Tuesday, January 31, 2017

STN recommends... January 2017

One down, eleven to go. Herein find every new song we've posted this month that's on Spotify, representative tracks from our favourite new albums of January not otherwise covered, and maybe the odd stray.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Friday, January 27, 2017

40 From 40: 1987

Good news, everyone! STN is launching another longform feature involving playlists of old music that we'll doubtless abandon due to lack of readers and/or ennui within a couple of months! No, this time we'll try and see it out, promise, because we're invested in this one.

It's a simple premise with a lot of work as always - forty years covered, 1970 to 2009 inclusive, forty tracks from each year in question as curated by us, eked out over however long it takes and whatever time we want to take between each one. We're starting with 1987 because we did a poll over on Twitter for our compiling a snap playlist for a round number of years ago and that's how we came up with the idea for this. Simple. Possibly.

If you want something quicker than innumerable YouTube videos, here (barring the Gun Club and Microdisney, for old label/publishing contractual mess reasons) is the list as a handy Spotify embed:

Steinski & The Mass Media - The Motorcade Sped On
JFK, the cut-up version. Tracks made up entirely of sample collages as a hip-hop production effect, as opposed to something used for comedy records or medleys (or experimental purposes, as with John Oswald's "plunderphonics"), had started with Adventures On The Wheels Of Steel but took off with Steinski's Lesson 1 in 1983. By this point Coldcut and Negativland were establishing themselves through their differing methods with the form while the KLF's 1987 (What The Fuck Is Going On?) was taking the more direct route of having Bill Drummond essentially shout over other people's records. The Motorcade Sped On married Walter Cronkite to the Honky Tonk Women drumbeat to surprising effect.

M/A/R/R/S - Pump Up The Volume
Sampling culture had been around for a few years already and had already had a number one two years earlier in 19, but never before had something using this many diligently applied samples taken off so much, sounding just as alien in the pop landscape as fellow chart topper Jack Your Body did earlier in the year. AR Kane and Colourbox promptly fell out during recording and Stock Aitken Waterman attempted to sue them.

Eric B & Rakim - I Know You Got Soul
And here's where they got that title from. Coldcut had helped bring the pair into the mainstream themselves with their sample-heavy Seven Minutes Of Madness remix of Paid In Full, which neither Eric nor Rakim had even heard before flying to London for Top Of The Pops and didn't think much of when they got there. They didn't need it, with Rakim's smart production work influential in its own right. The introductory drums would be repurposed the following year for, um, the Anfield Rap.

Sly & Robbie - Boops (Here To Go)
Reggae and dub's standard bearer rhythm section have a go at electronic funk with the aid of Shinehead doing a Howard Cosell impersonation, Bootsy Collins on vocals alone and yet another reworking of Liquid Liquid's Cavern, of White Lines-but-not-really fame.

The Fall - Hit The North (Part 1)
Yeah, pretty much most years of this we'll get some Fall in, and even they were experimenting with sequenced synth-funk in 1987. Obviously very much in their own idiom, obviously, Mark E shouting out James Anderton and plenty of cryptic origin besides. It got them onto The Roxy!

Sonic Youth - Catholic Block
Sister was another tiptoe away from their experimental no-wave beginnings into songs with legible guitar hooks and driving melodies, making the noise segments work within the song. They still sounded threatening as much as thrilling.

Big Black - Colombian Necktie
Speaking of threatening, Songs About Fucking, the final album by Steve Albini, Satan's drum machine and co, thoroughly nasty, uber-distorted and abrasive just as you'd hope.

Hüsker Dü - Ice Cold Ice
From one great noise-rock band's final full-length to another, a Bob Mould song from Warehouse: Songs And Stories, the final statement from a band on the cusp of never wanting to speak to each other again. If only all bands' maturity phase could sound as urgent as this, and watch for that ending.

Dinosaur Jr - The Lung
At the other end of a career of noise and confusion, You're Living All Over Me was where Dinosaur added the suffix and established J Mascis, not quite shredding all over everything yet, as alternative guitar hero for the pedal collectors. The opening alone invents slackercore.

The Gun Club - Lupita Screams
The Gun Club, here on Mother Juno newly reunited, have been turning up as an influence increasingly often in recent years, the power of their countrified garage rock with mysterious and disturbing amounts of grime under the fingernails obvious and insidious.

Pixies - Caribou
We might not have known it yet, but officially 1987 was the year a mysterious, inscrutable and singular new power took up indie-rock's cudgels. And it's taken straight from the demo! They sounded like this - the guitar malfunctions, the familiar bass style, the Black Francis scream - first time out!

R.E.M. - Finest Worksong
Their final indie album, a step towards the mainstream that would come to envelop them, yet even if you can rest items safely on the guitar sound and make out all the words they were still their own men, especially when starting this crucial LP with what sounds like a blue collar Gang Of Four.

The Pastels - Crawl Babies
And now for something slightly different. The Pastels had no truck with clean production, instead choosing in their shambling bedroom DIY jangle miniatures to influence a whole host of bands sharing their throwback private world approach.

The Go-Betweens - Bye Bye Pride
Weird to think Tallulah, Forster and McLennan's great collection of love songs directed at love itself, was meant as the great commercial potential record. Weird because, while something arranged like this could easily have slipped into Deacon Blue territory Grant McLennan's delicately woven paen to longing and hope, plus oboe, is too smart for that.

The Dukes Of Stratosphear - Vanishing Girl
XTC's alter ego experiments in 1960s British psychedelia was better than the actual albums they were putting out around this time, and their sole full-length Psonic Psunspot is a fun kaleidoscopic journey through harmonic pop that stands up well beyond studio time-passing novelty intentions.

Microdisney - Town To Town
One of the great dichotomies of this era of exciting British bands, Microdisney were all about the push and pull between Sean O'Hagan's stately, classic arrangements and Cathal Coughlan's barbed lyricism. With that in mind, here's a sumptuous song about unrequited post-apocalyptic love.

The Housemartins - The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death
Similarly Paul Heaton made a habit of writing upbeat songs that lyrically came from the unexpected direction, even sending the band's image that way recalling their faux-Christian phase. The tabloids were up in arms about the anti-Royalist sentiment here, in a way that they used to care about.

Squeeze - Hourglass
Polished to within an inch of its life as was the style at the time and made at one of the regular intervals at which Difford and Tilbrook didn't see eye to eye, and it has a bad sax solo to boot, but one of the most effective latterday moments of that songwriting partnership at uniting pop melody and otherness.

INXS - Need You Tonight
So Michael Hutchence's preening leather rock god posturing didn't often match up to everything else about the band to the point of trying too hard, but his honeyed come-ons amid electro-funk here sell the idea perfectly

Felt - Stained Glass Windows In The Sky
Hardy perennials of 1980s releases, Lawrence was destined never to get his moment in the pop charts but with two minutes of unhurried retro summer daze pure guitar pop like this it wasn't for the want of trying to reframe the mainstream conversation.

Julian Cope - Trampolene
Saint Julian is one of those albums were you feel Cope is being a rock god within quotation marks. This was a single, for instance, sounding punchy and immediate but framed in a way that takes a sidestep from any audience that may have hung around from World Shut Your Mouth.

The Replacements - Alex Chilton
Pleased To Meet Me was the Replacements' commercial rock effort, though all things are relative and that might just mean they were at their mean cleanest after firing Bob Stinson. The Gaslight Anthem probably heard this song but got the wrong end of the stick.

Descendents - Coolidge
One of the great survivors of the straight-up LA punk scene, by All they were creating overarching concepts while still sounding as vital and energetic as any new garage kids even when dealing with loss of relationship cliches as here. When singer Milo Aukerman left after this album the rump renamed themselves All for the seven years until he came back.

The Wedding Present - Shatner
George Best defined the Weddoes in a way they'd eventually struggle with - David Gedge has problems with women, the guitars rush at warp factor around him.

The Brilliant Corners - Brian Rix
And sometimes janglepop about failed attempts to get off with girls just wanted to be wry and playful.

McCarthy - Antinature
And sometimes the jangle was used to smuggle greater, more polemic themes into listeners' homes. James Dean Bradfield and Nicky Wire are both enormous fans of I Am A Wallet, recognising the connection between holding the end up of radical thought and the rush to get ideas out.

The Smiths - I Started Something I Couldn't Finish
Oh yeah, and these were still around. Not for long, though, NME breaking the news of Marr walking in July. A great song of indifference was left in its wake, one that actually benefits from some background sax parping and Marr's restrained rockabilly swing.

fIREHOSE - Sometimes
Mike Watt and George Hurley's first steps out after D Boon's death brought an end to Minutemen dialed back the jagged post-punk edges of that band while making the influence from jazz, avant-funk and prog more apparent within a chiming alt-rock framework. They're better than history seems to recall.

The Sugarcubes - Birthday
Imagine you had no idea of Bjork up to this moment. How alien this sounds, the uneven soundscape and band seemingly playing entirely opposite to each other as well as the swoop and caw of those ESL vocals.

Black - Wonderful Life
We lost Colin Vearncombe last year, and while from his catalogue this knowingly ironically titled hit was all most mentioned - it wasn't even Black's only top ten single - there's worse songs to be remembered for, that dramatic smoky baritone and feather light touch with luxurious, bittersweet jazz-pop.

Prince - Sign O' The Times
The bare bones of a backing constructed entirely from Fairlight pre-sets, the most stripped back of socially conscious lyrics.

Wire - Ahead
Returning from a hiatus - On Returning, if you will - with a new metallic edge and the same incongruous questing spirit, The Ideal Copy experimented with a spiked dancier direction that on this sounds like New Order in the midst of a mental breakdown.

New Order - True Faith
Meanwhile the actual New Order were trying to work out their place between the post-punk synthpop they had been and the crossover dance act they were becoming. What that meant was an unashamedly bright melody and a thoroughly shaken through experience lyric.

Happy Mondays - 24 Hour Party People
And as the band that made Factory reached a commercial peak the band that would eventually ruin the label were getting going, the band making for effective scratchy livewire disco-funk while Shaun Ryder develops his meaningful nonsense style.

Public Enemy - Public Enemy No.1
Speaking of first steps by a band that would overturn their chosen genre in a couple of years' time, though the darkly dynamic production stew of the Bomb Squad, the self-referencing braggadocio and the raw street level anger writ large by Chuck D are already approaching full speed on Yo! Bum Rush The Show. Listen to that backing, it's basically a high frequency drone.

Yello - Goldrush
One Second is the album that features Billy MacKenzie (on backing vocals here) and Shirley Bassey, but the guests only serve as a reminder that Boris Blank's ideas on synthpop aren't like most people, and those ideas are best realised when he has Dieter Meier's abstract ideas to play off.

Steve "Silk" Hurley - Jack Your Body
Such a remarkable number one for the time it was featured on Newsround. Even now it's hard to think the house trailblazer was something this minimal.

Pet Shop Boys - King's Cross
Actually was quietly an anti-Thatcherism statement, Neil Tennant using one of Chris Lowe's most gorgeously flowing and sprawling arrangements to picture unemployment and homelessness in the days of urban renewal.

Colorblind James Experience - Considering A Move To Memphis
Lounge polka, Old Weird Americana in a post-modern style. With a vibes solo.

The Proclaimers - Letter From America
And finally, a rousing patriotic sentiment? Actually, no, it's a bittersweet lament about the aftermath of emigration and the Highland Clearances, because the Proclaimers people think of at least at first weren't that straightforward crowdpleasers.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

STN recommends: 24/1/17

Meursault - Klopfgeist

Neil Pennycook has got the band (name) back together for a fourth album, I Will Kill Again, out 27th February, and picked up not so much where they left off, as that was the more commercially approached end of his/their sound, but in another place, the uneasy ambience along with Pennycook's familiar heart on sleeve croon suggesting mental desolation and dislocation, dark grace and emotional heft.

Meursault - Klopfgeist from Song, by Toad on Vimeo.

Peaness - Same Place

From a very nearly sold out already Odd Box 100 Club 7" that's not technically out until Friday, another glorious instantaneous slab of harmonic power-jangle, glittery on the outside, darkening on the inside. They're playing this year's Leicester Indiepop Alldayer, you know. And they've signed to Alcopop for their next EP!

Wire - Short Elevated Period

It's Wire's fortieth year in showbiz! They are, naturally, celebrating with a new album, Silver/Lead out 31st March, displaying the kind of unyielding, dense-seeming jagged churn that if anything nods at their semi-psychedelic mid-80s first comeback more than the classic opening triptych, but then Wire famously never have been about easy nostalgia.

Mew - Carry Me To Safety

The last few Mew records have been the epitome of hit and miss, so while hopes for Visuals, released 28th April, may not be huge they still hold the capacity to get under the skin. Case in point, the moment when the delicate amble of the verses bursts into technicolour strings and eventually drives everything upwards and into the atmosphere, Jonas Bjerre's porcelain falsetto still setting out the pathway.

Family Friends - I'm Like You

The Melbourne via East London brother-sister duo who are Family Friends sound both heat hazed and dreamily self-confident, which we suppose works within those locations. Slipping somewhere between Throwing Muses and first album Best Coast, it shimmies amongst the reverb and delay on a confident slacker quality.

A Festival, A Parade - People Person

Newcastle's A Festival, A Parade wear their National/Frightened Rabbit/basically any emotive and slightly awkward loud guitar band influences heavy, but do something with them that makes them worth the effort. In this case it's the sense of pushing against something, both in the mental health theme of the lyrics, frontman Joe Allan's distracted paranoia vocal or the constantly aiming, soaring ambitions of the guitars.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

STN recommends: 22/1/17

Los Campesinos! - 5 Flucloxacillin

It's actually proving quite slippery so far to get a reading on what Sick Scenes, out 24th February, will exactly be like. After the typical charge of I Broke Up In Amarante comes something that almost touches West Coast classic rock, apart from the lyrics about depression, medication and the generation gap.

Mutes - Vanishing

You know when you find out about a new band, resolve to write only the bare minimum of facts so as to promote the music and only then discover they share a member (and producer) with one of the bands you drone on about most of all? In truth I don't know if Junior off JoFo is on this track or just their live drummer, though those rapid fills sound familiar, but putting that to one side (having drawn attention specifically to it, I know) the track itself is a sprawling, thrusting piece of growing intensity that throws surf harmonies into a cascading pit of post-punk guitars that dips into an ambient phase and re-emerges on the charge for the white light at the end of a noise-pop tunnel.

Gallops - Darkjewel

They used to be called "Wrexham's answer to Battles", a sentence nobody ever thought they could surely envisage, but we always admired their propulsive instrumental charges. Now after three years away they've got back together, delved deeper into the noises that their instruments used to work around and seem like they want to destroy on a base level, matching pummelling sub-bass with huge drums and warped electronics to sound like the battle hymn of the demon army. Album Bronze Mystic is out April 21st.

H.Hawkline - Last Thing On Your Mind

As with many of his Welsh odd-indie contemporaries - one of which, Cate Le Bon, contributes here - Huw Evans takes a roundabout approach to faintly straightforward stylings, in this case easygoing pop synth-driven melodic pop decorated with an abtruse guitar part. No word on a new album to follow 2015's tremendous In The Pink Of Condition, but he is supporting Devendra Banhart for most of the next two months across America.

Magana - Pages

Put out for free download ahead of some solo dates in New York and California, Jeni Magana's heartaching DIY guitar-pop is straightened out slightly, especially in the way it broadens out into a middle eight solo, but the haunted but resilient inner strength key to her earlier releases remains.

Bearcubs - Underwaterfall

London producer Jack Ritchie, who's been around for three years or so already, may seem at first like James Blake's ambient glitchscape plus Jamie XX's steel drums patch, but as it develops the air turns foggy and full of paranoid nocturnal disquiet, seemingly varispeeding itself through warped effects, stuttering surges and pitched down soulful vocals.

Froth - Passing Thing

Wichita Recordings' great hopes for 2017 dial up the Kraut-noise-pop on the latest track from new album Outside (briefly), out 20th February, guitar squalls punctuating the kind of languid indie-pop you didn't think bands did any more before a lengthy instrumental patch goes all psych-pop on the basic theme.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

STN recommends: 15/1/17

Grandaddy - Evermore

It's almost too rote to say this again, but the three tracks Grandaddy have so far made public from Last Place, out 3rd March, have recalled their first three proper albums - Way We Won't the barbed summeriness of Under The Western Freeway, A Lost Machine the desolate future of The Sophtware Slump, and now this nods at Sumday's arranged marriage of warping electronics to 70s singer-songwriterisms, a pulsing dystopia based on a looped bassy synth pattern.

Spiral Stairs - Dance (Cry Wolf)

Ooh, there's Jason Lytle again in the video. Spiral Stairs is Pavement's Scott Kannberg, delivering strident, deceptively light guitar-pop with stratospheric licks breaking in every so often. His second album under the monicker, Doris and the Daggers, is out March 24th and featuring guest vocals by Matt Berninger and Broken Social Scene's Kevin Drew amongst others.

Cate Le Bon - Rock Pool

"Bins on fire - what's the occasion?" Rock Pool EP, out on the 27th, is four tracks left over from Crab Day, but the beguilingly odd shuffle of the title track doesn't feel like a mere offcut at all, more a continuation of the album's deconstructed melodies and meaningful illogical lyrics. Video directed by Casey Raymond, with all the oversaturated oddness that implies.

Johnny Flynn - Raising The Dead

It did seem for a while like Flynn was concentrating on his acting career - he's about to appear as the young Einstein in a US series directed by Ron Howard - but in the background of that he was getting the Sussex Wit back together for an album, Sillion, out March 24th (featuring Dave Tattersall on lead guitar for one track) The first single feels like a strolling pace callback to A Larum's utilisation of English folk and London singer-songwriter tropes, Flynn's rich timbre carving the path between the two.

Laura Marling - Wild Fire

Speaking of the London alt-folk set of 2007... Marling describes Semper Eadem, out 10th March, as "me looking specifically at women and feeling great empathy towards them and by proxy towards myself". Acting as advice to others on how to be actively better people in the face of the gaze of others, in delivery and lyrical style it's another step towards her Dylanologist side while in how it opens up still recognisable as herself.

Anna Of The North - Oslo

Anna Lotterud, who is from the titular city, and Brady Daniell-Smith, who isn't, have been making waves with their very Scandi chilly synthpop approach for a good while now without ever quite taking the next step up in the way that some fellow travellers have. Whether, at least commercially, this will be that step we can't say but when the hook kicks in it becomes the very model of the frosted winter sunshine of the video.

WHY? - Proactive Evolution

Never let it be said Yoni Wolf doesn't pour everything of himself into Why? recordings - this track samples doctors who treated him during a mid-recording serious health scare. Otherwise it's the kind of uneasy shivering and inability to keep either a straightforward melody or emotional resilience going, Yoni's crooning drawl more existentially resigned than cynical nowadays. Sixth album Moh Lhean is out 3rd March.

Penelope Isles - Cut Your Hair

Welcome back for the new year, Art Is Hard Records' Postcard Club, and welcome in to Brighton via Cornwall's Penelope Isles, who fascinatingly alternate between chiming dreampop and dark ethereality not too far removed from Veckatimest-era Grizzy Bear, exploding at the end into vivid aural colours.

Monday, January 09, 2017

STN Recommends: 9/1/17

We really weren't planning to post all the time, but TOO MUCH NEW MUSIC IS HAPPENING.

Sodastream - Three Sins

The Perth (Australia, not Scotland) duo made quite the splash on what we weren't really calling the indiepop scene yet back in the early 00s with their light, articulate post-Belle & Sebastian touch and smart arrangements around standard acoustic pop instrumentation. Understandably, their quiet corner was left with a noticeable hole following the announcement of their split in 2007. But now they're back! Back! Back! With a fifth album heralded by a track that slowly builds from sawing cellos and refined strumming to a glorious crescendo. Great to have them back. Little By Little is released on 3rd March.

AidenKeryn - Sunburn

Aiden is from Swansea, fourteen, our old friend Adam Walton was thoroughly over this on and around his show this weekend, and that's about the size of what's available about her. This first song is definitely something that promises we'll sooner or later know all about her, not dissimilar to a less misty Daughter in the inviting delicacy with a frosty edge to her vocal and the gorgeous, spacious arrangement very much around it. Reminder: FOURTEEN.

Gulp - Search For Your Love

Guto and Lindsey return to send psych-folk into space once more, a one-off 7" out on the 20th trembling and ethereal as it disappears into the atmosphere powered by sunspot pulses and vintage organs.

Ella - While You Are Away

Ella van der Woude is conservatoire trained, was in the continentally mildly successful Houses, records film soundtracks and has latterly been playing keyboards live as part of the Amber Arcades touring band. This track from a self-titled EP out next week brings her into a spotlight it sounds like she might not want to bathe in, the sparse fingerpicking helping bring an headspinning emotional heft towards a hymnal gorgeousness.

Tim's Rice - New Year, New You

This splendidly named project is by the powers combined of Euros Childs and Rosie Smith (Oh Peas!), based as you'd expect from the perssonel on immense amounts of charm and oddball concepts set to cheap keyboards and drum machine. Mixed Ability Pilates EP is out on Friday.

David Bowie - No Plan

This guy sounds good. Wonder if he's done much else.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

STN Recommends: 8/1/17

SOHN - Hard Liquor

Plenty have tried to match a soulful vocal to dark, dramatic beats, plenty have failed. SOHN manages it by falling into it almost backwards. We certainly haven't heard this vocal styling from him before, but how it works is in the way the ethereality of his previous work both informing and hardening the stuttering jittery, unstable to the point of almost glitchy backing that threatens to "go pop" while never getting round to doing so. From his second album Rennen out next week.

British Sea Power - Bad Bohemian

We're never going to get the wild-eyed Decline Of... BSP back, but if they must be more approachable this is a decent way to do it, the classic tropes of post-punk guitars, racing drums and Yan in the throes of bad things making anthemics out of non-anthemic elements in evidence. Let The Dancers Inherit The Party is out 31st March.

Jens Lekman - What's That Perfume That You Wear?

After a year of his ambitious Postcards series some actual quantifiable new material, though an early version was on his 2014 mixtape. And with production aid from Ewan Pearson he's gone samba pop with sampled steel pans and a gospel choir popping by two-thirds of the way through, going back to his old strength of flirting with MOR tropes while turning upbeat music on its head lyrically. Life Will See You Now is out 17th February.

Wiley - Speakerbox

He's referring to himself as 'Eski boy' again, which is good. It's been interesting to see Wiley edge back to where he was when he first broke through while Skepta (that's him topping and tailing the track) ends up at number one and on Christmas Top Of The Pops dressed as a postman. Such rocket fuelled, self-referencing verses and low end rattling production is where he came in when he was challenging us on what we called it. Godfather is out 13th January.

The Bats - No Trace

The Bats have every right to recall the Dunedin Sound given they're from there and were part of it. This track from their ninth album won't reinvent that wheel, but smartly melancholic, gloriously melodic janglepop? That will always do fine. The Deep Set is out in the UK 17th February.

Baked - Midnight Junkie

Not exactly giving nothing away with that name and title combination, and indeed the Brooklyn outfit sound stoner in the hindmost, thick spread slo-mo shoegaze-influenced guitars and lengthy coruscating soloing just like a somnambulent J Mascis. Second album Farnham is out 24th February.

Jesca Hoop - The Lost Sky

Having just inducted a track from her Sam Beam collaboration into our Best Of 2016 playlist it'd be remiss not to mention the first track from the Californian-sometime-via-Mancunian's upcoming album, her fifth original record and first for Sub Pop, a typical mix of quixotic, richly and urgently delivered subject matter and sublime acoustic delicacy. Memories Are Now is out 10th February.

Mega Emotion - OK Maybe OK

Norwich trio Mega Emotion made a splash round these parts around 2013-14 with their post-punk styled electro-disco, and then vanished. They return next Friday after what sounds like two years of giving their synths a heavy thrashing, warping and compressing them against dirty basslines and howling end-of-tether vocals recalling the first wave of DIY electronic adventurers. There's cowbell too.

Maybe Don't - Torridge And Taw

"The Oxford English Dictionary defines a hobby as a small horse or pony. Maybe Don't are a hobby-grade indiepop band from Birmingham. A well-meaning 3 piece, they formed in late 2014 to moderate acclaim. They once had a show planned with The Spook School but it was cancelled the morning before." Excellent biographical work. That's about your level too, playful scrappy indiepop that barely covers its melody under stop-start dynamics and a complete change for the coda. At Owl Mansion 7" EP is out 31st March on Odd Box.

GLOK - Projected Sounds

And now it's time for Motorik Of The Week. North London's GLOK is/are more akin to the propulsion in repetition of a Steve Reich disciple than classic Krautrock intensity build, something akin to an R Seiliog in which the spaces are more apparent, keyboards delivering patterns over each other and the whirring surges underneath.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

That was the 2016 that was

So where were we?

Ah, 2016. Something something terrible year something, but there's always interesting music around somewhere, whether glossed over, lost in the rush to get every demo out to someone or right in the centre of the conversation. We did put together an unranked top 50 albums of the year which we meant to expand upon but... didn't (and not just because we've already changed our mind on a couple of them, but we've deleted the master list now so there it is), but tracks are where it's at these days, so here's sixty of them as first heard over that most death-stealing of years.

A Tribe Called Quest - The Space Program
A comeback nobody really expected, and certainly one nobody expected to be as if they'd taken up not where they left of as much as at their peak. Phife Dawg's death and the outcome of "events" both gave its concerns different shading, but even in an unlikely-to-be-achieved vacuum the ease of allegorical flow and smart sampling stand out in a year where so many laid back. Yes, it's the only rap track indie whitey here has picked. Token to the last, that's STN!

Amaroun - Fear
Even given a couple of EPs under her own name in previous years, it's surprising Peckham-via-Northamptonshire's Jay Brown hasn't turned up on Tips For 2017 lists hardly at all despite the quality of 2016's three singles. Her cracked, warmly confessional voice unaffectedly spilling personal anxieties over synth-as-folk textures is worth your investigation.

Amber Arcades - Fading Lines
Annelotte de Graaf seems to have a coasting, coursing version of this whole dreampop thing down pat, chiming and surging where others might drift without letting go of an aiming for new spiritual heights. Glistening in the grit, the same-titled album didn't make half enough end of year lists.

ANOHNI - 4 Degrees
Hopelessness was full of moral gut punches, using queasy, heavy electronic textures from Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never to press home the polemical viewpoint of complicity within ongoing tragedy. Playing devil's advocate for climate change, it flaunts the triumphalism card in the face of ecological horror.

Arc Iris - Kaleidoscope
Quixotic to a fault, Jocie Adams' project tentatively separated itself from its roots Americana moorings and set off for a folkily psychedelic journey decorated with sawing strings, soaring arrangements and off-centre singer-songwriter expressiveness.

BADBADNOTGOOD feat. Samuel T Herring - Time Moves Slow
The Future Islands leader going neo-soul is brave enough a move without layering it against finding the space in the hip-hop influenced jazzers' most restless, slow burning meditative grooves.

Bat For Lashes - Sunday Love
The Bride's central concept actually hung together while making it possible to effectively separate the strands, as here where Natasha Khan's broken desperation against a driving drum loop either depict the titular character running away from disaster or acts as its own existential road movie.

Camera - Affenfaust
It's not surprising the Berlin trio have played with Michael Rother, but while the spectre of Neu! clearly hangs heavy they have their own way of evolving what goes on over the motorik beat, shapeshifting grumbling bass synths, guitars of various dispositions and a tunnel vision determination.

Cate le Bon - Wonderful
If any album of 2016 could be described as wonderfully off-kilter without patronisation it's Crab Day, the fried neo-psych beat being pulled out of line with a melody retained right at the heart even as it throws itself wilfully out of linear shape.

Christine and the Queens - Tilted
Alright, originally released in 2014 and translated in 2015, but it certainly found its metier this year as Heloise Letissier made her way to centre stage in a way you didn't think artistic minds could these days. Tilted sounds like all that hip pop that only people online liked in 2007 finally found its place, wrapped in a message of positivism for those who didn't think they'd fit in.

Colder - Goodbye
No albums in ten years and then three in seven months? Marc Nguyen Tan certainly isn't just offering anything up, luckily, hypnotic loops and an inscrutable message building but never allowing itself to reach release.

David Bowie - Blackstar
Not much more that can be added to the millions of words around the album and its underlying message, only to say that after the disappointing original version of Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime) that came out in 2015 it was quite the turnaround that Bowie's expansive ambitions and the jazz musicians he recorded the album with found a natural meeting point after all, within semi-cryptic sci-fi explorations, shifting avant-jazz and that shift from restlessness to eerie serenity.

David Thomas Broughton - Words Of Art
Speaking of eerie serenity... not unreasonably receptiveness was scarce for a triple album, released in three parts on three different labels, of creaky Dadaist folk partly recorded in Pyongyang, especially as here when Broughton's familiar unravelling home truths are being counterpointed by the never knowingly comforting Aidan Moffatt. Their loss.

Emmy The Great - Algorithm
Emmy pretty much left London nu-folk tropes behind in favour of shards of sparse electronic backing and production playfulness, but while still sounding like her unfiltered emotive self like a ProTools torch singer.

Field Music - The Noisy Days Are Over
Came out in October 2015, but the album was 2016 and we didn't put it on the best tracks of 2015 list, so... Prince famously tweeted apparent approval for the song on release, likely admiring the ease with which scratchy funk is absorbed into the familiar harmonies and glorying in not wanting to get over it and act your age.

Floating Points - Kuiper Pt. 1
The single version, if you will, of the eighteen minute EP track, a muscular jam of a motorik journey whose surging synths and pulses make it ideal for soundtracking footage of late night traffic sped up.

Future Of The Left - If AT&T Drank Tea What Would BP Do?
Not the most consistent of Future Of The Left albums, but it's Future Of The Left, ergo it sounds like skyscrapers being bulldozed with a Geordie Sam Kinison as site foreman.

Grandaddy - Way We Won't
Lines like "as if they've never been away" are far too easy, but this sounds like it could have come straight off Under The Western Freeway and the year's other new track A Lost Machine would have fitted right into The Sophtware Slump's contemplative end, so.

GYTS - I Kick Higher Than A Child
Back in 2013 STN longtime favourites The Victorian English Gentlemens Club let it be known they were making an album with Bad Seed Jim Schlavonus. It finally crept out in a new, seemingly one-off guise towards the end of 2016 and sounded like we wanted it to, ie art-rock with a flick-knife in its back pocket.

Hilary Woods - Bathing
Now back under her birth name after recording as The River Cry, Woods deals in slo-mo, almost somnambulent noir brooding, hazy and fragile as can be, that sounds like it was recorded in mist by a lake at 4am.

Hooded Fang - Plastic Love
Venus On Edge was the album where Hooded Fang finally put it all together and made a consistent album out of their whacked-out dirty garage mania by embracing the fuzzy sci-fi electricity that remarkable dissonant guitar sound they achieve always hinted at. Listen to this, it's virtually industrial.

Islet - Cathays Terrors
The return of the most active men and woman in Welsh avant-indie might take time to seep in, but by then the broken parts, intrinsic melody, Emma's seductive vocals and jagged solos that help turn the track on a dime from floating to urgent will have seeped right in.

James Chance and the Contortions - Melt Yourself Down
Chance came out of semi-retirement only a few years ago and resurrecting the Contortions name gave this year's album more of a profile than his last few revivals, but in every respect it absolutely sounds like it's still 1979 and Chance is still in a gold lame jacket, wielding a sax like a weapon and attempting to start fistfights in a New York warehouse space.

Johnny Foreigner - If You Can't Be Honest, Be Awesome
Of course. Ten years in the title meaning of Mono No Aware seems depressingly more on the nose, but as long as they're out there throwing guitar parts and devil drums against each other in the hope, realised by unknown alchemy, that they might make some sense if only Alexei and Kelly can shout the honest odds over them there'll always be an England.

Kiran Leonard - Don't Make Friends With Good People
Odd album, Grapefruit - two extraordinary multi-part epics (the other, Pink Fruit, was in last year's tracks of the year list) and then a lot of filler. Still, Leonard's good at this mercurial stuff when his guitar picking gets into full gear and full bodied explosions can fade into almost ambient passages into something that sounds like an entirely different song while somehow keeping the underlying theme going throughout.

Lambchop - In Care Of 8675309
If you had 22, A Million on your end of year list - hey, we did - you'd better have found room for FLOTUS too, taking a mildly similar approach of feeding folk strands through software that divides it into fractured, electronically enhanced pieces, only with Kurt Wagner's love of southern soul and, even when over-Autotuned/vocodered/whatever, emotive voice remaining somehow intact.

Los Campesinos! - I Broke Up In Amarante
Of course. Where Sick Scenes goes after No Blues' slow emergence from the depths remains to be seen, but the signs are as good as ever - endless hooks piling up, indie-rock racing ahead of itself, lyrically the signature moves o melodrama to shout along to, unflinching bruised honesty and talking about 90s football while half-cut.

The Lucid Dream - Bad Texan
Attempting to overwhelm all in its path by just weight of guitar noise is an honourable pursuit, and few achieved it better than this seemingly never wanting to end bruising drone of motorik hypnosis, psych-garage insistence and when appropriate, just sending everything into the red.

Magana - Golden Tongue
Brooklynite Jeni Magana makes deceptively complex, subtly heartfelt and dramatic bedroom guitar pop that nods at Sharon van Etten and St Vincent without being anything other than her own woman.

Man Of Moon - Sign
They're not the most workaholic of bands, but people are being slow to recognise there's something afoot with the Edinburgh duo, who take after friends the Phantom Band in expanding on a motorik propulsion and picking up pushed along effects and psych-folk structures along the way.

Martha - Curly & Raquel
Nothing is ever that straightforward with Martha as we should be aware by now, but strip away the socio-political subtleties and harmonic intricacies and that's still a hell of a rabble rousing pop-punk hook and chorus.

Meilyr Jones - Featured Artist
2013 was an ambitious work that turned out just as hoped, synthesising regret and joy into a florid chamber pop melange. He should be Jarvis by now.

Meursault - Simple Is Good
Neil Pennycook never actually went away, but the resuscitation of his most famous band guise gave him cause to cut back on their last album's extravagance to the bone-level bitter quick of sparse soul searching that is neither the maximal last guise or the lo-fi electronically aided tearing at self that he emerged with. This year's album will be fascinating.

Minor Victories - Give Up The Ghost
Oppressive, like it's trying to work its way out of your skull by brute force of pushing alone, and proof from people who've been there before - Stuart Braithwaite, Rachel Goswell - that the shoegaze revival doesn't have to float when it can drill.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Jesus Alone
The story behind the album, or some of it (this is one of the tracks recorded before Arthur's death, making its first line far more unnerving) doesn't need raking over again but this track, Warren Ellis (I suspect) deploying every bass frequency he can to weigh it down further, continues Push The Sky Away's fascinating with electronic loops over plangent instruments and sounds like the coming fires.

Nico Mulhy & Teitur - Describe You
Teitur is a fascinating songwriter, Mulhy an inventive arranger, the result literate baroque chamber pop with peculiar charm. Listen to that banjo go!

No Age - Serf To Serf
Bracing two-piece noise just when we needed it. Sounds ready to trash the joint, but with laser focus.

Ohboy! - Carrot And The Stick
Essentially it's music about music, unashamedly indie at that, but the Sonic Youth managed guitar squalls, the classy chorus hook and the lesser heard these days false ending... they've got something, these.

Okkervil River - Call Yourself Renee
Talk that Will Sheff had dropped the rest of his band and mainlined Nilsson for Away was worrying, especially given The Silver Gymnasium's unevenness. The care taken over the shift, here the baroque strings and woodwind decorating the edges of a sprawling pastoral tale of romance and loss, assuaged those fears.

Oliver Coates - Innocent Love
Picking up where Arthur Russell might have left off, classically trained cellist cuts up the sounds made by his instrument into new electronic-influenced shapes that sound like pirate radio output or Matthew Herbert-like cut-up house.

Pavo Pavo - Ran Ran Run
Unfortunately their album didn't quite live up to the promise of its opening track, a stately weightless drift with harmonies and electronic shimmers that took up where 2007 Grizzly Bear left off. Then it turns into faux-80s pop, just because it can.

Peaness - Oh George
Another band not turning up on anything like as many predictions lists as they should, the Chester trio turn in a gloriously summer-infused harmonic surfy power-pop that's actually an anti-love song to George Osborne.

PVT - Morning Mist, Rock Island Bend
Nine minutes of undulating purpose and aggression from the Australian vintage trio, building from ambience to pulsing loops to something from the Holy Fuck school of sending vintage synths into battle. There's a treated vocal effect too, and it works for once.

Radiohead - Ful Stop
It's been a big year for the motorik beat, what can we say. Here it's taken to grander, actively menacing levels, the doom-mongering drones giving way to a clatter, a loping bassline and a swirl of effects before falling into a pit of horror soundtrack atmospherics. Thom meanwhile does what he does.

Rose Elinor Dougall - Stellular
Why be sophisticated indie-psych high priestess or playful electropop strutter when you can be both?

Sam Beam & Jesca Hoop - The Lamb You Lost
It's a wonder nobody thought to put Hoop's light touch strange Americana alongside Beam (Iron & Wine)'s flavoured croak before, especially if the result is like this ambulatory cascading emotional promise.

Savages - T.I.W.Y.G.
Even more than before, Savages aren't planning to take your shit, drilling its way to the earth's core in the rhythm section direction, reaching out with hope to touch the face of something bigger the opposite way.

Shearwater - Filaments
Jonathan Meiburg may have reined in his grandiloquent visions of late, but despite the unusual insistency of the rhythm it's still just about recognisable as his work for the passion and the inventive reach of its shifts and ambitions.

She Drew The Gun - Poem
Provocative in its imagery, slow burning in its restrained aura, this year's entry in the exclusive canon of spoken word verse that actually works when placed into a guitar-based context.

Slow Club - Ancient Rolling Sea
The Memphis soul shadows and unhurried pace gives more than a hint of the involvement of Matthew E White's Spacebomb studio, the countrified strut and sway is entirely band's own now they've grown up and taken responsibilities seriously.

Spectres - New Buildings
Not the noise-rock outfit from Bristol - take a wild guess how we came across this track - but a Vancouver band whose guitar squalls are very slightly more restrained, mining further the dark, messy end of post-punk in charging towards the edge.

T.O.Y.S - Liquorice
Finally a full-length, and even by the lofty standards of their EPs it succeeded in securing that spot on the dancefloor where the whirring psych keyboard meets the dark glam-disco rhythm section, irresistable in a way that's clearly not good for you.

Teenage Fanclub - Thin Air
Here isn't on their top shelf of albums, but as far as their craft of turning Byrdsian harmonies into pure spun gold this track is.

This Becomes Us - Painter Man Is Coming
If only Falco put the Christian Fitness albums on Spotify they'd be three from three. We'll just have to make do with Julia Ruzicka and guest vocalists' project, in this case Black Francis fronting the best Pixies track of 2016.

TRAAMS - A House On Fire
Not a cover of this. Instead, nine minutes of what TRAAMS do best - unstoppable rhythm, bass burrowing its way to the cerebral cortex, fuzzaway guitar attempting to restrain itself from being carried away too far, Stu Hopkins singing like it's the last thing he'll ever do.

Trust Fund - wwsd
We Have Always Lived In The Harolds was the sound of Ellis losing himself in his bedroom daydreaming, or nightmare forming, shambling and attempting in an unfiltered format, vainly to hold itself together just like the recordings with which he made his name so effectively.

TVAM - Total Immersion
Say this for it, it's nominally determinist. Joe Oxley does this whole thing of attempting to introduce broken dark electro to droning shoegaze landscapes far better than the vast majority who've tried can and it's difficult not to get lost in the hypnotic Spacemen 3-ish rotating layers.

Vanishing Twin - Telescope
This year's 'just because Broadcast aren't doing it any more...', the soundtrack for a fictional bachelor pad finds the route between 60s psych-pop and the Radiophonic Workshop's spare cupboard library.

Vienna Ditto - Ticks
Quietly and inhabiting their own headspace, Oxford duo Vienna Ditto put out one of the best, most intriguing EPs of the year of which this was the title track, taking after their self-described 'voodoo sci-fi blues' with a healthy/dirty side order of John Barry spy themes and cabaret flourishes.

Weaves - Candy
As we've already had more than enough far-too-long climaxes, some noise-pop to finish via the explosive Toronto band who seem keen on shaking their songs around until achieving disorientation, the better to attack with the one-two of Jasmyn Burke's threatening delivery and divebombing riffs.