• Stephen Gets On His High-Horse pt.2: Top 10 albums of 2008

    Dez 9 2008, 14h07

    Right now you're probably thinking, "great, it's that time of year again where every two-bit person with an internet connection thinks he or she is a music critic. Like we need more of these god-forsaken lists."

    Well, here's another one. Enjoy!

    1. Matmos - Supreme Balloon
    Matmos are known for high-concept albums, but Supreme Balloon was built on their simplest idea yet: synthesizers only, no mics or pickups allowed. What resulted is a strange, wonderful technicolor psych-masterpiece - tipping the hat to Morton Subotnick and very-early Kraftwerk without the stiff academic feeling of either, while still acknowledging advancements in craft and production since then.

    These tracks are so alive with humour, soul and noble silliness that you'd almost be forgiven for glossing over the painstaking thought, skill and time that went into making every second of them. And despite the odd-looking sequence (3-4 minute tracks with a huge 25-minute self titled track sandwiched in the later half) it's deceptively easy to listen to from start to finish. A wonderful, sadly under-rated record that ironically might have received more attention if it came from a hot new group out of Brooklyn or Baltimore rather than a pair of veteran Matador quiet-achievers.

    2. Beach House - Devotion
    Beach House are one of my favourite bands from recent years, but it took a while to really sink my teeth into Devotion. The fragile, rough edges of the self-titled record were a big part of its charm - and here they'd taken a step towards a more assured, fully-produced sound.

    Not surprisingly, it wasn't long before the effortless grace of these songs broke down my defences. Who else today but Victoria Legrand could give so much weight to a trite line like "I'll pour some tea for us, one sugar or two"? Despite one or two tracks falling a little short of their very tall benchmark, this would have to be the best lonely-late-night record I've heard in ages.

    3. Growing - All the Way
    Whether you prefer to call it "an enveloping tapestry of rhythm, tone, noise and space" or "two blokes pissing about with effects", Growing have made an art out of both of them. I, for one, welcome our new Growing overlords.

    4. Arthur Russell - Love is Overtaking Me
    Audika get huge props for their continued effort in putting out unheard material from Arthur Russell - everyone's favourite cellist-slash-musical-genius. An album of folk and country from a man better known for his ambient and disco work, offering further proof that this man could seemingly do no wrong.

    One thing that isn't talked about enough is his amazing voice - as utterly gorgeous here, relatively unadorned, as in any of his more celebrated work. It's this wonderful voice, along with his earnest love for music and an obsessive work ethic, that provides the link between his diverse material - unlike some other artists it never feels as though he's genre-hopping without purpose or reason. Russell isn't around to collect his dues, but 16 years after his death it seems the world is finally starting to catch up to this guy.

    5. El Guincho - Alegranza
    People that rubbished this album as a Person Pitch clone are out of their minds. I'm sick of hearing this - it reeks of cynicism and laziness. It's as if Panda Bear was the first guy in the world to use a sampler on an album, or that the total differences in character and feeling - never mind sound - between these two (great) records count for absolutely nothing.

    But ranting aside... Alegranza is a ridiculously fun album which, like its tropicalia and African cassette scene influences, is no less enjoyable for its language barrier and is probably even better for it. Against the odds it all somehow avoids coming off like pastiche. And you can dance to it! This technically came out in 2007, but this doesn't count because I don't live in Spain (though not for a lack of wanting).

    The rest of the top 10 which I may write something for later:

    6. Tape - Luminarium
    7. Valet - Naked Acid
    8. Coconot - Cosa Astral
    9. The Ruby Suns - Sea Lion
    10. Fennesz - Black Sea

    Also worth a mention:
    Gang Gang Dance, Growing (not one but two great releases this year), Paavoharju, Ducktails, Koushik, Gala Drop, High Places, Koen Holtkamp, Grouper, Portishead, Deerhunter, Kes Band, Excepter, MV & EE with the Golden Road, Atlas Sound, TV on the Radio, Lucky Dragons, and many others. You had to sorta sift through the over-supply to find the good bits - but what a great year for music.
  • Stephen Gets On His High-Horse, pt.1: Global Gathering review

    Dez 1 2008, 14h00

    [event=736876]Sun 30 Nov – Global Gathering[/event]

    Full disclosure: I was one of the few chumps that bought a ticket to this specifically to see Kraftwerk since no side-show was organised. And not only that, but I did this *before* the prices dropped due to incredibly low demand. Nonetheless I went to this trying my best to keep an open mind, hoping to be surprised in some way or another.

    Gorillaz Soundsystem:
    Okay... imagine if there was a set billed as "Jebediah Soundsystem", but rather than any Jebediah members there were instead two fat English guys playing Kanye and Basement Jaxx songs straight from the CD. Then about half way through the set they hit the fader over to "Leaving Home", adding a few scratches and hitting the mute button during the "life is never good to me" line in a botched attempt at prompting some crowd-singing interaction. Then during the song's bridge one of the fat English guys comes out from behind the decks to say "let me see your fucking hands in the air Sydney!". This was like that, except real. Much, much too real. 0/10

    Finally a bit of comic relief that didn't involve some morbid reflection on this festival's crowd. Tonight he looked like Fabio in a matador's outfit. I liked how he gave his rider of alcohol and water bottles away to the audience at the end. 5/10

    Thank heavens it wasn't a total waste of a day. I couldn't care less whether were were hard at work up there on those laptops or just finishing off their Facebook scrabble games - either way they delivered the goods. An astonishing set of songs and visuals that played out like a greatest-hits set - far from sounding dated, they instead sounded timeless. The mannequin robot versions of themselves during The Robots were a nice theatrical touch. Kudos for saving the day, Kraftwerk. 9/10

    The setlist from memory: The Man-Machine, Numbers, Computer World, Tour de France, Home Computer, Aerodynamik, Computer Love, The Model, Showroom Dummies, Radioactivity, Autobahn, Trans Europe Express, The Robots, Boing Boom Tschak/Music Non Stop

    Festival organisation:
    This thing had "FAIL" written all over it. If your sales were so bad that the arena was half-full for your big-name overseas headliner, the logical answer wouldn't be to restrict your money opportunities further by banning sideshows and forcing people to pay $110 to see one band. Get better bands, or drop your price, or both. -3000/10