Tag Archives: music

Giant Bears: Finding our Way Home

A Giant Bears video made from the footage I shot during the West Highland Way trip:


Good things I experienced this year

Some of the various things this year that moved me the most.

Music:

rockettothesky: Medea

Easily the album that meant the most to me this year, though I’m struggling to put into words why that is. It’s partly her use of greek mythology, maybe. Or it’s her voice. Or the curiously ethereal music. It inspired a game (I stole a couple of lyrics to build the story around).

See also.

Broadcast & the Focus Group: Investigate Witch Cults of the radio age.

I’ve been a bit slow to really get excited by hauntology, but this is pretty special. Ghost music from a future that never came.

See also.

Richard Skelton: Landings

I’d been aware of Richard Skelton for a while, but every time I went to his website it seemed all his releases were out of stock. This is the recent reprint of the music and writings he (I think) started Sustain-Release with. It’s a gorgeous thing – a large paperback book and a CD wrapped in really high quality paper. All tangled up with memories of his late wife and rooted in the Pennines. It reminds me heavily of Alan Garner; the landscape and the ghosts.

Warpaint: The Fool

Definitely the best thing Craig’s ever introduced me to. The video above maybe explains part of the appeal – the way it hints at far more than it ever gives away – but for me it was that gig at stereo that really won me over. And I’m sure it was a once in a lifetime thing. Getting to see a band who are just on the cusp of breaking through is pretty special.

Sonically it’s the bass that really makes the album for me. The dreamy vocals, light-touch drums and textural guitars are pretty great, but the bass just continually surprises me. I’ve never heard anything like it, and it turns these dreamy pop songs into something far more exciting, more vital than you’d ever expect.

Books:

Alan Garner: Thursbitch, The Owl Service

Having read Elidor and the two Brisingamen books as a teenager, I finally got round to checking out some of his more critically-acclaimed books (Red Shift as well as these two) this year. I started with The Owl Service, and he instantly became one of my favourite authors. It’s the spare poetry in his prose:

he is hurt too much she wants to be flowers and you make her owls and she is at the hunting

…it just sends chills down my spine. The way he uses the landscape to channel ghosts and loves. And good as The Owl Service is, I think Thursbitch probably took a greater hold on my imagination. The sense of place is just so strong. And it heavily inspired my own work this year.

Jeff Vandermeer: City of Saints & Madmen

Vandermeer’s city of Ambergris is easily the most vivid, entrancing (fictional) location I visited this year. His incredible descriptions of fungi, graycaps, an underground world feared and little-understood just captured my imagination completely for a good couple of months. The first book’s the best, I think. Shriek’s very good too, but I found Finch a disappointment; it gave too much away, told all of the graycaps’ secrets. And in doing so, it made them normal, understandable. What made the first two books so remarkable was that there were no explanations, only conjectures. Finch more or less threw that approach out the window. It failed in the same way that, in seeking to explain the universe, science generally only succeeds in making it more mundane. City of Saints & Madmen also inspired a game.

Octavia E. Butler: Seed to Harvest (the Patternmaster series)

I came across Butler in an article on Janelle Monae, which drew Butler in for similarly being a black, feminist, science fiction author. I love feminist science fiction, so tracked this down. It’s a collection of the four Patternmaster stories, but the one which really blew me away was the first book: Wild Seed. It’s an account of two immortals, a man and a woman, and it’s the most powerful depiction of domestic abuse I’ve ever experienced. The sense of being utterly trapped, of having no way out, is completely suffocating. And a perfect example of the kind of thing feminist science fiction can do so well.

Catherynne Valente: The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden

A gorgeous collection of stories within stories within stories… I’ve got In the Cities of Coin and Spice waiting for me on the bookshelf, and can’t wait to open it.

Games:

Minecraft

(this series of videos is hilarious, and largely representative of how a typical minecraft game will go, well, until things get weird, anyway) Most people’s game of the year, and for good reason. RPS’ group write-up is as good a place as any to start. Some pictures of my main single player world:

VVVVVV

The most perfectly-crafted, outright beautiful platformer I played all year. I’m getting increasingly tired of all the rote metroidvanias the indie scene seems determined to produce, but this was something else. And the music!

Fuel

Not a good game, exactly, but according to Steam, I’ve played this more than any game other than Plants vs. Zombies. The racing’s kind of fiddly, and the music’s rubbish, but that enormous expanse of continent you get to drive around in just kept calling me back. It’s a game that seems to constantly hint at something incredible, but never quite musters the confidence to fulfil it’s ambitions.  Limited as it is though, I’ve driven so many miles in this game…

Crawl Stone Soup

I’m utterly terrible at this, but it’s my current roguelike of choice. I’m playing a Spriggan Enchanter because that’s meant to be the easiest race/class to win with, but I’m lucky if I even make it to the Ecumenical Temple in most games.


This Year’s Obsessions; Niall

We’re both going to do a post about our favourite music this year. Here’s mine:

This year my tastes seem to have been slightly more indie and mainstream than they have been for a while. I’m not entirely sure why, but it might be (partly) down to me not reading The Wire so much (I still think it’s the best music mag out there, but the writing hasn’t really grabbed me for a while, not the way it used to). I did like Loops, though it could have done with a few more interesting writers – I found some of the essays (bloody Nick Cave gets everywhere…) a bit tedious.

Fever Ray: Fever Ray

Easily the album that really grabbed me by the throat this year. I’d largely missed The Knife (barring this stunning video), but the above video completely knocked me for six. The lighting, the colours, the suburban shaman girl… It’s the album in miniature, the way it takes this everyday setting and turns it into something other, something far stranger and more unexpected and unpredictable. It’s music that makes the ordinary strange, with lyrics about dishwasher tablets and foresters in high heels. And like the best music (/art), the more you listen to (/obsess about) it, the more it shapes your perception of the world, the more it shows the everyday banality of life in this culture to be nothing more than an illusion.

The world is far stranger than it appears.

Gang Gang Dance: Saint Dymphna
Technically this was released in 2008, but I’m rarely up to date with my listening habits and only got it this year. Anyway, I’m deeply in love with this album and its giddy, ecstatic joy. That bit towards the end of First Communion where it just opens up and races to the finish was the biggest rush of the year for me.

Ideally this is the kind of band I’d like us to be – excited, ecstatic and omnivorous in terms of sound and genre. Sadly I think we tend to be too heavy handed and wed to our guitars though. The only song that comes close to the ideal is Sunshine Starlight (still needs a better name), which is fairly atypical compared to our other stuff.

Camera Obscura: My Maudlin Career
This is as indie as I get before I have to throw up. There’s all sorts of things wrong with this album – the fact it could have been recorded 50 years ago and it would have fit in perfectly, the way it’s drenched in so much reverb it sounds like it’s covered in honey and syrup and treacle all at the same time, the utter lack of ambition… But French Navy is a stunning, jaw-dropping pop song, which pretty much makes up for it. I’m not exactly happy about it (really this is not the kind of music I should be listening to in 2009) but I have had this album on a lot this year, so I couldn’t ignore it here.

Los Campesinos!: We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed
This is Kieron Gillen’s fault (serves me right for going to youtube to see what he was talking about). See my Camera Obscura comments. While indie though, Los Campesinos! definitely have some ambition and manage to create some interesting sounds despite themselves. And there’s a fantastic bitterness strung through their songs – it’s great to hear a band like this who recognise this world is a pretty horrible place to live. Bizarrely inconsistent lyrics (quality-wise) – “I’ve got a fist on fire”, really? and:

“I taught myself the only way to vaguely get along in love is to
like the other slightly less than you get in return.
I keep feeling like I’m being undercut.

…in the same song. Anyway, I think it’s their odd combination of bitterness and optimistic(?) music that got me. This is another one that’s had a lot of plays despite myself.

Subtle: For Hero: For Fool
Way behind the times with this one. Forget Camera Obscura, this (this and Gang Gang Dance) is what music should sound like in 2009 (I’m aware of how depressing it is that neither album was released this year). Doseone is really the only lyricist worth listening to these days. Here’s his take on reality shows:

“winner of the only and annual “serious serious gut’s competition”…
(Sponsored in part by the pain reliever people and heads of music television)

Yes, you and ten other tough guys
slit smiles across your then perfectly sturdy stomachs
and spread your large intestines boldly out across a coated white poker table….
the starter pistol barked and each contestant commenced to carefully comb
their own eager entrails from behind a one-way wall of mirrored eyewear
everyone a hopeful breathing heavy
sifting through their mortal coil with their finger tips,
for the most intimidating lengths
of well sculpted and primetime stomach links.

Every so often… in the name of health
an executioner capped usher struts about the gut covered table
misting everyone’s exposed and heaving organs
with a modified and fancy water pistol.

As always this years celebrity judges are only
of the most incredible persuasion
charles bronsons angry and gay only daughter,
icecube back from when he was hard
and a framed 8×10 of joe namath’s kneecaps.

And because you won
they stitched up your open abdomen first.

gave you a nice rambo knife,
some choice cigarettes
and cut you loose in the ozarks.

The question being not if, but when
you will kill for your next meal…”

…and the music somehow keeps up with that, a swirling flux of sound that darts off in odd directions and never repeats except in the most unexpected fashion. Also it has the line “desperate times call for step-by-step schematics of the human dive”, which to me suggests an entire world. I’m pretty sure I’m going to steal it at some point in the future.


Craig’s Albums of 2009

No great explanation and in no particular order, all well reviewed elsewhere:

  • Low Miffs and Malcolm Ross
  • The Wild Beasts – Two Dancers
  • Annie – Don’t Stop
  • Fuck Buttons – Tarot Sport
  • Yeah Yeah Yeah’s – Its Blitz

Actually very difficult to choose this year, some tough choices in my wee head.
Two honorable mentions:

  • The Wildhearts – Chutzpah! – such remarkable consistency, such a remarkable band
  • MSP – Journal for Plague Lovers – I was bizarrely excited about this and it didn’t disappoint. Not as staggering as THB, but pretty great nonetheless.