Part Three - Actually, This Isn't Going So Badly.
This is part three of my list of my favourite albums of 2010. Did I mention that this list is in no particular order?
Prince Rama – Shadow Temple
Utilising little more than intricate polyrhythmic percussion, vintage synths and the utterly transcendent power of the human voice in all its forms (from guttural moans to rhapsodic shrieks), here we have an album of psychedelic incantations so dripping in liquid magick as to be worthy of soundtracking Kenneth Anger's “Inauguration of The Pleasure Dome”.
In too short a space of time chants, melodies and rhythms compete with each other for dominance in a fiery roar of noise which sounds as though it were recorded live from the base of an erupting volcano. You do, of course, get the impression that human sacrifices are being willingly cast into said volcano with the attention of honouring or appeasing some kind of fire deity.
The closest sonic parallels I've yet drawn are the mechanical gotterdemmerung of Magma and the eerie insanity of Amon Duul 2. However, where the jams of both bands radiate the sort of mystic evil which is beyond our simple minds to ever comprehend, Prince Rama instead sound like they're in the throes of ecstasy having witnessed the goddess descending.
The Bees – Every Step's A Yes
I don't think I read a single review of this superlative release which didn't, in one way or another, touch upon the “fact” that few people seem to care for the existence of The Bees. It is one of the gravest mistakes a music journalist can make to assume that all feel the same as they do: This band mean the world to me.
They seem to emerge every few years with the sole intention of injecting a modicum of sunshine, happiness and well-being into the lives of all who care to listen. But I don't just listen. Avidly and willingly I soak it up.
Whilst there are some sonic hallmarks identifiable on every release, all the same it's fair to say that each of their four albums has served to offer a different listening experience. Where 2007's Octopus simmered in the more laid-back waters of Trojan Records, the sublime jams as showcased on Every Step's A Yes for me recall the more languid, pastoral and hazy offerings from such wizards as Donovan and Forest. Nowhere is this better sampled than on the shimmering “Skill Of The Man” or the utterly gorgeous “Silver Line”.
Of course, this being an album by The Bees, it's perhaps to be expected that you'll find yourself prithee to a whole array of glorious sounds which betray a pure and insatiable love of music on the part of the band; be it the swampy blues of “Winter Rose”, the breezy “Pressure Makes Me Lazy” or the uplifting tropicalia of the Devendra Banhart featuring “Gaia”.
Every time these guys release an album, I feel as though I possess instant access to such music which compliments perfectly those baking hot days whilst proving potent enough to instil such balmy happiness on such days otherwise too cold or too wet for sauntering. Take that, cynics.
Forest Swords – Dagger Paths
The origin of this music wouldn't have even registered as an issue were it not so close to home. Hell, it is home. This guy's a Liverpudlian. Had this not been the case, he could have hailed from absolutely anywhere else and it wouldn't have mattered to me in the slightest – because this is music not of our world.
It occupies simultaneously the darkest and dingiest abysses so deep that light has no hope of penetrating their surface and the divine upper echelons of dreams and consciousness. In its cavernous basslines you see at once every rain-soaked street, rubbish-strewn alley, windswept hill, abandoned quarry and mildewy cave you might ever have encountered. Whereas in the various jarring organs, pianos and guitars – so drenched in reverb as to dominate any space in which they're contained – there are human faces, stabs of light, warm embraces or campfires sheltered from the rain.
And that such transcendent music should harbour such local names as “Hoylake Mist” is remarkable. At once world-embracingly cosmic yet reassuringly intimate, this music is every bit as familiar as it is alien. It is, therefore, quite unlike most anything else I've heard all year.
I Am Kloot – Sky At Night
I bought Elbow's Leaders Of The Free World a few days before I first moved to Manchester some five years ago. Tracks such as “Station Approach”, written about the very streets on which I was in the process of finding my feet, soon became the soundtrack to the part of my life which I have since termed the “coming of age” years.
Well, this fruit's not so much soured as over-ripened. That's to say that it's become too heavy for its branch and has fallen from the tree. It is to fall to such a place which, whilst being close to its roots, is not necessarily once again amongst them. There it will rest awhile before being picked up and taken to further exciting new climates.
And recently, whilst travelling by night on a bus route which has become far too familiar, I used I Am Kloot's Northern Skies as my soundtrack. Specifically during “The Moon Is A Blind Eye” - unquestionably my favourite track – as I passed by for what I then understood to be one of the last times such familiar places and saw such familiar yet heart-rending scenes as smiles and embraces at bus-stops – I remember thinking – I love this city tonight.
So, where Elbow soundtracked my coming to this city, I Am Kloot have soundtracked my going. It's fitting, then, that the music within should be so wistful, yearning and desperate for both something familiar and something new.
Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma
I'm strongly opposed to any argument which states that “the album”, as an art form, is “dead”. Yes, there are many joys to be had in loading every song you own into an MP3 player and listening in shuffle mode. But how can people continue to hold this misguided view when, year after year, scores upon scores of musicians release work which comes across as more of a “cohesive whole” than as a “collection of MP3s”?
Albums by Flying Lotus strongly support the claim that there's life yet left in “the album” through proving impossible to play by any means other than as a continuous whole. On Cosmogramma, the album is divided into “tracks” seemingly more because it's a done thing than because there exists on this album something as arbitrary as a “track”. Everything blends and bleeds into each other with such mercurial insanity that to even attempt to pick a “favourite song” is something of an impossibility.
Sure, there are standout “moments” amidst the maelstrom – not least Thom Yorke's ghostly turn on “...And The World Laughs With You” - but these are only “moments” in the same way that one recalls certain scenes or lines of dialogue from a film. Rarely will you consume a film in anything other than one sitting. Cosmogramma is no different. It's a journey; an experience; the soundtrack to the best film never made – and every other cliché dished out to particularly transcendent works such as this. In reference to the latter, though, stuff this crazily hyperactive and intense would be fit to soundtrack nothing less than the whoozy and soul-destroying drug-addled spiritual epic “Enter The Void” - but even those retina-searing visuals would be so tame for these sounds that one would feel the need to add the dreadful suffix of “on acid” to proceedings in order to even come close to the desired effect.
“Like the cosmic soundtrack to Enter The Void – on acid” is my terrible, hackneyed summation of this album, then. I'm not proud of such a asinine remark, but little else seems to do in the face of such a kyperkinetic rush of space-addled insanity. This packs more ideas than Coldcut's seminal 70 Minutes Of Madness Mix into a shorter space of time and ultimately offers a far more rewarding listening experience. And it's all the work of one man. Fear him.
MORE NEXT TIME.