First Quarter Report: The 20 best albums of the last three months

By , Mar 24 2010
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It’s that time again, 2010’s First Quarter Report is here.

A companion to our Tracks of the Month pieces, the Quarter Reports are where we list the 20 albums (or in some cases, substantial EPs) that we’ve been feeling most in the FACT office over the last three months. The Second and Third Quarter Reports happen later in the year; there is no Fourth, as December is album of the year time. There you have it, now tuck in.


01: THE ADVISORY CIRCLE
MIND HOW YOU GO (REVISED EDITION)
(GHOST BOX)

The Advisory Circle is the alter ego of “composer, producer, mastering engineer, vinyl archivist and ornithologist” Jon Brooks, an artist inspired by the world of TV public information films. Here Ghost Box issued his 2005 Mind How You Go EP on vinyl for the first time, complete with four new tracks.


02: BURN ONE & STARLITO
RENAISSANCE GANGSTER
(MIXTAPE)

“Burn One emerges from Renaissance Gangster the king of silk samples and quartz percussion-led, throwback-to-the-future beats, while Starlito is crowned an all-star of drawl and an MVP of blunt-laden wordplay; no one else can casually slip in and out of timing like him but still stay on point. With their powers combined, they push a narrow-minded state of rap through a tiny hole, and burst out of the other side dripping with fresh colours.” Review here


03: CARLOS GIFFONI
SEVERANCE
(HOSPITAL PRODUCTIONS)

What with all the attention surrounding his house-indebted No Fun Acid project, you could be forgiven for overlooking Carlos Giffoni’s most recent album under his own name, Severance. Released in January on Hospital Productions, Severance is a work of riveting, austere electronic minimalism that’s definitely not for the faint-hearted, recalling as it does the ominous sound designs of 80s soundtrack supremos Abigail Mead, Howard Shore and – tangentially – John Carpenter. Curiously beautiful field recordings of a construction site near Giffoni’s home are interspersed with loping modular sequences that sound as if they were tapped from Martyn Ware’s nightmares. Seductive and threatening in equal measure, this record is like a holiday in Videodrome.


04: DOPPLEREFFEKT
GESAMTKUNSTWERK
(CLONE CLASSIC CUTS)

Though grown out of the same Detroit electro DNA as Drexciya, the Europhile Dopplereffekt has a colder, harsher and more obviously synthetic sound, largely indebted to Kraftwerk and the minimal wave boom of the 1980s. Gesamtkunstwerk is aesthetically preoccupied with systems of control, from totalitarian government and technology to pornography and selective breeding – as the cover art and track titles like ‘Cellular Phone’ (an eternal dancefloor killer), ‘Pornoactress’ and ‘Sterilization’ make abundantly clear. Musically and conceptually the LP was a key influence on the electroclash movement, and has had a lasting impact on electronic music production in general. After being out of print for some years, Clone’s top-notch re-issue is available again.


05: FOUR TET
THERE IS LOVE IN YOU
(DOMINO)

“It’s easy to make fun of Four Tet. His music sometimes seems a little too sincere, and it can be toe-curlingly sentimental, but then many of us can be too. There is Love in You is a gem of an album which deserves to be treasured, as indeed does its creator.” Full review


06: HOT CHIP
ONE LIFE STAND
(EMI / VINYL FACTORY)

“Ultimately, you most likely will have decided long ago whether you like Hot Chip or not. If you don’t, you should still give (album track) ‘I Feel Better’ a go, just to check. But if, like me, you do, then this is pretty close to the Platonic ideal of a Hot Chip album.” Full review


07: I-F
FUCKING CONSUMER
(DISKO B)

Another re-press, this time of I-f’s unassailably brilliant 1998 album Fucking Consumer. This really is a timeless record, drawing inspiration from horror soundtracks, Drexciyan electro, British synth-pop and Miami bass long, long before it became bog-standard for people to do so. As well as featuring the none-more-anthemic ‘Space Invaders Are Smoking Grass’, Consumer boasts the dancefloor-slaying instrumental version of ‘Playstation No.1’, the toxically funky (and appropriately named) ‘I Do Because I Couldn’t Care Less’ and the brooding, Carpenter-repping ‘Assault on Radical Radio’. Fucking Consumer = fucking classic.


08: JAMES FERRARO
LAST AMERICAN HERO
(OLDE ENGLISH SPELLING BEE)

Last American Hero is a blast of profound psychedelia, led by scratchy guitar-work which is at times unbearably resonant – Ferraro claims never to use samples, so full marks for the strung-out, bluesy playing on display here. Then there are the phased, saturated synths that perhaps inevitably recall Michael Mann and William Friedkin movies, one of those stirring scores by Tangerine Dream or Michel Rubini or whoever. A magnificent record, perhaps the crowning achievement of the so-called hypnagogic pop movement, and admirable in its willingness to engage with the banal, liminal ugliness of consumer life. Full review


09: JAMES PANTS
SEVEN SEALS
(STONES THROW)

Seven Seals – actually released to surprisingly little fanfare in December 2009 – was apparently conceived while James Pants was “in the mood to start a cult”, having immersed himself in occult mysticism and the Book of Revelations. This magick schtick is undoubtedly tongue-in-cheek, but still there’s a near-religious sense of purpose to Seven Seals, a ritualistic intensity. Unlike much of his previous output, it feels like a serious and future-proof work, and, unlike so many records with aspirations to psychedelia, it’s entirely free of waffle. If, like us, you’ve been worried that ambitious, off-kilter pop music has had all the life Pitchforked out of it, get yourself a copy of this. Full review


10: MONOLAKE
SILENCE
(IMBALANCE COMPUTER MUSIC)

“If Jeff Mills’ celebrated rescoring of Metropolis provided an appropriately dystopian counterpoint to Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece, then this record would elevate John Carpenter’s The Thing to a whole new level of Antarctic freakiness. Silence is a long, foreboding and enormously entertaining work of art.” Full review


11: PANGAEA
PANGAEA EP
(HESSLE AUDIO)

“The darkness in Pangaea’s work – and there’s certainly a lot of that – is never easy or simple. Minute by minute these tracks slip into new moods, leaving things tantalising and obscured. Take ‘5-htp’, for instance, which drifts from a wistful ambient throb to paranoid industrial two-step, ending with some sensual blurred keys that could have come from Theo Parrish. Much as it drills a hole in your skull and plays with your mind, this music belongs in the rave, rushing forward on garage and Funky beats clipped down to the essentials. It’s not perfect: ‘Because of You’ feels frustratingly more like a sketch than a fully realised piece, and ‘Neurons’ is a bit, well, silly. But the best moments here are the most utterly, enthrallingly, genuinely hardcore pieces of music. The kind of music that makes you stop and think ‘yeah, I remember now…this is why’.” Full review


12: PANTHA DU PRINCE
BLACK NOISE
(ROUGH TRADE)

“It might take long-time Pantha fans a while to gel with this record: Black Noise is so delicate and subtle that it takes a few listens to realise it’s more than just This Bliss Pt. 2 [This Bliss being his previous, widely celebrated album]. In the build up to its release, there were worries that Pantha’s trademark chime-heavy sound would become an albatross around his neck; instead, he’s shown he can tell new stories with this unique aesthetic. This is almost certainly the dance – and in some ways pop – album of the year so far.” Full review


13: SCUBA / VARIOUS ARTISTS
SUB:STANCE
(OSTGUT-TON)

“All hugely impressive tunes, and an example of how diverse this increasingly uncategorisable scene has become, for sure. But the real star of the show is Scuba himself, and this impeccably programmed set is his calling card.” Full review


14: SHINING
BLACKJAZZ
(INDIE RECORDINGS)

“Blackjazz is a pretty vital piece of work. Though some quarters of the metal audience may balk at the absence of 20-minute drone-backed monologues, and the presence of no small amount of testosterone, it’s been a long time since a metal album sounded so of its time. At points its gleaming, reflective surfaces may reflect other artists, though taken as a whole it sounds like nothing else. The shape of metal to come? Don’t count on it. We should just be thankful Blackjazz exists in the here and now. If Tool or Trent Reznor were capable of this kind of thing in 2010, it would sell hand over fist. As it is, Blackjazz may just have to settle for cult classic status.” Full review


15: THESE NEW PURITANS
HIDDEN
(ANGULAR)

“There’s no doubt Hidden could have so easily been a sprawling mess, but it’s unified by its drive towards something entirely original, and it succeeds. Like all breaks from the past it feels uncomfortable at first, but soon you’ll wonder when the rest of the world is going to catch up.” Full review


16: TORO Y MOI
CAUSERS OF THIS
(CARPARK)

An unseasonably sweet and sun-dried record that combines the beach-psych tendencies of a Ducktails or a Washed Out with the pop nous of Noah Lennox and the synthetic groove know-how of Dam-Funk. If he ever pairs up with a more assured vocalist the way Lindstrøm did with Christabelle (or just makes peace with his voice’s limitations), we’re all going to want to experience life through Toro’s  filters.” Full review


17: VARIOUS ARTISTS
BLANK GENERATION: BLANK TAPES NYC – 1975-1985
(STRUT)

“Blank Studios, Bob Blank’s off-centre studio on West 20th Street NYC was something of a hub for music both fantastic and vital…Blank Generation leaves you hungry for more, while at the same time wishing things were still as simple now in an era calcified by gentrification.” Full review


18: VARIOUS ARTISTS
THE MINIMAL WAVE TAPES VOL.1

(STONES THROW)

“Minimal wave”, also known as “cold wave”, is the loose term applied to stylized North American and European DIY synthesizer music from the late 70s and 80s, most of which was independently released in short cassette and vinyl runs.  This ravishing  and revelatory compilation, put together by Veronica Vasicka and Peanut Butter Wolf, rescued fourteen exemplary cuts from obscurity, including Mark Lane’s proto-acid ‘Who’s Really Listening’ and Linear Movement’s sublime pop confection ‘Way Out Of Living’.  The best history lesson we’ve had so far this year.


19: VIRGO
VIRGO
(RUSH HOUR)

Virgo’s deep, melancholic but drum-machine-heavy sound has a great deal in common with the best of Fingers Inc and Armando, but really it stands alone, and its cerebral but generously groovy evocation of the urban nightscape has never been matched for elegance or acuity.” Full review


20: YEASAYER
ODD BLOOD
(SECRETLY CANADIAN)

“This is a great album – a really great album – in so many respects, but all those shiny, overblown yet bizarrely weedy 80s sounds can’t be ignored, and it’s almost impossible to listen without thinking how much better it could be had the band not been so beholden to skewed nostalgia. So, Odd Blood: a frustratingly brilliant record.” Full review

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