He’s possibly unravelling but he’s capable of suspending disbelief in more than on way.
Let’s call it. The release of The Life Of Pablo (Swish, Waves, whatever) was one of the most infuriating things to have experienced in a long time for any release. The impression of an album with no restrictions or deadlines felt amateur; at best, a sympathetic look into an artist’s process which they are never finished tinkering with.
Then that Bill Cosby tweet. It was the last straw for many, including me. I wasn’t going to listen to this irritating egomaniac anymore.
But of course, once TLOP dropped, I did. Curiosity got the better of me. The album is largely a mess, with Kanye’s words finding less meaning and substance than ever before (why rap about your wife’s ex when you’ve just had two kids?) but what redeems a listen to any Kanye album is his executive production, which is always interesting to hear how he weaves the ideas of multiple producers into one song. It’s conflicting to enjoy any of it still.
I watched SNL as I do every week. The performance of ‘Ultralight Beam’ shone regardless. The gospel choir add some magic but it’s Chance The Rapper (one of the greatest new artists of the last five years) who lifts the performance and brings a new raptured energy to Kanye’s music, as his own state seems to crumble around him.
Three years on from the news, and a week on from the 10th year since he passed, it was announced that Nas’ Mass Appeal label will finally release the album in conjunction with Dilla’s Estate as PayJay. To be released on April 15th, 14 years after it was originally scheduled to come out ( the album was literally shelved and Dilla moved to LA where he made his name), The Diary features ‘Diamonds’, ‘Ice’, ‘Fuck The Police’ and ‘Trucks’.
‘The Introduction’ is the first song from it, produced by House Shoes with Dilla, is a wavy synth stomper.
As a keen visual artist as well as musician, it’s no surprise that FKA Twigs new EP M3LL155X has four videos for five of the release’s tracks, all directed by the lady herself.
The EP features the recently debuted ‘Figure 8’, the already-released video for ‘Glass & Patron’ along with the brilliantly twisted ‘I’m Your Doll’ , ‘Mothercreep’ and ‘In Time’. Production comes from Boots, tic and Cy An.
The EP is on streaming services or for purchase and the videos are viewable in one go and feature a blowup doll, a pregnant FKA Twigs and a witch-like lady. It’s a lot to unpack in one go but it speaks to the ambition of an artist, who recently put on Congregata, a show featuring music, dance and performance in both London and New York, and Soundtrack 7, a live rehearsal of a new show. She plays Electric Picnic this year too, after her cancellation last year.
A 12″ vinyl version is coming. Artwork is a collaboration with Matthew Stone.
M3LL155X EP tracklist:
1. Figure 8
2. I’m Your Doll
3. In Time
4. Glass & Patron
Today Clu were announced as an addition to the Body&Soul area at Electric Picnic, which as anyone who has seen the Dublin duo’s live A/V show will attest, will be a suitable booking for such an vibrant and electric festival area.
For their latest track, they’ve put a murky aquatic bass-heavy twist on FKA Twigs’ ‘Glass & Patron’. Just watch that GIF above rotate to this. It’s a beaut.
As trailed on Friday, Electric Picnic have added Blur and more to the bill for the festival.
New additions are:
Bur Sam Smith Grace Jones Interpol FKA Twigs Despacio Paul Kalkbrenner Yasiin Bey (mos Def) Mac DeMarco MK Gavin James Printer Clips Julio Bashmore The Riptide Movement The 2 Bears SOAK Viet Cong Dawes Benjamin Clementine Fat White Family Honne Kwamie Liv Fickle Friends
My favourite albums of the year features a sixth album career highlights from a psychedelic mathematician, a fourth album breakthrough for a rubbernecking sweat-drenched band, the return of Aphex Twin, a Wicklow man who seemed to take over the music world, two great Irish rap albums, an album about an imagined trip through China, two very different R&B debut albums, lounge-time electronica from Norway, Annie Clark’s continued ascension through ambition, a collaborative effort from Iceland and the Faroe Islands and a marquee buddy rap album that said more about the state of America than anything else this year and had a brash kick-ass time doing it.
There’s a Spotify playlist available for it all but click down to get some context for each album from 10 to 1. Top 100 songs of the year tomorrow.
“We know now that the contents of Syro is just some of the material recorded in the intervening years in one of James’ many studios. The oldest track stretch back six or seven years, using a massive 138 pieces of musical equipment (all listed in spiral on the artwork).
“What appears before it also echoes the heavier side of Druqks but repeated listens reveal new textures, new moods, new avenues explored by James. The trademark eeriness of melody and general cheeky humour is still evident throughout but the greatest part of a new Aphex Twin record is that is truly allows you to get lost in its puzzle, a completely different musical terrain even when there are expected imprints of ambient works, electro, acid, jungle and squiggly funk.
“The 10 minute experience of ‘XMAS_EVET10 [thanaton3 mix]’ feels different every time with environmental listening experiences changing the focus and feel (headphones, outdoors, late-night) as all the best electronic music can do. Syro still offers much to explore, many repeat listens in.
“And that is the key to why Aphex Twin is pored over so minutely, because he goes into such detail in his music. James’ intricate compositional skills remains his biggest asset. While his sounds have been copied over the years, his brain is still peerless.”
The American singer dials up the amps and keeps things intimate.
“When you have a voice so striking you could hang a hat on it, it’s probably a good idea to hang your songs on it too. Angel Olsen’s 2012 debut album Half Way Home introduced us to the Missouri singer’s deep country-folk vibrato that sometimes sounded like an entrant in a yodelling competition and musically, was set to throwback acoustic folk. She was an otherworldly attraction.
“The followup, Burn Your Fire For No Witness (Jagjaguwar) still relies on Olsen’s distinctive tones to draw you in but the songs hold you closer and Olsen reveals more of herself in the process, while expanding the arrangements to include a rock band at full tilt, devastating acoustic songs and poignant country-folk.
“If Olsen sounded distant and unearthly before, on Burn Your Fire For No Witness, she is emotionally baring, whispering uncomfortably close in your ear or sometimes dancing around you, a real person, hanging her songs and her voice on relatable and knowable experiences.”
A brilliant grimey hip-hop collaborative album via Clare, Zimbabwe and Limerick..
“As they describe it, ‘a Zimbabwean Christian and an Irish pagan sit down with a pot of tea’ with the expressed interest of changing the game.
“What God Knows, the founding member of the Random Acts Of Kindness collective and Ennis-born mynameisjOhn came up with (along with MuRli) is a game-changer in the way it drags Irish hip-hop into a fully-formed album/mixtape format with a confidence and skill that is unfamiliar in this country’s rap output.
“MC God Knows is a fervent presence, an MC with command, as heard on the soulful clip of ‘Standard’, an easy album highlight. MynameisjOhn provides the horn-soul hip-hop backing but doesn’t rest there, the beats bang, the strings stab and God Knows goes double time to the beat slowing to let the soul sample breathe.
“The versatility extends to MynameisjOhn too. ‘Throw The Spear’ reminds me of an MF Doom production – Dangerdoom era, meets Machinedrum. ‘Habbahuk’ is more plaintive, ‘Twentyfourseven’ is psychedelic funk and there are hints of a knowledge of electronic subgenres, even African dance on ‘African Shirts’.
“Aspects of being an African boy growing up in Ireland seeps through the lyrics in details about being black in an Irish school. He’s Joined by MuRli and Guide on ‘Words Of Our Fathers’, a track which, in the short history of Irish-African rap would have never been made twenty years ago, and serves as an aural document of one small thing that multi-cultural Ireland has given us.”
Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds and Faroe Islands’ synth-pop musician Janus Rasmussen’s first album together collides two worlds of sounds to engaging effect.
” Arnalds and Rasmussen explore what happens when contemporary composition that uses stringed instruments, has a classical knowledge and is often written with scores in mind intersects with the sensibilities and practices of synthesizer-driven music structures.
“The pair spent much of the year in Reykjavík working together on this album. The result is a grandiose vocal-less dance album that effectively uses the tactile textures of the former in the arena of the latter.
“Across seven, often long tracks (the average length of about 6 and a half minutes), the opposing worlds of electronic and classical mesh well together and Kiasmos moves in a place that is neither contemporary or classical, house or techno, but that crosses both with a new identity.”
An alluring minimal indie R&B album from the Oxford musicians.
“ZABA, the band’s debut album pushes their atmospheric agenda into a cohesive release. Their M.O. is slinky minimal pop, not a million miles from Alt-J, but more exotic and worldly than their counterparts. But they do share a common parlance in how they translate their traditional band setup into an otherworldly place.
“Executive production by Paul Epworth with Bayley producing ensures that level of aural consistency, meaning ZABA which is likened to ‘a backdrop of man-made wilderness,’ according to the band directly, is awash with ambient and alluring songcraft.”
Dark disco and electronic pop on album #2 from the Long Island band.
“The eight tracks on the self-titled second album are definitely night-time grooves, which occupy the same mood without jumping around from genre to genre, and as an album it works wonderfully, because Mr Twin Sister have an attention to the small details that stands to them when they delve deep into genres like disco and funk.
“Andrea Estella’s lyrics suit the vibe, their disco-noir sound is escapism and she often seeks to escape. ‘In The House Of Yes’ she locks herself in her room, drinks to a stupor and dances on her own own til her head is on the ground. ‘Rude Boy’ finds her rejecting the advances of an opposite (“I have all the drinks i can handle”), content to exist in the space. “Is there a real me? Or am I just a series of nights,” she sings on ‘Blush’. The thrilling ‘Out Of The Dark’ has her questioning identity too – “I am a woman / But inside I’m a man / And I want to be as gay as I can.” The Johnny Jewel-esque ’12 Angels’ has someone singing about being in drag to reinforce the theme.
“Despite the album being united in tone, there’s a sense that Mr Twin Sister aren’t settled. It’s in the artwork which is deliberately unfinished and packaged, it’s in the 37-minute running time and it’s in the new name. The altered band have reset and are heading in their own independent direction and making great music as part of the process.”
“Twigs has showed herself in public through artwork and videos which have hyper-realised versions of herself (large eyes, elongated neck, disfigured faces), that she is interested in examining and distorting her identity, including the very name she’s persisted with – Formerly known as.” On LP1, she shares seemingly true intimate versions of herself.
“There is no worry that the separation of the music from the visuals FKA twigs has become synonymous with has lessened the impact of LP1 or that twigs has nothing to say. A longer sustained running time means rather than snatches of character-forming opinion, we get a confidential look at the artist herself talking sex, self-image, desire, loneliness, intimacy, and state of mind, subjects normally guarded from others more vehemently, particularly for new artists.
“The combination of twigs’ alien otherworldliness, her ambient often anguished electronic R&B style and her intimate and lustful portrait of herself, directly or reflected in others, makes for an iconic release and helps form a person who feels human and real. By the end of the album’s 10 tracks, twigs decides that she knows herself best, after all.”
The Baltimore band’s fourth record of melodramatic synth-pop hit a bigger audience.
“These are songs that have the chest-thumping melodramatic new wave pop at the heart of what they do while refining the songwriting and production by Chris Coady make for an overall better album.
“There’s a straight up heart-on-sleeve anthemic lean to all of the songs. Each of them stand on their own, hence the title, whether it’s the yearning synth-pop of ‘Spirit’, the hook-laden chorus of ‘Sun In The Morning’, the bass-funk of ‘Doves’ , the slow epic atmosphere of ‘A Song For Our Grandfathers’ or the brilliant album closer ‘A Dream Within A Dream’.
“There’s quite enough eccentricity in Herring’s vocal delivery whether he’s whispering, skulking, brooding, wailing, growling, crooning or delivering a monologue like David Bowie in Labyrinth on ‘Fall From Grace’. His range is beautifully dramatic and spirited and the music doubles down on providing an effective poignant foil for that – focusing on chugging bass, propulsive rhythms and colourful synths. It’s a perfect distillation of Future Islands which just happens to leave a more accessible, hook-laden welcoming impression than before. The band are all on the same powerful page rather than just being “that band with the eccentric lead singer.”
And let’s face it – as Letterman proved, and as this album substantiates, Herring, Gerrit Welmers and William Cashion have a lot more highly-strung emotion and joyful connections to make with audiences.”
“What a pleasure it is to arrive at the sixth album from an artist to find them at the peak of their music-making abilities. Press play on Our Love and that sentiment is obvious.
“Snaith’s psychedelic imprint and swells of emotion covers everything, through his falsetto and his preference for nostalgic-faced melodies. His lyrics add to the tenderness, chiefly concerned with a slipping, fading love, yet he offers us, and himself, solace in every other way.
“On Our Love, Snaith is now fully immersed in the world of the nightclub but he wears his heart on his turntable. That doesn’t mean that there’s an dumbing down or mindlessness. There is a simplicity to a lot of the tracks that, only comes from putting in the long hours. Snaith’s love of his craft continues to shine. If anything, he’s has just better at making things sound larger with less.”
Best buddies El-P and Killer Mike made the year’s best rap record.
“The sequel to one of the best rap mixtapes in recent times does what many sequels do not. It improves the dynamic between the cast, it delivers smarter, more quotable lines, it takes aim at larger targets and it adds a whole lot of bang.
“Run The Jewels 2 is what happens when a producer-rapper/rapper hit a career high at the same damn time. Because this is El and Mike’s album, they own it. Because even though there are vocal guests: RATM’s Zack De La Rocha, singer/producer Boots and Three 6 Mafia’s Gangsta Boo, they serve the version of a banging lean record, rather than overcrowd it.
“RTJ2 is two buddies, operating at their creative peak. It’s more than another chapter, more than a sequel. It’s a sinewy distillation of more than a friendship, it’s a fruitful creative partnership that sounds like it’s been reinforced by steel foundations such is the wicked bulging energy contained within the album’s 40 minutes.”
Cian Ó Cíobháin is the man behind the long-running An Taobh Tuathail radio show on RnaG every Monday to Friday from 10pm to midnight. His Galway club night with Cyril Briscoe 110th Street just turned sweet sixteen. The dude is also available for weddings.
As for the show, there will be two ATT Christmas specials broadcast on Christmas Eve and Christmas day from 10pm to midnight.
In the meantime, here are his choices for his songs of 2014.
From her extraordinary Under The Skin soundtrack to Jonathan Glazer’s film, this gauzy-dreamy, otherworldly composition is easily my tune of the year. It somehow evokes Loveless-era MBV, Angelo Badalamenti and elements of Bernard Herrmann’s film music. I only recently discovered that the movie is based on a book by Michel Faber. I am currently engrossed in his most recent novel ‘The Book Of Strange New Things’.
2. HTRK – ‘Give It Up’
Over a minimal, slow-mo, low-slung groove emerges that beautiful fragile voice. The refrain ‘This time I’m gonna love you much better’ is pregnant with regret and lost opportunity. Not to mention a hint of menace that’s bordering on the sexual. Ballard would’ve approved.
3. LesLord – ‘Dave Toole’
Last year poet Marcus Mac Conghail wrote a poem called ‘Ceol Baile’ (home music), where he embarks on a road trip while listening to my radio show. His observations are punctuated by my music selections and commentary. Earlier this year, he sent me a recording of himself reading the poem and asked was there anything I could do with it. I contacted two producers, one being Dubliner Les Ó Dochartaigh, who is one of our most imaginative sound-magicians. He got the go-ahead from the poet to “rip it up” whatever way he wished to. I was naturally apprehensive that I wouldn’t like the end product, having gone to the trouble of asking him to work with the recording. My fears were short-lived. I would go as far as to say as it’s one of his finest works. It really is an astonishing piece of sound art. I love so many things about it, including the plaintive piano that weaves its way into the track’s closing moments. It’s available on his latest LP Uimhir A Dó.
Footnote: Dave Toole, by the way, is how one or two non-Irish listeners who contacted the show over the years, addressed me, having misheard the words ‘An Taobh Tuathail’. One listener in the UK emailed me wondering if this was the first ‘meta’ ATT tune. I suspect it could be.
4. Aphex Twin – ‘minipops 67’ [120.2][source field mix]
My first reaction upon hearing his comeback track was one of relief that, thankfully, it didn’t tarnish his flawless reputation. Then I got more into it. Finally, there came the dawning that it simply is one of the tunes of the year on account of its complexity, its simplicity and its proud, beating (mini)pop heart.
5. Ariel Pink – ‘Not Enough Violence’
It’s so hard to pick one track out of Ariel Pink’s breathtaking new album, as I’ve only been listening to it a few weeks. The album is simply breathless with ideas. Some of the best tracks ‘Lipstick’, ‘White Freckles’, Black Ballerina’ – in the spirit of ABBA – contain so many riffs that lesser artists might never think to conceive over entire careers. However, I’ve gone with this one. It plunders – perhaps for the first time in music history – from a treasure trove of influences, that includes Nirvana’s ‘In Bloom’, The Cure, the intonations of Andrew Eldritch from the Sisters Of Mercy, Robert Wyatt, the dynamics of the kind of techno championed by the Berghain mafia, the drums from ‘Running Up That Hill’, vintage BBC Radiophonic recordings, sky-scraping shoegaze & 80s power-pop. Ariel Pink is my magpie of the year.
6. Augustus & John – ‘Crosslines’
Produced in Galway by Mike Smalle (he of B-Movie Lightning / Cane141 infamy) and Matteo Grassi, this is a subtle, light-as-a-feather approach to timeless electro-pop, much in the vein of ‘Ghost Trains’, Erlend Oye’s collaboration with Morgan Geist a few years back. Criminally ignored by most people, the Crosslines EP should be on everyone’s listening devices. Oh, and for the record, neither of the composers had ever heard the track ‘Ghost Trains’, until well after this tune was mastered. Or so I’ve been assured.
7. Plaid – ‘Nafovanny’
Another comeback album from giants of Warp’s towering back catalogue. This track is my highlight off Reachy Prints. From the plaintive note that appears, seemingly out of nowhere, at 2.30, into the sky-scraping riff that follows it – simultaneously both melancholic & joyful – this tune sums up the temporality of all things. Like doing your utmost to lose yourself in the beauty of the finest summer evening, but knowing the experience will – by the immutable laws of physics – only ever be fleeting.
8. Loric – ‘Under Sharer’
Techno at its most psychedelic. This track is alive with ideas. That sublimated disco vocal that occasionally swims to the surface before sinking again beneath that wall of drums. I’d wager it’ll still sound fresh in a decade’s time.
9. FKA twigs – ‘Two Weeks’
The lady has her detractors, certainly in the circles that music snobs habitually frequent, but – it has to be said – this is probably one of the best songs ever written about having sex while high on drugs.
10. Kode9 – ‘Pink Sham Pain Down The Drain’
From the Hyperdub compilation ’10.3’, here’s a track that somehow everybody managed to ignore this year.
Kind of in the vein of the Mica Levi track I mentioned, it has that ethereal, quite-not-there quality that has me instantly scrambling to hear it again as soon as the last precious note gently peters out.
The pairing of music and visuals is something I’ve always enjoyed but the concept of a music video has obviously changed in the last ten years. There are of course, still concepts, themes, ideas, techniques and executions that lift a song into another realm but there’s also so much video content out there now, that there are plenty of live video and TV performances, vignettes, parodies, and short documentaries around music that did the same thing a music video is supposed to do: to put the artist in front of more people. Here are 20 of my favourite “music videos” of this year.
The world sadly lost the Chicago footwork DJ Rashad this year to drugs. His music existed in a discombobulating place alongside his partner Spinn. This fan-video for ‘She A Go’ used stock video footage of office life to do the same thing constructing a hyper-real experience in the process.
The singer Angel Olsen returned with Burn Your Fire For No Witness, her second album, which had a throwback rock feel. Suitably, the video feels like its beamed from another time via its filmic cinematography and Olsen’s movements specifically are inspired by choreographed studio performances from female pop stars of old, of which the director said “were always so wild and psychedelic and humorous from afar. The more you watch them, the more wooden and awkward the performances become. There is a certain loneliness captured. The song ‘Hi-Five’ seems to contain the same sort of duality.”
18. Ibeyi – ‘River’
Video by: Ed Morris
The recent introduction of the Chromecast to the home entertainment system has meant more space and time for music videos on a larger screen. After seeing these girls perform at Other Voices last week, I watched this video again, noticing how the French-Cuban twins are held down by male hands under water, how they hold their breath for long periods of time, the dead-eyed stare and the on-time lip syncing at the centre of all of this deceptively simple concept.
Dance music can be a perfect vehicle for a wide-open music video narrative and Simon Landrein lets his animation and imagination run wild on a stylistic train journey full of suggestion to match the chugging rough house track from the Irish producer.
The Dublin duo of Sean Cooley and Kevin A. Freeney, Clu, have always put their electronic music and visual work on a par and on ‘Mirrors’, they’ve nailed both. It’s a complementary collaboration that transcends a typical visual tacked on to music setup. The video directed by Freeney serves as a chassis for a potent mix of music (an amalgamation of bass / garage / post-dubstep) , visual (cinematic sumptuous imagery), interpretive dancing and colour that makes for an impressive display of art in total.
15. Katharine Phillippa – Live at TedX
Video by: TedXStormont
The Belfast-based musician performs two songs with the help of a loop station, a bow, a drum, a keyboard, a laptop and an author’s intensity that leaps through the screen.
With the upcoming Marriage Referendum in May next year, single-sex marriage will go to a public vote. It’s an incremental attempt at recognising the rights of the people in this country and should pass because who are you or are I to say to someone – “no, you’re love is not the same as mine” or “no, your love is not valid” or “no, your love isn’t something to be celebrated or recognised.”
In that context, ‘Glacier’, a song from the gentle giant John Grant who has battled with his identity and control and who has been made to feel bad for who he is, eloquently addresses those struggling with their sexual identity – “This pain, it is a glacier moving through you, carving out deep valleys and creating spectacular landscapes,” goes the chorus.
The video serves as a brief history lesson of the journey for that recognition of gay rights over the years juxtaposing chronological footage of the American gay rights movement, newspaper headlines, and pop culture to leave you with a stirring narrative of the journey so far. Here you can donate to the Marriage Equality campaign for 2015.
13. Vic Mensa – ‘Down On My Luck’
Video by: Ben Dickinson at Ghost Robot.
There’s a wrong decision at every turn. This video shows the possibilities.
By now, FKA twigs has established herself as a visceral artist in many respects. Musically, her album is uncompromising, her self-expression through dance unique and her vision through her visuals ticks both of those boxes.
FKA twigs’ new video thing is less a music video more a Google Glass concept dance video featuring two songs ‘Video Girl’ and ‘Glass & Patron’ remixed as twigs dances and uses the device for inspiration in-video. It’s a weird fit but it features some great moves so we’ll let it slide.
One of my favourite new bands of the year. I first encountered the Oxford band at SXSW and they were an impressive live act. Since then, their ZABA album has established them as purveyors of quality ambient indie R&B.
Hypnotic and hyper-visual electronic R&B music made by Londoner Tahliah Barnett, a dancer and young ambitious artist. Her debut album LP1 is an intimate, lustful and personal portrait and live, she picks up a microphone like few others.
One of the most prolific and promising electronic producers around, his remixes for AlunaGeorge, Disclosure and Janet Jackson are certified funky floorfillers and his original material shows off a finger-snapping, head-nodding R&B and hip-hop influence. He’s recently signed to XL too.