Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Spins and Needles' Albums of 2011

Oh look it's another list. Boring, I know, but it's the end of the year and us music writers have fuck all else to do apart from look back on 2011 and reflect. Being a hater of both Bon Ivor's and PJ Harvey's recent efforts, my selection this year sways away from the hive, veering between synth-addled spectacles and acoustic guitar wielding weepers.

Curiosly, I don't think there's anything in there my 15 year old self would have termed 'indie' (i.e scruffy chancers with guitars and scuzzy tunes)
. Does that mean 'indie' is dead or the 'indie' inside of me is dead? A question for another day perhaps, but given my prediliction for guitar based music a few years back it is a touch odd to see the music I've most enjoyed this year is, in every sense, synthetic. I guess I must be moving with the times. Look at me go.

1. John Maus - We Must Become The Pitless Censors of Ourselves

This is one of these albums I keep coming back to. The cold, synthsized aesthetic makes it a perfect London sountrack, but there's a interior pathos to these tracks that means their just as listenable played low on a late night. An absolute gem.

2. Rob St John - Weald
Annoyingly this came it after I had submitted my list for records of the year. Rob has always been an amazing performer and here, with this sumptious debut, he compounds his place as one of the UK's most engaging singer/songwriters.

Post-dubstep? Sigh-Fi? Who knows and, really, who cares. Aaron Jerome's debut LP is a masterclass in understated beats and glitchy effects. Admittedly, it wasn't something I was initially in to, but after a few spins while pounding the pavements to and from Liverpool Street its jarring nodes clicked like Fonzy's fingers in a 50s dancehall.

4. Tune-Yards - w h o k i l l
As much as I enjoyed Bird-Brain, w h o k i l l is a dramatic step up in both songwriting expertise and production value for the idiosyncratic Merrill Garbus. Brutal, intense and utterly compelling, it's the sort of album that you can mine for months and never quite get to the bottom of it.

5. Nicolas Jaar - Space Is Only Noise
In the cold depths of February Nicolas Jaars airless compositions seemed to be on continous loop. But once the days lightened its impact lessened, Jaar's weighty electronic matter sat ill at ease with the the joviality of summer. Now, with winter back in full swing, it's once again a fascinating, harrowing listen.

6. Psychedelic Horseshit - Laced
A mental, psychedelia-splattered crackpot of a record from lo-fi genius Matt Whitehurst. The magnificent I Hate The Beach is still my running tune of choice.

7. David Thomas Broughton - Outbreeding
With his odd, almost incomprehensible warble, David Thomas Broughton is one of the UK's most curious songwriters. This sublime acoustic LP is testament not only to his lunatic Anthony Hegarty-like pipes, but also his infectious ear for a tune. Mental bastard indeed.

8. Gang Gang Dance - Eye Contact
This hits the top ten based almost purely on the frazzled fuckery of album opener Glass Jar. The rest of the album's not too shabby either - filled with bleeps, bleeps and rhythmic chants - but as a cut Glass Jar is the record's absolute zenith.

9. Conquering Animal Sound - Kammerspiel
Initially I thought Kammerspiel was far too technical to ever truly immerse in, but after a few months of prolonged listening it clicked, transforming into a mesmerising electro-beaut of a record.


10. Cat's Eyes - Cat's Eyes
Well, this was a surprise. Faris Badwan (he of Horrors fame) and Rachel Zeffira (she of opera soprano fame) joined forces to create one of 2011's most spell-binding and utterly fascinating shimmers of retro-pop brilliance.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

My pictures of the year

In the couple of years that I've been faffing around with a 'proper' camera, I think the last 12 months have shown a definite improvement in what I'm doing. Not that I'm great, mind, but I can absolutely see the difference between the types of shots I was interested in when I was learning the ropes, compared to the types of shots I'm taking now, having started to understand said ropes.

Interestingly, what I've noticed most is that my eye for every day detail has improved remarkably. These days I find myself looking at textures, patterns, people and environments and thinking "how could I turn this into a strong image?", even without a camera to hand.

As a hobby I'm finding it more and more enjoyable. Moving somewhere new was made less daunting through the eye of a lens; while the many hours I have alone at the weekends when Su is working are often taken up with myriad picture-taking escapades (which mostly include my favourite family of swans on the lake outside my flat).

So, with it being the end of the year, and the end of the year being all about 'lists', here's a list of my favourite pictures I've taken in 2011. I'm not suggesting these are in anyway amazing, or even good, but from all the various photographs I've taken in 2011 these are the ones that mean the most to me.

Dunbar harbour, Dunbar [February]

North Berwick harbour, North Berwick [March]

Roseburn Park, Edinburgh [April]

Strathy Beach, Caithness [April]

Forth Rail Bridge, North Queensferry [May]

The Crags, Edinburgh [May]

4 July barbeque in Florida [July]

Water of Leith, Edinburgh [July]

Roseburn, Edinburgh [July]

Snape Maltings, Suffolk [August]

East Feast, Suffolk [September]

Mersea Island, Essex [October]

Westminster, London [October]

Autumnal leaves in Morris Town, New York [November]

Central Park, New York [November]

Cortlandt St. subway station, New York [November]

My birthday cake, Colchester [December]

Our Christmas tree, Colchester [December]

Thanksmas, Colchester [December]

Friday, 16 December 2011

One of my records of the year: Found - Factorycraft

*First part writen by Sean Adams, DiS Editor....

Each year, DiS asks our staff to vote for their albums of the year. Our editor vaguely tots up the 'votes' and then contrasts and compares this with what's been written about, as well as what has been talked about all year on our boards. DiS then ends up compiling some sort of year-end list, which attempts to approximately sum up the year that was. And then lotsa people object and moan about their favourite record not being at number one...

However, each and every year, there are records which slip through the cracks, that individuals who write for the site absolutely adore, yet few others seem to even be aware of. To help highlight a few _lost_ records, a few years ago we invented the Lost List, and ask individuals to write some words explaining why they love the album in question. Next up, our former Drowned in Sound columnist, Billy Hamilton, shares a personal tale of a record he wishes to upgrade the 7/10 score he awarded it earlier this year...


Back in March when Factorycraft was released, it didn’t feel like a record that warranted much attention past the initial curious few listens. Found, the album’s creators, had seemingly gone from eclectic, electronically-charged path-cutters to “flat-out indie-rock”, as I soLink charmingly described their musical evolution in these pages. For a band (or arts collective, if you’d prefer) so cavalier in its pursuit of the unknown, there was a disappointing sense of regression in their efforts.

It wasn’t that Factorycraft was a bad record (for those who get into a midden over these things, 7/10 is a GOOD score) it was just a surprising one. Found, after all, were renowned - in Scotland at least - for pushing boundaries and stretching ideas, often creating astonishing, free form funks that climaxed as unidentifiable melodies. Yet, here they were as a stripped-down three-piece dishing out threadbare, straight-laced ditties. It was fine, yes, but something didn’t seem quite right.

So, I forgot about it.

Left alone to collect pixelated dust in my Apple-made MP3 shelf, I imagine Factorycraft, if it were a Cypbraphone-like machine, would have wondered what it had done to suffer the indignation of languishing with the also-rans. After all, had it not received a reasonable score? Hadn’t I commended “You’re No Vincent Gallo” and ‘Anti-Climb Paint’ with a swooning, pear-tooth grinning thumbs up? So why, that collection of compressed files would have asked, do I regularly skip past them like some sort giddy girl guide when it made an unsolicited appearance on my morning commute?

Well. The fact is Factorycraft is a solid, straight faced work of Scottish songsmanship. I had appreciated its sounds, I’d even compared them to Arab Strap - Arab Fucking Strap - but nothing kept me coming back for more. To these ears, it was an austere album for austere times. Given the chance, my fingers flicked to the wild, bestial ravage of Tune-Yards’ WHOKILL or the thrill of SBTRKT’s pavement scorching post-dubstep,. Why bother with something so… flat?

And then it all changed. In my last few days of living in Edinburgh (a town I’d called home for 11 years), Found played a miniscule indoor festival in a church just off Leith Walk. While all around them were turning out earthy, arid acoustica to a congregation of hirsute chin strokers, Found vented an itching, scratching, syncopating spleen of bug-eyed electronica that scorched through the church like the burning fires of Beelzebub.

It was a revelation. Here was a band making the most maddening, insane, futuristic sounds on stage, yet its last record had almost passed me by. The feeling didn’t fit. So off I hopped, back to my 4th generation, screen-splintered iPod handed down from my other half. Skipping past The Field, The Flaming Lips, Floatation Toy Warning and Foals, I eventually landed at Found’s doorstep; softly knocking, almost apologetically, to be let back in, because maybe I was wrong; maybe it deserved a second chance. Maybe I deserved a second chance.

And what difference a few months of space and time made. Factorycraft suddenly began to make sense. What I discovered wasn’t a straight-edged, indie-pop jamboree; instead, here was a dark, dank, slow burning cauldron of invention. Sure, guitars chimed with jingle-jangle glee across the bow of 'I’ll Wake With a Seismic Head No More', but under the surface lies a complex eco-system of rhythm that holds infinitely more brevity than I had ever imagined.

In reflection, I still stand by the review, so there’s little value in labouring the same points here when you can read it here, but what never clicked in that two week period of pre-review listening was Factorycraft’s prolonged ‘stickability’. Even now, I find myself edging back to the shimmer-pop tones of ‘Machine Age Dancing’ and the berserk post-tropicalia squall of ‘Every Hour That Passes’ in search of something new, something I’ve missed. And, y’know , 50 plus listens in I usually find some sneaky little nuance that’s gone undetected, slowly rising to the surface, demanding the attention of my piqued lugholes.

Even today, as I sit on the 7.33am to London Liverpool Street, another component of the dullard Metro-reading commuting community, the menacing throes of ‘Blendbetter’ ring right through me. At this precise moment, it sounds like my own cinematic victory, a striding two fingered salute to the anodyne life of Windsor -knotted ties and starch-ironed shirts. Eight months on from its release, Factorycratft has become my way of negotiating the travails of trains, tubes and twats who spend half their life playing Angry Birds on tablet computers. And here, at the end of 2011, this is no longer Found’s record: it’s mine.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

2011: My year in review

Trying to put the last 12 months into context is easier said than done. Quite simply, I have never had a year like it. In fact, even the year I spent wrenching myself away from my microscopically-sized hometown, teenage year friends and a (first) long term girlfriend to make the leap to a big city was a doddle in comparison.

The year started bad. Su was fanning the flames of a fledgling freelance career, which, in terms of success, seemed to peak and trough with rollercoaster-like frequency. We were, in every sense, miserable. We lived off less in a week than I now make in a day, couldn’t afford to put the heating on in the peak of an Auld Reekie winter and had to excuse ourselves from socialising in any shape with the outer world for the first half of the year.

We’d kid ourselves things were good. At least Su wasn’t working with dead bodies, we’d say. But were things good? Were we really staring at an incline in fortune? I didn’t think so. Not deep down at least. Work for me was going nowhere. A promotion never looked on the cards, despite some of the effort I’d put in, and my stuttering journalism career seemed to nosedive into a pit of pointlessness, saying nothing and meaning even less. Half the time I didn’t even want to read it, so fuck knows why anyone else would.

Add my rapidly dissolving emotional state to Su’s already diminished resolve and you had a couple of people who were unable to see enough light to figure out which way the tunnel led, never mind where it actually ended. It was a nadir. But then things started to pick up. My recently married mother sold my family home, lending us enough money to pay for spirit-lifting flights to Florida to see Su’s family. And then my dear wife got three job interviews and got three jobs. Our luck was up. Change was afoot.

Of course, it was never going to be that easy. One of the jobs required moving to Colchester. That was, of course, the job Su wanted. So we thought long and hard. Could we do it? Do we really want to up, what were admittedly rickety, sticks and leave a city we both love? I wasn’t sure, but things needed to change. Bold decisions aren’t always my wont, but even an idiot could see we weren’t able to go on like this. So we went for it.

What proceeded were the most mental three months of my life. Separated from my wife, someone I’ve fought tooth and nail for to be with, I spent my time wrangling between a life in Edinburgh and a hopeful new start in the south of England. I’m not sure just how many flights I took in that period, but I’ll definitely not be getting invited to any eco-friendly social functions this year. Finding a job was tough, being apart from my wife was tough, trying to feign interest at work was tough. It was, I’ll admit, a fucker of a time.

Then, by a stroke of LinkedIn induced luck, I got a job. Suddenly I was moving: packing up my flat, saying tearful farewells to my friends and moving away from a city I’d lived, breathed and loved for 11 years. That was the hardest part. Colchester is no Edinburgh and coming from the cultural epicentre of Scotland to one of England’s many vacuous commuting voids rang my head through a ringer. What the hell are you supposed to do here? I still don’t know. But I do know why there are so many trains to London.

Right now, I’m still adjusting to life down here. Thankfully, my homesickness has gone. A trip to New York and a few beers with some rekindled friends has put things into perspective. I’ve also been spending a lot of time thinking about culture and environment. I used to think that when Scots moaned aboutnot getting any airtime down south, there was an element of justification in their parochially-borne whinging. But, really, there’s not. It’s just the thought process of people who don’t have the cajones to move on to the next step. And that step, no matter what people protest, is London. A place no-one come from, and almost all need to go to.

Down here it feels like you’re living in hyperspeed; the work, the people, the bastards on bikes that nearly scythe your feet clean off every morning, even the trains (well, only when they work). It’s cliché, but this place doesn’t have time to wait. If you want to be a part of it, you need to jump on. It won’t come to you. And it’s something I’m still learning. If you need something down here, ask for it. If you don’t, then tough titties. Proactivity is the only action these people understand.

And now the end of the year is here. Somehow, I’m almost 31 and it’s the first time I’ve felt like I’m actually shaping my own life. I’m still writing, but it’s not an overarching ambition anymore. I’ve got a career to think of. A wife to think of. The next step to think of. Those Lester Bangs ambitions have finally gone; there are others out there being better and hungrier than I am capable of being (the consistently amazing John Doran is a prime example). Instead, I’ve found my niche and my focus is to take it to all the places I want to go: London is just the starting point. That, in itself, is quite exciting. It’s not the height of my ambition, merely the beginning.

If I was my old journalism lecturer, I’d mark myself down for pretending this was a ‘review’ of the last year. There’s not really enough analysis here to masquerade as a critique. So, I apologise unreservedly for my shameless naval gazing. In some sense it was probably very useful for me to reflect on the changing shape of the previous 340+ days. And given how tumultuous 2011 has been, it would seem a little masochistic to say I hope the next year is just as berserk. But, right now, that’s exactly what I want. Bring on 2012.