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

 

Hulme Group MInd

On Friday night I got the bus to Hulme to see Richard Norris take his ambient/deep listening project on the road. The two Group Mind Abstractions albums he’s put out this year have remained close to my turntable since their release and should be available on the NHS- their effect as a kind of aural medicine, totally absorbing mind clearers and mood enhancers is second to none.

The event was at the Niamos, an old theatre close to the city centre, formerly the Nia Centre and before that the Hulme Hippodrome and Grand Junction. Hulme was famously the home of the Crescents and the birthplace of Factory. Now there are masses of student residences right up to the theatre, buzzing on a warm Friday night. Niamos is an arts and culture hub, cans of Red Stripe behind the bar, the faded grandeur of the theatre interior and a boho vibe. It’s so relaxed there wasn’t even anyone checking tickets on the door. I was expecting a Group Mind night for some reason and hadn’t quite realised until I got there that Richard was supporting a Brighton band/collective called Partial Facsimile. A see through screen was hung across the front of the stage with fractals, shapes and digital waves and cities projected onto it during Richard’s set. He played for just over half an hour, long drawn out sounds, warm waves of ambient noise and twinkling riffs, the 5.1 surround sound really proving its value. Sitting in the main, tiny auditorium as part of a very small crowd- there were fewer than thirty people there- the effect was striking, encompassing and enveloping. I loved it but wanted more. I’d have happily immersed myself in the Group Mind for another hour or two.

Partial Facsimile are a surround sound and visual art collective, four guitarists, three playing sitting down, and a drummer plus keys playing long, drone rock, plenty of reverb and space with FX pedals- a  little like an expanded Spacemen 3 but without the drugs and the walking with Jesus. The songs comment on modern life- commuting, social media, lives lived through screens, fake news, climate change, Brexit, immigration- and films cutting up images of the same projected onto the screen while the group play. At the end of each song a QR code appears, linking to articles and research. Pretty interesting and worth seeing even if the realisation that I wasn’t getting any more Richard Norris and his Group Mind initially left me a bit deflated. Below is a clip, a minute’s worth, that I took during Richard’s set. I don’t usually film parts of gigs on my phone but having a visual and audio record of this show seemed like a good idea- part of me wishes I’d filmed the whole thing.

Re-Animations

In 2009 Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve released a compilation album rounding up their remixes and re-animations of a bunch of artists- The Chemical Brothers, Franz Ferdinand, Late Of The Pier, Peter, Bjorn and John, Tracey Thorn, Badly Drawn Boy, Goldfrapp, Midlake, Dust Galaxy, Real Ones, Simian Mobile Disco and Findlay Brown. At the same time that album was released Erol Alkan and Richard Norris were asked to mix all their versions together into a single, hour long set for a special download edition. They went back to their versions, took some of them apart again, re-assembled them and then stitched the whole thing together. A decade later it has re-appeared online for your enjoyment, an hour of psychedelic, electronic, time shifting, retro- futuristic exploration. There should be something in this for everyone to enjoy.

 

Group Mind

I’ve mentioned it a couple of times already this year but it bears repeating- Richard Norris’ ambient album Abstractions Volume 1 is a wonderful record/download, the very embodiment of chill out. I know some of you agree- Drew and I discussed it when we met for a pint on Thursday night. Richard has done several mixes for his Group Mind project all in a similar vein to the album and this one, Group Mind Mix 004, is ace, over an hour of immersive warm sounds, experimental ambient, drone and piano pieces. Perfect for Sunday.

Monday’s Long Song

Richard Norris’ ambient album Abstractions Volume 1 has been on heavy rotation round Bagging Area Towers since it came out in February. It is a stunner, four beautiful and completely absorbing meditations, what Richard tags ‘deep listening’- nothing much happens but it doesn’t matter, nothing happens really nicely . It draws you in, fixes you and as I said somewhere else recently works really well as a kind of aural Valium. And God knows we all need some of that from time to time, in these chaotic and depressing days especially so.

The vinyl edition has four tracks- the download comes with Confluence 2 as an additional one, a twenty minute journey to nowhere/here.

Shorelines

This is new from Richard Norris, the first fruits of his current ambient direction and label Group Mind, a gentle instrumental that drifts very nicely, drone overlaid with melody.

The shoreline above is the Atlantic, Messanges, south west France, pictured in the summer of 2017. Just in case you were wondering.

Group Mind

That’s week one done. To celebrate the end of the working week here’s a brand new mix from Richard Norris who’s on an ambient tip at the moment. He’s just started a group/label/forum/series of events called Group Mind and kicked it off with a two hour mix of ambient, drone and deep listening. A sure fire way to improve your day, switch your mind off for a while and focus on something else. Includes tracks from Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Wilson Tanner, Jas Shaw, Penelope Trappes, Elaine Gazzard, Hiroshi Yoshimura, Alarm Will Sound, Erland Cooper, Chihei Hatakeyama, Richard himself and BBC Radiophonic Workshop legend Delia Derbyshire.