19 December 2010

2010 in Music

According to Last.fm, this year I have mostly been listening to The XX, Bibio, Fuck Buttons, Plaid and Nosaj Thing, which is interesting because sadly all of the albums associated with these stalwarts are from last year (either released or purchased by me). Thus the assumption could be made from this that 2010 had little to offer in the way of memorable tunes, that nothing quite grabbed me in the same way as last year's highlights, or perhaps that the year saw me stuck in the mud, musically directionless, with little sampled in the way of new or notable artists or albums.

By way of explanation then perhaps a few provisos should be offered; the first is that Last.fm only tracks what I listen to at my computer, or on my iPod. It does not track what I listen to on CD (yes, remember those?) on my grown-up proper sound system. The second is that this year I have actually ended up listening to a far wider range of music than last year, with many, many more albums hitting Unkie Dave's ears and consequently far fewer making it on to heavy rotation. Thus much of the lyrical wheat has been lost in the audio chaff that Last.fm carefully measures and catalogues.

So what, therefore, would I highlight as the best of the year?

Music release of the Year

Without doubt the music release of the year has to be the Ninja Tune XX box set, their simply stunning collection that celebrates the label's 20th anniversary. Six cds of new, old and remixed tracks, six 45s of rare and unique material, posters, decals and the coup de grace, a hardback 192 page book part-retrospective part-encyclopedia of all things both Ninja and Tune-y, and further material available exclusively to box-set owners online both in the form of downloads and extra vinyl shipped out in the post. This is as much a gift to fans as it was a celebration of the label, and following on from last year's WARP 20 collection the bar high for future label retrospectives has been set very high indeed.

Albums of the Year

Autechre - Oversteps - Long one of my favourite artists, in recent years Rob Brown and Sean Booth have descended into the realm of experimental noise with disastrous consequences. Too focused on finding out how far they can push their self-designed software at times they forgot to make the resulting sounds actually listenable to. As with Plaid, in recent times I have largely given up seeing Autechre live because the experience is quite simply not that enjoyable. Oversteps puts an end to all that, with tracks that not only are musical in nature, they echo, boom and soar with a bass and reverb that truly deserves a good sound system to appreciate. Not an album for your typical PC speakers, and no mp3 player will do it justice. Sit back, find the stereo sweet spot and let it wash over you.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for 'Move of Ten', their rapidly released follow-up of extras and out-takes. Consistency is no longer their watchword.

Gonjasufi - A Sufi and a Killer - Glitchy trip-hop and lo-fi neo-spirituals, this was one of my most eagerly awaited releases following the inclusion of "Ancestors" on WARP's 2010 preview album. At times reminiscent of a drowsy Saul Williams singing in a smokey shower, this was the sound of Spring on the Booming Back hifi, and got a well deserved second life in October with the release of "The Caliph's Tea Party", an album of remixes by Oneohtrix Point Never, Bibio, Broadcast and many others.

Emeralds - Does It Look Like I'm Here? - takes the place occupied last year by Fuck Buttons' 'Tarot Sport', a long sweeping electronic panorama of epic ambient lushness, particularly the 12 minute 'Genetic' with a rich soundscape that is impossible not to get lost in. In an age of digital downloads that forever proclaim the dual death of the album and any care for the quality of the sound, Emerald's latest release is a gem. Many years ago a friend used to use Amorphous Androgynous' 'Tales of Ephidrina' in the hifi shop they worked in to demonstrate to customers the quality of the speakers and separates he sold, 'Does It Look Like I'm Here?' would be a solid contender for a more contemporary test.

Sixteen F**cking Years of G-Stone Recordings - A double cd of classic tracks and remixes from G-Stone, Kruder & Dorfmeister's Vienna label. I've been hooked on K&D and their downtempo sound since their eponymous 'Sessions' back in 1998, and this is a pretty solid retrospective, with classic tracks from K&D, Tosca, Peace Orchestra, Urbs and Stereotyp augmented by newer material from Rodney Hunter, Makossa & Megablast and DJ DSL. A great introduction to the label.

Danseizure - This is Danseizure - recorded between Edinburgh and Damascus, by way of Bosnia and Berlin, this latest release by musician, activist and all-round good guy (and friend of us here at Booming Back) Dan Gorman oscillates between tender solitude, glitchy minimal electronica and outright dancefloor jumpiness, with a dollop of 80's acid nostalgia thrown in for good measure.

Honourable mentions go to Belbury Poly's rereleased 'Farmer's Angle' and Broadcast and The Focus Group's 'Familiar Shapes and Noises' from the excellent 'Study Series', both from the ever impressive little Surrey label Ghost Box, Rustie's 'Sunburst EP', and 'High Velvet' from The National, definitely not as strong as 'Alligator' or even 'Boxer', but certainly worth brooding over with a moody espresso on a frosty morning.



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