- Team Doyobi – Choose Your Own Adventure
Where can I start with this album? It is just fantastic; Team Doyobi make music like nothing I’ve ever heard before. 1980s-style video game music with a modern twist. The theme isn’t restricted to the music either. The artwork perfectly reflects the music – bright and colourful; brash and convoluted.
An example of the Team Doyobi font
Even the font looks like the classic video game style font with modern twiddly bits.
This is easily the best music I’ve heard from an ‘IDM’ artist this year. From a swampy noisy mass, a melody will emerge euphorically (these euphoric melodies reflect fantastic track titles like ‘Weaken Not for You Are the Magma’). It all makes for very interesting and enjoyable listening. It’s so difficult to explain; you just have to hear this for yourself.
- The Fiery Furnaces – Blueberry Boat
This was the surprising one of the year. I was aware of The Fiery Furnaces before, but I never quite liked them enough to buy their album. But then I heard the epic title track of Blueberry Boat on Mixing It, and I just had to go out and buy the album as soon as possible. And even then, it exceeded my expectations. Effortlessly mixing experimental analogue electronics with a fun garage rock style, all tied up with bizarre lyrics, this isn’t quite like anything I’ve ever heard before.
This album always has a surprise lurking around the corner. Sometimes a song would go on for about five minutes and then suddenly change direction entirely for no apparent reason – and it all works! I can hardly stop listening to it. This duo are clearly very talented.
- Squarepusher – Ultravisitor
How do you release four things in one year and make them all immense? Ask Squarepusher. Ultravisitor was the main one – the album. For me, this is the album where Squarepusher finally became great. This was a relief given how poor his previous album, Do You Know Squarepusher, was.
Ultravisitor is a strange mix of live performances and studio, which gives it a strange atmosphere which I haven’t experienced in any other record. My one problem might be with the acoustic guitar tracks. The tracks themselves are fine, but I’m not sure that they fit into the album too well. The rest of the album, though, blends noodly bass guitar playing, rambling drums and the expected IDM fayre – and it does it all very well. It may all be a bit too proggy for some, but I think it’s great.
- Squarepusher – Venus No. 17
Early in 2004, around the release of Ultravisitor, Squarepusher performed live on the BBC Radio 1 programme, Breezeblock. What he performed was so amazing that Warp had no choice but to release the music properly. ‘Tundra 4’ is a massive big opus. It’s kind of operatic in a way. It’s just fantastic, you have to hear it to believe it. Pretty much the same goes for ‘Venus No. 17 Acid Mix’, a track which doesn’t sound very much like the original ‘Venus No. 17’, blows everything else Squarepusher has ever done out of the water. It’s like Go Plastic getting repeatedly stamped upon by DrukQs. Very cool track.
- The Streets – A Grand Don’t Come for Free
The Streets is the best thing that’s happening to pop music at the moment. Mike Skinner has managed to be unconventional, to push back the boundaries – and yet he could reach number 1 standing on his head with his eyes shut. Music that sounds different? Witty lyrics that actually mean something? Goodness me!
The highlight is the very dark ‘Blinded by the Lights’ – it was released as a single, but the chances of a high chart position were thwarted when it was banned for being too good, or something.
- Sigur Rós – Ba Ba Ti Ki Di Do
Sigur Rós’ music for the dance ‘Split Sides’, which Radiohead also made music for, is quite obtuse and experimental, even by Sigur Rós’ standards, especially for a dance. It’s a real grower though. You discover a really catchy melody in ‘Ti Ki’ once you’ve listened to it a few times; ‘Di Do’ has some fantastic vocal cut-ups, which remind me of Asa-Chang & Junray’s ‘Hana’. It’s all great stuff. It’s just a shame that Radiohead won’t be releasing their music officially, because it is really good aswell.
- !!! – Louden Up Now
I believe this is what they call ‘post-punk’. Following on from 2003’s excellent single ‘Me and Giuliani Down by the School Yard (A True Story)’, the New York 9-piece turned 8-piece has managed to produce an album that doesn’t revolve around it. It’s as funky as it’s angry; as dancey as it’s rocky. And I think it’s great.
- Savath&Savalas – Apropa’t
One of the first records of the year, and a fair start to it. The enormously prolific Scott Herren put his Prefuse 73 moniker to rest for a bit to concentrate on his Spanish roots, returning to his ‘folktronica’ project, Savath&Savalas. This time round he was joined by a singer named Eva Puyelo Muns. At first I found her voice a bit boring, and I thought it detracted from the music. But it was a grower, and this album contains some really strong songs. It might be a lot more conventional that what we’re used to from Herren, but that doesn’t stop this from being a fine album.
See my review of this year’s other Savath & Savalas release, Mañana, for more on this.
- Savath & Savalas – Mañana
After the relatively conventional Apropa’t, the duo of Scott Herren and Eva Puyelo Muns returned for the second, and apparently (unfortunately) the last, time for a more experimental EP. This was a lot more electronic than the album, and is certainly heavier on the vocal cut-ups.
Some say these cut-ups may be there as a result of the disintegration of the relationship between Scott Herren and Eva Puyelo Muns. Herren wrote on his website:
Eva and I no longer can even hold down the simplest of: “yes/no” email interactions, much less do I even see us together in person, so this is the last you will hear of us juntos… If I knew why, I would tell you but I havenâ€™t a fucking clue.Eva Puyelo Muns: hot
One rumour goes that he tried to get into her pants. Who would blame him? She is hot! Never mind, Savath+Savalas existed before Eva, and it will continue to exist. And on the basis of this year’s releases, long may it!
- Sigur Rós – Hlemmur Soundtrack
Technically, you could say that this release is actually from 2002. But it was only originally sold on tour, and only made available to the public as a whole this year, as far as I know. So I’ll keep it short. This is quite good, but if you’re expecting anything amazing, it’s probably best to wait for their proper album.
- Team Doyobi – Antiquity
A monster EP. It contains just three tracks, but lasts half an hour by my reckoning. The a-side, ‘A-mode’ is an ever-changing opus that grabs your attention and never lets it wander away. Side B begins with ‘The Müller-Fokker Effect’, which has hip-hoppy cut-up vocals. A solid release.
- Broadcast – Microtronics
Once again, I think this technically came out in 2003, but was only available on tour – I could only get this in 2004. It’s a bit of a departure from what you’d normally expect from Broadcast. Sure, it’s still got that 1960s retro sound, but this mini-CD of “stereo recorded music for links and bridges” sounds like musique concrète. It’s great stuff. How do Broadcast manage to keep on changing their style, yet always sound like 60s retro?
- Squarepusher – Square Window
You can only review this for what it is – and it’s a bonus extra CD that came with early orders for the Squarepusher album, Ultravisitor. Two of these tracks appear elsewhere, but you can’t complain since, for one thing they are probably more difficult to find than usualy, and for another they’re very good. ‘Itti-Fack’ sounds like something from the Gran Turismo menu screen; very funky!
- Tortoise – It’s All Around You
This was a bit of a disappointment. It’s not that it’s a bad album – it most certainly is not. It’s just that the whole album passes by without ever really causing the sort of fuss I’ve come to expect of Tortoise. I mean take their last album, Standards, for instance. The jaw-dropping intro to ‘Seneca’, the beginning of ‘Eros’, the drums in ‘Monica’. They all turn the world inside out when you hear them. But there is nothing like that on this album. This album is good, but mundane, and I never get a strong urge to listen to it.
- Brothomstates – Rktic
Brothomstates surfaces at last! This is one of the releases on the seemingly ill-fated Warp spin-off label, Arcola. Two tracks which are a bit of a departure from what we’re used to from Brothomstates. Very danceable. The a-side is simply brilliant – it evolves from a simple beat into a crazy multi-layered delight.
- The Matthew Herbert Big Band – The Process, the Parts, the Many and the Few
I guess this can be seen as a kind of ‘making of’ Goodbye Swingtime, 2003’s excellent album from Matthew Herbert’s big band project. This EP consists of out-takes and discarded ideas from the process of making Goodbye Swingtime. So we get things like ‘Everything’s Changed (half-time down an octave)’. There is also a good version of ‘Fiction’ – the Music Stand mix – which seems to be the players hitting their music stands to the rhythm of the music. All-in-all, an interesting EP.
- Hot Chip – Coming On Strong
An interesting album of quaint, cheap-sounding home-made electronics and feeble singing. I don’t mean that in a bad way either – this is genuinely what it sounds like. And I like it. The songs are good, the general style is strange enough to keep me entertained. Good stuff.
- Piano Overlord – Tease EP
Scott Herren once again. This is an okay EP, although not quite up to the standard we’re used to from Herren. The remixes are really cool. But on the basis of side A, I wonder if the upcoming Piano Overlord album can be as good as any of his Prefuse 73 or Savath&Savalas material?
- Squarepusher – Ultravisitor promo
As the title would suggest, this is a promo 12″ which preceded the release of Ultravisitor. Two of the tracks appear elsewhere, but that’s okay because the other track, ‘Talk About You and Me’ is brilliant.
- Air – Talkie Walkie
This year’s Nigel Godrich fluke album. I was a bit disappointed with this at first, but it grew on me quite quickly. It’s avant-garde and poppy in equal measure.
- Amina – Animamina
This is the string quartet that toured with Sigur Rós and recorded strings for their album ‘( )’. The strings take a bit of a back seat, as Amina reveal themselves to be one of these anything-goes sort of groups. This EP has a very natural, organic and, dare I say it, Scandanavian sound. It would make a good soundtrack to one of those artsy eastern-European short films you see on late-night Channel 4. I like it. It’s lovely. It’s not a great though. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for Amina, because they’re certainly talented.
- Michael Andrews – Donnie Darko: Music from the original motion picture score
Good music, but as it’s a film score you can expect plenty of repitition. I’m guessing it was made with a low budget, because you can hear what’s been taped over in one of the tracks, which I find rather off-putting. All-in-all though, a fine enough CD.
- Mira Calix – 3 Commissions
Get growing those beards, cos you’ll need one to stroke! Mira Calix’s hypnotic ‘Nunu’, made entirely out of insect noises, gets given a lovely string part placed on top of it for the ‘RFH mix’, performed by the London Sinfonietta. It’s all good stuff, but nothing terribly special.
- [various artists] – Music from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop
Some of the finer moments of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop put onto one compilation. It’s a good album; an interesting listen. But it’s probably better as a novelty album rather than music to consider seriously. I’m not saying it’s bad music; it’s just a bit difficult to listen to without remembering that most of these pieces were originally meant to be fairly dispensible radio jingles and the like.
- Boom Bip – Corymb
A bit of a disappointment really. The remixes are good, although I’d heard three of them before. Boom Bip’s own new music is just nothing like as good as [circle] or Seed to Sun. Such a shame.
- Dani Siciliano – Likes…
This is a musically interesting album. One of those ones with real instruments mashed up and generally made more interesting using electronics. And it’s just as well, because I’m not too fond of the songs themselves. Siciliano’s singing is fine; it’s just the songs that are a bit boring. Still, the music itself is interesting enough to redeem it all. This album contains an unlikely cover version of Nirvana’s Come as you Are; it’s so off the wall that I never realised what it was at first.
- cLOUDDEAD – Ten
Without a doubt, the disappointment of the year for me. After this album was finished, cLOUDDEAD split up because they hate each other’s guts, or something. Why couldn’t they have fallen out after the first album? Often a bad-tempered band leads to an improved sound. But this album sounds half-arsed and half-finished, and not a patch on their self-titled album. Infact, the best thing is the Boards of Canada remix on the bonus CD.
So what does 2005 hold? New albums from Boards of Canada and Sigur Rós, hopefully. I should also hope that Autechre release something in 2005. After all, if they didn’t then it would be a whole 32 months since we’d heard of them (apart from that thing with The Hafler Trio) – by my reckoning that would be the longest gap between Autechre releases ever. So if they don’t release anything next year, I think we can assume that they have infact disappeared off the face of the earth.
Also, which Brian Eno album will I buy in 2005 (for the record, in 2004 I bought Ambient 4: On Land)?
Apart from that, who knows? The best thing about music is constantly discovering new artists…
Now I’m off to watch Jackie Bird’s Fashion Tips.