Wednesday, 2 July 2014

7th June 2014: Gary Chandler and Martin Orford - Paul's House, Eastleigh

This entry should not exist. I'd basically decided to quietly slip away from doing gig reviews, after realising that I was rapidly losing my lifelong love of live events, due to either typing witty observations on my phone throughout the whole thing, or sitting trying desperately to make sure I didn't forget a single thought that occurred to me - usually by means of silent 'My Aunt Went to Paris...' type games, going round and round in my head and driving myself doolally. (You know, "My Aunt went to Paris and she brought back a blistering guitar solo, some angular riffing, a Rickenbacker twelve string fretless Moog, a glare from McChuckletrousers...")

BUT! But, but... When I started this thing up 3 years ago, and people started to read it and not want to jab their eyes out with a rusty set of compasses afterwards, people would ask me whether I thought I could really go somewhere with it (and they didn't just mean to Lydney). And I would say:

"Well, imaginary reader, the best I am hoping for is that, some day, someone will like my word-spewage enough to invite me along to something just to review it, and that they might even let me in for free."

My name IS down, and I AM coming in!

That, dear friends, is what finally happened, when Paul (he of the famous 'Twats in Hats' gig at his legendary abode) messaged me to ask if I'd come down and review the night in exchange for a free ticket. Apparently my review of the previous gig went down rather well - who'd a thunk it? Plus, the England/Italy match is on, and I'm really concerned that Phil Neville's commentary is going to put me into a coma if I don't ENGLAND HAVE JUST SCOOOOOOOOOOOORED!!! oh there was a brief moment where he sounded like he was mildly interested, but it's passed now.

Sorry, ahem, anyway, it is thus that I find myself on a train heading down to Eastleigh, where I'm very kindly collected from the station by "Prog Rock Matt" - my most frequent accidental gig buddy, tube-whilst-going-to-other-gig buddy, giving-me-lift-in-minus-17-degrees buddy, but first time actual gig buddy. Arriving at the bachelor pad par excellence, I'm pleased to note that nothing has changed - it's still a space age shag pad-cum-mini Brixton Academy that would have been the stuff of teenage Gigging Forever's dreams, and Paul actually lives here for real. Like all the time. Plus, I even get to sign the wall of fame, which is nearly as good as the ticket-fest in the bathroom.

Since the last visit, Paul's become a friend too, so we have a good old chat about how we both nearly died running the London Marathon, what other house gigs might be on the potential calendar, and Cher Lloyd (it's an ok subject to broach on a second visit), but then eventually, two chaps wander over to the instruments down in what probably used to be the living room, in front of the Damien Hirst-painting back wall, and introduce themselves.

Gary Chandler and Martin "Widge" Orford are proper musicians from the South Coast prog scene and bandmates in Jadis, whose accessible, prog-tinged rock understandably makes up a large portion of this evening's music. There's also plenty of time for stuff from Widge's other former band, IQ, and neither are any strangers to playing on other people's albums either, so we know we're in safe hands when they embark on their set of songs which also includes material from their solo albums, and carefully selected covers.

Gary sings with a powerful rock voice and plays both acoustic and electric guitars (much to the enjoyment of Paul's neighbours, I'm sure), as well as having a proper rockstar mane of hair to toss about at key moments. Widge plays keyboards, flute and cittern (look it up), and sings in a slightly softer but no less powerful fashion, eschewing the mane in favour of a leather waistcoat over checked shirt combo.

The odd couple of prog, they may be, but they captivate the room for a full two hours (apparently the longest they've ever played?), kicking off with an instrumental medley of Jadis hits, to which the audience supply the lyrics, before moving on to 'Across the Water', which has some wonderful close harmony vocals and gets the first massive round of applause of the evening - are there really only 40 people here? It's a great song, actually, and I'm prompted to think that even prog music sounds like "actual songs" when stripped down like this, well, until Widge breaks out the widdly-widdly keyboard solo, anyway, before Gary lets rip with a full electric guitar break. "How are the neighbours about all this?", he says when they're done. Er, bit late to be worrying about that now, mate.

Onto some of Martin's songs, and there's a 3-minute abridged version of 'The Last Human Gateway', which Martin sings just as well as IQ vocalist Pete Nicholls, followed by a short piano piece called 'Prelude' from his solo album 'The Old Road', at the end of which Gary looks over at us and says 'He's alright, innee?'. The night's first cover comes in the shape of a Genesis song, which is never going to get any complaint from me, or, presumably, the bloke in the 'Seconds Out' T-shirt over to my right - even though it is a "BAD GENESIS" song, from the time when neither reverse mohawk-guy nor perma-dye mullet guy were in the band, and Phil Collins had whipped the razor out. Still, 'Many Too Many' is one of my favourite G-songs, and they do a cracking rendition, so full marks from the assembled jury.

"That was a song by One Direction", says Gary - to which one of my increasingly inebriated fellow audience members up in the kitchen replies: "Oh, I thought it was Lady Gaga!", a little exchange which sums up both the increasingly relaxed atmosphere in the room and the average prog fan's idea of music newer than 1980. You have to hand it to anyone willing to come and play in such a small and intimate venue to a crowd of people raised on gigs at The Peel, where constant shouting out and trying desperately to be more amusing than the people on stage was pretty much de rigeur, but bloody hell there are a few times when I want to go and shove a slice of pizza in some people's massive gobs, and tell them to knock it off and just let the poor musicians play.

Anyway, they do a cracking job of carrying on, despite the court jesters in the gallery and the choir of enthusiastic Jadis stalkers fans on the sofa singing louder than the amplified voices of the band (and, admittedly, they're not bad at all actually, prompting Gary to ask at one point where they learned to sing like that...) - so on we go with 'More than Meets the Eye', which is preceded by a very bizarre and confusing story about a nun which ends with the immortal question "Is a cucumber a fruit?". There's some lovely flute action from Martin and "na na na" vocals from Gary, which recall the opening of some really long prog song by a posh English band whose name escapes me right now. I don't recall the original being accompanied by the sound of 10 people who can't work out how to turn off the beeping sounds on their cameras, though, so that's a nice bonus.

Up next, out comes the Cittern, a sort of large medieval guitar thing, which reminds me of my favourite 2011 London riots joke:

"I just saw some guys in Medieval outfits running towards Hampton Court. I think they were going luting..."

We get a lovely guided tour with a little unaccompanied piece which could easily be from the time when the instrument was popular, so I close my eyes and drift off into minstrel days. Also, opening them again and being reminded of the leather waistcoat and cittern combo makes the image of Widge as the long lost "Troubador" member of the Village People somewhat difficult to shift. But still, here's a nice singalong cover of Supertramp's 'Give a Little Bit' which gets everyone (oh yes, including old grumpy guts here) singing along at neighbour-bothering volumes, and then the lovely 'Speak my Name' from IQ's 'Subterranea' magnum opus, which prompts me to wonder whether I wouldn't have liked IQ even more if Martin had done all the singing in the first place.

And so it continues, with more Jadis songs, a couple more covers ('Your Own Special Way' and 'Here Comes The Flood' going down an absolute storm), and even 'Ray of Hope' from Martin's 'The Old Road' which is perhaps my favourite thing that he ever released. Any chance of a follow-up, Widge? Then, towards the end of the set, audience member impressions of Zippy and George from as yet Operation Yewtree-untarnished psychedelic kids' TV classic "Rainbow" reach fever pitch for some reason, prompting the band to roll out their apparently legendary rendition of the theme song - accompanied by singing/shouting/raucous laughter which is all the more worrying now that someone has opened the back door to prevent sweat running down the walls on this lovely summer's evening. And just as I'm feeling smug at the thought that I might be the only person here who was still a child when Rainbow came off the air, we reach the end - a lovely singalong double-whammy of Crowded House's 'Weather With You' and Floyd classic 'Comfortably Numb', with far more electric guitar solo than is customary inside a suburban semi.

A cracking evening's entertainment which is enjoyed muchly by all, as is the after party, with sausage rolls and cheese on cocktail sticks, and sandwiches - no jelly, but copious amounts of cold beer on this lovely summer's evening in Paul's garden, which like everything else at his house is completely, outrageously fabulous and OTT.

Soon, however, it's time to leave to bid our host farewell and catch the last train back to South West London, which for some reason I can't fathom on a Saturday night, is full of drunk, sweaty, overexcited students yelling and laughing much too loudly all the way back. Actually, it's just like I never left.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Album Review - Simon Godfrey: Motherland

Songs. Lovely, lovely songs. Do you like songs? Of course you do, what a silly question.

But hold on, maybe it isn't - do you insist that every song has to contain a guitar / keyboard / theremin solo for it to be any good? Do you think 'Wind and Wuthering' is the beginning of the end of Genesis because it has 'Your Own Special Way' on it? Do you listen to Radio 2 and tut at the playlist, and post things on Facebook about how 'complicated' music doesn't get the playtime you think it deserves (as if it ever did?)

Oh, ok, you don't. Good, come on in then, and settle down for something rather marvellous.

I reckon most people reading this will have a good idea of who Simon Godfrey is, if only because of me banging on about Tinyfish, the band he fronts, but he's been around on the circuit for *cough* years - as part of 80's progpop-supergroup-in-the-making Freefall, in folky-acoustic band Men Are Dead, under the ridiculously inventive electronic-rock guise of Shineback, and also as a regular at open mic night and acoustic slots, performing his catchy but deceptively complex songs around the pubs, clubs, and toilets of London.

It's this last persona that provides the best clue as to the content of 'Motherland', the first album to be released under his own name and by far the most personal thing he's put out to date - although it's certainly in the same postcode as the more straightforward moments of Tinyfish's output, like 'The June Jar', which also appears here in acoustic format, like an old familiar friend wearing a jaunty new hat.

It's one of 3 songs from Simon's other projects to be given a makeover, including opener 'Faultlines' - a powerful-but-painful highlight from last year's Shineback album, here given the stripped back treatment and a new, slightly folk-ish arrangement, and that's on top of the ambient noise-y intro which kicks off the album in expectation-buggering fashion.

Actually, let's chat about expectations - Simon's been very forthcoming about the genesis of this album right from the start, and here's an extract from the accompanying press release:

"This is a travel record, made between two countries on a laptop, some stringed instruments, a USB keyboard and one tiny microphone. This is NOT a production. It's personal, close, natural - and deliberately so."

This, and various bits about it being an acoustic album, to expect bum notes and to think of these as home demos, sets the bar of expectation pretty low - so much so that I was basically expecting an iPhone recording of him sitting on the sofa in front of 'Homes Under the Hammer', mumbling and playing the spoons. If these are also your fears (and, frankly, that does sound like the stuff of nightmares), then you'll be happy to hear that he's dramatically downplaying just how good this is. The scamp.

Yes, it's an acoustic album, but it's not sparse - there's a lovely full sound, with chiming acoustic guitars, the odd bit of percussion, some subtle keyboards, blues-y harmonica on 'Tearing Up The Room', and some wonderful multi-tracked and processed backing vocals here and there, such as the gorgeous "oooh, ooohs" which back up the gentle melody of 'The Inaccurate Man'. If this is not a production, I'd like to hear what he can do when he really goes for it. (Oh wait, I already did...)

But what about the songs, James, the songs? What are they like? Oh, ok, sorry. Well, they're like songs. With choruses, and verses, and middle eights. And lyrics - some of which are by longtime writing partner and Tinyfish spoken word maestro Rob Ramsay, but most of which are by Simon himself and deal with a theme that's extremely personal to him at the moment - moving on, loss, and leaving things behind. *sob* (Ok, you can stop feeling sorry for him now, he's buggering off to live in the US with his lovely, prog-fanatic fiancee.)

This is no 'Face Value'-esque angry and bitter divorce record, though - no, in fact the more subdued numbers like 'The Inaccurate Man', and 'Sally Won't Remember', are beautiful and uplifting in their own way, and are, oddly for me, some of my favourites after a few listens. And when the lyrics do contain a touch of the angry, such as on 'God Help Me If I'm Wrong', there's still a rollicking, toe tapping tune to go along with it.

Two tracks I'd like to single out here, though - firstly 'Dust and Wires', which is perhaps the catchiest "new" song here, and encapsulates everything there is to love about Simon's songwriting. And then the closing 'Motherland', which is a moody instrumental piece with a touch of the Matt Stevens about it - until Rob pops up to offer a brief spoken word interlude with some thoughts which neatly tie up the album's concept.

"With everything we've seen, and everything we've done placed before us one last time,
We are judged purely on what we leave behind."

If this is Simon's parting gift to the UK, as the barely audible strains of the National Anthem suggest, I put it to you that we judge him favourably. (Or 'favorably' as he'll probably have to start spelling it now.)

Rating: 4/5
Buy Immediately: Faultlines / Dust and Wires / Tearing Up The Room /The Inaccurate Man / Sally Won't Remember / Motherland
Listen to: Everything else - as one glorious whole.
Destroy: Your preconceptions before hitting 'Play'.

Motherland by Simon Godfrey is released by Bad Elephant Music today! Like, right now. Head over to the BEM Bandcamp site to listen, download, pre-order a CD, or preferably all three.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Album Review - Mike Oldfield: Man on the Rocks

Let's get a couple of things straight before we start, shall we?

I've mentioned before how Mike Oldfield was my first musical love, and also how this awakening took place during the late 80's, when as well as symphonic masterpieces like 'Ommadawn' and 'Incantations' that I had the joy of being able to discover all at once, there were also new albums like 'Islands' and 'Earth Moving' to purchase, get confused by and then see for what they were –  shimmering, Atari ST-produced monuments to chart pop music which still managed to retain some of the sense of adventure from his previous work. (See 'Far Country' for a perfect example – guitar solo by Adrian Belew, prog fans!)

"I'm pretty sure I dropped my keys down there somewhere..."

Also, a cursory glance at my end of year lists since I started this blog will reveal that I'm not some hobbit-bothering pretentious anti-philistine who proclaims that anything resembling a proper song, or with any vaguely modern sounds is to be feared and backed into a corner and poked with a stick.

So - having said all that... this album's not very good, is it? Allow me to explain, as we go through the album chronologically from the good to the "meh" to the "I think I'm just going to put something else on now".

Opener 'Sailing' didn't do anything for me at first – probably something to do with the video, which just puts me in mind of someone who's brought their tragically hip rocker boyfriend home to meet their dad, who then insists on getting out his guitar and "jamming on a few numbers". But a week staying with my parents and the Radio 2 playlist gradually drummed it into me to the point where I woke up humming it one day, so it's probably quite a good song. In fact  I would say that the first 3 songs are all pretty good in a 'Moonlight Shadow' / 'Crime of Passion' kind of a way, and worth listening to – the title track in particular managing to summon up something approaching emotion.

It's with track 4, 'Castaway' where things start to drop off, and you first start to notice all the niggles which then annoy you for the rest of the album. Firstly, the lyrics aren't brilliant, and in fact consist largely of repeating the song title over and over again – perhaps it's in case you've forgotten what it's called and accidentally click on it to play it again. Also, some of the guitar solos don't sound like that long was spent on them, which used to be charming in the Tubular Bells days, but now just sounds a bit like someone who lives in the Bahamas and wants to get back outside to the veranda and stare at the sea.

'Minutes' is basically just 'Sailing' again with a different chorus - it's one thing doing 'Man in the Rain' 15 years after 'Moonlight Shadow' but maybe leave it a bit more than 20 minutes next time, eh? And 'Nuclear' is perhaps the worst lyrical offender:

Standing on the edge of the crater, like the prophets once said.
And the ashes are all cold now, No more bullets and the embers are dead.”

Gee thanks, Adrian Mole. Still, although Luke Spiller's vocals are kind of generic in a Max Bacon sort of a way, he's a good singer and does his best at trying to imbue some feeling into what he's given, like a man trying to wring some emotion out of the Argos catalogue.

'Chariots' starts promisingly, with some chugga-chugga sounds, a nice guitar riff, and a fat old groove from Leland Sklar on the bass, and in fact proves the last good song on the album, for my money.  “Chariots to carry us home'” is a bit of a naff rhyme, but it's better than “You are omnipotent when you're innocent” I suppose. 'Following the Angels', though, is where things start to really go off the rails (or, hit the rocks, eh? Hahaha!) There's a promising start with a nice melody and a couple of interesting chords, but it then turns into 7 minutes of the exact same chord progression, melody and, mostly, lyrics going round and round and round with the addition here and there of a half arsed guitar solo and some gospel choir vocals to try and make you think something new's happening. But it's not. And you know it.

'Irene' is one of the most generic, cookie cutter, two chord 'Blues Rock' songs I've ever heard, even with its plastic horns, and should be torched into oblivion. And then there's 'I Give Myself Away', which I have never made it all the way through until just now, due to the first minute making me lose the will to live, and should probably be retitled 'I Wish I Had Given This Album Away'.

So, I make that four good songs. And none of them are even half as passionate or interesting as 'To France', 'North Point', 'Holy', 'Heaven's Open' or even 'Man in the Rain'.

After my first disappointing listen, I went and looked at the reviews which Mike's PR lady asked people to post on Amazon, and surprisingly they were all 5-star, aside from a few which dared to offer the alternative opinion that perhaps this album wasn't the best thing ever. After each and every one of those, someone else had posted a comment insisting that they go and listen to the bonus disc of instrumentals, as if some 'Songs of Distant Earth'-esque instrumental masterpiece would emerge once the vocals had been taken off. So I'm listening to that right now on Spotify. It sounds like an album of backing tracks to not very interesting songs. (Although, dammit, I just got to 'Castaway' and it's infinitely better without the non-lyrics. Damn you, Mike for spoiling my pithy ending sentence.)

Rating: 2/5
Buy: Man on the Rocks / Chariots / Castaway (Instrumental)
Stream: Sailing / Moonshine
Destroy, with whatever comes to hand: Nuclear / Irene / I Give Myself Away

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Album Review - Matt Stevens: Lucid

Last summer, I saw Matt play live down at the Peel where, a bit like a substitute teacher, he was covering for Simon Godfrey - in fact, very much like a substitute teacher, in that he had a beard and a cardigan, and refused to play by the rules, even his own.

Having taken the guitar loops to their illogical conclusion with a Mahavishnu Orchestra cover, and then gone on an insane odyssey of self exploration and guitar abuse in his 30 minute set, which went down an absolute storm (and not just because he was sandwiched between two bands which were, er, 'not aimed at me'), he afterwards appeared to be decidely not ok. Backing this up with social media posts which suggested that he was worried about some of the dark places he'd gone in his set, it's therefore probably not surprising to find that 'Lucid' breaks some pretty serious new ground, and that, in his words, it's “inspired by a bit of a dark time.”

Matt is one of the most visually exciting performers I've ever seen, and his live looping acoustic sets are always the stuff of wonder, as I've mentioned a couple of times before. I can't say I've always been in the mood for putting on his solo CDs at home, however all that changed with the release of 'Relic', which introduced some exciting new aspects to the acoustic looping sound - and 'Lucid' takes it several steps further, round the corner, down the street, hops on a bus and thumbs you a lift to Mind Blown central.

Opener 'Oxymoron' is a pretty good statement of intent, kicking things off with a nu-Crimson-esque driving riff over some heavy drumming from The Fierce and the Dead's Stuart Marshall, with barely recognisable violin playing from Chrissie Caulfield and some screeching electric guitar from the main man himself. The chiming guitar patterns of 'Flow' introduce some familiarity, but with a different twist brought along by TFATD bandmate Kev Feazey's percussive programming loops, and 'Unsettled' actually isn't a million miles away from their work on the day job.

'The Other Side' brings with it the most acoustic guitar we've heard so far, and is also the most cheerful thing on the album, with a jaunty little 'chorus' (as much as an instrumental album has any choruses), played by Matt's guitar and Knifeworld's Charlie Cawood on pipa, which is apparently a type of Chinese stringed instrument. See, it's educational, too, this album. And then we come to 'The Ascent', a real 'Larks' Tongues in Aspic' moment, as befitting a track which manages to persuade legendary ex-Crimson drummer Pat Mastelotto to pop in and have a whack at everything in sight – and not only that, but that insane noise which sounds like a frantic Fripp-esque guitar solo turns out to be a widdly-widdly fest from Frost* main man Jem Godfrey on keyboards, as well.

By this point, even if you're enjoying the album, your head is probably spinning and you feel like nails are being driven into your cranium (or maybe that's just my hangover), so it's just as well that 'Coulrophobia' (fear of clowns: useful to know for your next pub quiz) is up next to soothe you with its gentle vibraphone over chiming piano motifs, as supplied by Chrome Hoof's Emmett Elvin. And then there's 'KEA', which is one of only two guitar-only tracks, starting out all Steve Howe before heading off somewhere a bit Oldfield-y and taking a left turn into Fripp-riff (Friff?) Parkway, and then 'Street and Circus' which is probably the most traditional Matt Stevens solo album track you'll find here, with its furiously strummed motif giving way every so often to echoey, spooky sustained notes and finally a looped and layered playout.

Right, are you nicely chilled out? Jolly good – because here comes one of the best things you're likely to hear this year, and coincidentally the one thing you already can hear, on Soundcloud...

My friend Tim described this track as “A volcano erupting in slow motion”, which I wish I'd thought of, frankly, but it's spot on. Explosive and powerful, but subdued and stately, 'The Bridge' doesn't give away its treasures in a couple of minutes like most of the tracks here – rather it takes its time creating a scene of epic devastation, pausing for acoustic reflection in the middle to set up one of the most beautiful repeated chord patterns since 'Shadow of the Hierophant' or the end of 'Gates of Delirium'. And then, just when you feel all comfy and cosy, it wallops you over the head, bringing the full on post-rock assault to massacre the motif until you can't take it any more, at which point everything breaks down gradually into noise before returning for an ear-buggering coda when you least expect it. It's pretty much the album in microcosm, and it's the highlight of Matt's career to date.

Wisely, he doesn't really attempt to follow this, but final track 'A Boy' is just as good in a different way – a gentle acoustic guitar lullaby, it's recorded in a way that puts you right there in the room with him, the visceral and physical experience of his live sets finally making it to record. (At least that's my explanation for why you can hear him breathing all the way through, and I'm sticking to it.)

Make no mistake – a nice little acoustic album for background listening, this certainly is not. Powerful, challenging, and daring, it might not be what you expect from Matt (although expecting the unexpected is always a good idea) - but it's certainly a statement you can't ignore, and it's the best thing he's put his name on. (So far).

Rating: 4/5
Buy: Oxymoron / Flow / The Other Side / The Ascent / The Bridge
Stream: All of the rest of it. And then buy the whole thing.
Avoid: Nothing, of course...

'Lucid' by Matt Stevens is released by Esoteric Antenna on March 31st. Preorder it here.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

2013: The Year in "Normal" Music - Top 20 Albums (10-1)

Previously on Gigging Forever:

Way back in January (you know, when it was the time to do end of year lists), we had:

Top 10 Progressive Rock Albums (Part One) (including an intro to my End of Year Lists)
Top 10 Progressive Rock Albums (Part Two)
Top 10 Progressive Rock Albums (Part Three)

Then everybody stopped reading, because it was February, but we carried on regardless with:

Some totally awesome single tracks
Top 10 "Normal" Albums (Part 1: Numbers 20-11) (including various excuses for writing lists in February)

I am aware that it is now March. I would apologise for still ploughing on with this mammoth music-wank, but I'm not actually sorry. So, here are the ten albums which totally blew my mind in 2013 - and in case you forgot, I bought 70 new albums this year, so a place here really is a guarantee of... well, me liking it, I suppose.

Spotify playlist at the end, as usual.

10. Cut Copy: Free Your Mind

Ahh, see, Cut Copy know what their duty as Australians is (unlike Midnight Juggernauts, last time).

Done with remaking the 80's (via New Order) in hands-aloft, sunshine-drenched fashion, they've now moved onto doing the same for the early 90s. What will they be doing in 2020? - Urban Cookie Collective knockoffs, maybe...

Anyway, this is another killer collection of proper songs and tunes mashed up with actual dance beats, and obscure spoken word samples (this time suggesting that we've infiltrated into some kind of cult), but now the beats sound more like Primal Scream and early Moby. 'Let Me Show You Love' even threatens to take us to a proper rave, for goodness' sake, before changing its mind abruptly, and 'Take Me Higher' has definitely shared a taxi home with the Stone Roses at some point.

It doesn't quite hit the highest highs of the previous 2 albums (some of my favourite music of all time), and vocalist Dan Whitford's voice becomes ever more of an acquired taste with every passing year, plus song number 2 ('We Are Explorers'), whilst a good song, for some reason nearly kills the album's momentum stone dead - BUT there's no denying the quality music on offer here, and even a second-tier Cut Copy album is still worthy of a top 10 spot.

Key Tracks: Free Your Mind / Let Me Show You Love / Into the Desert... Footsteps / Meet Me in a House of Love

9. Daft Punk- Random Access Memories

I know, I know what you're thinking. You want to gouge out your own eardrums with an ice cream scoop every time 'Get Lucky' comes on the radio now, don't you? But look, I haven't even put it on my key tracks below... Maybe there's some other great music on offer here?

Let's get the obvious out of the way - there's some good, funky, radio friendly stuff here like 'Lose Yourself to Dance', 'Give Life Back to Music', 'Instant Crush' and, yes, that one even your mother is whistling in the kitchen right now - all of which are great examples of their exquisitely fulfilled ambition to create an album of dance music using computerised voices but real instruments, provided by legendary session musicians who've played with everyone from Dire Straits, Phil Collins and Sting to Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson and Herbie Hancock.

But more than that, there are some mind-blowingly inventive tracks, like 'Giorgio by Moroder', where our eponymous hero recounts his path to music stardom over a gradually building and eventually furiously jamming electro-rock backing, with real orchestral flourishes, and 'Contact', which sounds like the soundtrack to a shuttle launch in the year 3000. And then there's 'Touch', the emotional core of the album, where the robot voices of the album's "Computers make human music" concept find a recollection of human contact, as the underwater-sounding vocals clear up into the most touching vocal performance on the album, a sort of Air-meets-Bohemian Rhapsody mini-epic. And any song that's written and sung by the man who wrote 'Rainy Days and Mondays' is absolutely fine by me.

So, hang on, why isn't this album higher up the list? Well, I have to say there are some tracks which just tick none of the boxes - namely 'Game of Love', a rather tedious "Vocoder voice sings dull ballad" track (again, track 2 - WHY?), and 'Doing It Right', which is just utter pants in every possible way. Still, on the whole it's just as good as 'Discovery', albeit in an extremely different way, and well worth a listen for anyone with a mind open to inventive music. Some of it's even a bit prog, but shhh, don't tell anyone.

Key Tracks: Giorgio By Moroder / Touch / Beyond / Contact

8: Goldfrapp - Tales of Us

Did I mention that I was at the live premiere of this album, weeks before it came out? Oh, yes, yes I did. As you were.

As it turns out, my initial impressions weren't wrong - a much more mellow affair than any of its predecessors and with nary a beat or a bleep anywhere other than on black sheep 'Thea' (the one they didn't do live). This time out, Goldfrapp is all about cinematic, storytelling songs with heartbreaking melodies, soaring strings, menacing piano, hypnotic acoustic bass, and, if we're honest, not an awful lot of percussion at all.

As if John Barry had reimagined 'Felt Mountain', you're out of luck if you fancy a boogie, but if you're after an album to make you feel all warm and snug on a cold winter's evening, you've come to the right place. Or will have. If you buy it. Or listen to it. Or someone sends it to you on Spotify and you feel like you ought to play it out of politeness.

Key Tracks:  Jo / Drew / Thea / Clay

7: Jon Hopkins - Immunity

There's a favourite school of thought amongst prog rock fans that "our" music is somehow superior because it "takes you on a journey", which is, in the best cases, quite true (and in the worst cases, true, but the journey takes you round the back of the Slough Trading Estate in a clapped out Ford Transit.)

But it would be daft to suggest that this doesn't happen in other music, and here comes Jon Hopkins to prove this point. Where prog takes you on a journey to a mythical kingdom, a Scottish river, or the hedgerows of Wiltshire, 'Immunity''s trip is far more down to earth; starting with the sound of a door opening and someone grabbing their keys and heading out, before hitting a scuzzy nightclub, a seedy alleyway where they may or may not get into a punch-up, the night bus home, that bit of the night where they keep waking up as the alcohol breaks down in their system and they want to die, and then on to a lovely beach in the sun in the Balearics, before their plane crashes in a giant fireball (Or, that's my interpretation of it anyway, and I know that's how I end every one of my nights out.)

What's the music like? Well, it almost defies description, but it's basically the exact middle point between ambient music and dubstep. In fact if you removed the beats you would have a beautiful ambient album worthy of Eno or Jarre, or one of those fellas. As it is, you have a beautiful ambient album with thudding, hypnotic dub beats over the top of it, and all sorts of scratchy, glitchy percussive sounds that sound like someone rattling prison chains or shuffling their feet over a carpet made of Brillo pads. It probably shouldn't work. But, by Jove, it totally does.

Key Tracks: Open Eye Signal / Collider / Sun Harmonics / but really, listen to the whole thing - it's a trip (man)

6: Pet Shop Boys - Electric

Ok, I know I said last year's album was really good and it made some of you want to vomit down your sleeves. But this, really, honestly. Trust me.

With last year's gig (oh, did I mention that?) very clearly setting out the band's intention to reclaim their rightful spot as a pioneering dance/electro outfit, the album had a lot to live up to - but preview track 'Axis' immediately put any niggling doubts to rest, with its relentless beats and rousing chants of "Electric Energy, Electric Energy". More proper, uplifting dance music, including tracks based on themes by Purcell ('Love is a Bourgeois Construct') and Bruce Springsteen covers ('The Last to Die') and fewer schmaltzy ballads, thank god - this is meant for moving to and not chilling out to.

And 'Thursday' is such a good tune, it even makes Example sound tolerable.

Key Tracks: Axis / Love is a Bourgeois Construct / Laughing in the Evening / Thursday / Vocal

5: Arcade Fire - Reflektor 

Look! A proper guitar-based rock album! Or is it?

"Do you like rock and roll music? Cos I don't know if I do anymore...", mumbles Win Butler at the start of 'Normal Person', perhaps giving a little glimpse into the thought processes of how to follow up two of the biggest rock albums of the century in 'Neon Bible' and 'The Suburbs'.

The answer seems to have been twofold - firstly bring in James "LCD Soundsystem" Murphy to dance them up a bit here and there, most successfully on the opening title track and the penultimate song 'Afterlife' (one of the most darkly uplifting things I heard all year). And secondly, go and record in Haiti and Jamaica and soak up a bit of the influence there (I would try to tell you which tracks those are but I'm sure I'd only make myself sound extremely ignorant... maybe 'Here Comes the Nighttime?')

The 'new-ish' stuff here is probably the most effective, with a couple of less exciting straightforward rock songs elsewhere, and perhaps the whole thing is a bit too much in one sitting, but it *is* spread over two discs with a little 'do-be-do-be-do-be-do-be' ascending sound at the end of disc 1, as if you were turning over a cassette, so you have to give them props for that.

Key Tracks: Reflektor / We Exist / Joan of Arc / Hey Orpheus / Afterlife

4: Public Service Broadcasting - Inform - Educate - Entertain

It's a brilliantly simple idea - take some audio clips from old public domain news and documentary footage, which are sometimes amusing ("He's the kind of a guy that made the automobile people think up hydraulic brakes!") sometimes touching ("Why climb Everest? Because it is there..."), and sometimes downright bizarre ("Out of the past and into your future comes this news - and the news is.... pleats!"), stick it over some hypnotic beats, or driving guitar riffs, throw in as much banjo as humanly possible, and go out on tour playing in front of a load of TV sets showing said footage. It was certainly jolly effective when I saw the show just over a year ago (OH NO, HE DIDN'T!)...

"I'm sorry, I was telling these people to shut up talking, what I mean is this..."

The question, though, is this... would it work for a whole album, shorn of the visuals? Luckily, Mr. Willgoose, esq. (possibly not his real name) knows exactly what he is doing, from the very clever title track - a kind of overture to the whole album and introducing its themes (hmm, sounds a bit prog), to the soaring and guitar-driven 'Spitfire', to the banjo hoedown in the middle of 'ROYGBIV', and then onto the dark electronica of 'Night Mail', in which the classic 1930's film about the mail train is given the early-Porcupine Tree treatment with beats and loops aplenty (but fewer LSD references.)

And if there is a better pairing of my interests in 2013 than this wonderful video where the band performed 'Signal 30' in front of screens showing the season's Formula 1 highlights, then you'd better keep it away from me in case I leave Karin for it.

Key Tracks: Spitfire / Signal 30 / Night Mail / ROYGBIV / Everest

3: Everything Everything - Arc

"It's good to see the art of being able to play your instruments is coming back into fashion..", said my friend Simon after we went to see Everything Everything back in October (don't worry, no link, I didn't have time to review it.)

He had a point - if there's one thing you can say about EE (the band) it's that they are tight as a badger's perm. (If there's one thing you can say about EE (the phone network), by the way, it's that they are shit.)
It'd be easy to dismiss at least some the sound on offer here as production trickery: impossible-sounding basslines which are both funky and jerky all at once (e.g. 'Kemosabe'), uber-compressed real drum parts which turn on a microsecond with the rest of the band running along behind ('Feet For Hands'), and falsetto, breathy vocals which you can only imagine had to be recorded one word at a time to give the singer's bollocks a rest ('Torso of the Week').

It's not for nothing that Simon also compared them to the Cardiacs, with this strange blend of shiny, but glitchy production and all-over-the-place, several-songs-in-one, challenging indie-rock (whatever that means). But then there's the more simple beauty of the "string quartet meets thumping toms" of 'Duet'. And 'Undrowned' is easily the best song ever to be based on the tune of 'See Saw Margery Daw'.

God knows what any of the lyrics mean, though. (Or, come to think of it, what they even are.)

Key Tracks: Cough Cough / Kemosabe / Duet / Undrowned / Armourland

2: Chvrches - The Bones of What You Believe

I've expressed this opinion elsewhere and nobody seemed to agree with me (or, more accurately, they just ignored me and hoped I would go away, as usual) - but I can't escape the feeling that someone involved in Chvrches heard M83's 'Hurry Up, We're Dreaming' album, and thought "There should be more music in the world like this." Which I am totally on board with, by the way. There definitely should. But go on, have a listen to M83's 'Midnight City' and then Chvrches' 'The Mother We Share' and tell me they're not at least related by marriage.

If nothing else, these two superb albums are definitely drinking from the same 80's flavoured Kool-Aid with its huge synth sounds and drum pads, echoey vocals, giant but somehow sparse production and massive, massive tunes like 'We Sink'. Where Chvrches score highly on the "extra ingredient" front is with frontwoman Lauren Mayberry's confident yet somehow fragile vocals, which are extremely easy on the ear and provide an interesting contrast to the bombastic synth parts and thumping percussion of something like 'Lies'.

And that's not to say that things fall apart when Lauren steps away from the mic like on 'Under the Tide', either, leaving Martin Doherty to keep us entertained, his vocals providing a nice contrast when up front, a well as some distinctly Anthony Gonzalez-esque backing vocals elsewhere (oh no, there I go again...).

In summary, what we have here is a fantastic album of great pop songs with a huge sound which is almost tailored to my tastes, and when they darken things down a notch, with the distinctly creepy 'Science/Visions', there's a hint at even more exciting things down the line.

Key Tracks: The Mother We Share / We Sink / Tether / Lies / Science/Visions

1: Iamamiwhoami - Bounty

Ok, this is a massive cheat. Even massiver than the number one on my prog albums list. Yes, the songs on this album dribbled out as teasing and mysterious Youtube videos over the course of 2010-2011, with nobody knowing who was behind them to start with (guesses ranging from Christina Aguilera to Bjork), before Swedish geniuses Jonna Lee and Claes Björklund stepped up for their rightful props.

But it's not until now that they've been available to buy on CD/DVD as one cohesive album with accompanying videos, each song having a one-letter title spelling out the title 'Bounty' (except that there are 2 "U"s for some reason, and then there are two extra songs on the end called ";John" (no, the semicolon isn't a typo) and "Clump", because why not?). This is therefore an album that came out in 2013, and it's therefore officially the best (according to me.)

I explained last year (when I was robbing them of their rightful number 1 spot for first "proper" album 'Kin') how iamamiwhoami are quite beyond description, and then tried to describe them anyway. Dark, glacial, synth and beat-heavy, not afraid of weird off-kilter rhythms and the odd funny time signature - they're a bit like a less mental version of The Knife, or a more mumbly and slightly more tuneful Fever Ray.

'B' is a grand but mysterious opening, befitting its origins as anonymous internet video, but it's with 'O' that the sequencers, moaning and industrial machinery sounds kick in, and one of the year's (ok, 2010's) most massive tracks is born. If nothing else until 'Y' and its two lengthily named follow-ups is quite as darkly uplifting, that's not to belittle the rest of the songs on offer here, but the highlights of this album as listed below would be career bests for most acts and these are the first few songs they ever released - all of which bodes well for this year's "Series 3", which is already 2 songs in on Youtube at the time of writing and just as marvellous as ever.

Looks like Jonna had better polish up her giant furry coat and her acceptance speech for the first back-to-back GF album of the year victory in the "not prog" category.

Key Tracks: B / O / U2 / Y / ;John / Clump


So there we have it. Two months on, I've finally managed to whittle down the vast array of musical riches which crossed my earholes in 2013 down to 30 albums, and 25 other tracks. And people say there's no good new music any more. My wallet certainly wishes there wasn't.

Congratulations and thank you very much, if you've made it this far, and double thanks if you actually read some of the words and didn't just scroll down through the pretty pictures. I hope you found something new that you liked.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

2013: The Year in "Normal" Music - Top 20 Albums (20-11)

Following on from "the best tracks from 2013" that weren't prog and weren't on one of my favourite albums of 2013 because I didn't like all the tracks or the album doesn't exist yet or something like that, yeah

Top five reasons why it is still totally ok to do 'End of Year' lists in the middle of February:

1. 'Best of ' lists are still the best thing in the world, even when they're late
2. If you do your 'best of the year' list in December, it doesn't give a fair chance to those Johnny-come-lateleys who release their albums in Q4
3. It's been so long since everyone else's that you've forgotten what they picked
4. I don't have much else to write about, music-wise, and the other option is that I write about marathon training, and NOBODY wants that
5. Because I have put waaaaaay too much effort into this not to

For all of these reasons, and especially number 5... here we are - my top 20 albums of 2013 (that aren't prog. Except some of them. Maybe.)

Oh, and a Spotify playlist at the bottom, as usual.

20: Boards of Canada - Tomorrow's Harvest

I can never decide whether Boards of Canada's music is quite futuristic, in a very bleak, post-apocalyptic way, or whether it's extremely retro, offering a grim, depressing, monochromatic, 70's view of the world; a place where kids with long hair wear flares and climb inside electricity substations, or fly kites near pylons, to the accompaniment of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

Either way, their music always pleases, soothes and terrifies in equal measure, and this year's instalment is no different - although as my picks below demonstrate, I do like them most when they give me something to hum.

Key Tracks: Palace Posy / Nothing Is Real

19. Summer Camp - Summer Camp

I know there's not much competition since Ike and Tina Turner went all quiet, but Summer Camp are definitely my favourite husband and wife pop duo. Since catching them live supporting Saint Etienne, I've bought everything they've done, which is as much down to their charming stage and Twitter presence as the fun music - everything about the pair of them just makes me want to squeeze their little cheeks and say "awwwwww...."

And that includes their latest album, which could best be described (or most lazily, anyway) as 'summery indie-synthpop' - the best example of which being 'Fresh' with its wistful string loop, and nostalgic lyrics. You might call them a tiny bit twee, but then lead vocalist Elizabeth Sankey would probably just have some sassy Cher-from-Clueless comeback, so why bother? Just sit back and enjoy some fine tunes with deceptively melancholy lyrics - that and the wonderfully positive ending thought... "It's not how much you love / It's how much you are loved..."


Key Tracks: Fresh / Pink Summer

18: V V Brown -  Samson And Delilah

I'd never heard of V V Brown until one day Popjustice wrote this astounding blog about why her new album, was, you know, pretty good; so I decided to give it a punt, given that Popjustice is/are rarely wrong about anything, even if you don't always agree with him/them. That, and the fact that it was partly produced by Dave Okumo from The Invisible, who are probably the most amazing band ever to play at Tooting Tram and Social.

Sadly for our purposes, it isn't on Spotify, so you can't hear it along with the rest of the tracks here, but suffice to say that I was not disappointed - with extremely dark, dirty, intelligent electronic music backing up V V's astoundingly good voice (unusual in all the best ways - both when she sings and raps, yes raps, as on the exhilarating 'Igneous' ). You can, however, check out this performance of 'The Apple' on Jools Holland here and discover why it would be a good thing to have Grace Jones fronting Depeche Mode.

Key Tracks: Samson / I Can Give You More / Igneous / The Apple / Ghosts

17. Hejira: Prayer Before Birth 

I slightly imagine that Hejira don't actually want anyone to hear this album - which would fit nicely with the extremely mysterious, aloof image I got from seeing them live just over a year ago. Quite hard to find any information about, this band seem to exist solely in reviews and a Bandcamp page upon which you can find a number of extremely experimental, almost improvised tracks called 'The Dust of Dreams', Vols 1-12.

Still, bad luck, guys, I have heard it - and it has to rank as the most profoundly inventive thing I bought all year (although looking at some of my other choices later on, you might think that's not too hard.)

It's dark and brooding for the most part (no surprises there), but there are very few electronic influences for once, on this list. Instead, this mini masterpiece is full of soft, echoey vocals, with male and female in unison (an effect I've certainly not heard before), plenty of ethereal guitars, and rolling toms with softly swishing cymbals, rather than a full kit blasting out constantly - and then you get a track like 'Echoes' which builds up from extremely minimal beginnings to enormous flourishes of menacing brass.

Almost impossible to describe, I suggest you just listen to it.

Key tracks: Litmus Test / Know / Echoes / Pinter / Gypsy of the Soul

16. Little Boots: Nocturnes

Last time Victoria "Little Boots" Hesketh had an album out, she was signed to a major label, had a major producer and major budget, and it sounded like it. 'New in Town' was a gigantic glitzy, glam pop anthem which also somehow managed to rock, and was a justified hit.

Now it's 4 years later, and shorn of all the major-ness I mentioned above, she's actually all the better for it. This time around, she's produced an album of wonderfully catchy minimal dance-pop, recalling Saint Etienne, Giorgio Moroder and Kylie in equal measures. Tunes a-plenty, a sparser, house-ish production and a much greater sense of what she's all about as an artist in her own right, this is an extremely welcome return. Now, if she could just arrange a repeat of that London gig that I had to miss due to work, I'd be ever so grateful...

Key tracks: Broken Record / Shake / Strangers / Satellite

15. The Duckworth Lews Method - Sticky Wickets

Who'd have thought the world needed one album full of songs with lyrics about cricket, let alone two?

Yes, it's another dose of utter daftness from Messrs Hannon and Walsh, with songs about the under-appreciation of umpires, the modernisation of the game, poor fielding positions and, well, sex (under the guise of vague cricket metaphors). There are songs which sound delightfully like ELO ('Third Man', or 'Turd Man', as Thomas would have it), songs which sound quite like The Divine Comedy of old ('Boom Boom Afridi'), songs with spoken word cameos from Daniel Radcliffe and Stephen Fry, and a song with lyrics taken from a Wikipedia page, set to what appears to be an outtake from David Bowie's Labyrinth soundtrack ('Line and Length'). Not that I'm complaining.

However, even within the confines of a silly album about cricket, the optimum daftness quotient is exceeded a little towards the end with a giant singalong from some cricket supporters and a final song which consists of various celebrities repeating two silly words and a sensible one, again and again over an increasingly annoying tune. ('Nudging and Nurdling')

I prefer to think that the album ends with the genuinely amusing 'Mystery Man', a nice enough song which then turns into an end-credits/score card type thing with voiceover from Matt Berry and would be a fine end to this cricket saga. Plus, that way, the last thing you hear is "Zero. Trod on wicket."

Key Tracks: Boom Boom Afridi / Third Man / Line and Length/ Out in The Middle

14. Disclosure: Settle

We have a saying in my circle of gig buddies when we think something is rubbish... "It's not aimed at me."

This really ought to be the very definition of "not aimed at me" - I mean, look at these guys, do they look like they make music that a 35 year old should enjoy? Meh, sod it. This is possibly the most exciting straight house/dance music I've heard since the first Basement Jaxx album, with guest vocalists (Eliza Doolittle, Jessie Ware, London Grammar) and samples aplenty- that and massive grooves that bang on and on way beyond where they should still be interesting. I suspect none of it is as edgy as I think it is, but I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed this, especially my favourite gym track of the year, 'White Noise'.

Maybe you will enjoy it too. (But I would suggest that it is probably "not aimed at" most of my regular readers.)

Key Tracks: Latch / White Noise / Voices / You & Me

13. Sigur Ros: Kveikur

The epic beauty of Sigur Ros has taken quite a lengthy and roundabout route to my ears. I've been sort of vaguely aware for many years that they make this kind of "good Coldplay" anthemic stuff that's so beloved of TV producers putting together sports highlights packages, but upon picking up some old albums cheaply, I also found that they appeared to be fronted by a cat with a piano on its tail, so I've been somewhat conflicted for a while.

Anyway, this year, something happened and the whole thing finally clicked, especially Jonsi's bonkers vocals; helped in large part by an absolutely phenomenal, mind-blowing gig at Wembley Arena (not helped by Wembley Arena itself, mind, which is probably the worst music venue in London these days.)

This time out, to my mostly untrained ears, there is a slightly darker, heavier sound, with some beats here and there; proper tunes also crop up now and again, and there are just enough dollops of the standard "epic, uplifting" stuff, like 'Stormur', to get the easily-scared through the more challenging moments.

Key Tracks: Brennisteinn / Isjaki / Stormur

12. Phoenix: Bankrupt!

These funky soft rock revivalists hit the moderate-time in France back at the turn of the millennium with an extremely slick pair of albums, before turning briefly into the French Strokes, and then smashing through in the US (although oddly not here) by adding a soupcon of edgy synth and beats for their last album 'Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix'.

All 3 of these previous incarnations come crashing together here, with even more emphasis on the indietronica this time around but, crucially, with 'un grand sac' of catchy tunes, something that wasn't always the case on its predecessor. And then there's the small matter of the 7-minute mostly instrumental title track, with pulsing synths recalling Pink Floyd's 'On the Run', overlaid with harpsichord and speaker-destroying bass pedals. (Sorry, I said no prog, didn't I?)

Parisian cool via LA chic; why the heck they decided to turn their hotel room fruitbowl into an album cover, though, I will never know.

Key Tracks:  Entertainment / The Real Thing / Bankrupt / Oblique City

11. Midnight Juggernauts: Uncanny Valley

Don't Australians know they're meant to be cheery? Midnight Juggernauts have never quite understood this rule, as even in their most upbeat, funky moments like 2007's 'Shadows', they still managed to use up the world's supply of minor chords. Perhaps they've been hanging out in Scandinavia. Or even Russia via India as the mock-USSR video and sitar opening of 'Melodiya' would suggest.

Elsewhere, it's business as per the last couple of albums; minor key but deceptively uplifting and hypnotic beats, mumbly lyrics about circumnavigating the earth, 'Beach Boys-on-downers' harmony vocals, and echoey, 80's Tony Banks-esque synth solos over rollicking basslines and funky drum patterns. An Antipodean riddle within an electro-pop mystery, wrapped up in an 'hands-in-the-air' enigma.

Key Tracks: HCL/ Ballad of the War Machine/ Streets of Babylon / Systematic / Melodiya

Next time: Go on, guess. What do you think will be next time?

Friday, 31 January 2014

2013: The Year in "Normal" Music - Tracks

Um, I've just realised it's nearly February, and everyone knows you can't do "Best of Last Year" lists in February. I might as well still have my Christmas tree festering in the corner.

For that reason, and also because I feel like I am writing this list for the sole interest of about 5 people on my Twitter feed (hello Jake, Richey, Moray, Tim, um... others) - here is my somewhat abridged "Best of 2013 in Normal music" roundup. By "Abridged", I mean I'm just going to give you a list, a load of album art and a few comments, because, let's face it, most times that's all anyone looks at on these things. And by "normal" I mean, relatively mainstream - things that people outside my tiny world of gig friends might have heard of, things with samples and distorted guitars and enough electronic percussion to give the hardened progger an aneurysm on the spot.

But before we actually get to the top 20 albums - here's a randomly ordered list of odd tracks from albums which didn't make the main list, either because I didn't necessarily like all of the songs, I didn't really get to know them well enough, or they just plain don't exist yet (which makes things slightly tricky.) And at the end there's a handy Spotify playlist of them all.

Gigging Forever's "Top Tracks of 2013 which weren't on my top 20 albums for some reason"

Chrome Hoof: Knopheria (from the album Chrome Black Gold) - Massive disco-Knifeworld smash, like the Cardiacs meet the Scissor Sisters. I've not heard any more of this album and suspect the rest may be a bit less mental than this, but hope not, for the sake of all that is wonderful in this world.

I Break Horses: Faith (single) - Icy, deliberately obtuse, menacing, hypnotic electro track with a killer tune. The album is already one to watch in 2014.

Jennie Abrahamson: Phoenix (single) - Lovely Swedish electronica/singer-songwriter stuff from Peter Gabriel's latest backing singer - and what a voice. Some wonderfully squelchy keyboard bass too, and someone in a polar bear costume on the cover. What more could you want?

Haim: Forever (from the album 'Days are Gone') - This was probably better live on Jools Holland where I first heard it, trading the slightly overproduced sheen of the album for a healthy dose of New York punk attitude but still a fun tune from a good album nonetheless.

Bastille: Pompeii (from the album 'Bad Blood'). A song. That was quite good. Sung by a man. With some nice close harmony vocals and chanting choral effects. Will that do?

Jon Hopkins and Natasha Khan: Garden's Heart (from the OST 'How I Live Now') - Way less bizarre than you'd expect from the Mercury Prize-nominated sound pioneer and the bonkers frontlady of Bat For Lashes, but just as beautiful.

Delphic: Baiya (from the album 'Collections') - Yeah, the album was a bit dodgy, or at least misunderstood because it no longer sounded like New Order, but at least this was a superb single.

Depeche Mode: Angel (from the album 'Delta Machine') - Menacing and dark. Cracking live. Not entirely convinced about the rest of the tracks, though...

Teagan & Sara: Closer (from the album Heartthrob)- In which the indie duo get a makeover from Greg Kurstin and turn into a fun pop band with kick-arse attitude. If you like this, you'll probably like the whole album. Which I did. And do.

Jagwar Ma: Let Her Go (from the album Howling) - Summery, cheery, shimmery, jangly, spangly, chimmery, jummery, okay that'll do now. This year's only tip from my friend Mark - who went and got himself a girlfriend, the fool. Possibly the most guitarry and least electronic sounding song I've chosen in my entire list.

Moby: Saints (from the album 'The Innocents') - Say, Moby, can you make us a song that sounds exactly like 'Unfinished Sympathy' by Massive Attack? You can? Great! Do you have anything original, or even just better, to fill up the rest of the album? You don't? Oh dear.

Röyksopp featuring Susanne Sundfør: Ice Machine (from the mix album 'Late Night Tales') - A wonderful Depeche Mode cover with just the right amount of Nordic melancholy and analog synth wonder. I've actually never heard the original and not convinced I want to now...

Röyksopp (again) featuring Susanne Sundfør (again): Running to the Sea (single) - One of only 2 original tracks the R-men released this year - but there should be music AND a tour in 2014 and I'm staking my entire happiness on it. No pressure, guys. (Oh, and if you feel like bringing Susanne along on the road, I wouldn't complain.)

Rob & Chloe Alper - Juno (from the OST 'Maniac'). Chloe (ex of the much-missed Pure Reason Revolution) released a lovely song on Soundcloud about a year ago, and then promptly took it down. I miss that song. This isn't it, but it's still good. Not sure who this Rob guy is, but apparently he can write a decent song.

Austra: Home (from the album 'Home') - Austra's Katie Stelmanis has rather a strange, deep, almost bleating voice - and I'm not sure yet whether I like it - however this album is full of very interesting, even peculiar music. I picked the most electronic, upbeat number of course. I'm so predictable.

Porcelain Raft: It Ain't Over (from the album 'Permanent Signal') - Ooh, they've woken up a bit. If last year's album was like a soak in a hot bath, this is perhaps more like gently jogging through a field on a summer's day, tossing dandelions around your head in soft focus.

M83 featuring Susanne Sundfør (again): Oblivion (from the OST 'Oblivion') - Ok, Susanne, stop hanging out with the boys and get on with your new album, will you? Come to that, M83, you're quite possibly my favourite current band so can you pull your finger out on the proper follow-up to 'Hurry Up, We're Dreaming' so that I can rightfully award it the 'Album of the Year' spot it was so cruelly robbed of in 2011?

This soundtrack nonsense is all very well when you can make songs this downright life-affirming, with majestic strings and thumping percussion underpinning the vocal performance of Susanne's life, but it's a bit of a shame to find the rest of the album just filled up with variations on the theme... Merci and Tak!

The Feeling: Blue Murder (from the album 'Boy Cried Wolf') - A more mature sound on this whole album has attracted some rave reviews in respected quarters, but it's still growing on me at the moment. Still, this opener is a pretty good statement of intent.

Emiliana Torrini : Speed of Dark (from the album 'Tookah') - A most intriguing album of soft, largely acoustic, breathy songs underpinned by gentle beats and chilled electronica. And then there's this banging mama of a tune which wakes you up in the middle. My second favourite Icelandic album of the year, and would have made the main list if there weren't already so much on it.

Foals: Prelude... Inhaler (from the album 'Holy Fire') - More bands should put an instrumental piece as track 1 before their first song, it's a largely dying art. Anyway, I lied, perhaps this little pair of tracks is the most guitarry thing here, albeit underwritten by some Stone-Roses ish drum patterns and odd distorted keyboards. A very promising start which isn't quite matched by the entire album (not yet, anyway. Maybe there's still time.)

Empire of the Sun: Lux...DNA (from the album 'Ice on the Dune') - Oh look, an instrumental piece leading into the first track proper. I told you more bands should do that. This second album didn't quite hit the highs of their legendarily good first effort (a modern classic of electro-pop) from a few years back, but in any other year it would have been on the main list for sure. It's not my fault there were so many who did better. Please don't stab me with your pointy hat.

MGMT: Mystery Disease (from the album 'MGMT') - Having pretty much abandoned the kind of breezy indie-synth-pop that made their name, MGMT have settled into a more minor key, obtuse prospect which doesn't always hit the mark, but when it works, such as with this menacing number where what sound like tiny Casio keyboards doodle over a hypnotic drum beat, it works.

SOHN: Bloodflows (single)- An extremely late entry thanks to whoever was picking the music before last week's I Break Horses gig, this sounded absolutely immense over the PA and is similarly engaging at home - a sort of gentle R&B number to start with, the track soon builds up with skittering beats and synths to become something totally different by the end. An exciting discovery.

Next time: The big one. 20 cracking albums from 2013.