Playing Records – 2014

So then, 2014. What the hell was all that about then?

I mean, I turned 48 this year and I think that only now am I starting to slow down obsessively acquiring tons of new releases each month in search of the unattainable ‘it’ – whatever ‘it’ might be of course. It’s not that I don’t listen to as much music as I ever did – I do, I just seem to be surfing a wave of forward looking retrospection at the moment (if that even makes any sense). Ever get to that point when you feel like you’ve heard every element of each new record as it plays itself out – but done differently and better? Sometimes you need to get so far ahead of yourself that looking backwards is not only a welcome change of pace it’s actually a necessity, a simple matter of fact and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Sure, there have been some great LPs released this year (although as usual I always shun the media as their ‘Bands To Watch’ lists are usually shot through with a bunch of restyled, rehashed, tepid scenesters) but I’ve also found the time to reacquaint myself with some older records which I think is a totally healthy thing to do. Sometimes a release from a few years ago sounds fresher than shrink wrapped. Hell, I’ve even picked up some obscure LPs from over three and four decades ago that I swear I can still hear rippling around in present day releases. The cream of these dusty relics were Trixie Stapleton 291 Se Taire Pour Une Femme Trop Belle by Fille Qui Mousse which was recorded in 1971, Goldball from ’74 by Exmagma and the mind-blowingly loose ‘n’ groovy The Feed-Back by Gruppo Di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza which came out in 1970. All quite literally far out sounds.

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Trixie Stapleton 291 Se Taire Pour Une Femme Trop BelleGoldballThe Feed-Back

Unlike most men I know, I can’t do lists. I’m rubbish at them, they start innocently enough and before I know it i’m trying to cram all known information into 10 bullet points. When an inveterate collector makes a list, it has to contain EVERYTHING you see, nothing can be omitted. The ‘top ten’, ‘top five’ and worse still, ‘top three’ lists are to be avoided at all costs in polite conversation. So in order to make this as meaningful an article as possible I’ll need to be spontaneously quick witted and write what comes out of my head as it does, the music I remember playing regularly and loving a whole lot.

Of course the newer stuff comes flooding back first; Melt Banana’s gloriously hyperactive thrash capsule Fetch has been a staple listen, The Soundcarriers’ Entropicalia actually managed to sound like that great lost album from the sixties that everyone is still searching for and Boris raged like a butterfly caught in a blast furnace on Noise.

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AZLP0009 LP artwork2. Entropicalia3. Noise

The Caretaker’s decaying V/Vm corpse was partially reanimated to totally stunning effect on The Death Of Rave LP, Jonas Reinhardt’s Ganymede mini album was cosmically sublime and Pye Corner Audio managed to sound even more deliciously dated then ever on Black Mill Tapes Volume 4.

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4. The Death Of Rave (A Partial Flashback)5. Ganymede6. Black Mill Tapes Vol.4_ Dystopian Vectors

Demdike Stare turned in two more gut pummeling instalments of their peerless Test Pressings series of 12s (which now brings us to 006) as well as silently issuing Empirical Research, one of most spooked out mixtapes you’re likely to hear in a long time. Although if you wanted a more rustic and downright hauntological scare, the Woodbines & Spiders debut W&S was there to finger you under the bushes in the gloaming.

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7. Testpressing#0068. Empirical Research9. W&S

Swans almost knackered my hearing (again, thanks Mr Gira) with To Be Kind and Earth suddenly sprouted a couple of vocalists on their Primitive And Deadly album. Then there was Apex Twin dear old Dickie who laughed his little ginger bollocks off at us all as we rushed to complete the rubik’s cube that was Syro after a blushingly modest eleven year wait. You clever bastard… now give us some more!

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10. To Be Kind11. Primitive and Deadly12. Syro

I was surprised to find myself lost amongst the crackling, hissing twitch of broken electronics that was Germany’s now defunct Pole quite a lot and I bloody loved every second of it hardly believing its fifteen year vintage. I also returned to Portishead’s astonishingly desolate Third by accident one evening and swore that this wasn’t the record I’d initially heard when newly released then proceeded to play it every night and day for a month solid. This obviously acted as a catalyst for a summer spent playing Krautrock, prog and free jazz jams loudly in the sweltering afternoons whilst the evenings gave way to post-punk. I once again became slightly obsessed with playing the complete six hour suite of William Basinski’s incredible and delicately powerful disintegration loops whilst listening intently to the ferric particles drop off the tape and specks of transient quiet become oceans of silence. It still manages to be as jaw droppingly amazing as when I first heard it and merely intensifies the more I allow myself to be drawn in. Basinski’s shorter and lesser known Melancholia LP was a frequent listen between these long drawn out sessions running perfectly into the bleak maelstrom of solemnity – a fraying violin string stretched taut and ready to snap at any moment in aching slow motion.

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13. 1 2 314. Third15. The Disintegration Loops

I could sit here typing endless lists of great albums I’ve loved this year all night and still it wouldn’t give you the complete picture of my listening habits this year, but then music is all about experience and as we slowly age and change so do our experiences. What makes one thing better than any other thing for all of eternity? Nothing, that’s because life just isn’t that simple and never stands still for long enough to be firmly pinned down.

None of this is getting me anywhere though and I still have to find a ‘proper’ conclusion to this post so I’ll finish here by telling you what my absolute favourite album of 2014 was;

Album Of The Year – 2014

Electric Wizard – Time To Die
2014 – Spinefarm Records

Time To Die LP Cover

I discovered the Dorset Doom Metal band Electric Wizard around nine months ago through a friend who described them as “the heaviest shit on wax” and I knew after hearing my first LP that I’d end up owning their entire catalogue by the end of that week. I just couldn’t get enough of their ludicrously downtuned, ferociously heavy, sludge rock reeking of weed, murder and Satan so when I read of their new LP coming out in September I was more than ready to be blown away.

Now, according to iTunes I have played this album around nine hundred odd times since it was released just three short months ago. It’s safe to say that I’ve become more than a little obsessed by Time To Die. I wrote about it in detail when I made it my album of the month in October (here) and surprised one or two folks with my expletive laden brusqueness. Feel free to go and read what I wrote, the review came spewing out in a frothing burst and I stand by every word. Then came November and I had literally not listened to another note of music since the 29th of November release date of this astonishing record. From morning to evening it played at home, in the car, on headphones, it even came to bed with me and I fell asleep with it ringing in my eardrums. I had been spending more and more of my time researching the back story to the LP – the supposed ritual Satanic killing of teenager Gary Lauwers by his friend Ricky Kasso and the hackneyed links between music and devil worship which were trotted out before a baying pack of ‘concerned’ parents before an idiot media circus.

The piece I wrote for November’s Playing Records post was essentially a rewrite of my previous article but with all the emphasis on the story rather than the music, probing into the police/media (mis)handling of the case and Kasso’s eventual suicide whilst incarcerated. It wasn’t a music review, it was more like a slightly unhinged conspiracy theorists rant at a society who thinks if it controls every aspect of people’s lives then everything will be just fine and nothing like this could ever happen again. After some consideration I decided to pull the article as I felt I was labouring a point which most people don’t really give a fuck about anyway these days. It made me sound a little bonkers as well to be truthful.

For the casual listener or newcomer however, this is all you need to to know about Time To Die – it’s an unrelentingly heavy, thematically powerful, brutally nihilistic listen that gets under your skin and stays there like a tattoo long after the disc has stopped spinning. In short, this album is absolutely essential listening for those who like their music to challenge them.

Like I said somewhere at the start of this excessive ramble, there have been some great records released this year but for me at any rate, nothing can come remotely close to the mighty Electric Wizard’s magnificent Time To Die.

Electric Fuckin Wizard

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A Mysterious Object from Pye Corner

Pye Corner Audio – The Ever-Present Hum

On returning home after a trip away at the weekend, I was pleased to see that my wonderful surly postman had roughly manhandled another batch of happiness through my letterbox. I excitedly scooped up the small padded envelope and began to gently prise it open as Junior Ubsubscriber looked on to see what marvels this new package may contain. As I removed the clear plastic cassette box from the bubble wrap, she turned to me in a very perplexed manner and said “but what is it?”

Tapeworm CassetteI have attempted to explain the mystery of how vinyl records work to Junior Unsubscriber on several occasions in the past but she’s having none of it. Being of an age where all it takes to make music come out your speakers is the tap of a screen, I somehow think that all my talk of microgrooves and magnetic particles is akin to teaching her the finer points of nuclear fission. She simply stood there looking at the cassette as if it were an impossibly ancient relic or an unknown object of extra-terrestrial origin.

Later in the evening, I finally got the chance to sit down and give this little oddity a proper listen. I have to say in advance that I’ve been an obsessive collector of Pye Corner Audio releases since picking up the first volume of Black Mill Tapes in 2010 and so I was in a state of high anticipation.

Text on the inlay card offers the following piece of information from The Head Technician; “These two pieces are an exploration of the setup I use for my live shows. I wanted to come at it from a more compositional angle however. Using only a looping delay pedal and two synthesisers, they became a meditation on the sounds that surround us, but often go unheard.”

Pye Corner Audio Tape Inlay

Part One (Motorway) pitches bucolic synth tones above a murky pulse, flickering with the kind of warbling effect you might hear on a cassette which has spent the past few decades sitting in a musty shoebox. It somehow puts me in mind of Edgar Froese’s 1975 mellotron classic Epsilon in Malaysian Pale, although played out against the faded splendour of a forgotten provincial English coastal village rather than equatorial forests. Part Two (Treetop) is an altogether darker, more sinister piece and combines a wonderfully unsettling drone with billowing, gaseous sounds which gradually combine with an eerie arpeggio to close out the track..

After last years’ magnificent Sleep Games album on Ghost Box, this short transmission is a huge side step from the usual Pye Corner Audio sound but somehow manages to dovetail rather neatly into the Head Technician’s overall aesthetic. The Tapeworm site (here) is already listing this limited run of tapes as sold out and so tracking down a copy may prove a rather difficult, although highly rewarding task.

It’s comforting to know that tiny, homegrown labels such as Tapeworm exist in 2013, floating defiantly amongst the endless waves of corporate spreadsheet music. It’s up to us to support the efforts of such people to ensure that we still have something worthwhile to intrigue and inspire at least a few members of our present touchscreen generation.