Hell, even if you’re unfortunate enough not to love Futurama, surely, certainly, MF’s flow will flip your wig? And if you are an Adult Swim geek like me, you will jizz yourself when you hear Meatwad tearing shit up. This album works on so many different levels, it’s funny and serious, dancey and contemplative, great for solo iPoddy listening, even better DJed. His voice, the beats, the intros/skits that are actually funny. I see some kids nowadays walking around affecting a poe-faced, hilariously inaccurate ’80s look. They really, really need this CD rammed up their arses.

Jeans Team
3 Jeans Team – Musik Von Oben
First, have a butchers’ at my previous worship.

Back now? Okay, ready, let’s do it!

This album has changed me. It’s changing my life even as I’m typing this. Its rigorous timing is out of time, it’s dancing out of step. On the surface, it could be dismissed by a passing dimwit as ‘just another electronic record.’ That would be the same as remarking that Roger Penrose ‘seemed like a clever bloke.’

This album has the attention to detail of a miniature painting but the scope of a fifty-foot mural. I’ve listened to ‘Oh Bauer’ at least 80 or so times, hitting that back button on my car stereo continuously. Every time, like a Truffaut film, like a Vonnegut book, like a Minter game, I notice some new detail, some Satie-esque flourish that I missed before. These glamours interlock, they mesh and produce music that is intricate without being laboured, machined but never industrialised like, say, Girls Aloud. With their chordally simple but melodically complex songs, Jeans Team have made a record that I feel I’ve known forever, it’s become so a part of me.

The Perceptionists
2 Perceptionists – Black Dialogue
These lyrics bear repetition:

I’ve got a question..
I’ve got a question..

Where are the weapons of mass destruction?
We been lookin’ for months and we ain’t found nothin’
Please Mr. President, tell us something
We knew from the beginning that your ass was bluffing!

[Akrobatik]
I never thought of this the day that I enlisted
That I’d be dodging bullets, seekin weapons that never even existed
For someone else’s personal beef, I risk myself
While the Commander-in-Chief, would never come to fight himself
I feel I’m bein’ tricked even worse that the civilians
Nobody ever told me that we would be killin’ children!!
Feelin like the ones that sent me here are the psychotics
but if I say that out loud — I’m “unpatriotic”
but would Donald Rumsfeld back me up with the chrome?
Would Tom Ridge fight or would he stay secure back home?
and would Condoleeza Rice cover grenades in a fox hole?
I’m startin to believe what I was told is not so
What’s the reason for the war?
I’m shootin at these people that I got not animosity for
I wonder if I’m just a pawn in someone else’s struggle
or a here even though I’m just a small piece of the puzzle
I know that when I finally return where I reside
I’ll make up for the months my wife and moms cried
and carry on for all my fallen brothers that died
but you can’t take my pride — cuz I’m a fuckin’ SOLDIER

Show me one indie band that can match that with their oh-so-subversive political posturing and vague, meandering, cowardly imagery? Show me one so-called punk band who can match the precision and poignancy of The Perceptionists?

The above is why rock music is fucked and useless. It’s now simply a club for people to boast about their pedalboards and take their mandatory illegal drugs, like the good little Mummy’s boys they are. To be rock is get a tattoo on your forehead saying “DON’T WORRY – I GIVE IN, I CONFORM, I WILL BE NO TROUBLE TO THE RULING CLASS WHATSOEVER. I’LL BE TOO FUCKED TO CARE. WHAT WAR?”

The Perceptionists dazzle me on this album. They skip through the shit of living in the now. They’re not buttfucking the 1960s, pretending to be the fucking MC5, they’re bringing us what they know about now. They piss on 100% of rock music and at least 50% of other hip hop. Here’s some lines from ‘Black Dialogue’:

Yeah, it was written in the books of Europeans we were savage
That our history was insignificant and minds below average
But how can one diminish the work
Of the most imitated culture on this earth
Fast foward to 2000 and now
You see it everywhere you look, speech, music, fasion and style
It’s black dialogue
Go ahead kid, try it on
It’s much harder to master than precision with firearms
Corny niggaz switch it up and rent it to Viacom

Fucking and kniving just to keep our bank accounts thriving
See I walked the path my elder laid out
Cause acting like a monkey for white folks is played out
I get my own money, on my own turn
Got heat for everybody, watch the microphone burn

This is modern folk music. This is the direct descendent of Leadbelly, Guthrie and Seeger, not all the drooling, mewling “folk” songwriters that are metastasizing across our TVs. Why don’t more people sing about real life, who they are, where they’re from, like The Perceptionists do? Why do so many artists censor themselves, for fear of harming their career? Why do most love songs by male schmindie songwriters revolve around their poor ickle broken hearts instead of telling the truth about what absolute cunts they were to every girl they ever touched?

Art may never be truthful, who the fuck knows what is or isn’t true. But it can be honest. The Perceptionists’ album is one of the most honest albums I’ve ever heard. It’s not easy, it’s not glib, parts of it will make you feel not-good. That’s the point of music. That’s the point of art.

Or at least, it used to be.

I could quote you prime lines from every damn track on this album. But I’ll leave you with a few I’d be proud to have as my epitaph:

And the rhythm of the drums shines its own sun
My father said son, “you think a brighter day ever gon’ come?”
I said, “Pop, rock a beat box!”
And I’m a empty out my mind
Cause I’m around till I drop

Suburban Kids With Biblical Names
1 Suburban Kids With Biblical Names – 3
Just when I thought I’d have to burn my guitars in protest at the whole of indie rock, something stops me. And that something is…

SWEDEN!

Yep. Sweden is the last, best hope for humanity indiepop. When I gigged there recently, I was stupefied by their indie culture. First, it was actually independent. Imagine that – independent indie! We seem to have lost that in Britain. Apart from a few outsiders, our indie music is churned out by careerist fucks who’d eat a dead horse’s arsehole to have a hit record. Art? Eh? But in Sweden, I played with and met musicians all doing catchy, simple indiepop music and singing about their own lives.

SKWBN are a prime example of this and that’s why their album ‘3’ is my number one record this year. It may sound strange to compare a very twee, mostly happy-sounding indie record to The Perceptionists but although these records sound vastly different, they have the same core: honesty.

Don’t be afraid to sing about your home town, about who your friends are, the petty crimes you committed with your mates as a kid. Why invent mystical bullshit when real life is stranger than any fiction? I’ve spent ages listening to the minutiae of SKWBN’s lyrics, trying to work out what the bits about tagging and noodles are all about. The songs are almost puzzles, little glimpses into someone else’s history, occasionally backed by barking. Yes. Barking.

Another reason this is my top album is that it cleans out your musical tubes. If I spend too long watching MTV or listening to Radio One, inevitably I get all bunged up. It’s a bit like eating a sandwich made of thick bread and very dry cheese, no butter, no water to drink with it. It dries up your saliva and ends up getting stuck on the roof of your mouth like a recalcitrant gobbet of mastic.

SKWBN’s album dissolves all that irritating grak away! This sunny, charming, tootling, pootling record starts of fantastically and then gets better. ‘Marry Me’ sounds like a lovesick bassett hound, all mournful and yet irresistible. Mmmm… Of course, ‘Loop Duplicate’ is hyperpop, just insanely catchy. But the genius of SKWBN lies in the way they follow it up with ‘A Couple Of Instruments.’ This is the kid of those extended, happy grooves that Haircut 100 used to knock off effortlessly. Rock snobs hated them for it, of course.

My favourite track, at the minute, is ‘Parakit.’ This is a perfect pop song. I can’t fault it in any way whatsoever: production, playing, singing, lyrics. Every bloody thing is perfect! As soon as the guitar comes in, you just know you’re going to be singing this song ten, twenty years from now. This song touches me as much as ‘In My Life.’ As with Agent Simple and Cats On Fire, I find it depressing that people whose first language isn’t English should write English pop lyrics orders of magnitude better than anything coming from Britain. What the fuck?

‘Peter’s Dream’ is another gem. The chorus reminds me of ‘Odelay’-period Beck but the song is in no way a rip-off, it glides along it’s own sweet way. I love the Shadowsy guitar coupled with the drum machine. It shouldn’t work but it does. Again, SKWBN aren’t afraid of space here, which is why this album is so comfy and roomy, like a favourite shirt.

Don’t talk to us, we’re so witty,
And you, you look like Tom Petty

Those aren’t my fave lyrics overall (they’re in ‘Parakit’) but they’re an example of the SKWBN deceptive whimsy. They’ll just throw shit like that in their pop garbagecan and it’ll lull you into a false sense of security. And then the next lyric will open you up. Knife goes in, guts come out. They’re tricky blighters.

I can’t easily express how happy this album has made me. It’s quite unreasonable that a little bit of plastic with some data encoded on it at 16bit / 44.1KHz should have the power to make me smile for hours, to remind me of being a stupid kid, to make me want to move to Gothenburg and marry a pair of pale, stick-insect Swedish men. I know Peter Gunnarson and Johan Hedberg are probably average, normal lads but they’ve created something so special here, something that I truly believe should be number one in the pop charts. Everywhere.

I hope SKWBN break big next year. I hope that they wash all the scum off the indie streets, send them scurrying back into their poorly-written, will-this-do schmindie ratholes, post-punk tails between their legs.

Write to SKWBN. Email them. Love them and nuzzle them, polish their little faces with your kisses till they shine like a June bride’s smile.

This is a great pop record. It’s rare and wonderful. Treasure it.

You And Me Both

So there you have it. I’m black and I’m brown and I’m a brother and I’m Indian and I’m Jewish and I’m Muslim. White people have told me I’m white, too: after all I went to Oxford and I talk properly, don’t I? Wherever I go, I can fit in. So I’m everything. But I’m nothing. I fit in, but I’m never at home. I’m not part of a “community”.
(Source: The Guardian)

Yep! Been there, done that. Been beaten up for being a paki by NFers, been criticised for being “too white” by other Asians.

I used to want to belong to some group. Then I gave up. Fuck ’em all!

Have a read of the full article. Even if you’re not a fellow darkie, I think you’ll find it entertaining.

Made In Sheffield

Made In Sheffield

Above is one of my Christmas pressies: Made In Sheffield.

Of course, I’m going to love this DVD. It’s my generation, it’s the pop music that I loved as a teenager and that shaped the music I make myself. For a couple of years, music made on guitars seemed completely irrelevant and outdated. Everything exciting, everything innovative, everything that was young and now was electronic. For a few glorious months, we thought we’d killed rock music and all its moronic, leather-clad conformity.

We were wrong. But watching Made In Sheffield certainly gives you a taste of those times. The documentary interweaves interviews with gig footage, one minute we see Phil Oakey now, the next we’re seeing him back in 1980, looking like a Dr. Who villain and worrying people’s parents. Perfect.

Cabaret Voltaire, Vice Versa (who became ABC), The Human League, Heaven 17 – all the famous Steel City electropop pioneers are there, along with people less well known now like The Artery (Peel favourites), The Extras, Clock DVA, I’m So Hollow and Def Leppard.

This is the only 80s music documentary I’ve seen that doesn’t go for the simple, obvious line. There’s depth here and an accuracy that’s often lost in these days of Channel 4 ‘100 Greatest Beermats’ or whatever. In fact, it was just great to watch a long piece of music television without the usual D-grade celebs popping up, rehearsed unfunny anecdote at the ready.

The stories in Made In Sheffield are from the people who were actually there, playing in the bands, writing the fanzines, doing the sound or whatever else makes up a vibrant music scene. Jarvis and Saskia Cocker pop up and Jarvis gives his own view of the Sheffield scene at the time. It’d only take Pulp another 14 years before they became overnight successes.

Made In Sheffield is a joy, a treasure. It’s a meaty, detailed documentary in an age of fluffy, celeb-culture nonsense. It eschews the easy “HEY IT’S THE ’80s!” perspective that blunts so many other accounts of British electropop. It’s sober, funny, charming and often heartbreaking.

Then, when the actual film finishes, there’s the special features. Loads of DVD extras including interview footage not used in the film. There are so many great stories here about how bands got together and the trials they faced on their road to stardom / obscurity. It is, indeed, a shit business. Then, when you think you’re full, there’s gig footage from Vice Versa, The Artery and I’m So Hollow. So, you’ve bought a 52 minute documentary but you get 128 minutes to watch. Yum!

Altogether now…

“Listen to the voice of Buddha…”

Bless Playlist 20/12/05

A very Christmassy night tonight, much busier than normal and quite a few old requests (hence the Kraftwerk and Prodigy tracks). Also cool to be asked for The Chalets!

Modeselektor
Berlin funboys, Modeselektor

Tonight’s best new tune was Modeselektor‘s ‘Dancingbox.’ It’s from their lovely album ‘Hello Mom’ and it’s a flippy, boppy, bippy masterpiece of dreck electro.

Half Man Half Biscuit
HMHB

The best old track was the extremely tenuously Christmassy ‘All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit‘ by Half Man Half Biscuit. It’s a song that never fails to take me back to my childhood and being banned from mate’s houses for spurious reasons. I never touched the bloody horse brass, I tell you!

Tonight, you heard:

The Double – Idiocy
Goto80 – Ter4
Murs – Bad Man!
Remembering Never – The Glutton
Buffalo Daughter – New Rock
Alex Smoke – Chica Wappa (Mejor Edit)
Kraftwerk – Computer Liebe
LCD Soundsystem – Losing My Edge
Actarus – Hundekeks
Camera Obscura – Keep It Clean
The Perceptionists – Memorial Day
The Prodigy – Poison
The Red Chord – L Formation
Why? – Sanddollars
Agent Simple – My Punk
Harold Faltermeyer & Peter Moesser – So High
The Chalets – Feel The Machine
Teriyaki Boyz – Celebrity Death Match
Mclusky – Rice Is Nice
Puffy Amiyumi – Teen Titans Theme
Wolf Parade – Shine A Light
8-Bit Weapon – Crazy Comets (Orbital Decay Mix)
Art Brut – Good Weekend
Sage Francis – Gunz Yo
The Sea Urchins – Pristine Christine
Cats On Fire – Higher Grounds
Like A Tim – Let’s Die Together
Fugazi – Full Disclosure
Ugly Duckling – Something’s Going Down Tonight Ft Grand Puba
Suburban Kids With Biblical Names – Loop Duplicate My Heart
Jeans Team – Oh Bauer
Wintersleep – Jaws Of Life
Invisible – And Now It’s A Year (Going On Six Years)
Feraillus – Midnight Spell
Modest Mouse – Paper Thin Walls
Roddny Dangrr Fild – Experience God
Idaho – Goldenseal
Japan – Quiet Life
Pavement – Trigger Cut / Wounded Kite At 17
Modeselektor – Dancingbox (Featuring TTC)
The Hartmans – Indiependent
The Decemberists – July, July!
Hieroglyphics – What The Funk (Remix)
Psapp – Curuncula
Love Is All – Spinning And Scratching
Vapnet – Kalla Mig
Blumfeld – Verstarker
Micro, Rodney P, Braintax – Controlo
Islands – Don’t Call Me Whitney, Bobby
Blockhead – Stop Motion Traffic
Low – Just Like Christmas
Half Man Half Biscuit – All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit
Belle And Sebastian – The State I Am In

Monomachine vs. Walter Benjamin

Monomachine

I’ve had my Monomachine for a while but I didn’t truly start having fun with it till I used it when I gigged in Sweden recently.

When I was programming songs into it for Sweden, something happened. Although I was using simple, stripped-down arrangements, the Monomachine was making them sound fantastic. It was playing them with a rock-solid feel that I lost when I moved over to totally computer-based sequencing. Of course, the Monomachine is actually a computer in a box itself, with a keyboard stuck on it. But something happened in that integration: the Monomachine has the timing of my ancient analogue gear. There is no computer-based sequencer I’ve tried that can match it for musical feel or immediacy of twiddling.

Look at those encoders on the top panel. You can grab them and twiddle away, mid-pattern. You can twiddle them while you’re recording and thus get all manner of craziness that hours of mousing around couldn’t replicate. The Monomachine is an instrument, you have to play it to get the best out of it. As if that wasn’t enough, it plays a sequence like nothing else invented after 1990.

So what do I do now?

Since coming back from Sweden, I’ve been trying to convince myself that the Monomachine is no better than a computer for sequencing. I’ve programmed countless patterns on each, going out of the room as they’re switching to give some form of blind (deaf?) testing. I’ve tried to be as rational and scientific as possible.

But every time, even though all the technical specs say it shouldn’t be happening, I prefer the Monomachine to the computer.

One night, convinced I was on the edge of sanity, I emailed my friend Paul to see if he could help my brain. He came up with some good observations:

1. Even if we accept that a computer can be programmed to perform any task, it would be foolish to assume that a computer will always be the best tool to perform every task.

2. We are encouraged to think that computers provide the ideal level playing field; that they are the ultimate transparent medium, and the perfect blank page. This is completely, utterly wrong. In fact, the reverse is true.

3. ‘Fidelity’ is a red herring in sound recording. A recording medium only ever works tolerably well within certain parameters. You never get back exactly what you put in. This applies to digital and analogue recording alike.

4a. To talk in terms of ‘better’ or ‘worse’ sound quality entails a category mistake. The clue is in the question: there are qualitative *differences* between sounds. There is no objective measure of sound quality. (The efficiency of a recording device can be measured, in terms of frequency response, dynamic range and so on, but that’s not the same thing.)

4b. While there are some interesting differences between analogue and digital recording media, these are not all that significant. A much more striking difference is between a standalone digital recorder and a computer-based DAW.

5. A process that requires three decisions to be made will be completed more quickly than a process that requires thirty decisions to be made. A process that requires three hundred decisions to be made may never be completed. Limiting the number of decisions that has to be made can therefore be an effective strategy for increasing productivity (which is defined as the frequency with which one finishes things).

6. Computer software is designed according to what successive programmers have assumed is a reasonable or rational way of working.
Their assumptions may have been wrong.

7. Computers are a powerful force for rationalisation. Sometimes (e.g. when editing recordings) this is useful. In other circumstances, it may not be. Historically, interesting artistic results have been produced by people who were using technology The Wrong Way. People working exclusively with computers have relatively little opportunity to do this.
(Source: Aural Spells)

I think Paul raises points that every producer, engineer and recording musician needs to consider very carefully. I’m a gadget freak: if it’s shiny and new and perhaps bleeps a bit, I’ll start salivating until I can get my fat paws on it. I often dream about synthesizers I want to buy. Yep.

But how much new musical tech actually helps us to make music?

I don’t write sitting at the computer, I write songs with my acoustic guitar or perhaps one of my old synths. I’ve written a lot of songs just singing to myself on buses or trains. I think I’ve avoided writing at the computer because it engages the wrong parts of my brain. When I’m songwriting, I don’t want to think about bars and beats or parameter values. I don’t want to be staring at a virtual piano roll as it scrolls along, looking at my song rather than listening to it. And, yep, I can turn the screen off. For the five seconds until I need to access or change something.

On the other hand, I do write with the Monomachine. It’s fun, quick and it sounds really, really good. I can bash a lumpy idea into a highly arranged track very quickly and simply. So, it’s not tech that I’m against, the Monomachine is as tech as it gets. I’m just against the use of inappropriate technology.

In our lust for the new computer, the new plugin, the latest software upgrade we can easily lose sight of the reason for all this stuff: to make music. And, as Paul says above, the bigger your palette, the more time you’ll spend choosing which colour to use. I do believe that art thrives on limits. If you can’t write a great pop song on a four track cassette recorder, having 128 tracks of 96KHz, 24-bit audio + a gazillion softsynths won’t get you any closer.

But there’s another trap musicians fall into, especially those under thirty. They simply invert hi-tech lust into lo-fi lust. For these lost souls, nothing can be good unless it’s got a valve in it, analogue circuitry or was made out of Soviet spaceship spare parts. This is just as much of a musical cul-de-sac as worshipping everything new. It’s the old story of the Golden Age Myth: some people put it in the past (curved mixer faders, glowing tubes), some people (especially ex-Marxists like me) put it in the future. I grew up using a lot of that “vintage” gear when it was brand-new. Trust me, most of it was hopeless, noisy shit we were glad to see the back of. Both the hi-tech and the lo-fi approaches fetishise the production of music, they displace making music with buying musical gear.

The key is appropriate tech, not in the exact sense that Schumacher used the phrase but slightly related, I guess. I’m now in a process where I’m examining what I use to make music from both rational and emotional perspectives. It took the shock of using the Monomachine to spark this realisation, a piece of new hi-tech that plays and feels like old-tech. In some ways, I wish I could just carry on using computers for everything. After all, it’s easy to do everything in the one program, use only softsynths, plugins, mix and master in one package.

I’m just not sure any more if it sounds good, that’s all. Actually, scratch that. I think I should say:

If it sounds wrong, it is wrong.

Time to start listening with my ears again and give my eyes (and mouse) a rest.

14 Most Evil Corporations

Evil Corps

Tis the festive season, when we splash our money around money on gifts, choccies and fripperies. But how evil are the companies we’re buying products from? Will your box of After Eights help fund killing babies? Will that economy-sized barrel of Coca Cola funnel money to a company that murders trade union organisers? Is the “Asda price” ruined communties and sweatshop-produced goods?

Several of the companies below are being sued under the Alien Tort Claims Act, a law that allows citizens of any nationality to sue in US federal courts for violations of international rights or treaties. When corporations act like criminals, we have the right and the power to stop them, holding leaders and multinational corporations alike to the accords they have signed. Around the world–in Venezuela, Argentina, India, and right here in the United States–citizens are stepping up to create democracy and hold corporations accountable to international law.
(Source: AlterNet)

Have a click here to see the full list of the 14 most evil corporations.

And here’s a condensed version for you lazy types:

Caterpillar

Chevron

Coca-Cola

Dow Chemical

DynCorp

Ford Motor Company

KBR (Kellogg, Brown and Root): A Subsidiary of Halliburton Corporation

Lockheed Martin

Monsanto

Nestle

Philip Morris USA and Philip Morris International (a.k.a. The Altria Group Inc.)

Pfizer

Suez-Lyonnaise Des Eaux (SLDE)

Wal-Mart (now owns Asda)

There you go. Some handy tips to try and limit the fallout from our hedonistic celebration of Saturnalia.

How The US Killed The Truth

More victims of US liberation
A boy weeps as others survey the damage caused by a US air strike on Fallujah. Picture:AFP

A 30-year-old Oxford graduate with no public relations experience has been handed a $100m contract by the Pentagon – to plant false stories in Iraqi papers.
(Source: The Independent)

I wrote previously about the totally unsurprising revelations concerning US propaganda in the Iraq War.

It was unsurprising to any of us with a functioning, independent brain. I don’t imagine for a second that Tories or Republicans will be surprised – they’ll just deny these reports, the same as they deny any truth about the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. And the same as they deny the 100,000 Iraqis murdered by their grand crusade of slaughter.

And I’ve got to hand it to them – they’ve won. Every TV report I see, every mainstream media comment on Iraq toes the American line faultlessly. Innocent civilians ripped to shreds by thermobaric munitions are written-off as “insurgents” without that label ever being questioned. The appalling attacks against Fallujah are portrayed as some kind of victory against terrorism when they are the murder of innocents, pure and simple.

How has this happened? Here’s how:

But the real breakthrough came this summer when Bailey’s company, having again changed its name to the Lincoln Group, secured a $100m contract for information and psychological operations. Part of the contract was for placing “faux” news stories in some of the 200 Iraqi-owned newspapers that now exist.

Pentagon officials have said that, while not factually incorrect, these stories only presented one side of the story and would not include anything negative about the occupation. It was reported this week that the $100m was part of a larger $300m “stealth PR effort” in a number of countries around the world.
(Source: The Independent)

Note the last part, which I’ve emphasised. The US has spent $300 million dollars on corrupting the world’s media.

Every TV report you see, every pro-US magazine article, every touching story about a US soldier’s pregnant wife, all of it is tainted, all of it unreliable. I’m not saying that individual reporters are corrupt but within the framework of a bribed, biased media, they have become cogs in the pro-war US propaganda.

Every feel-good story of “our brave lads helping the poor Iraqis” is spin. Paid for spin. And every pro-war story squeezes out the truth, squeezes out the fact that the US, UK and other “liberators” have carried out mass-murder in Iraq and re-branded it “democracy.” “Embedded” reporters feed us US propaganda directly while the non-tame variety are murdered by US tanks.

Meanwhile, you won’t see news reports of the following on your telly:

“There has been an incredible number of casualties with very, very serious wounds in the region of Hilla. We saw that a truck was delivering dozens of totally dismembered dead bodies of women and children. It was an awful sight. It was really very difficult to believe this was happening.”

That was a statement by Roland Huguenin, an International Red Cross worker. Contrast that image with the recent glowing stories about the “birth of Iraqi democracy.” Can you truly have democracy in a country which is under occupation by the same armies that committed the atrocities detailed above?

I’ve given up speaking to people about Iraq. Most people I know have swallowed the US propaganda completely. They don’t question anything they’re shown on telly or read in the papers. They don’t even get to hear the truth.

What hope has the truth got against $300 million dollars?