As March draws tentatively to a close, it’s time to look back on the first three months of the year and deliver our traditional First Quarter Report.
It’s our pick of the 20 albums – listed in alphabetical order – that have really stood out since 2011 became a reality. Some of them have been reviewed favourably on the site before, others have simply been on heavy rotation in the office and may not have yet received the praise in our pages they deserve – until now. Some you’ll know, and some you won’t, but believe us when we tell you that every one’s a killer.
Our Second Quarter Report will be with you in late June, and the Third in late September, leading up to the Best Albums of 2011 in December.
This triple-CD compiling Miles Whittaker and Sean Canty’s three 2010 vinyl releases plus bonus tracks is full of ravishing and radical moments. At its worst, the self-conscious wyrd-ness of Triptych grates, and highlights Demdike’s reliance on conservative dub-techno constructions. At its best, however, it’s like an unholy, unheimlich gumbo of everything good, ever – from Leyland Kirby to DJ Spinn, Morricone to Monolake, Zomby to Vangelis. – full review
DUCKTAILS III: ARCADE DYNAMICS
“At times Arcade Dynamics is reminiscent of an old Walkman struggling to keep going as its batteries die, at others it evokes the soundtrack of some forgotten Sega MasterSystem game. Sure, Ducktails isn’t the only one out there right now with an eye fixed on the wreckage of late ’80s pop culture, but when he gets that sense of loving, emotive nostalgia right, he’s difficult to beat.” – full review
ANGELS OF DARKNESS, DEMONS OF LIGHT I
“Part of the reason why Earth have been both so awesome and so unlike almost anyone else recently is the fact that their music is the aural equivalent of No Country for Old Men: the pace is slow and un-flashy, but you can’t turn your attention away because what is gradually unfolding before you is so compelling. These are people who have seen a lot in their time, and it’s written all over the music they play.” – full review
THE ENDLESS HOUSE FOUNDATION
Beautifully packaged compilation of the music that soundtracked the wild parties thrown by mercurial Czech millionaire Jiri Kantor in the 1970s at his short-lived concept club, The Endless House. It’s a sublime haul of Kraftwerkian disco, synth wave, electro-pop and italo, made by such larger-than-life artists as Felix Uran, Rasmus Folk and Klaus Pinter. Or maybe by a couple of talented young tricksters from contemporary Britain.
HOW TO DRESS WELL
“There’s enough of it going around at the moment, but if you do have room for one more bit of hazy codeine-pop in your life, then Love Remains is a more than worthy addition to the canon. On this re-recorded collection of previous EP releases, originally issued as an album last year, Tom Krell sings r’n’b melodies in a high and haunting falsetto over crackling embers of g-funk synths and dubby clunks. The effect is stunning.” – full review
(HIPPOS IN TANKS)
One Nation isn’t Hype Williams’ best album – it’s got nothing on Untitled (Carnivals, 2010) and lacks the accessibility and bite of Find Out What Happens… (De Stijl, 2010) – but after a shaky, scrappy start it does reveal itself to be a worthy entry in their catalogue, climaxing with the tape-mangled Chicago houseism of ‘Unfaithful’ and, in ‘MITSUBISHI’, a kind of hypnagogic dub-techno.
“There are moments where this album drifts, and if you’d have taken the six best tracks and made it an EP, then it would’ve been the best thing Blake’s released. But that’s almost missing the point – Blake would likely admit, given how long ago he wrote it, that it’s far from perfect. It’s a collection of songs, from just one period in the development of modern music’s most unique artists, and taken as another part of the slowly unravelling puzzle that is his discography, as opposed to The Grand Debut Album that so many want it to be, it’s pretty priceless.” – full review
JAMIE XX & GIL SCOTT-HERON
WE’RE NEW HERE
“Some of the most natural, breezy dance music of the year; so breezy, in fact, that it’s easy to let it pass over you. If there’s one criticism to be made of this record, it’s a lack of memorability that comes with that, but its strongest moments, particularly the incredible closer ‘I’ll Take Care Of U’, should stay with both xx and Scott-Heron fans for a long while.” – full review
JOSH T. PEARSON
LAST OF THE COUNTRY GENTLEMEN
“One of those albums you can’t listen too often to, but is so brilliant, so moving and so destroying, that when you do, its power overcomes you. There may never be another Lift To Experience album, let alone two. That we finally, after a decade, have another real Josh T. Pearson album compensates quite adequately.” – full review
THE MAGIC PLACE
“In the same way Mogwai’s Come on Die Young stood apart from all other rock at the time, so too would The Magic Place, today – if only we could figure out what the hell genre it’s supposed to be.” – full review
ON A MISSION
“Katy B seems so natural and unforced that it’s strange to remember that she’s doing something that literally no one else is at the moment: personality-driven music with a distinctive feminine voice that’s deeply rooted in underground scenes, but whose blithe lack of concern for their phallocentrism erodes the self-imposed boundaries they set up.” – full review
BY THE HEDGE
“MINKS don’t so much wear their influences on their sleeve as have them tattooed on their arm with scissors and biro – early Creation Records, MBV, The Smiths, The Cure. While the forced morbidity of titles like ‘Cemetery Rain’ and ‘Ophelia’ could have been lifted from the pages of a sixth former’s notebook, the songs themselves are charming and surprisingly visceral. Don’t approach By The Hedge looking for originality, instead view it as an emotive and highly accomplished love letter from one generation of musicians to another.” – full review
MOON WIRING CLUB
A SPARE TABBY AT THE CAT’S WEDDING
(GECOPHONIC AUDIO SYSTEMS)
A certain tweeness is at the heart of Moon Wiring Club’s aesthetic, but on A Spare Tabby At The Cat’s Wedding it comes with a truly sinister edge. Amid some of the more knockabout VHS sampladelia, you’ll find strikingly baleful, beautiful pieces like synth-drone workout ‘Autumn Theatricals’ (think Arpanet via Mount Vernon Arts Lab) and the Boards of Canada-esque ‘Woodsmoke & Treacle’.
MOTION SICKNESS OF TIME TRAVEL
SEEPING THROUGH THE VEIL OF THE UNCONSCIOUS
“Typical of this album, ‘Telepathy’ is actually sexy, the sound of two minds – and bodies – melding before your very ears. Rachel Evans’ wordless phrasing is between pain and pleasure, a reverbed moan that could be registering spiritual attainment, or erotic bliss, or both. Set to a synth cycle of bassy, near-techno momentum, it’s like Chris & Cosey’s Songs of Love And Lust smashed on diazepam but not ruling out a tussle between the sheets.” – full review
BOYS & DIAMONDS
“While adopting the sounds of foreign music styles and incorporating them with American sounds can come off as a cheap grab for consciousness and relevancy, the Prestons have a genuine talent at blurring the lines and crafting music that doesn’t feel beholden to any one scene. It’s music for musicologists to be sure, but Rainbow Arabia never forget what’s important about pop music: put a smile on listener’s faces and a wiggle in their step.” – full review
THE TERMINAL SYMPHONY
Rene Hell’s 2010 album Porcelain Opera piqued our interest enough to find its way into our record collection, but lacked sufficient balls to secure any lasting place in our inner life. The Terminal Symphony, conceptualised as a classical suite (sample track titles: ‘Cello Suite No.3’, ‘Detuned Clarinet’, ‘Baroque Ensemble Coda’), is even more delicate than its predecessor, but we suspect it’ll probably stay fresh for longer, so deep is the sadness it (subtly) summons. Opening number ‘Chamber Forte’ is particularly effective, teaming teeth-grinding noise with Reichian pulsation and downy synth pads, while the heartbreaking ‘Adagio For String Portrait’ encourages comparison with Eno’s Discreet Music without being cowed by it.
“The press release alludes to a conceptual subtext at the sidelines of Ravedeath 1972 concerning digital ubiquity and melancholia and the destruction of music (‘The Piano Drop’ title and cover art and pieces like ‘Hatred of Music’ and ‘Studio Suicide’) but really Hecker’s entire oeuvre and this album in particular are so lost in an edgy ethereal midnight blue dawn that it’s almost impossible to summon any earthly concerns. Rapture has never sounded so eerie. As the world spirals into hell these are the lullabies to dull the pain.” – full review
TORO Y MOI
UNDERNEATH THE PINE
“A fairly strong second effort; where Toro Y Moi has made changes to his songwriting style he’s certainly moving in good directions. But more than anything else, with songs like ‘Still Sound’, Bundick has shown that he has a real talent for producing straight-up, funky pop, and if he has the confidence to pursue that route a solid future and wider audience probably await him.” – full review
“A world without ‘Boing’ or ‘Forever Yours’ however, would be a poorer one indeed. The latter has everything that makes Chicago house great – prowling bass, plangent synths, piano vamps and soulful vocals without the gymnastics; uplifting with an undercurrent of melancholy. Closing out the set, ‘I have always wanted’ showcases Saunders and Lewis’s drum programming finesse – a deeply funky, polyrhythmic jam whose intense percussion and insistent silk road synths could leave dancers with twisted blood.” – full review
HOUSE OF BALLOONS
An anonymous mixtape of filter-soaked midnight r’n’b with as much swearing, sex and cliches as Drake’s Thank Me Later, but arguably more consistency.