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.