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In Praise Of: Cartoons

March 30, 2017

Earlier this year, we introduced our boy to the wonderful world of telly. The books told us it was an appropriate time to start introducing new colours, shapes and sounds to his wee world – plus his mother needed a bit of time to herself.

She got him started with the medium via one of Disney’s modern classics, Finding Nemo, and it appeared to be a pretty successful distraction for an hour or so.

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This got me thinking of what other treats are in store for him in the coming years – as well as which cartoons I grew up on and some of the modern animations I’ve been enjoying recently.

Before I switched to Football Italia, cartoons were what filled up early Saturday mornings in front of the TV. Things like Rude Dog and the Dweebs, The Racoons or Sharky & George are what immediately spring to mind from the early to mid-nineties.

While these were all great at the time, having been put onto some of the current cartoon crop by my small relatives, I’m quite jealous of how weird and wonderful things have gotten since then.

I was already aware of the brilliant nonsense that is Spongebob Squarepants – as a ski instructor I found an easy way to get kids on side was starting a theme tune singalong – and the deviant insanity of Ren & Stimpy certainly helped pave the way, but some what’s followed really takes the surreal silliness and adult crossover potential up several notches.

Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time is a case in point. To try and explain it to someone and you’ll sound like a gibbering idiot, but watch a few episodes and they’ll begin to understand why it has built such an obsessive fanbase.

Created by Pendleton Ward in 2010, at a basic level it follows the adventures of a lone hooman, Finn, in the Land of Ooo, with his trusty sidekick and stretchy dog, Jake. Early series’ were mostly whimsical wanders through the mysterious world, usually defending different princesses, battling strange monsters and learning life lessons.

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However, moving into the sixth and seventh seasons, things get seriously cosmic, psychedelic and downright scary (perhaps due to Adam Muto taking over as showrunner from Ward). Some pretty big themes are dealt with – Finn’s father abandoning him, the definition of friendship, love and heartbreak, dealing with dictators, the meaning of life and death – and you begin to wonder how much of this younger children will be appreciating.

The very fact such scope is attempted on a kids cartoon should be applauded though, and my suspicion is that the way these things are presented – with the show’s subversive humour, great music and a Dungeons and Dragons escapism – could well be the best way to educate/entertain young minds.

The free-wheeling, seemingly randomly storyboarded plots are delightful and bewildering in equal measure, with something to offer people of any age.

The third main Adventure Time creator, Patrick McHale, arguably went one better a few years ago though, in coming up with the mini-series Over The Garden Wall. This story similarly follows two protagonists on their adventures – with lots of great voice talent (John Cleese, Tim Curry, Elijah Wood) – but has a markedly different animation style and narrative arc.

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It’s quite a lot darker, both visually and in tone, but still has some very funny characters and inspired songs. I won’t say too much more, apart from imploring you to give it a go.

Sticking with the stuff ostensibly aimed at children, Cartoon Network’s The Amazing World of Gumball is also well worth a mention, for its bright and boisterous cut’n’paste mix of cartoon and real life visuals.

Even better, but over on the DisneyXD channel, is Axel Hirsch’s Gravity Falls. Notable for its creator’s insistence on just making two series’ – flying in the face of US norms – the cartoonery is far more traditional, but the writing is anything but.

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Focusing on Dipper and Mabel Pines, who go to stay with their great uncle Stan for a summer in the eponymous town, it’s all about the supernatural things that go on around his abode and business, The Mystery Shack. The dialogue is snappy, plots entertaining and there are plenty of horror/sci-fi/pop culture references thrown in for those who’s youth spanned the 80s and 90s.

Into the second series things really get interesting, with great continuity between episodes (a lack of which always annoyed me in other cartoon shows) and some really well-developed friends and foes being introduced, taking the story to an impressive hour-long finale.

All of these I’d happily show my son, while the following suggestions will probably be held back until he’s well into the teenage years – assuming it’s not all virtual reality AI-powered holograms by that point.

Let’s start with the twisted brilliance of Rick and Morty. From the warped minds of Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland and hosted by Cartoon Network’s late night offshoot Adult Swim, it follows the titular mad scientist Rick Sanchez and his grandson Morty in their attempts to balance family life and inter-dimensional space travel.

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The show stemmed from an early pilot which bastardised the relationship between Back to the Future’s Doc and Marty – while also taking inspiration from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Dr Who.

Roiland does a great job of voicing both main characters – contrasting the stuttering, distressed timidity of Morty with the sweary, burpy, aggressive eccentricity of Rick. The show is frequently indecent, fantastically violent and properly hilarious – I recommend it wholeheartedly. Just don’t ask Dan when season three is coming out.

Completely different, but also utterly wonderful, is BoJack Horseman. Created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg as a Netflix Original, it stars Will Arnett as the titular man horse, with the likes of Aaron Paul and Alison Brie also filling key roles. He is a former 90s sitcom star, languishing in a Hollywoo Hills bachelor pad and looking for an Alan Partidge-eque bounce back to celebrity relevance via a tell-all autobiography.

One of the best things about the medium of animation is the freedom it gives to do anything with stories and characters. In this instance, it’s the fun that can be had with mixing humans and real life stars with the fictitious and anthropomorphic animals like BoJack and his nemesis Mr Peanutbutter.

The first series takes a while to get going, but should definitely be stuck with, as along with a lot well-written jokes, there’s a real sense of melancholy running through proceedings, which by the end of the second season has built into a genuinely emotional breakdown for the big horse-man. It’s a balancing act that could ruin a show, but they’ve pulled it off with aplomb.

It also has a superb theme tune, courtesy of The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney:

Distinctly less subtle, but laudable for its filthy fun, is Archer. It’s been going since 2009 and recently renewed for another three seasons (the 10th will be its last, according to creator Adam Reed), so I’m hardly the first to trumpet this show’s greatness – but let me add my own toot to the cacophony.

Following the undercover exploits of the International Secret Intelligence Service – the only ISIS I’ll ever recognise and respect – and lead spy Sterling Archer, the animated format lets the action get several multiples more chase-laden and explosion-fuelled than Bond or Bourne could ever manage.

But over and above the espionage drama, Archer is all about the dialogue – slick, sexual and very, very funny – the boozy bickering between Sterling and his mother Malory and his ex-girlfriend Lana and fellow colleagues like Cyril, Pam and Ray is endlessly quotable. Props to the cast for their wonderful voice work – no one more so than the main man himself, H. Jon Benjamin.

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The very same H. Jon Benjamin plays a very different character in Bob Belcher, the perpetually downtrodden owner of New Jersey diner Bob’s Burgers. I really can’t get enough of his voice – or Kristen Schaal’s for that matter – but that’s not the reason I love the show.

I enjoy its sedate pace, relative inconsequence of storylines and wonderful attention to detail – but possibly most of all – the music. The little sing songs that frequently break out and always accompany the end credits are just a joy.

I’m aware this blog has become a bit of a monster, so I’ll try to bring it to a close. You may be wondering why I’ve missed out some of the biggest comedy cartoons of all time – the likes of Family Guy, Simpsons and South Park – but I can’t help feel they’ve run their course, and were it not for insatiable American TV studios churning out series after series, they should have gone out while still in their hilarious prime.

An argument could respectively be made for the merits of the funny-for-a-few-seasons American Dad spin-off, the continued ingenuity of the intro couch gags, or that US election parodying last series which apparently just about killed Trey and Matt – but I’m not going to waste any more of my time on them.

One last less mainstream cartoon big-up before I go then, as an absent-minded scroll through Twitter a few weeks ago found my thumb hovering over news that Samurai Jack would return for a fifth and final season.

I must admit, I haven’t kept up with the show since a younger self was mightily impressed by the surprisingly abstract animation, exhilarating martial arts action and refreshingly grown up plots. But I’m glad it did well enough to warrant re-commissioning – proving, as is the theme of this post, that children are smart and sophisticated enough to appreciate advanced/adult animation – so made a point of catching the latest episodes on FOX.

I feel like I’ve definitely missed out some great animated shows from this list I can already think of Mike Judge classics Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill, plus things like Johnny Bravo and Dexter’s Lab  but please leave any suggestions in the comments.

 

 

Best of 2016: Tracks

December 18, 2016

You’ve seen the rest, now read the best. My best, tracks of the year:

50. Iggy Pop – Gardenia

How he outlived his mate Bowie I’ll never know, but it’s truly a pleasure to have the Ig still around and active at nearly 70 years old. The fact he’s making such good music, with the likes of Homme and Helders, is surely just a bonus.

49. Mark Ronson, Action Bronson and Dan Auerbach – Standing in the Rain 

The one good thing to come out of the expensive mess that was Suicide Squad.

48. Bloc Party – So Real

Clearly a shadow of their former selves, at least Kele’s new crew can still turn in a tune every now and again. I listened to their album so you didn’t have to; this was that highlight.

47. Kerrier District – Techno Disco (KiNK mix)

Last year’s long player from Luke Vibert side project Kerrier District contained a few gems here and there, but it took someone with KiNK’s abilities to apply the proper production polish.

46. The Kills – Doing it to Death

Nothing particularly groundbreaking from Mosshart and Hince on the latest album, but that doesn’t mean they’re not still capable of stripped back, catchy little numbers like this.

45. Childish Gambino – Redbone / Boogieman

Donald Glover is a seriously talented man – already a solid standup, decent actor and writer – under his musical Gambino guise he’s just released the soul/funk record of this year, or next. On Redbone in particular, he’s channeling the dearly departed Prince to a frankly frightening extent.

44. David Bowie – Blackstar

With the album, this and the Lazarus video, the thin white duke essentially gave his fans something to ease the pain of his passing; seemingly taking creative control over even his own demise. While musically it wasn’t immediately accessible stuff, you have to appreciate Bowie’s dedication to pushing his art forward until the very end.

43. RJD2 – Peace of What

Brass, piano, soulful vocals and lots of lovely percussion – these are the things that Ramble John Krohn does best – and long may he continue to do so.

42. Justice – Randy / Safe and Sound

The boys are back and better than ever. It’s not exactly subtle stuff, but then that was never their strong suit. A bit more mature than their debut and far more consistent than the last album, there are several sexy slices of French funk to choose from on Woman.

41. Justin Martin – Hello Clouds / Midnight

His second album wasn’t nearly as good as the first, but these two still demonstrated why the pizzaman is still the jewel in Dirtybird’s crown; lots of low bass rumble with some classy touches on top.

40. Mr Lif – World Renown

What a lovely lyrical combination, Del and Lif have such complementary voices they could be reading the phone book as far as I’m concerned.

39. Radiohead – Burn the Witch

Thom Yorke and the lads back on typically compelling form. If the rest of the album was a bit of a brooding grower, at least this was more straightforwardly satisfying as the lone single.

38. M83 – Go / Solitude

As I wrote earlier in the year about Anthony Gonzalez’s latest, it’s way too over the top to make it into my album chart, but that’s not to say there weren’t a few moments when his undeniable talent shone through – these being a couple of those songs where a cap should be doffed.

37. Youandewan – Be Good To Me Poly / 4D Anxiety

I’m so glad I took a tip on this chap, because just about everything on his debut album is worthy of an individual mention here. I’ll pick these two as favorites, but I implore you to give some time to the rest.

36. De La Soul – Pain / Snoopies / Lord Intended / Beautiful Night

Hard to cut just one from De La’s triumphant return, so I haven’t. If you haven’t heard this record yet, get on it immediately.

35. Weval – You’re Mine / Just In Case

This Dutch duo have found a perfect home on Kompakt, their measured melodies and precise drum patterns fitting in well alongside Mayer, Voight and Paape’s vision and seductive sound.

34. James Blake – Modern Soul

I wasn’t a big fan of the new album, but this is Blake at his best; absolutely does what it says in the title.

33. Cassius – The Missing / Action

Lord knows how Cassius convinced all these A-list collaborators – Mike D, Cat Power, Pharrell Williams, etc – especially since it’s been a decade since their last album. But fair play to them for not squandering the talent on show and instead producing some of this year’s finest pop music.

32.  A Tribe Called Quest – Dis Generation / Solid Wall Of Sound

When Phife Dawg died in March it felt just another reason to direct displeasure at the phenomenon known as ‘2016’, but then a few months later the remaining members of the Tribe returned in triumphant fashion, getting ex-members like Jarobi White and Busta Rhymes inspirationally involved. Between them, De La and some more modern marauders, hip hop did its best to revive a wretched year.

31. Holy Fuck – Shivering / Tom Tom

Carrying on the much-derided ‘math rock’ mantle from Foals and Battles are these plucky Canadians, who specialise in big, building, intense cacophonies of guitars and drums, which I can only imagine would sound brilliant live.

30. Rival Consoles – Lone

Ryan Lee West really realised his potential with the 6-track mini album Night Melody – this particular cut being a good demonstration of the intricate, emotive electronica he deserves such credit for.

29. Com Truise – Silicon Tare / Sunspot

Same same, but different. I feel like I’ve written this already in previous years, but it really is a case of ‘if it ain’t broke…’ with Seth Haley. Yet more analogue synth noodley goodness.

28. Paul McCartney, Timo Maas & James Teej – Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five

A weird little white label that dropped back in the spring – and was subsequently approved by Macca himself – which hasn’t been out of my head ever since. As Alan Partridge once said: “Wings, the band the Beatles could have been.”

27. Mr Fingers – Qwazars

What a joy to have deep house originator Larry Heard back making music under this moniker, and all the better when it doesn’t require any fake praise. This is a properly beautiful piece of work.

26. Plaid – Do Matter / Clock

To be still going after 25 years in this game is something, but managing to keep making music that’s recognisably theirs, but also fresh and engaging; well that’s borderline sorcery.

25. Floorplan – Music / Spin

Underground Resistance’s former ‘minister of information’ Robert Hood is one of the founders of the genre, so you’d never doubt his techno chops, but it’s nice to know he’s still got an album full of dancefloor destroyers in him.

24. Nevermen – Mr Mistake (Boards of Canada mix)

Any BoC production is always going to have good shot of making my top fifty, but when they’re remixing source material as strong as this, then it’s a no-brainer.

23. Isaac Tichauer – Higher Level (Bicep mix)

Between starting up their own live show and keeping up with a punishing international DJ schedule, it’s surprising the Bicep boys had any time for production work. Thankfully, they haven’t lost their touch, as this slice of hypnotic house demonstrates.

22. Moderat – Reminder / Running (KiNK mix)

I still can’t get over how much Reminder sounds like Skream’s remix of La Roux’s In For The Kill, but then I liked that track, so this one also gets me going.

21. Holy Ghost – Crime Cutz /Stereotype

Nick and Alex are your go-to guys for NYC disco stylings. Fundamentally their sound hasn’t moved on much in a decade, but you won’t see me complaining.

20. Bicep & Hammer – ARACARI

After the success of Dahlia last year, the Belfast duo got back into the studio with Hammer for a similarly simple ‘drums and synths’ 4am solution, released as part of Aus Music’s 10th anniversary compilation.

19. Michael Mayer & Agoria – Blackbird Has Spoken

Bit of a dream collaboration this one – from an album full of them – with the French and German heavyweights combining to create a delightfully dreamy end-of-the-night noggin soother.

18. Massive Attack – Ritual Spirit

Nice to have the original trip-hoppers back making music again – this atmospheric number being my favourite of the recent releases.

17. Gold Panda – In My Car

I wasn’t overly enamoured by this year’s album, but he’s still got a knack for crafting nice warm rhythms, using looped sample splices and interesting Asian instruments.

16. Denis Sulta – MSNJ

One Weegie giving another a leg up – the now ubiquitous Jackmaster making Mr Sulta’s stunner of a song the first track on his DJ-Kicks mix.

15. Metronomy – Old Skool

Few indie bands could get away with sticking a scratch solo in their lead single, but then Metronomy aren’t really a band at all. All hail Joe Mount’s unique individualism.

14. Beyond the Wizard’s Sleeve – Diagram Girl / Delicious Light

Hard to pick a favourite from Erol Alkan and Richard Norris’ debut album, but this first taste confirmed – if it was ever in doubt – that their production partnership is one to be cherished.

13. Jagwar Ma – O B 1 / Slipping

Another record full of fine songs, making it hard to pick just one or two. Fair play to this bunch of Aussies, they really doubled down on the potential shown on their first album.

12. Shura – Touch (Four Tet mix)

It’s been a relatively quiet year for Kieran Hebden on the production front, but ever reliable for a remix, he’s done a lovely job matching this young lady’s sugary vocals with a cosy, chugging bassline and saccharine sweet melody.

11. David August – Ouvert

Sounding something like Nils Frahm and peak-era James Holden here, this young man can both produce and play live some of the most interesting electronic music I’ve ever heard.

10. Bibio – Town and Country / Petals

Stephen Wilkinson has to be one of this country’s most under-appreciated artists, continuing a long run of form again this year with several gorgeous tracks on latest LP ‘A Mineral Love’; showing the weirdos at Warp do have a softer side.

9. Lindstrom – Closing Shot

The big hairy Norwegian here, proving once again that no-one does eight minute cosmic disco workouts like him – with the possible exception of his fellow countrymen Prins Thomas and Todd Terje of course.

8. Lone – Alpha Wheel

It’s become something of a truism that this guy makes the best modern old skool music around. This latest banger proves once again that his inspiration wormhole is still well connected to the early 90s.

7. Leon Vynehall – Blush / Paridisea

Stick either of these on, close your eyes and it’s not hard to picture yourself somewhere sunny with a big grin on your face – perfect for both 4am on a heaving dancefloor or 4pm on your balcony with a BBQ.

6. Kornél Kovács – BB / Dance… While The Record Spins

Last year his disco fun-track Pantalón sneaked into my end of year list, but this year the big Swede proved he’s got a lot more depth, with superb album The Bells.

5. Lauer – Killian / Antinat

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, Phillip Lauer knows his way round a banger. The big Frankfurter has been on quite the run of form lately and long may it continue.

4. Junior Boys – You Say That

This burrowed its way into my brain back in February and has stayed there ever since, popping up now and again to soothe my synapses; lovely stuff.

3. Aesop Rock – Blood Sandwich

Proper production paired with lyrical dexterity and an interesting voice – that’s all I’m looking for and exactly what I found with this track – everything finally comes together for hip hop’s perennial underachiever.

2. DJ Shadow – Nobody Speak / Bergschrund / The Mountain Will Fall

Most definitely an album of two halves, or even one third really, as things tail off hard after the first four tracks. But when three of them are these, Josh can be forgiven, as this is easily his best work in well over a decade.

1. Kaytranada – Bullets / Got It Good / Track Uno

Hard to choose from what quickly became my album of the summer (although annoyingly none of my preferred choices has an online video), such was the quality of Louis Kevin Celestin’s debut. ‘Bullets’ certainly got the most rewinds on my stereo and it encapsulates what made the record so great – catchy drum lines, laid back synths, perfectly-picked guest singers and a laid-back assuredness to the production that’s way beyond where he should be at this stage.

Best of 2016: Albums

December 17, 2016

In a year when so much in politics and popular culture seemed to go wrong, once solace was the quality of music still being made across the board.

As ever, my list is pretty skewed towards electronic music – of which there was a deliciously diverse range of offerings – but it was also a particularly good year for hip hop, with the return of greats like De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and news of Eric B and Rakim in 2017.

Maybe I’m not trying hard enough to seek out new bands or great rock records, but bar the nostalgic choice directly below this paragraph, there’s not a guitar-based album on my list. Anyway, that’s enough of my prattling on, here’s my twenty favourite long players of 2016:

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20. Primal Scream – Chaosmosis

Much like New Order’s Music Complete last year, this is far more than an excuse to go on another lucrative tour. During 11 albums Bobby Gillespie’s band of merry men have tried their hand at the whole genre gamut, with Chaosmosis feeling like a distillation of everything that’s gone before. It’s certainly not all Screamdelica/XTRMNTR quality, but fair play to them for not phoning it in like some of their peers.

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19. Justice – Woman

While Gaspard Auge and Xavier de Rosnay’s last outing was fairly forgettable, their third album sees the hairy Parisians back on form nearing their scene-defining debut. They’re clearly not taking any risks here, with ‘French touch’ staples aplenty – disco grooves, funk-fuelled basslines and soaring vocals – but like Daft Punk before them, it’s simple, yet devastatingly effective.

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18. Max Cooper – Emergence

It’s starting to become a bit of a tired trope (for which I am partly to blame), but Mr Cooper’s scientific background (he has a PhD in computational biology) really does shine through in the precise, intricate sounds he makes. His second album sees him build this reputation further, with a many layered and continually morphing wall of machine music developed as the perfect accompaniment to the ambitious A/V show he’s been touring it with.

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17.  Lone – Levitate

Apparently pieced together when Matt Cutler fell ill in New York – caught up in some kind of fever dream rave – his seventh album is very much the culmination of everything that’s gone before it. Alpha Wheel sets out the ballsy breaks and synths stall from the get-go, but as ever, there are more tender moments to be found in-between, like the delightful Sleepwalkers.

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16. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service

Both a triumphant return and a fond farewell, it’s really something special that this album got made at all, given the short amount of time between the group’s reunion and Phife Dawg’s untimely death. Thankfully it fits snugly into their esteemed cannon, happily balancing the jazzy samples and booming bass of old, with some interesting new production twists and a plethora of great guests.

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15. Rival Consoles – Night Melody

I think I said in my review of last year’s release Howl that Ryan West deserves to be a far bigger name than he was, or is. This latest EP for Erased Tapes only adds fuel to that fire, with a continuation of the beautiful, building soundscapes that should have him up among the likes of Jon Hopkins or Clark.

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14. Plaid – The Digging Remedy

I’m still slightly embarrassed it took me so long to get on Ed Handley and Andy Turner’s Warp-powered bandwagon, but boy am I glad I finally did. Nearly 30 years making electronic music, with this their ninth album as Plaid, it’s frankly incredible the stuff still sounds this inspired – from the imposing opener Do Matter through characteristically melodic and moving numbers like Clock.

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13. Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid

Oddly for someone who makes his living from writing words, I’m much more interested in the instruments than the lyrics when it comes to music. This stands as something of an obstacle to most hip hop, which is often not much more than a rapper and a basic backing beat. Given this guy was found to be the wordiest in the game, it should mean I’m incompatible with his work, but as with most of the parts of this genre I love, Aesop Rock has a great voice, strong flow and really interesting production. More so than any of his previous LPs, this one nails it on all three counts.

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12. It’s A Fine Line – It’s A Fine Line

As I wrote in my full review of this album, this is what a couple of Parisians exiled in London sounds like. There’s plenty of Gallic flair, tempered and toughened by British gloom. I’ve long been a fan of Ivan Smagghe’s work, and young Tim Paris seems to be a great production foil for him.

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11. Youandewan – There Is No Right Time

A late entry to the list (I literally downloaded it this morning) Ewan Smith’s debut album on AUS ticks all the boxes for me. The Berlin-based Yorkshireman apparently channeled a breakup and new city loneliness into creating this collection of sublime electronica – ranging from fuzzy lo-fi house to Lone-esque rave breaks and all the way out to early Ninja Tune trip-hop and golden era hip-hop.

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10. Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein – Stranger Things Vol. 1 & 2

Arguably the biggest TV show of the year, the Duffer Brothers’ retro masterpiece owes a great deal of its success to the pitch/period perfect score. Eighties referencing analogue synth music is not a new trend, but aside from maybe Com Truise, few have so accurately captured that warm nostalgia so accurately – or, to be fair, the creepy noises that made ‘the upside down’ so incredibly atmospheric.

 

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9. Floorplan – Victorious

Maybe it’s got something to do with him inviting his daughter Lyric to co-produce, or it could just be the victory lap that its title suggests, but whatever the reason, Robert Hood’s latest under this alias is markedly more blatant and boisterous that previous work. Tracks like Music and Spin are aimed squarely at the floor – proper looping techno for the top of the night – so this is definitely more jackin’ Chicago than industrial Detroit.

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8. De La Soul and the Anonymous Nobody

Free from the constraints of a traditional record deal, but also burdened with the various administrative hassles of going it your own, De La’s Kickstarter-ed eighth album took its sweet time; but thankfully was well worth the wait. For a proper review, look no further than my old workmate Hugh, but suffice to say this is a wonderfully diverse return, taking in everything from David Byrne to Damon Albarn, Estelle and even Justin Hawkin from The Darkness.

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7. Leon Vynehall – Rojus

This man’s talent for subverting house music norms was laid out for all to see on his 2014 breakout release Music For The Uninvited. A couple of years later and he’s confirmed that promise by smashing the tricky second album syndrome with yet more slinky, sexy, sunny dance music. Tracks like Paradisea and Blush went big over the summer, but there are few missteps across 45, expertly-crafted minutes.

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6. Bibio – A Mineral Love

Like quite a few of my favourite records this year, Stephen Wilkinson’s fourth release on Warp is heavily front-loaded. Album opener Petals sets the scene, combining little more than his sonorous vocals and a luscious, looping guitar line to great effect. A few tracks later, Town and Country demonstrates Bibio’s knack for melding folksy elements with funk and soul sensibilities. In fact, squaring the fact he’s actually from the West Midlands, with the gloriously American music he makes, is truly credit to his skill as a producer.

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5. Jagwar Ma – Every Now & Then

It’s no coincidence that this album was recorded in Andrew Weatherall’s Bunker studio and he was responsible for producing Primal Scream’s seminal album Screamadelica. For their follow-up to Howl, Jagwar Ma have unashamedly mined the best of that band and their peers like The Stone Roses and New Order. Much like their Aussie brethren Tame Impala, the band’s sound has evolved, with lots of interesting electronic experimentation on top of already solid song-writing.

 

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4. Beyond the Wizard’s Sleeve – Soft Bounce

Erol Alkan proved his eclecticism way back in the days of his pioneering club night Trash, continuing his penchant for things left of the dancefloor via the Beyond the Wizard’s Sleeve side project with Richard Norris; creating all manner of interesting remixes over the last decade or so. That genre-defying nature is immediately evident on their debut long-player – as within the first five tracks they’ve run through Contino Sessions-era Death in Vegas , early Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, mid sixties avant-garde Euro pop and late eighties synth-infused shoe gaze.

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3. Kornél Kovács – The Bells

This album kind of came out of nowhere to become one of my favourites this year. I knew him as the man responsible for the fun of Pantalon and a similarly silly cover of the Space Jam theme song, but his debut album shows he’s got other settings. That’s not to say The Bells isn’t entertaining – tracks like Dance… While the Record Spins are day-glo dancefloor destroyers – but the balance between ecstasy and melancholy, which elevates all great disco, is struck expertly by the big Swede.

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2. The Avalanches – Wildflower

Sixteen years and countless unsubstantiated rumours later, it’s fair to say expectations were high for the sequel to Since I Left You. As various interviews with the remaining members revealed, Wildflower has been through several iterations and overcome any number of bumps in the road, but thankfully in the end solidified into a joyous celebration of hazy, happy summer days. Progression comes subtly, via well-selected vocal contributions and some live instrumentation, but the sonic patchwork technique is maintained, making for an album you can’t cut from; just get lost in the boundless creativity.

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1. Kaytranada – 99.9%

It’s been an interesting few years for young Louis Kevin Celestin. His re-edit of Janet Jackson’s If got some early Soundcloud stardom, which he built upon with things like album precursor Leave Me Alone. As demand for DJ sets grew, so did stresses around still living at home in Montreal and eventually coming out to his strictly religious Haitian parents. All this is just backstory though, when the music is this good. Combining his love for hip hop and R&B produced by J-Dilla and The Neptunes with warm and fuzzy deep house, he’s gone and made a practically flawless record.

 

If you’ve made it this far, then here’s a bonus top 10 mixes of the year to reward your persistence:

10. Sasha – Scene Delete

9. Carl Craig – Cocoon Ibiza

8. Moodymann – DJ-Kicks

7. Eats Everything – Fabric 86

6. Will Saul – AUS 100

5. Gerd Janson – Fabric 89

4. Patrice Bäumel – Balance

3. Simian Mobile Disco – Welcome To Sideways (A Delicacies Mix)

2. Groove Armada – FabricLive 87

1.Jackmaster – DJ-Kicks

 

The Finest Names In Finance

August 17, 2016

At the end of this month I will escape financial journalism, my professional home for the last six years – four covering pensions and asset management for Institutional Investor Euromoney and two writing about the financial adviser side for the Financial Times.

I’m still not entirely sure how I got into the industry in the first place – recession employment desperation mostly – but the wages allowed me to keep on living in London, the perks kept me sweet and the subject matter got more interesting the deeper I got.

But as much as I can’t complain about this period in my career, I did develop some coping strategies to deal with the inevitable boredom that creeps in while regurgitating endless product launch press releases, or sitting through conference speeches on the outlook for structured bonds.

One of my most prized possessions after all these years is a scrap of paper containing the best names I’ve come across during my time in the financial markets. So as a final farewell to this sector that’s treated me so well, I’d like to pay tribute to these men and women with a wee list:

[Obviously there are even sillier names out there in other professions – the Olympics have once again thrown up a few beauties – but these really tickled me]

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Trevor Panther, director at FG Watts Financial Advisers

Mike Fullalove – global head of funds at Barclays Wealth and Investment Management

Leyland Otter – chief investment officer at the Merseyside Pension Fund

Richard Bongo – managing director at BNP Paribas

Jonathan Zoob – pensions and benefits manager at Societe Generale

Curt Custard – head of investment solutions at UBS Global Asset Management

Nigel Bottom – UK pensions manager at Motorola

Randall ‘Randy’ Outlaw – director at Deutsche Bank Securities

Rocky Fishman – director at Deutsche Bank

Ayo Salami – chief investment officer at Duet Asset Management

Algernon Percy – managing director at Waverton Investment Management

Jo Kitcat – managing director at BNY Mellon

Kevin Snowball – chief executive at Vietnam Asset Management

Tom Morrow – managing director at Alix Partners

Ilonka Waterdrinker – director at Well PR

Hugh Titcomb – chief executive at Thomas Miller Investment

Gabriel Surprise – regulatory data analyst at New York Stock Exchange

Tizzy Vigilante – managing director for wealth management Australia and NZ for IRESS

Please feel free to regale me with the greatest names you’ve come across in your profession.

New Music

May 3, 2016

I started writing this post on Saturday, in the knowledge Radiohead had an album in the works, but not that promotion of it was going to start this weekend. They somewhat fortuitously started teasing things on Sunday, so I held off publishing what I’d written until there was actually something solid to say.

Burn the Witch‘ sounds alright on first inspection – an old bootleg updated with Jonny Greenwood’s orchestral touches and Thom Yorke’s Atoms For Peace electronics – and the Wicker Man in Trumpton video is great.

As there’s nothing much else to go on at this point, here’s the rest of the post I was writing:

Spring appears to have finally sprung and summer’s just round the corner, so you’re going to need some music to crank in the car, stick on during a barbecue or simply liven up a sunny commute.

After a fairly slow start to the year, it feels like there’s a tonne of excellent new stuff around to pick from, so here’s a rough run-through of what’s been entertaining my ears recently:

Starting with hip hop, news broke on Friday for those backing De La Soul’s album Kickstarter that while said LP is now delayed until August 26th, there’s a teaser EP out for all to hear.

As you may remember, back in November Posdnuos, Trugoy and Maseo promised ‘And The Anonymous Nobody’ would arrive at the end of April, but an update on their crowdfunding page explained that dealing with their own distribution since going label free has been harder than anticipated.

As a token to their fans, they instead posted the aptly-titled ‘For Your Pain & Suffering’ four track:

In the last few weeks we’ve also had the announcement of a new record from DJ Shadow. To be honest, I’d all but given up on Josh Davis’ career after successive disappointments in the form of 2011’s ‘The Less You Know The Better’ and the ‘Liquid Amber’ release in 2014, but early details of collaborations with Nils Frahm and Run the Jewels got my hopes up again.

Entitled ‘Mountain Will Fall’ and out on June 24th via Mass Appeal, it is indeed the track with El-P and Killer Mike that’s going some way to restoring my faith in the Bay Area’s finest beat maker.

Meanwhile, the most obvious pretender to Shadow’s throne, RJD2, also has a new record out. ‘Dame Fortune’ is Ramble Jon Krohn’s sixth album and sees him treading similar ground to previous works, with lots of soulful instrumental numbers and a few funky foundations for friends like Phonte Coleman and Jordan Brown work over.

I’ll finish this section with a couple of the most unique voices in rap, and old favourites of mine from back when Definitive Jux reigned supreme.

First up, white-boy weirdo Aesop Rock returns with ‘The Impossible Kid’, just out on Rhymesayers, marking his first proper solo work since 2012’s ‘Skelethon’.

As per usual, its a mix of the dark and light production, complex rhymes and dick jokes. According to the blurb on his Bandcamp page, it was created during a “turbulent handful of years that culminated in leaving his adopted home of San Francisco to live in a barn out in the woods”. Whatever the process, the end product sounds great.

The other voice I always loved is that of Mr Lif, who also makes a long overdue return with ‘Don’t Look Down‘; his first work in seven years. It features a few more old favourites in the form of Edan and Del that Funky Hompsapien, the latter’s contribution being an early posted here for your delectation:

Ditching the MCs, but staying downtempo, there’s a new one from Gold Panda due to drop on the 27th of May. It’s called ‘Good Luck and Do Your Best’, which were apparently parting words from a taxi driver the Peckham producer met whilst traveling around Japan.

Along with obvious far eastern influences, he recently told The Ransom Note that “I wanted to make a bunch of tracks that I could play in the car”; hence my pick of the tracks he’s so far debuted from the album:

Someone he often gets compared to is Bibio, another slightly leftfield British producer quietly making lovely music off on the fringes of the scene. There’s is the sound track of the subliminal, in that you’ll probably have unconcisouly bobbed your head to it while in a trendy clothes shop or cafe. While that may sound like a dig, it couldn’t be further from my feelings.

Stephen Wilkinson’s latest, ‘A Mineral Love‘, is full of warm, natural notes to lull you into a happy place. His songs have that same hazy reminiscence thing as fellow Warp label mates Boards of Canada, but without the sinister undertones.

Moving back across the pond, it’s almost time to hear the long-awaited debut album from Haitian-Canadian Louis Kevin Celestin, AKA Kaytranada. Early EPs and remix work caught the ear of XL, which signed him at the end of 2014 and in the last month or so started drip feeding bits and bobs about ‘99.9%’.

It’s out next Friday and features guest spots from Anderson.Paak, AlunaGeorge, Little Dragon and somewhat implausibly, Craig David. This instrumental job with horns and strings by River Tiber and drums from Karriem Riggins has been getting me excited for the last couple of weeks:

Staying stateside, it’s also worth noting Com Truise released a new EP at the start of April. I feel like I’ve written this before, but while ‘Silicon Tare’ isn’t exactly breaking Seth Haley’s mould, it’s such a lovely mould, he could probably still get quite a few more pleasing productions out of it before the fun fades.

The same cannot be said for another artist mercilessly mining 80s nostalgia for inspiration. Anthony Gonzalez nailed it with the 2011 double album ‘Hurry Up We’re Dreaming’ and ubiquitous single ‘Midnight City’, but it really feels like the game is up with his new one ‘Junk‘.

The press pack quotes him as saying: “I wanted to make what I call an ‘organized mess’, a collection of songs that aren’t made to live with each other, yet somehow work together”. Whether he’s succeeded is subjective I suppose, but for my money it’s a lot of the mess and not quite enough of the magic.

A more welcome return comes in the form of Erol Alkan and Richard Norris’ side project Beyond the Wizards Sleeve. The new record is called ‘The Soft Bounce’ and is out at the beginning of July, preceded by this delightful single; ‘Diagram Girl’.

Given I haven’t written anything like this since the end of year round-ups, it’s probably worth just mentioning a few crackers that fell in the months between then and now. Firstly, Massive Attack came back at the end of January with a four-tracker featuring collaborations with Tricky, Young Fathers, Roots Manuva, and Azekel, along with promises of a second EP in the spring and a full album to follow later this year.

Another one I haven’t been able to get out of my head since it broke back near the start of the year is the Boards of Canada rework of Nevermen‘s ‘Mister Mistake’. It starts fairly straight, but then dissolves into trademark BoC, plus that Tunde Adebimpe vocal is still looping through my brain three months later.

A brief sojourn now into indie rock, if you’ll allow it. Not a vintage year yet for guitar-weilders, but I did quite enjoy Josh Homme bringing Iggy Pop out of semi-retirement for ‘Post Pop Depression‘. How he outlived his made David Bowie I’ll never know.

It was also nice to see Primal Scream back making music, with their 11th album ‘Chaosmosis’ coming out in March. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, with trendy ladies Sky Ferreira and Haim recruited to bounce off Bobby Gillespie. Worth a listen through, for highlights like ‘I Can Change’ and ‘Feeling Like A Demon Again’.

Worth mentioning, but not wasting too many words on, are new albums from mid-noughties favourites of mine, Bloc Party and Wolfmother. Both bands have lost key members in recent years, probably due to rather overbearing lead singers. This means their latest work isn’t anywhere near past glories, but if you were a fan have a listen to ‘So Real‘ from Bloc Party’s ‘HYMNS’ and ‘The Love That You Give‘ from Wolfmother’s ‘Victorious’.

Hopefully better things will come from The Kills, who return at the start of June with ‘Ash & Ice’ on Domino. The cooler than you duo of Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince appear to have lost none of their swagger, if recent release ‘Heart of a Dog‘ is anything to go by.

Less information is available on the return of Richard Fearless’ occasionally brilliant Death in Vegas project. All I can find is that the sixth album, ‘Transmission’, will be out on the 27th of this month and first single ‘You Disco Freak’ is presumably an indicator of what to expect.

In a similar sonic vein, but with none of the historical gravitas, are Britghton-based indie electro oddities Fujiya & Miyagi, who are set to release ‘EP 1’, the first of a new triptych, also on May 27th. Have a gander of ‘Serotonin Rushes’ right here.

Moving towards the dancefloor now and another triumphant return. Jeremy Greenspan and Matthew Didemus have been back in the studio as Junior Boys, coming up with a ‘Big Black Coat’ to warm people with in February. The whole album is great, but the one I keep on coming back to is euphoric opener ‘You Said That’.

From old favourites to something completely new, props to my mate Barry for putting me on to the Amsterdam-based Atomnation label and one of its finest members, Russian producer Koett.

In February he released ‘Thaw’, which his Bandcamp page explains was “recorded with a Polyvox (an old Sovjet replica of the Moog), Yahama DX-7, Blofeld Waldorf and the Roland TR-808”, adding “the album could work perfectly for a dark club setting or as a soundtrack for a late-night headphone session”. Agreed.

One of my favourite albums of 2012 was Justin Martin‘s ‘Ghettos & Gardens’. The Dirtybird alumni is back, releasing ‘Hello Clouds’ a fortnight ago and ploughing a similarly bassy furrow as last time, although perhaps with less clear cut winners this time round.

Similarly not quite as good as its predecessor is Leon Vynehall‘s new one ‘Rojus’. To be fair, 2014’s ‘Music For The Uninvited‘ was one of the records of that year, so this is no great disparagement. On the contrary, tracks like ‘Paradisea’ and ‘Blush’ have already established themselves as key musical accompaniments to any pre-club preparations in our house.

Continuing in that vein, here are a couple more “sun’s oot, taps aff” belters to have on standby.

Lindstrom’s return to cosmic disco with ‘Closing Shot’.

Lauer’s beezer run continues on ‘Killian’.

And Four Tet’s saccharine sweet remix of ‘Touch’ by Shura.

Sticking with fun-time dance music, let’s move to New York’s finest, DFA, for a couple of new releases. Firstly, the retro stylings of Holy Ghost, who return from the distinctly underwhelming 2013 full-length ‘Dynamics’ with a much leaner and meaner four-track ‘Crime Cutz’. Stick the title track on your summer playlist at once.

Next Friday, Marcus Lambkin, or Shit Robot to his fans, will also have some new music out. ‘What Follows‘ is his third album for James Murphy’s label and features classic collaborators like Juan Maclean and Nancy Whang, along with fellow Dublin native New Jackson and Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor. This all makes for another characteristically propulsive analogue, proto-disco mish mash.

A quick word on everyone’s favourite bassy Berlin trio Moderat, who released ‘III’ – their third album – at the start of April. For me, it’s the least inspiring of the lot, but still a solid piece of work by most standards. Lead single ‘Reminder‘ is the best thing on it, even if it borrows liberally from Skream’s remix of ‘In For The Kill‘ by La Roux.

Also, a quick note on something new from Floating Points, given he delivered one of last year’s finest long players. He’s back with a two-track release called Kuiper. If you’ve been lucky enough to see him live in the last few years, you might know this jam already, but if not, here’s a video of  the 18-minute title song:

This post is already far too long, but if you’re still with me, just a few more house-y things to finish.

Two of my favourite labels have compilations out at the moment – DJ Koze presenting ‘Pampa Vol. 1‘ and Permanent Vacation making their ‘Selected Label Works 5‘ – both lots of secret weapons to be unearthed.

Meanwhile, Fabric have signed up a few more industry heavyweights to their mix cannon, with Eats Everything delivering Saturday night session number 86 and Groove Armada in the frame for FabricLive 87.

Two of the other surviving series’, Balance and DJ-Kicks, have also continued to justify their continued existence, bringing Patrice Bäumel and Moodyman to the party, respectively. Both are superbly selected sets, in very different ways: the former delivering a silky smooth tech-house masterclass, while Detroit’s finest  goes properly eclectic with his effort (hat tip for introducing me to this track and artist).

That’ll do it for now. As ever, if there’s anything amazing I’ve overlooked, please let me know below.

FYI – I’d usually just make an 8tracks playlist for this kind of thing, but in February they decided anyone outside of North America would have their ‘mixes’ reduced to often incomplete YouTube playlists, so until I figure out Spotify like a normal person, you’ll have to just make your own.

In Praise Of: HEBS Adverts

April 9, 2016

I generally try to take the moral high ground when it comes to the Buzzfeed-ification of online journalism, but as the popularity of that site and its many imitators shows, everyone likes a nostalgic listicle every now and again.

So while I’m glad to say that churning out clickbait hasn’t yet become my day job, a wee blast from the past has inspired me to indulge in a quick and dirty dive into the editorial abyss.

HEBS

I’d like to heap some praise on a long-defunct quango, the Health Education Board for Scotland, and more specifically, the run of memorable television adverts they produced at the turn of the millennium.

Whether they actually prevented any malleable young minds from drinking, smoking or taking drugs is questionable, but for a certain demographic of Scots, their choice quotes remain embedded in the subconscious.

Here’s my pick of the bunch:

Picture the scene, you’ve finally managed to convince the ‘bigger boys’ round your house, there’s some takeaway pizza in the lounge, then one of them asks “How about a wee toot?”

You reply: “What, heroin?” and he goes, “Aye, smack, but you’re only smokin’ it”.

The rest of the ad follows the two sides of the square/smackhead conundrum. While the sensible chap on the right goes about his normal life, the drug-addled degenerate on the left has to sell his Playstation – “pride and joy is it, twenty quid” – and chore some money from his dad’s coat – “I wasn’t stealin’, that’s exactly what you’re doing Stuart” – before the screens merge as one asks the other “any spare change pal?”.

Fade to blue and the HEBS tagline, Think About It.

This one sees our skinny wee protagonist working on his chat-up lines whilst getting ready, only to succumb to the scourge of alcohol once he’s actually at the party. Egged on by his pals and the pretend Prodigy blasting out the stereo, he finally plucks up the courage to approach the object of his affection.

What comes next is the timeless: “Sarah, I really fancy you, so, how about it eh?”

To be fair, I’ve people get lucky with a lot worse; she clearly wasny worth it mate.

Another cautionary tale of drinking too much at hoose pertys, as the wee lassie (Lisa from Grange Hill to be exact) keeps on getting flashbacks from the weekend whilst walking towards the guy she fancies.

Finally, as they pass one another in the school corridor and her memory has revealed the full horror of her session, the smirking berk turns to his pal and goes: “Should have seen the state of her on Saturday night”.

A cautionary tale for the ages.

This is a bit older (1996 apparently) and officially Scotland Against Drugs rather than HEBS, but is worthy of inclusion as it contains another classic catchphrase.

It sees some gadgy taking great delight in explaining how he’s bumped all these punters by selling them vitamin pills and dog worming tablets instead of swedgers, before more alarmingly informing the viewer: “See her, I sold her acid, she thought she was getting an eccie, she didn’t even know the difference man, look at her, it’s turned her into a pure space cadet”.

The message from the authorities, if you hadn’t worked it out already; You’d be off you’re head to trust a dealer.

Given this was the same year Trainspotting shone a light on the country’s drug abuse problem, it’s hardly surprising they ran a follow-up campaign in 1997 reminding the general populous that everyone’s got a drugs problem.

Back to HEBS again and state-sanctioned drugs. The blue sticks campaign featured a brightly coloured cartoon world where our narrator – who sounds like Baz Luhrmann from the previous year’s ‘Wear Sunscreen’ song – tells us some really cool beings live.

However, they have a strange habit of chewing on blue sticks, which make their breath smell, poision their bodies and taste disgusting; yet nobody’s willing to admit any of this. Can you tell what it is yet?

Finally, one courageous young alien, upon trying her first blue stick, utters the then infamous phrase: “This tastes boggin”. Cue mass realisation.

There was a follow-on ad with an actual alien pointing out what’s wrong with fags, but it was rubbish, so I’m not going to waste any more time writing about it.

The last one I can remember was where the whole HEBS thing kind of jumped the shark. To really hammer home the anti-smoking message, they created a fictitious girl band, Stinx, and made them a no-expenses-spared music video, which looked like the Spice Girls and sounded like Britney Spears.

‘Why Do You Keep On Runnin’ Boy?’ – sample lyric “so whatcha say boy, fancy getting jiggy, what’s the problem boy, the smell of my ciggy?” – got very annoying, very quickly. But like so many pop songs before and after it, also became inexplicably popular.

Teenage girl demand meant it was eventually released as a single, selling over 10,000 copies and reaching number eight in the Scottish charts. So despite reportedly costing the government £340,000 it went a long way to making that back and even saw the agency behind it, The Bridge, being asked by Serbian officials to roll it out there.

Stinx

A year or so later HEBS was merged with the Public Health Institute of Scotland to become NHS Health Scotland, with the marketing budget being diverted to boring things like doctor’s wages and MRI scanners.

Shame really, as I’ve never seen a run of telly spots since then that captured colloquialisms so keenly and nailed the pitfalls of being a Scottish teenager so well.

Of course YouTube is awash with similarly entertaining public information films, but these were the only ones I could find of that era. If you can think of any I’ve missed, please let me know in the comments; I love a good reminisce.

Best of 2015: Albums

December 20, 2015

Just a top 10 for the long players this year. Not sure if it was because I had other things on and consequently didn’t listen to as much music, or that there were genuinely less great albums made during the last 12 months. Either way, these are the ones I kept coming back to:

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10. Herbert – The Shakes

Matthew Herbet follows a proud British tradition of musical eccentrics, gaining his credentials via ‘challenging’ albums created using the various parts of a pig or a snippet of sound from a war. Crucially, for the experimental stuff he uses the full name, while for more conventional records like this, it’s just the surname. Tracks like ‘Middle’ and ‘Strong’ are in fact really strong and eminently radio-playlist-able R&B, yet again proving his versatility and skill as a producer.

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9. Floating Points – Elaenia

Much like his mate Kieran Hebden, Sam Shepherd is not far off genius level in terms of his productions and DJ sets, with both owing a great deal to formative sessions at the sadly defunct Plastic People nightclub. But while Four Tet has gotten more and more house-y this year, Floating Points has moved back towards the intricate and introspective with his latest release. From stunning opener ‘Nespole’, to the raw power of abruptly closing track ‘Peroration Six’, via 11 minute odysseys like the ‘Silhouette’ trilogy; this is electronic music at its most exquisite.

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8. Django Django – Born Under Saturn

A second albums go, this is a return with some amount of swagger. Picking up where they left off, the Djangos build on their indie/electro platform with a whole bunch of new ideas, instruments and inspirations. Much to my delight, the eclectic tastes of band leader Dave Maclean – there for all to see on their Twitter feed or Late Night Tales entry – are all over this record, with all number of different synth sounds to be heard among the guitars on highlights such as ‘Reflections’ and ‘High Moon’.

 

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7. Lauer – Borndom

The fantastic Frankfurter Phillip Lauer is at it again, this time making the move to Permanent Vacation for his second album. It’s one full of unashamedly retro themes – the hazy vocoders of ‘Crewners’ to open, followed by the sugary synth pop of ‘Carpet’ and marimba-laden beach house of ‘Gammelan’. He doesn’t stop there though, early electro is pillaged for ‘Msndrstndng’ and kraut rock referenced on ‘ESC’. Thing is, no offence is taken, because he nails it every time.

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6. !!! – As If

Nic Offer’s team have got their groove back after the frankly disappointing Thr!!!er, embracing more electronic elements than ever in order to reinvigorate their vibe. Cuts like ‘All U Writers’ and ‘I Feel So Free’ are proper club bangers, while there’s still room for some trademark funky flexin’ on the likes of ‘Freedom 15’ and ‘All the Way’.

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5. Kelpe – The Curved Line

I never quite understood why Kel McKeown didn’t sign with Ninja Tune, where his music would fit so well and he’d get the promotion an artist of his talent deserves. That aside, if he keeps on making records this good, his fledgling Drut label might just make it. His fifth album is the most accessible yet, with early tracks like ‘Doubles of Everything’ and ‘Chirpsichord’ capturing that halfway between house and hip hop sound that has propelled guys like Bonobo to the top of the Ninja roster.

New Order

4. New Order – Music Complete

A few of my favourite albums this year have seen bands successfully dabble with synths and drum machines. In doing so of course, they all owe a debt to the original indie/dance cross over group, who’s triumphant return this September showed that they’re still the daddies. Tracks like ‘Singularity’ or ‘People On The High Line’ could easily fit into most good DJ’s sets, proving that even without Hooky, Bernard Sumner and co. have still got it.

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3. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love

The internet tells me this is in fact the third album by Ruban Nielson’s Kiwi/Yankee quartet, but I’m embarrassed to say it took a recommendation from a friend to make me aware of their brilliance. It’s a truly weird and wonderful hodge-podge of jazz, soul, funk and indie rock which in the wrong hands could be a complete mess, but is instead a collection of incredibly catchy songs for any occasion. Think Prince and Fat Freddy’s Drop in a studio together and you’re some of the way there.

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2. Fort Romeau – Insides

I’ve been banging on about how good a DJ and producer Mike Greene is for a few years now, so it’s fair to say I had high expectations for his second LP. Thankfully for my fragile reputation as knowing a bit about dance music, he really delivered on this first record with the mighty Ghostly label. Their press release sums up the appeal perfectly: “Fort Romeau guides us down misty corridors lined with supple synth pads, quietly thumping kicks and elastic low-end sequences reinforced by an emotive confidence.”

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1. Tame Impala – Currents

They’ve gone and done it again – a best album and track clean sweep. Currents was quite a departure from 2012’s Lonerism, with woozy pyschedelic rock replaced by sleek synths and 80s overtones. From the epic opener ‘Let It Happen’ to seductive first single ‘Cause I’m A Man’, via proper power ballads like ‘Eventually’, this record just flows over you like a warm wave of nostalgia. I genuinely can’t wait to hear Kevin Parker and his merry bunch of men come up with next.

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As for the compilations and mixes released during 2015, there are many worthy of mention. Fabric had a pretty strong year, with Mathew Jonson’s superb live set from the club’s 15th birthday being a particular highlight, while Joris Voorn and Art Department‘s efforts were also well worth a spin.

The inimitable DJ Koze was a fine choice to mix the 50th installment of the lauded DJ-Kicks series, turning in a typically diverse set. Soul Clap‘s Watergate mix really made you feel part of the summertime party it was recorded at, just as Jon Hopkins‘ Late Night Tales entry took you deep inside his creative mind.

Boiler Room turned five this year and of course celebrated in style. I managed to make it along to one of their sessions and missed another in London which appeared to be pretty much the best thing ever:

They also captured RA’s three-time reigning champion Dixon at his mesmeric best:

And got the illusive DJ Harvey in front of a camera for 90 minutes:

The Essential Mix remained true to its name, hosting essential two hour mixes from the likes of boy wonder Floating Points, Paul Woolford’s junglist alter ego Special Request, my new best mate Damian Lazarus, everyone’s favourite sonic scientist Max Cooper and dynamic duo Four Tet and Jamie XX.

Resident Advisor had a few good podcasts here and there. Andy Weatherall laid down a surprisingly straight up house set which propelled a few parties this summer, while another veteran, Sasha, also proved why he’s still a perennial favourite.

Of course, there were also many a mix not hosted by any big brand. Of those, another old boy, Ralph Lawson, brought the goods with a fine summertime mix, my mate Steelo proved he’s not just a graphic designer, and Tycho demonstrated exactly why I need to be dancing on the Playa at sunrise next year: