The Soundbergs of 2016

You know, I don’t think this is the best time of year to be saying what my favourite albums of last year were. I mean, I have literally just tried out a bit of the Heron Oblivion album, and my first instinct is that if I’d have got on that when it came out, it would be vying for a place in the list below. And my list last year didn’t give anywhere near enough prominence to Pridjevi and Anna von Hausswolff, mainly because I’d not long got on them – they were to dominate my early 2016. Maybe I should do it at the end of the academic year instead?

We humans do seem to like lists, though, especially those that seem to quantify things. In fact, I suggest a hypothesis – we love lists all the more if their subject matter is inherently subjective and unquantifiable (which is waaaaay more things than you may currently believe).

A funny thing happened to me in 2016. Well, lots of things happened, but this one in particular was that after I put out my album in April, thus finishing a series, I stopped listening to heavy music. Just wasn’t in the mood. There were exceptions – Hey Colossus released a wonderful EP that I mentioned in my summer chat post that isn’t an album but is good enough to be on some sort of year end so at least I’m mentioning it now, and there were a couple of later releases mentioned below, and now that I think about it, Anna von Hausswolff.

This may seem like an order, but it is malleable. Take it all with however much salt you deem appropriate.

Our Solar System – In Time. This album is perfect. Jazzy-Funky-Mellow-Spacerock. Most played album of the year from this year.

Karina Vismara – Casa Del Viento. Acoustic female singer-songwriter isn’t usually my thing. Only, this is wonderful. The vibe is magnificent, as is the songwriting.

Fire! Orchestra – Ritual. The meat of this album is staggeringly ambitious, but doesn’t lose sight of its tribal nature. The sort of trance-like jazz that just doesn’t happen often enough.

Horse Cult – Daydreams and Nightmares. The top 4 of this year could easily all be the winner in their own right, and this is another acoustic one. Like a more medieval/folksy Espers, but again with brilliant content behind the style.

Menimals. In a way I’m using both albums for this entry, saving me repeating it below, because one was pre-this year but I discovered it looking for the later one. Dark and menacing but not depressingly so.

Jon Mueller – Tongues. Another two track album and another with ritualistic drumming and chanting. Pounding trance music.

Narcosatanicos – Body Cults. As mentioned above, not much heavy did a lot for me. This was an exception, and I loved it because it is so very much like their first album, and at the same time it isn’t. I love it when bands do that.

Black Bombain and Peter Brotzmann – Free-jazz meets improvised psych-rock, with frequently brilliant passages.

Zulus II – Loud and in your face. They’ve got hella groove considering the nature of the music they play, really hard to do as well as they do. And Gemini is a drop-dead classic, as agreed by my boy.

Scroll Downers – Hot Winter. Sort of grungey indie-rock, I suppose. I realise that doesn’t sell it. They call themselves both ’90’s’ and ‘not 90’s’ so I think they might have trouble with a description, too. However, it is yet again the songwriting that does it, and it also sounds like they had a blast making it.

City of Djinn – Ether and Red Sulphur . I was going to just miss this out because I was worried it was still a bit too fresh but I listened to it again and it was blissed out brilliant, trance music.

Just missed out:

Muy Biien – Age of uncertainty;  Heavy Moon 7;  Sula Bassana

From before 2016

Pridjevi – For me, 2016 was utterly dominated by Pridjevi, helped also because my now 10-year old son has got with the groove on 2 of their tracks as well, and car trips went through a phase of him playing Pozuri Polako on repeat, which must have spent roughly 3 months in the summer going around my head non stop. Far more preferable to his other taste at the time, Goblins From Mars.

Anna von Hausswolff – The only album that came close to the dominance of Pridjevi in the first half of 2016. Not a concept album but sounds like one because of its wonderful atmosphere. That organ sound is transcendent. I keep forgetting how heavy this actually is.

Sungod – One of those all-over-the-map kind of artists. Kind of a less proggy Ozric Tentacles, if you want an inacurrate but lazy easy comparison.

Big Blood – This band have such a huge back catalogue, and this year has seen me mining the earlier years of it, which were just as good as the later years, but a bit different, naturally. They don’t seem to have done much this year. I noticed on their blog about an album coming out on Turned Word records, but that’s been up for ages and there seems to be no sign. Also, where are Turned Word records? They seem to have no presence since 2012.

Phil Cohran & Legacy. This thing took me by surprise, but probably shouldn’t have. It is stunningly beautiful music.

Pharoah Overlord – Lunar Jetman. Mainly because of the second track, which appeared via a Dusted magazine listing, but the whole album turned out good too. They seem to have finally got with the idea of easier access to their albums though the discography is incomplete.

Bitchin Bajas – Vibraquatic. Really mellow and meditative, and amongst the most regularly played albums of the year.

Gram Rabbit – Braised and Confused. Reading my original post, I’m struck by how much I seem to want to justify the fact that this album is fun. It is fun. But that doesn’t need justification.

Death Blues – Non Fiction. Part of Jon Mueller’s ongoing project, which I’d completely forgotten about since the first Death Blues album came out, so I’ve been trying to catch up when I get the chance. If anything, I like this even more than Tongues.

Fela Kuti – I returned to Fela Kuti, particularly Zombie, and have been playing his stuff regularly since the summer. It was brought on by the B-side of a single by Goat which had a really snaky groove but was only 3 and a half minutes long. I was instatntly reminded of Fela, and had a hankering for that kind of groove, but not the shortened version so I’ve been a regular visitor ever since. I also bought He Miss Road which is frankly wonderful.

Nudity is God’s Creation – This issue came out this year, but the music is from mid way through last decade. Yet another reason year end lists are crap, and yet here I am writing one which is taking me a lot longer to write than it will take you to read. Another reason I didn’t put it in the main list is because I didn’t like the bonus tracks much. They were obviously unreleased for a reason.

So. In conclusion, that’s it.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Confessions of a stats nerd

Or: Why numbers will always be numbers.

Some or fewer of you may have looked over at my last.fm profile page if the mood has at all come upon you to look at what I have been listening to. If so, I have sad news that will only get sadder: most of what I listen to these days no longer gets caught by the intrusive eye of the scrobbler, and therefore doesn’t get ‘captured.’ The list then, is vastly unrepresentative and explains why I shall no longer link to it on my ‘about‘ page whenever I next get round to updating it.

But really, is this so great a loss?

Some while back, I was talking to my brother about the limitation of using ‘play count’ as a kind of measure of how much you like an artist. I used the following example: I could listen to a whole album by Nu Sensae in slightly more than half the time than I could listen to my favourite track by Terry Riley, giving Nu Sensae 14 plays whilst Terry Riley gets just the one. And yet, I personally get much more pleasure from that one play (although my brothers response was: ‘I’ve heard neither, but I can already tell that I would like Nu Sensae 14 times more than Terry Riley…’ – in honour of which I shall create a new tag of ‘music my brother wouldn’t like’ which shall be applied to anything with an average length of more than 3 minutes – so most of my posts, then). Not to disrespect Nu Sensae – when I’m in the mood, Sundowning is a cracking little album.

So quantity in this regard doesn’t measure quality. The amount of times I listen to something is not actually an indicator of how much pleasure I get from it. And it can absolutely never capture those ‘moments’ – such as like the first time I listened to Inutili, whose play count still hasn’t reached double figures and yet currently rank amongst my favourite new music. And there are occasions when you listen to something that really makes your day, yet that experience is never repeated and you stop listening to that thing. It doesn’t mean that one time wasn’t valid.

So lets have a look at my ‘top artists’ for what will probably be my last time.

alltime10

Really, for sheer amount of time I’ve spent listening to an artist since I joined in late 2010, Oneida should be top by a mile. Their average song length is quite long, though, especially the recent stuff. Big Blood, despite being relatively recent additions to the library, thoroughly deserve their place. This isn’t to disparage Thee Oh Sees – I get enormous pleasure listening to them. They are a truly wonderful band. But by my listening standards, they have short songs.

Another thing to point out is that there are many artists there that I don’t listen to so much these days – smaller catalogue, not so much recent activity, gone off them a bit, all or some of the preceding or something else entirely. Which leads to the hypothesis that the longer this thing continued, the more artists there would be in the upper echelons who are actually not getting listened to that much. Unless, of course, my favourite artists never change. With me, that is never going to happen.

Many years ago, when I entered the PC age, my first PC lasted quite some years before complete breakdown. During that time, the play count on Windows Media Player had racked up an impressive chart. Although this was only songs, if the top song was ‘Dubby Conqueror’ by Burning Babylon and it had been played 150-odd times (which it was at the time it broke), then it was a fair estimate that said song was amongst my favourite songs ever at the time. However, that isn’t a fair picture. I had the PC on all the time even when I wasn’t at home, and I left the music playing on shuffle. Most of my active listening was actually on shuffling, and only if I didn’t fancy something  would any choice on my part influence the play count.

In fact, it’s only really since 2010 that I’ve started being a more focussed album player rather than having music on shuffle, which is a very passive way of choosing entertainment, letting a computer do your thinking for you (sidebar: those of you who have ever succumbed to that disease, have you ever noticed how certain songs keep getting selected, even from a library of thousands?) So although I love that tune still, since the scrobbler, it hasn’t even been scrobbled ten times ( I can’t find it on the tracks chart, I went down to everything from 10 above, and my eyes went funny so I stopped).

To use an analogy, in cricket, a flat-track bully can get quite an impressive average over time if he always performs against minnows, but against the best teams you want your players who bring their best under pressure, who often don’t have averages as impressive – my thesis for this is because their guard is down against teams they expect to beat, or when their team mates have already walloped the bowlers around. So, when your mood calls for music to lift it, do you go to play counts and say ‘well, I’ve played this most, it’s therefore my favourite, therefore its guaranteed to work?’ If so, I’ve got a large organisation I’d like to offer you a job in.

We humans like charts, don’t we? I’ve been as guilty as anyone. I think that numbers are almost always useless without context, but we as a species seem to forget the whole context bit, and just focus on the numbers.

However, the recent reboot of Last FM has ‘coincided’* with the scrobbler on my net PC at home going cuckoo, and I frankly cannot be arsed to try and sort it out. I’ve much more important things to do, like being a dad, playing a guitar, reading books, doodling, tending the few home grown veg I can fit in my garden, or staring blankly into space.

It’s actually been a lot easier to give up the idea of seeing who I’ve played most often than I thought it would be. This probably tells you/me something about the nature of giving stuff up in general. It’s surprisingly easy to do when fighting it is more trouble than its worth, harder when its not.

So, when I play music at work, it may get scrobbled, it may not. And that doesn’t matter.

I may do a part two, and if so it will delve into the notion of converting the wonderment that is sound into numbers – i.e. my thoughts on digital music. However, that may only depress me, since realistically the vast majority of music I listen to will be digital.

*I don’t believe in coincidence. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before.

Zulus II

zulusII is my introduction to Zulus, who also have an album out that isn’t called II, as research on their website has just informed me.

Zulus describe themselves as an attempt at being a pop band by four guys who have since proven clearly unable to write pop songs, which has to be one of the best descriptions I’ve ever seen a band give themselves. They have quite the list of associated acts between them who I have listed in the tags (in case anyone got here because of that and is wondering what this has got to do with anything, a sensation that many of my posts bring out in people).

This is gnarly stuff. I’m reminded of Fugazi and I’m reminded of Puffy Areolas and I’m reminded of Burnt Skull. This is proper in your face, but by god, it doesn’t half get its groove on as well. I’ve been proper eating this up. It’s happy hardcore, in that this is hardcore that makes me happy.

It’s out on Aagoo records, who also brought the wonderful Inutili to us.

 

Lamagaia

After I last hat-tipped Backseat Mafia, I wandered around their psych section again and came up with this little beauty. Totally a band after my own heart.

As far as I can tell, we’re talking about some friends in Sweden who get together and jam out some music. I think they do it quite regularly, and they make alot of it available on their website to simply download. They’ve made a few available on youtube too. Finally, you also are able to actually buy one of their songs on vinyl, which would probably be dead good for those of you who can play vinyl.

brudarebacken (3)They’re not afraid of the long form jam, hence why I love ’em so much! The grooves are compelling. They remind me somewhat of Inutuli although not as abrasive, and what I especially like about them is the fact that almost all of their tunes seem to have vocals, which can be quite a rarity within the ‘jam-band’ genre (the wonderful Electric Moon are another example).
I’ve only explored about a third of the downloads available so far, and am totally looking forward to the rest. There are some ace pics, though. A band I would love to be jamming in, and no mistake (actually, when I was in Sons of Itto and we had our own rehearsal room, we very often created similar vibes to some of the pics with minimal lighting, lavalamps and stuff. good times).

The Telescopes – Harm

Which must be one of the most inappropriately named albums ever.

teleSee, I’m not going to try to convince you that this is easy listening. It isn’t, far from it. What we’re hearing here is essentially feedback and noise, with an added spacerock type of pulse in the second track. Human voices are there, but a distinct message – or even word – is not what they deliver. These are some very abstract musics.

If you read the quotes they have on the page, you’ll notice one of them calls it ‘harshly constructed noise.’ It’s the only quote which, for me, misses the point of it, seemingly equating this type of composition as being harsh because of its very nature.

Because I don’t find this harsh at all. I think it’s almost ecstatic, certainly the most celebratory sort of feedback driven soundscape I’ve ever heard, and having spent time with academic notions of ‘interesting modern compositions,’ I’ve heard quite a lot in this category. There is much to be said for harsher stuff – it can be strangely cleansing when the moment is right, but this is a different thing entirely. I don’t think its even in the same park. So this is not ‘harm’ for me. (Compare it to one of their other albums, which I could only stand for about 5 minutes…)

So here’s where I tell you that this thing syncs up somewhat with one of my upcoming changes. After I put out my next album, I was planning on doing a switcheroo on all my tunings. Now, if you’ve looked down the bottom of the bandcamp page, you’ll see that this album is performed in Solfeggio tuning, which is one of the tunings I’m going to use (the other being the 432Hz variety). This album turning up in my consciousness at the time that I was about to make the transition is a pretty surefire nod from the universe, as far as I’m concerned. (By way of hat tip for this album, I should point out that I finally got round to going through the final ‘Address druidons‘ on Julian Cope’s website, and it was via this that I also discovered the wonderful Inutili).

But anyway, there are all sorts of claims made about the Solfeggio tuning. If it’s the tuning system itself that makes ecstatic, celebratory sounds out of feedback and noise, what else can it do?