Thursday, December 19, 2019

Music of the Decade

A decade is a long time, and no time at all.
People arrive. People disappear.
Tooth enamel thins.
Teenagers learn G C and D and make music.

My musical decade began with the life changing moment of child #1 arriving.

The soundtrack to the first few years of the decade were carry overs from the festival going zeroes and calm, gentle backdrops of artists like Iron and Wine, Broadcast, Stereolab and Yo La Tengo. None of these bands released anything better than their earlier material in the 10's, but they remained as prevalent on the playlist as in their shared house, limited record collection heyday.

The whole delivery of music changed massively throughout the decade, and this is reflected in how the top albums evolved over the years.

Kicking off 2010, work colleagues would fill USB sticks with stacks of albums, barely touching the side of an big iPod capacity. That was the data store, what you owned, ripped, borrowed, stole.

The bands that resonated in those early 10's were essentially reverb heavy, ethereal, bedroom engineered nerdcore. Atlas Sound released Logo's in 2009, but it makes the list. This is my list, my rules.

Bradford Cox's other project, Deerhunter released Halcyon Digest 2010, which blended together with the Atlas Sound work and made hours of spreadsheet manipulation evaporate.

Around this time, there was a lot of 'Krautrock' in rotation too, following an excellent BBC4 documentary which opened up Can, Neu, Popol Vuh, and Harmonia, as well as the already established Kraftwerk (whose 3D Tour de France show at Tate Modern was quite something).

The closest contemporaries in 2011 were Peaking Lights, who released 936.

Peaking Lights were 80% medium and maybe a bit boring live, 20% superb. The sequencers and samplers got into the right kind of phase for only a small portion of the evening, but that was maybe the point. It can't be Christmas every day. The chunky beats and general simplicity made for many straight through listens, and their first two studio albums accumulated hefty play counts through the early part of the decade.

Indie, the mainstay of much of the nineties, and some of the zeroes was still bubbling around, but the most interesting indie was something that Pitchfork would dub something like folktronica. It had guitars and melancholy. Once in a while there was a steel pedal guitar, or perhaps a sequencer. it could go either way.
Sufjan Stevens released two key albums, Age of Adz (2010) which was like the hug you got when you were being dumped for somebody more interesting, and the less glitchy Carrie and Lowell (2015) with it's dysfunctional relationship themes masked in simple sounding acoustic arrangements that sneakily accumulated.

The one thing with the passage of time, is that it each day is an incremental grey hair, a second added to the time it takes to get to the train station rather than taken away. After 10 years, those seconds are minutes, the old photos reveal a sprightlier figure. But it is OK. There is music you have now which you never had 10 years ago. The collection is richer. The soul is richer.

I mentioned to a work colleague (George) I was ethnically Ukrainian, and he told me about a band he knew and recommended called DakhaBraka
This means Give/Take in Ukrainian, which also resonated as a way of life. Compromise!

Now, the 10's got way too political for my liking. After leaving the super liberal Guardian newspaper, I worked in an apolitical, global ad agency. Global events happened, but people still bought cars. Maybe not as many as we hoped, and not yet the right kind for the environment, but I got paid and thank various stars for that.

I also regard myself lucky that my home was always warm, fairly safe and unlikely to be subject to annexation. DakhaBraka's music was a reminder of my heritage, and in some ways, a contemporary upgrade on it. Massively on point, the foursome took turns showcasing authentic instruments and folk melodies and coming out of it quite cool. This session gives a flavour of how they look live: Tiny Concert, and the video for Carpathian Rap shows the modern spin on the craft and culture.

The key album to check out is DakhaBraka: Light (2010). It really won't be that many people's cup of tea, but hit the spot with me.

Less challenging, but representing a mid-decade shift, a band called Khruangbin became the expressive yet moderate soundtrack.
Their album The Universe Smiles Upon You (2015) echoed Santana. Live, the band were a bit unexceptional, and songs fairly similar in idiom, but on record, the album flowed and glinted in the sunshine. White Gloves is quite a lovely song well worth trying.  
The biggest revolution in music over the decade was yet another incremental creeper.
Smartphones were around well before the decade began, but didn't make it to Hove until the middle of the decade.
Apple's discontinued iPods and the effort of buying and ripping cds in order to get everyone to shift into Apple Music and the concept of always available streaming.
That shift happened, but Apple Music provided just the one good recommendation in a year (the quite bananas Lemon of Pink, for the record), so I returned to Spotify and have stuck there solidly since.
Factoring in a faster mobile internet and a long commute, there was time to discover, and travel down many rabbit holes.
There were super-specific niches to discover.

In 2016, Japanese Psych band Kikagaku Moyo released House in the Tall Grass. Barely there singing, locked grooves, sitars and xylophones recalled the kind of commune you'd like to be invited to. You'd likely have to grow facial hair, but there was wisdom and peace there. Probably screen printing and tea too.

On a similarly mellow theme, the perfect voice of Hope Sandoval came back after a lengthy break and released Seasons of Your Day as Mazzy Star in 2013, and Until the Hunter as Hope Sandoval in 2016. Both were 5 stars, no question.

As with all Hope Sandoval music, these albums were best listened to in the dark. Brushed drums, tons of reverb on the slide guitar, and the effortless drawl melting through it all.

Radio was still a factor in helping discover new music.
SoundCloud mixes of Steve Davis's Really interesting show, and then the Lauren Laverne and Guy Garvey's shows bred an infectious love for uncovering gems, and were perfect accompaniments to many a Sunday dinner preparation.

One artist discovered on Radio 6 was Julia Holter.
Have You In My Wilderness (2015) album was expertly constructed with songs that built their stories. The melodies and dynamics were complex and mature, and demanded repeated listens.
Excellent live too, in total command of a talented band who provided more than just the platform for her piano or vocals to lay over the top.

As my tastes moved away from 4 blokes noodling on guitars, honourable mentions go to some other excellent female acts, with PJ Harvey's Let England Shake (2011) on point, anticipating the political nonsense of the upcoming years. Anna Calvi played a superb show at All Saints church in Hove, and Marika Hackman packed a lot of life experience into 2017's I'm Not your Man, especially considering she was not even born when I was first listening to PJ Harvey!  

If Julia Holter represented calm craft, and precise quality, King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard were the band throwing multiple kitchen sinks at you. With 4 albums alone in 2017, the Australian psyche-rock-metal-math-punk-hippy outfit zipped through genres with energy and enthusiasm, and left nothing in the locker when playing live either.

My personal favourite album was 2015's Quarters with four songs of exactly 10m 10s, each giving  ideas a chance to breathe.
The final track, Lonely Steel Sheet Flyer was a West Coast 70's hippy jam and a perfect demonstration that the band cracked the level. Once there, they moved on before the joint was out, leaving no room for wistful nostalgia.

The final selection only hit my radar two weeks ago, so it may burn brightly and disappear like a Lemon of Pink, or hopefully, the mysterious band Sault may become a mainstay into the 20's.

They released two albums in 2019, 5 and 7. The titles don't give much to go on, and neither do the album covers. The music is unusual, glitchy disco, dubby, spacy soul. Hats off to them for hitting the spot so late into the decade and giving a glimpse of the future.

Listen to those albums at you leisure...

For a longer list of the choicest cuts, try this one. 

Various Artists: Hamilton (2015)
Mogwai: Les Revenants Soundtrack (2013)
Various Artists: True Detective Season 1 (2014)

Goat: Live at the Electric Ballroom (2013)
Goat Girl: Goat Girl (2016)

Not from the decade, but discovered in it:
Nick Drake: Pink Moon (1972)
Tom Waits: Rain Dogs (1985)
Portishead: Dummy (1994)
The Fugees: The Score (1996)
Susumu Yokota: Sakura (1999)
Biosphere: Cirque (2000)
Godspeed You Black Emperor: Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven (2000)
Polmo Polpo: The Science of Breath (2002)
Sandro Perri: Tiny Mirrors (2007)
Kraftwerk: Minimum Maximum (2005)

Thanks to Mary Andrews, Rifaat al-Mjeni, Chris Kerr, George Zrust, Jim Mann, Steven Gallacher, Dan Vernon, Sam Kemp, Michael Bell, Radio 6, Spotify Discover Weekly

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

My garden, and how to grow it

Umbrella Plant





Pear Tree


Castor Oil

Honey Suckle



Japanese Maple


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Some of my favourite moments Part 1

It's great the YouTube has all of this material... Obviously, being there, at Glastonbury on a heady mixture of love and cider is the way to do it, but this clip is a nice reminder.

Flaming Lips at Glastonbury 2003 - Breathe


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Design a narrative

Based on previous experience/ reality TV stereotypes, Project Runway Season 11 will go a little like this: 

The west coast cow (or middle America hard-worker): Amanda
The fast sewer who hates working in teams: Benjamin
The experienced hand with good tailoring but little flair: Cindy
The international crazy: Daniel
The stubborn loopy: Emily
The family guy with experience: James
The judge's favourite nice guy: Joseph Aaron
The too good for this competition-er: Kate
The one the gay guys hate then love: Layana
The dark horse: Matthew
The stresshead one who drops out: Michelle
The mother figure: Patricia
The noisy one who gets re-instated after someone drops out: Richard
The one who always makes pants: Samantha
The flaming one: Stanley
The timid one who cries at the Skype chat with partner: Tu

Friday, August 3, 2012

I was reminded of this lovely tv spot, made at the time of the dotcom bubble peak

I think the music was an adaptation of some Eric Satie, especially commissioned. The sums of money to get this onto TV and big cinema screens must have been fairly eye watering. did not live much longer than ad run!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

An old edition of the News of the World

I found a Dec 2008 copy of the News of the World when doing a clear out. Why I kept it, I have no idea, but having a read through of the sports pages is quite illuminating how little the paper got right, though I'm sure it all felt completely on point at the time.

'Phil's just fine for Terry' - Phil Scolari given vote of confidence by John Terry.
"He's a great man, he gets on with everybody"
Phil Scolari sacked on Feb 9, 2009.

'Fab's done good - How Godfather Capello saved England.'
Clearly written before the shambles in South Africa 2010, the Capello index, the sacking of John Terry, reinstating of John Terry despite him leading a players revolt, the sacking of John Terry etc etc...

'I'd love to boss England' - by high flying Hull City manager Phil Brown...
Hull avoid relegation by one point, Brown disgraced as he grows a goatee and sings karaoke.

Carragher: We'll win the league.
Liverpool do not win the league and do not end their 19 years of hurt.

Forget the Ashes... 
Later that year, England win the Ashes

Oh well, farewell News of the World...

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Skyscrapers in Croydon

Croydon is clearly going to be the new Manhattan. 
Images taken from the wonderful

1 Lansdowne Road

Cherry Orchard Road Tower

and this is the Skerne Road redevelopment, opposite my current house