Twenty Nineteen: An End Of Year List

I read an article recently that claimed that making end of year lists was merely an attempt to forestall death, that ranking and ordering things is for people who have an unnatural fear of death and who must be constantly trying to leave things in order before they go. A bit dark perhaps. A similar argument says that making lists is an attempt to place order on a chaotic and uncontrollable world- and one glimpse at the news will confirm that the world is both those things and getting more so- and people (men mainly) feel that if they can rank their albums/books/films then they have at least controlled a part of that world. So, with all those things being as they are, here’s my end of year list. It doesn’t seem to have much in common with the end of year lists I’ve read in the ‘proper’ music press or websites- so I must be out of step with what’s really the best of the 2019. All I can offer you is what I’ve loved the most this year and some examples to sample.

Singles/songs/remixes/e.p.
There’s a lot of chuggy, cosmic, Balearic, ALFOS style releases in this list, a top 30 for 2019, a golden year for music that evokes outer space, Mediterranean beaches and/or basement clubs thick with dry ice.

1. Silver Apples Edge Of Wonder (Andrew Weatherall Remix)

Released for Record Shop Day in April this remix is nine minutes of total joy, a dream turned into sound- the pitter patter drum machine giving gentle propulsion, the bouncy keyboard riff and metallic sounds echoing round and round and the softly sung vocal- ‘waves, waves, Neptune’s metronomes… relentless heartbeat of the sea’.

2. A close second was this three track release from Pines In The Sun, Albanian Balearica via Brighton. I know next to nothing about them but the wordless, sunshine shimmer of Sun and the gorgeous sprawl of Zig Zag Sea (plus Duncan Gray’s remix of the latter) soundtracked much of my summer.

3. Apiento‘s single Things We Do For Love came out back at the start of the year, a slow motion dance floor shaped ode with synth bass and whispered vocals. My main regret is not being quick enough to get a copy of the limited run of 7″s.

4 and 5. A Certain Ratio have spent the year celebrating their fortieth anniversary and released this pair of superb songs, one a previously unreleased cover version from 1980 that was intended to be voiced by Grace Jones, the dark funk of House In Motion and the other a very Mancunian remix of their Dirty Boy single (featuring Barry Adamson and the voice of Tony Wilson), remixed by Chris Massey. The Dirty Boy remix in particular has floated my boat.

From this point onward there are a slew of singles, remixes and e.p.s that I’ve enjoyed this year, loads of brilliant music showing that 2019 has been a really good year. The next dozen or so especially  have all been on heavy rotation.

6. Moon Duo Lost Heads
7. Meatraffle Meatraffle On The Moon (Andrew Weatherall Remix)
8. Four Tet Teenage Birdsong
9. A Mountain Of Rimowa A.M.O.R. e.p.
10. Plaid Maru (Orbital Remix)
11. Hardway Bros Chateau Comtal
12. Scott Fraser and Louise Quinn Together More
13. Four Tet Anna Painting
14. GLOK Dissident
15. Roisin Murphy Incapable (plus the pair of incredible Crooked Man remixes/dubs)
16. Craig Bratley Message To The Outpost e.p.
17. Field Of Dreams No 303
18. Fjordfunk Exile (including the Hardway Bros remix)
19. The Comet Is Coming Summon The Fire
20. Ride Future Love
21. A Man Called Adam Paul Valery St The Disco (Prins Thomas Remix)
22. KH Only Human
23. Shape Of Space Manifesto
24. Warriors Of The Dystotheque Things In The Shadows (Tronik Youth Remix)
25. ⣎⡇ꉺლ༽இ•̛)ྀ◞ ༎ຶ ༽ৣৢ؞ৢ؞ؖ ꉺლ e.p.
26. Shunt Voltage Link Up/ See It In Your Eyes
27. Boy Division Hot Pants
28. Dan Wainwright Keep Me Hangin’ On (with Hardway Bros dub remix)
29. Duncan Gray Much Much Worse/ Where Clock Goes
30. Terr Tales Of Devotion (including the Prins Thomas Diskomiks)

Four Tet/Kieran Hebden has had a particularly good 2019, always innovative and entrancing and producing some of the best moments in a variety of guises and across a series of releases, including a live album recorded at Ally Pally in the summer that I’ve only just started listening to.

Albums
I’ve bought and listened to what seems like an enormous amount of albums this year. The internet and streaming has made individual songs the focus again, a return to the halcyon days of the 7″ and 12″ single and their B-sides, and occasionally people write about the death of the album and the forty/seventy minute format (depending on whether its a vinyl album or CD). Looking through my pile of records and CDs and lists of downloads the album looks in really good health to me. There’s more breadth to my album list, a wider variety of sounds and styles. I’ve fallen into an ambient/drone wormhole many times this year, a wonderful place to stay for extended periods. Psychedelia and cosmic psych rock has been at the front of the pile a lot. These are in no particular order, the first eight I genuinely couldn’t pick between in terms of a favourite or a ranking, they’re all the albums of the year.

Glok Dissident
Andy Bell (the guitarist from Ride) released the surprise of the year, a rich, gorgeous flotation through cosmic psychedelia, motorik drums and West German sounds, awash with floaty, dreamy synths and guitars. From the Tron-esque sleeve to the luminous green vinyl to the grooves contained within everything about this album was spot on.

Richard Norris Abstractions Vol. 1
Richard Norris has been exploring ambient music throughout 2019 (and before). This year he has released a pair of albums, Abstractions Vol. 1 and 2, filled with extended repetitive sounds, loops of melody, chimes and washes, drones, ambient noise, waves of reassuring sounds- deep listening. This year has been a car crash in many ways. The whole Brexit debacle, the constant noise and feelings of loss of control over our politics and culture, the sense of loss and the feeling that we’re being driven over the edge by fanatics. This album has helped me switch off from it. I can put this on and it works in a calming way that nothing else does. If there’s an N.H.S. left in five years time, this pair of albums should be available on prescription.

Meatraffle Bastard Music
Bastard Music is a strange record, surreal, bold and in places very funny. A vision of dystopia set to a ramshackle beat and some memorable melodies. Lyrically it deals with everything- nationalism, the exploitation of workers, Brexit, living in London versus living in the country, immigration, the price of renting, sexism, science fiction, activism, everything… but it’s never overbearing or humourless and the lyrics and vocals force you to listen to it rather than just have it on. Musically it’s lo fi synthy disco, horns and Pulp Fiction guitars, home made rhythms, reggae and post punk. In some ways Bastard Music makes no sense and in others it makes more sense than any other album released in 2019. It’s an amazing record in lots of ways not least in the the song Meatraffle On The Moon, one of the very best things I’ve heard this year- a song that really should be up at the top of the singles list with Silver Apples and Pines In The Sun- a dub pop exploration of  human workers enslaved and working on the moon, their comradeship and valiant attempts to survive with only the meatraffle to look forward to. Semi- stoned drums, a snaking horn, dub bass and the ace vocals.

Moon Duo Stars Are The Light
My favourite guitar/synth/drums psych- rock explorers put out their latest album in September, Stars Are The Light, and have found a new love of disco and dance music and ecstatic grooves. It’s still clearly the work of the band who made the darker, heavier Occult Architecture albums but now with their faces turned to the sun. The synths and drums dance around, the rhythms are aimed at the feet and lighter than before and the twin vocals are airy and optimistic. Their live show in October was an immersive psychedelic experience. I don’t think there’s an album I’ve bought this year that I’ve listened to more than this one.

Steve Cobby Sweet Jesus
One man cottage industry from Hull, Steve Cobby dropped Sweet Jesus onto the internet live back in the summer, twelve songs recorded in his shed, taking in cool Balearic vibes, lush instrumentals, downtempo funk and synths and lots of acoustic guitars. The opening song, As Good As Gold, inspired by Led Zep’s third album acoustic guitar picking folkiness in mid- Wales with added mellotron, has been one of my favourite tunes of 2019 and one that I keep going back to. There’s something about it that really hits the spot in a way I can’t quite put my finger on.

Rich Ruth Calming Signals
This album from Nashville resident Rich Ruth is often described as ambient but it’s not ambient in the rain- falling- while- lying- in- bed- with- the- volume- slightly- too- low Brian Eno sense. It’s an instrumental album, nine songs that take in minimalism, repetition and drones, a beautiful soaring, squawking saxophone, built around synths and guitars. On first listen you’re never quite sure where it’s going to go next and in places it is utterly gorgeous.

Richard Fearless Deep Rave Memory
This only came out recently so I’m still getting to know it but it is a perfectly paced and sequenced, intricately constructed techno journey. Completely absorbing and in places edge- of- your- seat tense, taut techno but with some beautiful melodic passages and some pulsing, calming tracks too.

Underworld Drift Series 1 Sampler
I’ve mentioned this project and album twice recently so don’t intend to say much else. The best Underworld album for ages. Try this one…

These eighteen too, roughly in the order that they’re listed in below. A bumper year for the long player round here.

L’epee Diabolique
Steve Mason About The Light
A Man Called Adam Farmarama
Bob Mould Sunshine Rock
Private Mountain Blue Mountain
Mark Peters Ambient Innerland
Stiletti Ana Ab Ovo
WH Lung Incidental Music
Rude Audio Street Light Interference
Kungens Män Chef
Acid Arab Jdid
Solange When I Get Home
Plaid Polymers
Rose City Band Rose City Band
Jane Weaver Loops In The Secret Society
Joe Morris Exotic Language
Lana del Rey Norman Fucking Rockwell
Mythologen Antisocial Background Music 2017- 2019

 

Backs To The Wall

This was written before the result of the general election was known but in gloomy, pessimistic anticipation of a Johnson win. Maybe I was wrong and he’s been turfed out into a cold December Downing Street, the door banging shut behind him.

Music is important isn’t’ it? It brings us together, gives us shared experiences (personal listening experiences and shared ones at gigs or on the dance-floor). It gives a voice to people. It allows us to recognise ourselves in the art others have made. Music gives us something to dance to in the face of disaster and disappointment, both personal and political. Lifts us up and brings us down. Makes us laugh and smile, cry and sigh. Makes you feel like you can face the world.

A Certain Ratio have been celebrating their 40th anniversary this year with a tour and a box set and two new releases (an old one in their unreleased version of Houses In  Motion and a new one in the Chris Massey remix of Dirty Boy, both featured here previously). In 1989 they were only ten years old and had left Factory for the major label environs of A&M. 1989’s The Big E album had several songs I’d consider to be keepers but didn’t sell well. The single Backs To The Wall was remixed by Frankie Knuckles, one of the originators of house music. He adds a chunky house beat and pumps up the disco elements of the song although in 1989 terms this remix feels quite slow. Nice job though, the symphonic stabs are good, there’s some funky guitar riffs and housed up piano chords, a bubbly bassline and several vocal lines that jump out given the current situation, not least the ones about the economic hard times and money talking, ‘we’re going nowhere, nowhere fast’, ‘we all need friends to help in the end but nothing lasts forever’ and the chorus…

‘Backs to the wall
Stand up tall
Don’t let ’em get you down’

Back To The Wall (Frankie Knuckles Remix)

Dirty Boy

A Certain Ratio have been having a new lease of life since singing to Mute with new singles, old songs excavated from the vaults, re-issues, box sets and gigs. Last year’s single Dirty Boy, featuring guest voices from the living (Barry Adamson) and the dead (Tony Wilson) has been remixed by Chris Massey, a Manchester based DJ, producer and promoter. The remix is if anything better than the original version, Jez Kerr’s bass in the foreground and a thudding house beat putting ACR back at the heart of the dancefloor. The video is a time shifting delight, intercutting footage of Manchester and it’s people from the last forty years, the Hacienda of the late 80s, dancers at a 70s discotheque, ravers at an outdoor festival, Jez and the band live on stage in ’89 and recently, the Mancunian Way then and now, our orange buses and a 60s motorcyclist speeding through the city centre- the old and the new.

 

Bring It Home To Me

On a Factory tip recently I dug out my double disc re-issue of A Certain Ratio’s Sextet, their second album, released in 1982 and their first without Hannett at the controls. Hannett was dumped as producer by New Order, Durutti Column and then ACR too which can’t have done much for his state of mind. Sextet- so called because they’d recently become a six piece band- is full of good songs, heavy noir vibes and that Mancunian funk. The song that leapt out me was Knife Slits Water, a single from the same year and on CD 2 it’s long B-side Kether Hot Knives. I’ll save the B-side for another time.

Knife Slits Water takes the group’s dark funk, particularly foregrounding Donald Johnson’s drumming, a large dollop of echo on the kick drum creating a very futuristic dance sound, some busy bass and the distant but tough vocals of Martha Tilson, lyrics she wrote about sex and sexual politics. Tony Wilson’s vision of ACR as white boys playing funk, clad in ex-army khaki with short back and sides and whistles, is perfectly realised here. In 1981 the group had done a Peel Session- Skipscada, Day One and Knife Slits Water- and that’s the version I’m posting here. They were years ahead in ’81 and still sound like that now.

Knife Slits Water (Peel Session)

The other Factory album that I was rediscovering was Section 25’s From The Hip album, a Bernard Sumner produced 1984 lost classic and it’s single Looking From A Hilltop, one of the greatest of all Factory’s releases. But again, let’s leave that for another day. The pictures above were taken in Section 25’s hometown Blackpool on Sunday afternoon, the modernist arches of the amusements centre in brilliant Fylde coast sunshine.

Shoes With No Socks In Cold Weather

In their fortieth year A Certain Ratio have gone all out and are set to release an anniversary box set in May, twenty eight tracks making up the singles and B-sides that weren’t included on any of their albums and sixteen previously unreleased songs. You can read about it here. Ahead of this they have just put this out, the semi-legendary results of the time in 1980 that ACR, Martin Hannett and Grace Jones assembled in Stockport’s Strawberry Studios to record a cover version of Talking Heads’ Houses In Motion. In the end Grace never completed her vocal for the track so Jez Kerr’s guide vocals are used instead (from a period when Jez wasn’t even ACR’s singer yet). How this has managed to lie unreleased for nearly four decades is something of a mystery but now it’s here and, as they say, better late than never, the Eno- produced New York funk of Talking Heads transplanted across the Atlantic to a side street in northern England at the start of the 80s. Taut bass, monotone vocal, congas and some stunning distorted, choppy guitar playing from Martin Moscrop before those wonderful, off key horns.

The video is completely new but fits the general vibe perfectly. The song is the from the vaults find of the year so far.

Dreampieces

This was on the last episode of Andrew Weatherall’s monthly radio show, a reworking of a 2008 song from Headman with A Certain Ratio’s singer and bass player Jez Kerr on treated but distinctive vocals. Headman describes it as his usual post-punk sound updated with Italo-disco and synth-pop. The 2018 rework was posted on Twitter by Jez and said to be a Weatherall rework but I can’t find any reference to that in the Music’s Not For Everyone show or on Youtube where it is said to be a rework by Robi (Headman himself). Either way, Weatherall or Headman, this is a pumping bassline, horn-led, dance floor thumper, not too far from Jez’s day job, early 80s mutant disco funk. Stick it on the next time you have guests round and see what happens. You can buy it at Bandcamp. Embed not working- find it at Youtube.

Walk Right Into Better Days

This is the fourth time in as many years I’ve seen A Certain Ratio in the run up to Christmas. They signed to Mute last year and have a new Best Of album out but they’re still playing small, intimate venues. Gorilla on Whitworth Street in Manchester was rammed on Saturday night, the sort of gig where people are so jammed in that it’s difficult to move/dance. I arrived late, couldn’t find my friends and found myself down by the side of the stage right by Martin Moscrop with a perfect view of his pedal board and Denise Johnson occasionally coming over to sing right in front of us, as the pictures above show. The first half of the set was usual trip into late 70s and early 80s Manchester, songs that are now getting on for 40 years old, a northern noir response to punk and funk- Do The Du, Wild Party and Flight all sound particularly alive and vibrant. Denise comes on and we get a superb run through the early 90s groove of Be What You Wanna Be. Mickey Way from 1986’s jazz-funk Force gets a welcome outing, Moscrop moving from guitar to trumpet to cowbell to drums from one song to the next. Poor Jez Kerr has to play sitting down when he’s not singing, suffering from sciatica- between songs he apologises for this and in a nod to the average age of the crowd says that he’s got a bad back but probably so have half the audience. In reply a walking stick and a crutch get waved around from near the front row. New song Dirty Boy is played, fitting right in with the rest. After this it’s the familiar crowdpleasers- 27 Forever with an extended section, a reworked Good Together and Won’t Stop Loving You (in its Big E version rather than Bernard Sumner’s remix). They finish with Shack Up, Denise’s vocals all the way out front with Donald’s drums putting the funk into the punk. ACR return for an encore and as usual start swapping instruments, drummer Donald on slap bass and Martin on drums before ending with the samba workout Si Firmi O Grido. Drums strapped on, percussion in hands, the band troupe off the stage and into the crowd, finishing the gig in the centre of the floor surrounded by the audience. Sweaty, tightly packed fun.

The Big E