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---#5---


Bobby Previte - The 23 Constellations of Joan Miró
(jazz, minimalist composition)



The 23 Constellations of Joan Miró is a collection of gorgeous and creative jazz snippets by New York musician Bobby Previte, utilising a variety of instruments (both traditional and somewhat unconventional) and some extremely subtle electronic touches to achieve a lush, theatrical aesthetic that strikes a range of emotional chords. Keeping things uniformly short and sweet, each one of his sonic concepts is given just enough time to establish itself and whirl around the listener's mind for a quick spell, and is then elegantly concluded to make way for the next one. Previte deserves some major kudos for knowing exactly how much space any given concept deserves when he commits it to record - when you're trying to cram 23 individual pieces into a single recording, each of which with their own distinct style and personality, it's inevitably going to be difficult to avoid sounding cramped and chaotic. Nothing on The 23 Constellations of Joan Miró ever wears out its welcome, though, nor does anything ever feel underdeveloped or clash with a neighbouring piece, which is really quite remarkable when all of your songs fall in the 90-180 second range. Instead, the songs fit together quite beautifully, fulfilling their purposes flawlessly, both as distinct jazz concepts and as the combined elements of a colourful and utterly original tapestry.



---#4---


Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Yeah Yeah Yeahs EP
(garage-rock, punk-rock)



Nothing else I heard from 2001 blew me away quite like the opening moments of "Bang", the first track on The Yeah Yeah Yeah's self-titled debut EP. An amazingly memorable rubberband-riff of punchy electric guitar that's been compressed to the width of a razor, it just about sawed me in half when it first burst out of my headphones, and when Karen O's dynamic vocals roll in the whole song elevates to a higher level that's just impossibly kick-ass. It's clearly the highlight track here - and probably the one I'd pick for song of the year if you forced me to choose - but the rest of the EP very nearly matches it, be it via the melodic punk-rock of "Mystery Girl" and "Our Time", the rumbling, gravel-roar chorus and wicked humour of "Art Star" or the gritty propulsion of "Miles Away". A lightning-quick flash of pure, straight-from-the-garage attitude, it's so deserving of the spotlight that I'm putting it towards the top of a list of albums even though it isn't one. With all that jagged guitar and Karen O's usual exceptional vocal work and charisma being in full force, Yeah Yeah Yeahs is a rough, sexy, dirty, rock-the-hell-out piece of work. In less than fifteen minutes it manages to eclipse everything the group have recorded since.



---#3---


Sunburned Hand of the Man - Jaybird
(free-folk, psychedelic-rock, drone)



Sunburned Hand of the Man are a psychedelic free-folk group who've boasted an almost unfathomably prolific release schedule - they've recorded something like twenty albums this decade, although with so many concert-only and bootleg releases, it's hard to keep track. With such an intimidatingly large catalogue, it's nice to know that the beginning is indeed a very good place to start, as their debut Jaybird is an utterly exceptional work. The group have found some very rich middle-ground between psychedelic-rock, folk, improv, drone and funk, which sees them float their way through half a dozen lengthy tracks of drowsy astro-folk. Each of the album's pieces sounds fundamentally similar, yet they all establish their own distinct balance between the building blocks of ethereal vocal hollers, jangling tambourines, multi-layered guitar (acoustic and electric, including some lovely touches of slide), flanged sound effects, whistling pipes, "faux-loose" percussion and solid basslines, with tiny, subtle differences from track to track (or sometimes within sections of a single track). While the druggy opener "Featherweight" is one of the album's slower, sleepier affairs, followup "The Jaybird" tightens the basslines way up and adds a very slight funky edge to push the song into groovier territory, and so it continues throughout the album, alternating between consistently shallow peaks and troughs. With stellar releases by Jackie-O Motherfucker and No Neck Blues Band, 2001 has been a great year for the free-folk crowd, and Jaybird is the best of the lot.



---#2---


Fugazi - The Argument
(post-hardcore, indie-rock)



You'd be hard pressed to think of many instances where a long-running group's last album was regarded by many as their best, but that's the case with The Argument, the seventh and final post-hardcore statement in an eleven year career for Ian MacKaye and Co before their indefinite hiatus. While I've never been much of a post-hardcore guru, I can't imagine the genre getting much more polished, nuanced and sophisticated than this, to the point that, in this case, the label may be on the verge of being a misnomer. The album's more "rough-and-ready" tracks like "Cashout" and "Full Disclosure" serve their purposes as throwbacks to the genre's blueprint, but if anything sound more like new-millennium updates, while the more experimental works like "The Kill" and "Nightshop" defy easy categorisation. There's string sections on many of the tracks, a range of multi-part song-structures and even occasional appearances by a second drummer, all of which, when combined with the powerful vocals, adrenaline-pumping playstyle and ever-sharp songwriting and lyricism, make for a truly thrilling album that's also rich with fine detail. The other thing about The Argument is it's subtlety - it's a slow grower that reveals new gems with every listen, and it's those subsequent listens that've lifted it up from somewhere around the middle of this list all the way up to it's current, lofty position. In terms of highlight tracks, the album's second half is a uniformly sensational revelation, beginning with the back-to-back excellence of "Strangelight" and "Oh."



---#1---


Cannibal Ox - The Cold Vein
(hip-hop)



When I started putting this countdown together I'd only heard The Cold Vein one or two times, figured it was a "decent, seven out of ten" kind of record and let it slide off the bottom of the list. So believe me when I say, this is an album you need to hear multiple times, as what initially struck me as somewhat arduous and uninviting soon revealed itself to be anything but. The lyrical prowess displayed by Can Ox's two emcees Vast Aire and Vordul Mega is outstanding, painting a dark picture of modern NYC life with imagery that's highly creative and very confrontational. Their flow is equally incredible, a spoken-word style that borders on beat-poetry and plays out like a slow-down of Ghostface Killah's confident vocal blasts, with Vast's uniquely "wobbly" delivery being particularly compelling. Even when they detour into your more obvious, "deride other emcees" territory as they do on "Raspberry Fields", it's never less than great, and hearing Vast spit lines like "You got beef but there's worms in your Wellington / I'll put a hole in your skull and extract your gelatin" is something of which I just never tire. El-P's production presents yet another revelation, with his slow, staggered beats and futuristic sampling very nearly stealing the show. Mirroring the album's subject matter, his contributions mostly have a dark and grimy mood to them, but there's brilliant surprises at every turn, be it the blazing electric guitar overlay of "Ox Out the Cage", the synth-orchestra-in-outer-space of "Real Earth" or the loungey, Amon Tobin-esque vibes of "Painkillers". It's a seventy-five minute album that never drags, and to top it all off, opening track "Iron Galaxy" ranks easily amongst the best hip-hop songs of the decade.



...and that brings 2001 to a close. Thanks for reading. Comments are welcome, as always :)
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---#10---


Air - 10,000 Hz Legend
(electronic, indie-pop, ambient)



10,000 Hz Legend is Air's "rock album", so to speak, augmenting the French duo's electronic music with guitars, foot-tappy melodies, prominent vocalists and an absence of the group's trademark, floaty "loungetronica" for about 90% of the album. With it's surreal lyrics and more hard-edged electronic effects, it could be said that the album is weirder than Moon Safari, but it arguably has more mainstream appeal - the aptly-titled "Radio #1" works well as a singalong single and the charismatic guest appearances by Beck, Jason Falkner and Buffalo Daughter help several the songs to avoid sounding faceless. The humour present in tracks like "How Does it Make You Feel" and "Wonder Milky Bitch" are a welcome delight, never detouring into novelty but instead injecting the songs with a touch of humanity that's sorely lacking from albums both before and since. The couple of ambient tracks play out with a new twist, too - the Egyptian-sounding themes of "Radian" are like nothing else the group have created yet, and closing track "Caramel Prisoner" is like wading through syrup - or floating in space, I still haven't decided. With many regarding it as something of a sophomore slump, my love of 10,000Hz Legend makes me feel a bit like the solitary flag-waver in an otherwise empty parade. I'll keep on waving my flag, though - albums with this much personality are worth it.



---#9---


Squarepusher - Go Plastic
(breakbeat, drum 'n' bass, IDM)



While Music is Rotted One Note would be my pick for the best Squarepusher album, I think Go Plastic might be my favourite, if that makes any sense. It's one hell of a weird album, a Frankenstein's monster of breakbeat electronica that shambles its way through 2-step garage-parody ("My Red Hot Car"), sublimely moving ambiance ("Tommib" - which you might have heard floating by during one of the hotel-room scenes in Lost in Translation), cool-as-ice chillout vibes ("Plaistow Flex Out") and insane, go-nowhere noodling (the oft-skipped "Greenways Trajectory", which sounds like a "made up as I went along" monstrosity intended for masochists with 6-second attention spans). It's arguably Tom Jenkinson's least cohesive album, so how does such an unfocused wreck crack the top ten of the year? Well, it certainly doesn't hurt that at least seven of the album's ten tracks are individually flat-out great, and there's a certain "deformed charm" about the whole mess, but I'll tell you the real reason: "Boneville Occident", "Go! Spastic" and "The Exploding Psychology", a.k.a. the best, second-best, and third-best pure electronic songs of the year, respectively. That sort of quality is just impossible to ignore.



---#8---


The Microphones - The Glow, Pt. 2
(lo-fi, experimental-rock, psychedelic-rock)



With their previous effort, It Was Hot We Stayed in the Water, having made the #1 position in my 2000 list, it's a pretty major achievement that Phil Elvrum and friends managed to release yet another high-rating album just one year later. Named as a conceptual sequel to its predecessor's centrepiece track, The Glow, Pt. 2 tends to be most people's pick for the best album in the Microphones catalogue, and while I personally prefer it's older sibling, there's no doubting that it's quite a magical collection. All the lo-fi tenderness, inviting warmth and unrelenting experimentation of It Was Hot remain intact here, but with its 20 tracks and 65 minute runtime, this album would mark the true beginning of Elvrum's overt displays of sprawling musical ambition (which would continue to grow with some of the increasingly abstract, labyrinthine concept albums to follow). As such, this also marks the first time that an album by The Microphones really needs to be heard in its entirety for full impact, such that the dense instrumentals and noise experiments can weave their way through the otherworldly folk songs just as was intended. There are some amazing individual tracks on offer, to be sure - "The Glow, Pt. 2", "The Moon", "(Instrumental) (2)" and "Map" are all easy "best of career" choices - but nothing equals the intimate beauty of a single, hour-long listen (preferably on quality headphones).



---#7---


Boredoms - Rebore Vol. 0: Vision Recreation by Eye
(psychedelic-rock, experimental-rock, noise-rock, remix album)



Boredoms' 1999 album Vision Creation Newsun was an amazing work of experimental-verging-on-unclassifiable rock. A spiraling epic of cyclical krautrock rhythms, tribal percussion, joyous melodies, exuberant vocal bursts and an overwhelmingly uplifting sense of celebration and excitement, all of which saw it rank high amongst the previous decade's greatest albums. On Rebore vol. 0, head-Boredom Yamatsuka Eye has remixed his group's masterpiece, deconstructing the original album to the point that the source material frequently becomes unrecognisable (although there are plenty of moments where an unmistakable component will surface, such as the central melody of "O" drifting into the background during the album's early stages). Rebore retains all of Vision Creation Newsun's surreal trippiness, and while it starts out quite energetically, it eventually offsets that album's urgency with a hazy sense of peace and contentment. The result is the strangely calming, introspective and thoughtful yang to Vision Creation Newsun's hyperactive, extroverted ying. Or, to put it another way, if Vision Creation Newsun is the epic party, then Rebore vol. 0 is best late-night comedown you could possibly wish for.



---#6---


Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra - Liberation Afro Beat Vol. 1
(afro-beat)



Liberation Afro Beat Vol. 1 was one of the very-first afro-beat albums I ever heard, and alongside the obvious starting point of Fela Kuti, it serves as a great introduction to the genre. On their debut album, the Brooklyn ensemble effortlessly recreate and update Kuti's tribal-jazz blueprint across eight spectacular songs, which display a degree of skill and authenticity that's made them the premiere modern-day afro-beat group. Just as you'd hope to hear from a great afro-beat record, Liberation Afro Beat Vol. 1 is absolutely brimming over with furious energy and righteous, politically-charged indignation, delivered via the kind of crisp recording techniques that lend every track a sense of immediacy and immensity. This immediacy is further bolstered by the inclusion of a couple of brilliantly captured live cuts - especially "World War IV", which powerfully closes the album - and creates a feeling of immersion that lifts the entire production to a higher level. Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra are one of those wonderful yet unfortunate bands who - despite having received plenty of high praise throughout the musical community - have remained relatively unheard, and that's a situation in desperate need of a remedy. Do your part - start here.
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---#15---


Oneida - Anthem of the Moon
(psychedelic-rock, experimental-rock, noise-rock, post-punk)



Anthem of the Moon presents itself as an exploration of psychedelic-rock and its assorted off-shoots that's very impressive in its musical diversity and striving creativity. Covering plenty of stylistic ground, Oneida don't genre-hop, so much as they take particular musical components of interest - the fuzz guitar of drone and post-rock, the cyclical rhythms of krautrock, the harsh mechanical filters of noise-rock, the pulverising drumming of post-punk, vocal styles that jump from shoegaze to punk to rock to folk, the strong Indian influences of British psych and plenty more besides - and blend them into their own unique style with a general disregard for existing genre conventions. This makes their music familiar in segments, yet alien as a whole, and it's really quite thrilling to experience. It's also incredibly dense music, which features an awful lot of heavy sound layering, so headphone listening is thoroughly recommended.



---#14---


Autechre - Confield
(IDM, electronic)



For a long time I felt that Autechre were my least favourite of the big-name artists in the Intelligent Dance Music (IDM) crowd, with their well regarded 90s output (including the highly lauded Amber and Tri Repeatae) never really grabbing my interest. It's only recently that I've bothered to check out their work from the following decade, and I've got to say, why the hell didn't anyone tell me they got so much better? Confield is everything I wished those earlier albums were - an electronic album that perfectly harnesses the balance between the mechanical and the organic, leading to the application of descriptors which seem contradictory yet all equally apply. Throughout its nine tracks, Confield somehow finds common ground between the meticulous and the chaotic, the melodic and the avant-garde, the distant and the emotive, the precise and the unpredictable, the discomforting and the inviting, all-together making it a record of utterly impressive breadth and depth.



---#13---


My Morning Jacket - At Dawn
(americana, alt-country, alternative-rock)



At Dawn is a very special blend of Neil Young influenced songwriting, lushly produced guitar textures and warm, Southern melodies, ranging from boisterous stompers like "Honest Man" to the soul-bared melancholy of "I Needed it Most" and "Strangulation". Jim James' vocals are excellent throughout, acting as a rock-solid foundation upon which the rest of the americana/alternative-rock instrumentation may be anchored, and there's an echoing loneliness in his delivery that I find utterly transfixing. I must say this album struck me as a bit of a minor revelation - prior to hearing it, I'd already checked out My Morning Jacket's subsequent works, It Still Moves and Z, and based on those had already written them off into that limbo of bands who are "good, but nothing special." After finally hearing At Dawn almost eight years after it's release, I'd have to say it stands head and shoulders above the rest of the group's catalogue.



---#12---


The Orange Alabaster Mushroom - Space and Time: A Compendium of The Orange Alabaster Mushroom
(psychedelic-pop, psychedelic-rock)



The Orange Alabaster Mushroom - one of my new favourite band names - mine the mid-to-late sixties era of psychedelic-rock with incredible attention to detail and a relentless pursuit of completionism and authenticity (right down to the cover art). Across these fifteen tracks, they mostly focus on the American groups (The Doors, Love, Jimi Hendrix, The Beach Boys, etc, although there's also hints of Floyd and The Zombies), and include pretty much every standard trick of the genre, with lashings of backmasking, distortion, kazoos, flanged/filtered/pitchy vocals, sitars, organ keys, go-go rhythms, fuzzed-out solos and mind-bending lyrics galore. They round it all out with a tonne of jangle and even throw in a handful of those obligatory sudden fadeouts which were such a standard in psych's golden age. It's always risky business when bands try a little too blatantly to revisit the sounds of the past, but the songs on Space and Time continually hit the mark. The group are awfully affectionate towards their beloved psychedelia, but more importantly they sound utterly genuine, like a long-lost relic of the time, making this an extremely enjoyable trip (yes, pun intended) down memory lane.



---#11---


R.L. Burnside - Burnside on Burnside
(electric-blues, live album)



Burnside on Burnside, a live electric-blues album which takes most of its cuts from a show at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland, presents Mississippi guitarist and vocalist R.L. Burnside - a curiously late discovery in the blues scene, having only had his breakthrough in 1992 despite having played for decades prior - rocking out with spectacular energy and limitless attitude, keeping his crowd consistently enthralled with his dirty blues swagger and constant humourous banter. With Kenny Brown providing a second guitar and Burnside's grandson Cedric on drums, the three musicians bash out a riotously fun performance, full of verve and confidence and party-time cheer, all made particularly impressive considering that, at the time of the show, Burnside was already seventy four years old (he died around four years later). Featured amongst the tracklisting are some terrific versions of Burnside hits such as "Shake 'Em on Down", "Goin' Down South" and an incredible seven minute rendition of "Snake Drive", which closes the album in truly raw, adrenaline pumping style.
tommo: (Default)
Saw Wolverine yesterday.

oooooh spoilery )
tommo: (Default)

---#20---


Susumu Yokota - Grinning Cat
(electronic, ambient)



On his album Grinning Cat, prolific Japanese ambient electronic artist Susumu Yokota presents some of the most inventive music to come out of the genre this decade. One of Yokota's biggest drawcards on the album is definitely his ability to utilise hypnotic, minimalist loops (which range from piano to bass guitar to soft percussion, and combinations thereof), static-laced production and dreamy voice samples to lull the listener into a relaxed, almost "zoned out" headspace, only to rouse them from it - and never jarringly - with a well placed robust vocal chorus or powerful drum sample. It makes Grinning Cat an album that's at once comfortable and accessible and yet totally unpredictable and highly engaging. A must for fans of ambient music, but likely to please just about anyone.



---#19---


Drummers Of The Societe Absolument Guinin - Voodoo Drums
(tribal percussion)



Voodoo Drums is a collection of multi-layered, poly-rhythmic, tribal percussion pieces - averaging around 2-3 minutes in length - that initially seem deceptively sparse, but eventually reveal themselves to be intricate and fascinatingly multi-dimensional. Different styles, rhythms, tempos and volumes interweave amongst one another to create a tapestry that's simply too complex to fully grasp in a single listen (or even a few), yet opens up with every additional play. At one point a track might be most characterised by the slower, bass sounds, and yet during the following spin some of the more rapid-fire elements may shift into the foreground, and then upon subsequent listens it might be something else again. What's really incredible is that the album manages to be so dynamic, hypnotic and engaging despite the complete lack of non-percussion instruments, and hence an essential lack of true melody. This hurdle is effortlessly overcome by the sheer variety of sounds and tones on offer, which build upon one another to the extent that, at times, a ghostly tune will seemingly emerge.



---#18---


Radiohead - Amnesiac
(experimental-rock, ambient, electronic)



The cliche about Amnesiac is to say that it either does or doesn't deserve its supposed status as "Kid B", although with so much time having passed since its release you'd expect such questions had become somewhat redundant. Amnesiac does remain surprisingly misunderstood, though, as an album that reflects Kid A's electronic aesthetic but starkly contradicts its cold precision. This album is rough and ragged and blatantly emotional throughout, and while Kid A displayed enough character to never quite feel like an album made by robots, its followup feels impossibly far from any such descriptor. From the claustrophobia of "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box" to the seasick melancholy of "Pyramid Song" (probably my single favourite Radiohead track), all the way to the paranoid disorientation of "Like Spinning Plates" and "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors" and the composed bitterness of "Knives Out" and "Life in a Glass House", Amnesiac is uneasy and emotionally draining listening. There are days when I think it could be Radiohead's best album.



---#17---


King Khan and His Shrines - Three Hairs and You're Mine
(garage-rock, soul, funk)



King Khan and His Shrines are easily one of the best things garage-rock revival has going for it these days, and their debut is a loose, riotous tour-de-force on par with the genre's finest albums. Much like The Dirtbombs, who appeared on the list a little further back, they incorporate soul and funk into the raw, high-speed playing of garage, and frankly they do it better than anyone else, making for a truly killer concoction. King Khan himself is one of those larger-than-life frontmen that are so crucial to rock music, and a somewhat unlikely one at that - shirtless, cape-clad, beer-swilling and pot-bellied, he bellows his sexed-up lyrics with furious abandon and limitless energy, making him feel like a cross between James Brown, Iggy Pop and the local drunkard. Fans of garage-rock revival acts like The White Stripes should consider the entire King Khan catalogue absolutely essential, and Three Hairs and You're Mine is the perfect place to start.



---#16---


Oren Bloedow and Jennifer Charles - La Mar Enfortuna
(experimental-rock, Sephardic music)



Oren Bloedow and Jennifer Charles, guitarist and vocalist respectively for New York outfit Elysian Fields, contribute to Tzadik's "Radical Jewish Culture" series with La Mar Enfortuna, reputedly one of the series' most accessible works. Delivering a modern perspective on traditional Sephardic music, the duo (along with a handful of guest collaborators) have created a perfectly contained album whose vivid melodic textures, haunting vocals and exotic flourishes make for a truly gorgeous listening experience. Perhaps the most interesting aspect, however, is how Bloedow and Charles so completely combine the album's traditional, modern and culturally disparate elements, which may cause La Mar Efortuna to surprise listeners with its mildly unsettling sense of dislocation. It doesn't merely straddle some imaginary line between "modern" and "traditional", but blends some of the concepts behind such vague descriptors to create an album rich with ghostly unease and lyrical beauty that never quite seems to find true context.
tommo: (Default)
A couple of months ago I posted saying I'd gotten my weight down to 92kg, which was the magic number for a healthy bmi (24.9).

I've now reached 83kg, which puts me at a bmi of 22.5, which is right in the middle of the healthy range. My parents have scales that measure body fat percentage, and for a long time mine was usually around 22-25%. It's now 15.5%. My fitness has also increased a fair bit, and I've found my endurance during basketball games to be better than it was before.

So overall, a pretty major success :)

Blake's 7

Apr. 23rd, 2009 09:18 am
tommo: (Default)
I recently tracked down the first couple of episodes of Blake's 7. After accidentally watching the second one first (go me!), I'm really interested in seeing more.

Does anyone have a copy of the first season they could lend me? :)
tommo: (Default)
An extra entry today, as I've found a new album to add to the list. So #40 (Fetch the Compass Kids by Danielson) has been booted off the bottom, and we're picking it up from #26.



---#26---


Jackie-O Motherfucker - Liberation
(free-folk, experimental-rock)



In 2000, the free-folk, pseudo-improv collective Jackie-O Motherfucker set the bar impressively high with the exceptional double up of Fig 5 and The Magick Fire Music. While Liberation doesn't manage to fully meet that benchmark, it's certainly a great followup worthy of plenty of praise and attention in its own right. Some of the tracks here retain Fig 5's Southern vibes, especially the fourteen minute, meditatively paced "Ray-O-Graph", while other tracks such as opener "Peace on Earth" veer into seemingly foundationless instrumental freak-out territory. With all of Jackie-O Motherfucker's usual features - a mixture of short and very long tracks, lengthy "warm up" times, minimal vocals, heavy repetition and droning - it's another uncompromising, challenging effort, yet ultimately a very peaceful one, perhaps the collective's most "zen" creation yet.



---#25---


Stereolab - Sound Dust
(indie-pop, electro-pop)



It's surprising that Stereolab's final album before the death of co-vocalist Mary Hansen is something of an overlooked sleeper album, as it's one the most concise efforts in the group's substantial catalogue. Sound Dust retains the trademark quirky experimentation that dominated its immediate predecessors, but channels it through a more straightforward, laid-back, pop-focused aesthetic, making for the group's most well-contained album since Emperor Tomato Ketchup, and arguably their most immediately accessible to date. It's a welcome stylistic shift, toning down the "artistic ambition" in favour of more melodic directness, that would continue into the group's subsequent albums - it's still evident seven years later on 2008's Chemical Chords. The album's a delight from start to finish, but the third track "Captain EasyChord" is so effortlessly wonderful that it's deserving of special mention.



---#24---


Guinga - Cine Baronesa
(choro)



Cine Baronesa is an album featuring thirteen tracks of contemporary Choro (a genre of Brazillian music dating all the way back to the late nineteenth century) by Rio de Janeiro's Carlos Escobar, aka Guinga. The instrumentation within builds on the traditional foundation of acoustic 7-string guitar, flute and madolin, adding some finely produced layers of strings and additional woodwind to the gentler tracks and soft percussion and horns to the upbeat ones, all composed in a manner which is graceful, filmic and rich with emotional texture. Many of the songs are intricately detailed instrumentals, but there's a handful of wonderful vocal turns by such guests as the legendary Chico Buarque. It's a simply gorgeous album, soaring with overtones of universal romance, joy and playfullness that transcend all barriers of language, and it will almost certainly appeal to just about anyone who cares to listen.



---#23---


Liars - They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top
(post-punk)



Channeling the angular post-punk of the trailblazing Gang of Four, Liar's debut They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top is one of the most wonderfully wild and reckless albums to come out this decade. The opening duo of "Grown Men Don't Fall in the River, Just Like That" and "Mr. You're on Fire Mr." aren't just two of the best-titled tracks you've ever come across, they're also two of the most energetic and thrilling, with the sort of loose structure and punchy rhythms that make dancing an absolute necessity, and lyrics laden with so much attitude that singing along is downright irresistible. The rest of the album follows in suit, and it's a short, furious thrill-ride that'll grab onto you in a way that so many other post-punk revivalists haven't managed.



---#22---


Life Without Buildings - Any Other City
(indie-rock)



Straight-up indie-rock is one of those areas of music so saturated with a multitude of acts doing exactly the same thing that the entire talent pool seems to dilute and good stuff gets very hard to find. So when a group like Glasgow four-piece Life Without Buildings comes along with a stellar recording like Any Other City (their only album in a very brief career), it's always a really pleasant surprise. The group touch on some of the standard reference points of the genre, with The Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth each having a very clear influence, and yet Life Without Buildings never seem like a direct rip, always managing to maintain their own distinct sound. A lot of this can be chalked up to the utterly idiosyncratic vocals of frontwoman Sue Tompkins, who displays all the attitude of Kim Gordon via a whispy, curiously syncopated delivery, which focuses on the repetition of phrases, words and syllables. I should warn potential listeners that apparently a lot of people find her voice hard to take, but those who enjoy (or tolerate!) her unique style will find there's a hell of a lot to love about Any Other City.



---#21---


The Dirtbombs - Ultraglide in Black
(garage-rock, soul, funk)



Detroit's Dirtbombs deliver some sexy, garage-flavoured funk and soul covers on Ultraglide in Black, paying homage to legends like Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, Sly and the Family Stone and Smokey Robinson. Lead Dirtbomb Mick Collins has a voice that's just made for this sort of fare - deep and soulful like the men to whom he pays tribute, yet with the slight roughness and imperfection you always want from a garage-rocker. It's really crucial for covers albums to deliver an interesting and engaging new perspective on their tracks, otherwise they end up sounding like unimaginative, superfluous retread. Thankfully, Collins and Co are easily up to the task, and their versions see the Motown sheen of classic soul being muddied up for a wilder, dirtier outing than we've heard before. At the very least, everyone who loves to groove needs to hear the brilliant reworking of "I'm Qualified to Satisfy You", a major personal favourite.
tommo: (Default)
Can someone confirm for me what sort of difference there should be between the cost of posting a package within your own country compared to sending it overseas? By my understanding, all the packaging would probably be the same, which just means a few dollars extra to cover the additional postage costs. Is this right? Or are there further costs of which I'm not aware?

Yep, this is an ebay thing. If it only costs US$5 to post a small graphic novel within the US, I don't see how it costs US$21 to post it internationally.
tommo: (Default)
I'm trying to come up with a list of "Stream Headings" for the different types of panels and presentations you tend to see at a SwanCon. I'm hoping this will lead to some thought and discussion about how people think a full convention's worth of panel-slots (say ~140) should be divided amongst them for ideal balance. Here's what I have so far...

Non-medium-specific General SF&F (aka the "[topic] in SF&F" catch-all)
Fantasy Lit
SF Lit
TV
Film
Comics
Horror (thanks [livejournal.com profile] angriest)
Anime
Academic
Gaming
Video Gaming
Meta-Fandom
Science & Technology
Speculation/Futurism (thanks [livejournal.com profile] _fustian)
Art
Writing
Publishing
Child-Friendly (thanks [livejournal.com profile] mynxii)
Entertainment/Performance ("Martial Arts" would come under this, plus other applicable categories)
Off-Topic/Other

Those last two are a bit vague, but I think most of the non-genre stuff we do probably fits into one or the other of them. Anyway, are there any categories I've forgotten?
tommo: (Default)
I was going to post this as a reply on someone else's journal, but I think it's an interesting enough point to be a post of it's own.

I've been wondering whether the job of programmer should really be divided up further than it currently is. Have a head programmer to run and timetable the whole thing and generally be in charge, but then have sub-programmers responsible for different streams. You could have a media fan organising some TV and movie panels, a lit fan organising some book panels, avid gamer for gaming panels, anime buff for anime panels, and so on. And the head programmer gives them each a certain number of panel slots they have to fill up. I think that could result in a much more well-balanced programme.

What do people think? It'd swell the numbers in a committee somewhat, but I think if it was done well and everyone involved put in the required effort, you'd probably end up with a stellar programme. And it'd take some of the burden away from the head programmer, who tends to do a hell of a lot of work putting it all together.
tommo: (Default)
The $20 day pass for Friday was intended to make it more affordable for new people to have a "taste" of SwanCon. However, it also meant that SwanCon might have lost some revenue from the non-first-timers that bought Friday day passes.

Perhaps a better option is to have day passes at their normal rates for all renewing attendees, but give first-timers a day where they can just attend for free? For a student/teenager, even $20 can be a fair bit of money, and if it's the difference between them attending a day for free or not attending at all, you're really not making any sort of a loss by letting them in. And if you make it free people will almost certainly be interested, and I think it'd result in a very impressive first-timer turnout. Keep in mind that you can get into Supanova for a day for about $20, so from the new attendee's perspective it's not like we're offering anything particularly out of the ordinary.

Hell, I'm starting to wonder if we should just let first-timers attend the whole damn con for free. I think, in the long term, it'd probably be a wise investment.
tommo: (Default)
When is SwanCon pancakes happening today? I'm at work so I don't have my con book handy, and it doesn't seem to be advertised on the net.
tommo: (Default)
According to a bunch of people in a room at SwanCon, here are the 19 best SF&F TV shows of all time:

1. Doctor Who
2. Firefly
3. Red Dwarf
4. Battlestar Galactica (new series)
5. Babylon 5
6. Blake's 7
7. Star Trek: The Next Generation (tie)
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (tie)
9. Farscape (tie)
Buffy (tie)
Ultraviolet (tie)
Futurama (tie)
13. Stargate: SG1
14. Invader Zim
15. Angel (tie)
Transformers (tie)
Monkey (tie)
18. Torchwood
19. Heroes

Didn't have enough time to run tiebreakers on the ties (which also would've given us our #20), so this will have to do.

I don't suppose anyone has a record of the lists from Top 10 Villains (2008) and Top 10 Movies based on Comics (2007), do they? I forgot to write them down and it'd be nice to have a record of the results. I only really remember the winners...

SwanCon

Apr. 15th, 2009 09:59 am
tommo: (Default)
The con was great, and I had a blast. Thanks so much to the committee for organising a great con. Here's some dot-point notes:

- Richard Morgan was a great guest of honour. I thought he was really friendly and approachable, and he was an engaging speaker/panelist.

- I didn't see as much of Trudi Canavan, but she seemed very nice. Unfortunately she was extremely quiet, so I couldn't hear her 90% of the time she spoke.

- I ran four panels (Lost, Top 10 TV Shows, 2008 in Film and Changing the Heroes), and in my opinion they all went really well. I'm very pleased about that.

- I bought some stuff: Seasons 1 & 2 of Lost on DVD, The Complete Conan Chronicles (for $15!), 4 issues of Borderlands, From Hell, New Ceres Nights and Angel Rising.

- I nominated for the WASFF board but missed out. I didn't mind though, as this year was really a case of being spoilt for choice. You could've picked just about any six of the twelve nominees and ended up with a great board, and I think those who made it on are all very capable, hardworking folks who'll do a wonderful job. I'll probably nominate again next year.

- I found that the programme was a little front-loaded for me personally, as I attended a stack of stuff on Thursday and Friday but had trouble finding more than one or two things of interest on the remaining days. Saturday was especially problematic - with the art show and market day each taking up a full room, the programming ended up being very light. I think the only panel I attended was the one I was running.

- There was a fairly good balance of topics throughout the programme, although I still feel that there aren't enough panels on specific fandoms. There was a late surge to include more of these types of panels just before the con, but after scanning through the programme I still only noticed around 15 panels where the topic involved a specific author, TV series, film director, comic character, etc. When panels about actual specific SF fandoms are outnumbered by those on OT subjects and meta-fandom, I think that's a bit of a problem, particularly when several of the meta/OT ones are rehashing stuff from previous years. I did my bit with the Lost and Heroes panels, and I intend to do the same sort of thing next year (currently formulating concepts for an Aeon Flux panel/presentation). I'm really hoping more people do the same.

- Pocket programme was a fantastic idea.

- The masquerade really shouldn't have ended at 10:30pm. I have nothing against geek singalong and singstar, but there was another room available at those times, and I really think they could've got by without the top-level AV equipment the masquerade utilises. For many people, the masquerade is one of the major highlights of the con, and having it come to a grinding halt 90 minutes earlier than usual was a massive letdown for everyone there. That being said, the setup for the masquerade was excellent, so major kudos there for a job well done.

- I received several complements on my DJ set, which was lovely. I always have such a great time DJing, and it's really nice to know that people are enjoying it.

- I was asked to be programme coordinator for one of the 2011 bids. I was awfully flattered, but I don't think I'll programme another SwanCon any time soon (if at all). I might convene one, but that project is still a long way off.

- I'm really excited about the winning 2011 bid. A very professional bunch of people and a very impressive bid.

- It was great to see such strong support for children and parents.

- The art show boasted perhaps the most impressive field of entries I've ever seen at a SwanCon.

- I have a really strong desire to watch a bunch of classic SF TV series I haven't yet seen before next year's con - Edge of Darkness, Quatermass, selected Doctor Who, Blake's 7, Starcops, etc.

- I introduced two new people to SwanCon, and as far as I can tell, they both really enjoyed it and intend to come again next year.

I can't think of much else to write at the moment. Might post more if I realise I forgot anything important.
tommo: (Default)

---#30---


No Neck Blues Band - Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones but Names Will Never Hurt Me
(free-folk, experimental-rock, post-rock)



New York free-folk 7-piece the No Neck Blues Band (commonly referred to as NNCK) trade in longfrom, sparse compositions that give the impression of being somewhat improvisational and free from constraint. The cumbersomely-titled Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones but Names Will Never Hurt Me is no exception, but it's most definitely a deceptive album in this sense, as the songs eventually reveal themselves to be surprisingly rigid in their structure and are played with firm discipline and a keen eye for detail. Everything about this album is undeniably slow and drawn out, with songs unwinding gradually and patiently, but as they progress it becomes clear that virtually everything the band play has a predetermined place and a vital purpose within the final product. For evidence of this, just check out the 18+ minute centrepiece "Assignment Subdub", arguably one of the best long-running tracks the free-folk/experimental-rock field have ever produced.



---#29---


Destroyer - Streethawk: A Seduction
(chamber-pop, baroque-pop, singer/songwriter)



On his third major release as Destroyer, Dan Bejar delivers the usual goods that listeners expect from his albums - crisp piano playing, clever songwriting, lashings of black humour, infectiously rousing melodies, intelligent and witty lyricism (with more than a handful of the usual meta-musical references) and Bejar's ever-present, passionate, warbling vocals. Streethawk: A Seduction juggles these elements beautifully, resulting in a concise, well-balanced album that's effortlessly on par with the vast majority of modern, top-tier, singer-songwriter works. Meanwhile, its curiously idiosyncratic, baroque/chamber-pop aesthetic gives it a fascinating stylistic edge.



---#28---


Tosca Tango Orchestra - Waking Life
(tango nuevo, film score)



With Spirited Away having already showed up, Yann Tiersen's Amelie narrowly missing the cut, and now Tosca Tango Orchestra's Waking Life soundtrack making an appearance, it's well and truly apparent that 2001 was a stellar year for film music. Tosca Tango Orchestra are a Texas-based five-piece, trading in contemporary Tango Nuevo, and this soundtrack, their fifth release since formation in 1998, was most definitely their major commercial breakthrough. On this soundtrack, the group present a gracefully darkened, sometimes melancholy take on the tango, with a noticeable chamber-music aesthetic and hazy classical undertones that help to maintain a consistently surreal, dreamy feeling - one that was so very central to the film itself. Like Spirited Away, it's also simply a fantastic listen, visuals or no visuals.



---#27---


The Shins - Oh, Inverted World
(indie-pop)



The Shins are one of those groups you want to describe with adjectives like "reliable" and "workmanlike". When they're on form, which is most of the time, they churn out enjoyable tracks one after another, always keeping the showmanship and theatrics in check in favour of strong-yet-subtle songwriting. For a long time I ranked Chutes too Narrow (which was my initial exposure to the group) as their best release, but over time their debut gradually revealed itself to me as the superior album. The influence of 60s sunshine pop (particularly The Kinks) is evident right from the start, but The Shins manage to wrap that genre in an enticing layer of distinctly modern flourishes, impeccable sequencing and James Mercer's strong lyrical ability. The "weakest" tracks on the album are merely good, enjoyable listens, but the highlights, such as "Caring is Creepy", "One by One All Day", "New Slang", "Pressed in a Book" and "The Past and Pending" are simply a joy to hear again and again, and make up a sizeable portion of the group's finest work.



---#26---


Old Time Relijun - Witchcraft Rebellion
(experimental, noise-rock, blues)



On his (incredibly awesome) 1969 song "Moonlight On Vermont", Captain Beefheart repeatedly bellowed in his distinctive style "Gimme that old time religion!" I'm not entirely certain that Old Time Relijun took their bandname from Don Van Vliet's lyric, but it seems extremely likely given the obvious influence of Trout Mask Replica on this album, with the band taking on a similar kitchen-sink approach to the blues that's unconventional, difficult and really quite brilliant. Nothing is predictable about Witchcraft Rebellion, and the group's wicked brew of off-kilter vocals, unusual rhythms, enigmatic lyrics, wonky instrumentation, noise-rock bursts and red-raw recording is likely to confuse, thrill, amuse and frighten you, probably in the space of the first track alone. Rocketing by in just over thirty minutes, it's a short, strange, creative joyride - one which will probably require multiple listens before it even begins to make sense.
tommo: (Default)
Hitting shelves this June...


Read more... )
tommo: (Default)

---#35---


Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros - Global a Go-Go
(rock, world music, folk)



Global A Go-Go is a World-Music-inspired folk-rock album fronted by the lead singer of The Clash, and it doesn't sound the slightest bit like a punk album, which makes the whole thing seem like something from a parallel dimension upon first listen. It's a revelation how well Strummer fits this style of music, though, as he and his Mescaleros bash their way through 11 substantial rock tunes that pull influences from an impressively vast array of global sources. There's a very prominent joyful streak running through the album, and it succeeds effortlessly in playing like the celebration of cultural diversity they obviously intended for it to be. It's arguably a little too long (only 11 tracks, but the average length is about 6 minutes), but with uplifting songs like "Bhindi Bhagee", which has become a car-stereo regular, such concerns quickly become trivial.



---#34---


Califone - Roomsound
(folk-rock, americana)



On their atmospheric folk-rock/americana debut Roomsound, Chicago four-piece Califone bear fairly immediate comparison to genre-mate contemporaries Wilco, while also touching on Spirit of Eden/Laughing Stock era Talk Talk, the classic americana roots of The Band and with occasional doses of Nick Drake's bluesy melancholia mixed in to give the album its sleepy, peaceful undertones. For me, it also bears comparison to Iron and Wine's work for being one of those pleasingly consistent, never-a-bad-track albums that isn't showy about its excellence - Roomsound is content to amaze you slowly and confidently, with an undeniable knack for memorable songwriting, a trim, understated charm and as little fanfare as possible.



---#33---


Tortoise - Standards
(post-rock, experimental, jazz)



On their fourth album, Chicago post-rock godheads Tortoise continue to drift away from the stark musical academia of their mid-90s work and into brighter, more overtly melodic territory. You can't quite dance to Standards, but you can certainly get a lot closer than with any of Tortoise's previous works, thanks to the newfound focus on upbeat rhythms, cool basslines and immediate percussion. If TNT was Tortoise's jazz album, then this would have to be their funk album, if such a thing is even possible. Between those two albums they've evolved down a very smart path, though, as attempting to recapture the minimalist beauty of their first two albums would've been awfully difficult. By developing in this manner, Tortoise retain all the fascinating intricacies that have made their previous albums a joy to deconstruct, while revitalising their sound and pushing them into accessible, effortlessly listenable territory moreso than ever before.



---#32---


Fennesz - Endless Summer
(electronic, glitch, ambient)



Endless Summer, the breakthrough album for ambient glitch artist Christian Fennesz, is one of the most graceful, understated and expertly crafted works the genre has to offer. Fennesz's brand of glitch has a majestic, dreamlike quality that makes the songs here sound like age-old recordings being played underwater on broken turntables. There's an impressive degree of control and constraint here, through which Fennesz seems to have a very clear grasp on which musical concepts deserve a 3 minute treatment and which can be fleshed out to fully formed, ten minute soundscapes. Ambient music of this kind is often limited to inattentive background listening, but Endless Summer is far too engrossing and economically constructed to have any such shortcomings.



---#31---


Joe Hisaishi - Spirited Away OST
(film score)



Pianist Joe Hisaishi's beautiful score to anime favourite Spirited Away is one of those somewhat rare things - an original score that holds up perfectly well without the accompanying visuals of the film itself. The New Japan Philharmonic, conducted by Hisaishi, infuse their work with the same emotive grace, childlike playfulness and sense of wonder that run so strongly throughout Miyazaki's picture, making these songs simply gorgeous, bright, fleshed out pieces that swell with joy and tug at heartstrings you might not have even realised you had. Most of the work here is sliced into neat, short segments, with the recurring motifs that are a standard in any soundtrack, and there's enough variation overall to keep the album's undeniable charm from ever wearing off. To round things out, Yumi Kimura's dewey sweet vocal performance on the final track acts as the perfect closer.
tommo: (Default)
Here we go again. Hope you enjoy it! :)




---#40---


Danielson Famile - Fetch the Compass Kids
(indie-rock, experimental)



Danielson's exuberant lyrical yelps might sound like a little too much for some to bear at first listen, but they're infused with such childlike joy, and are so well matched to the group's playful sing-song aesthetic, that they'll probably still win you over in the end. To oversimplify things a little, Fetch the Compass Kids could probably be described as a "non-preachy hippy Christian indie-rock album", one infused with a sense of communal spirit, natural warmth and ever-present undertones of brotherly love. It also seriously rocks out, as Danielson and his Famile know how to cut loose and, perhaps more importantly, when to cut loose - it takes a real expert's grasp on song structure to reign everything into place for the perfect subsequent musical explosion, and Danielson Famile display such a proficiency time and again throughout the album.



---#39---


Jaga Jazzist - A Livingroom Hush
(jazz, electronic)



A Livingroom Hush, the debut album by Norwegian electro-jazz collective Jaga Jazzist, expertly recalls similarly themed reference points, like the works of Amon Tobin, as well as the measured musical-academia of the 90s Chicago post-rock scene and the IDM pranksterism of Squarepusher. The pleasing result is an album that alternates between groovy rhythms and chilled out lounge vibes, while remaining firmly grounded and consistent from start to finish. Most of the instrumentation here has been produced by the artists themselves, rather than from pre-existing or computer-generated samples, making for a very organic sound. The upbeat opener "Animal Chin" is one of the coolest things on the album, while the mellow, filmic detours provided by "Lithuania" and "Cinematic" give the album a graceful, understated finale.



---#38---


Smog - Rain on Lens
(lo-fi, singer-songwriter, folk)



Rain on Lens retains the sleepy contemplation of most of Bill Callahan's singer/songwriter output as Smog, however it definitely feels like a more purposeful effort than his previous album, Dongs of Sevotion, an album which never really grabbed me. The songs here are wistful and dreamlike, but there's a directness in Callahan's lyricism that should really reach and involve the listener. The album has that low, noirish sound that's fairly ubiquitous across all of his work, but there's a breezier vibe running through the songs here that feels quite unique to Rain on Lens, making for a concise and surprisingly foot-tappy effort for Mister Callahan.



---#37---


The White Stripes - White Blood Cells
(garage-rock, blues-rock)



The White Stripes' major breakthrough album is another great serving of thumpy blues-rock from Jack and Meg, and although it doesn't quite measure up to its excellent predecessors, it only falls narrowly short of that lofty benchmark. It's slightly overlong, and honestly the last four tracks are pretty superfluous (the album should really end with the bone-crushingly huge instrumental "Aluminium" for maximum impact), but the complaints end there. The easily recognisable singles are all major highpoints here, whether it's the romantic stomp of "Hotel Yorba", the blistering guitar-assault of "Fell in Love With a Girl", the raw riffage of "Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground" or the ultra-cute "We're Going to Be Friends." However, there's also some nice surprises to be found amongst the songs you didn't hear on the radio, with plenty of other instantly-loveable tracks being contained within White Blood Cells - any of which could've been top-tier singles in their own right.



---#36---


Drive-By Truckers - Southern Rock Opera
(southern-rock)



The Drive By Truckers' double-disc, southern-rock opus was one hell of an ambitious project, especially considering that it was released relatively early in the band's life-cycle and was largely funded by independent investors and the band members themselves. The gamble paid off, though, as Southern Rock Opera is a tremendous success, documenting the life of a fictional rockstar (a kind of amalgam of the Truckers' own members and Lynyrd Skynyrd's Ronnie Van Zandt) from the starry-eyed dreams of high school through to their band's final days, which chillingly reflect those of Lynyrd Skynyrd down to the letter. There's also some meticulously researched detours into Southern history, including the amazing fist-disc centrepiece "Three Great Alabama Icons", that give the album a fleshed-out feeling and a nice sense of place. It's a very honest, affecting listen, and for the full experience it's worth hearing alongside head Trucker Patterson Hood's track-by-track annotations on the Drive-By Truckers' website.
tommo: (Contour Tom)
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