OK, remember when I told you that there were so many fantastic records released this year? Well, that pretty much starts here, as Vritra’s
roughly 6’903rd record is yet another example of the unique and intoxicating talents of perhaps the least sufficiently appreciated (former??) member of Odd Future. If this is your first Vritra album, the rapping and musical styles one or two notches above clinically comatose will be sure to bewitch you for a solid half hour (do not listen to while operating heavy machinery etc), but the lack of real evolution of change of styles between records can mean a dangerous sense of disposability and lack of individual character can set in when you listen to multiple records. Like, the guy has released about three albums since that wonderful album with Wilma Archer last year that I didn’t even notice. Which, to be fair, is a docile forgetfulness that’s very on brand.
Ah, bollocks, this is difficult. Because the Necessary Evil end of year list is a government controlled exercise (what, you think I’m just allowed to declare the scientifically proven albums of the year without any official oversight?? This isn’t Somalia or South Sudan or the USA or Central African Republic or another ‘Fragile State‘!! We still have a working government in this country, you know?! I mean… sort of…) I am legally bound to name all of my interests. I don’t technically know Lindsay Munroe, but I work with her flatmate, so she’s kind of a ‘friend-in-law’. The Rt Hon Oliver Dowden (who, as you no doubt already know, is the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) assured me personally this morning, after he woke blissfully to find me staring lovingly into his eyes and whispering how much I loved him and how amazing last night was, that my personal bias might not cause any decisions I make to be officially labelled ‘misleading information’. However, he said that the style of writing where I build up an angry and frustrated cacophony of psychosexual trauma and somehow bring it all back to an analysis of the long-term effects of Lee Atwater‘s political consultancy that I do on
every single post, would have to be scaled down a bit, less it be in danger of sounding, in Dowdy’s words, “a bit fucking weird”. I call Oliver Dowden ‘Dowdy’. It’s kind of our thing. No further questions.
So, I dunno, it’s up to you how seriously you take my claim that ‘Our Heaviness’ is a near sublime little EP, with musical choices and production effects that are uncommonly expansive and emotionally effecting. Munroe sounds like an early Angel Olsen, but she hasn’t quite found that Shut Up Kiss Me calling card that could really inspire crossover success. The single Mirror is the song most obviously catered to mainstream acceptance, and as a result ends up as the least effective song on the record.
But, hey, early days, and as an opening salvo it’s incredibly promising. And also, I forgot to listen to Angel Olsen‘s last album, so it won’t be on the countdown, so if Ms Munroe wants to claim that’s proof that her record is scientifically better, I’ve just checked with Dowdy and he says that would be legally justified. Oh, Dowdy, you let me do anything I want!
It’s a double entry! No, not like that! Get your mind out of the gutter! Two brilliant albums by one artist together on the list! Bye one get one free! Almost literally, considering that one costs about a tenner and the other one is pay what you want! It’s a two for one! Twofor! Twofor! Twofor!
And so the excitement continues… TFPT’s Drew Daniel was responsible for one of 2014’s most innovative, challenging and- God damnit!- banging albums, and I would personally name ‘Why Do the Heathen Rage‘ as one of the most notable albums of this (that??) decade. Conceptually, it was perfect: Drew drawing on his experiences as both an openly gay man and a huge black metal aficionado to highlight and perhaps process the contradiction that might throw up by producing high energy electro and house music covers of black metal standards that might not be, ahem, the most progressive minded in their lyrical content. It was a wonderful and heartfelt defense and celbration of an entire genre, and might have possibly convinced you pull those old Impaled Northern Moonforest records from the attic and give them a spin.
Six years later, reevaluating unfairly disregarded metal genres wasn’t really anyone’s priority. A lot of the language and beliefs unfortunately too often expressed by black metal edgelords trying too hard to make their mums angry was now close to the mainstream. The 2019 State of Union Address (“City of lust, incest and brutality, city of sin, pleasures so sweet, city of hell, born to deviation, city of Sodom, I await my death!”) was actually taken, word for word, from Beherit’s Sadomatic Rites, and nobody batted an eyelid. Back in those wonderful, carefree days of 2014, when all this was just fields of lob bobs and ice bucket challenges, when we were all in agreement that Fascism was
a bad thing, and weren’t stupid enough to think that stance somehow needed to be defended. An artist as conscientious and socially aware as Mr Daniel, a project as challenging and as provocative as The Soft Pink Truth, aaaaaand six years to craft the perfect response to this least responsible time, can you imagine what it would be like??
Well, whatever you imagined was completely wrong, as ‘Shall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase’ sees The Soft Pink Truth concentrate more on what’s good, soothing and uplifting in life, as a riposte to the unfortunate rise of less heartening developments around the world. ‘SWGOSSTGMI’ (phew…) was originally conceptualised as an emotional response to the rise of Fascism, an attempt to instead add something pure, loving and beautiful into a world that was far too often overwhelmed with impurity, hate and ugliness. In Daniel’s words, he “didn’t want to make ‘angry white guy’ music in a purely reactive mode”. So, yeah, the album is subtle, it’s restrained, it’s beautiful, it’s soothing. It’s pretty much the opposite of what everyone expected and, shucks, fair play to the lad.
But then, he released ‘Am I Free to Go’, which was pretty much exactly what people expected. Ten electro covers of crust punk tracks, that explicitly told Trump to go fuck himself and whose profits went to the International Anti-Fascist Legal Defence Fund. Yaaaaaaaaaaars! Everyone’s happy?
(‘Shall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase’)
Sometimes, all I need to say is that this album is bonkers good. You wanna be spoonfed? You want me to explain how ‘Cardinality’ manages to be the aural translation of pure malevolence? Listen, stick on Party of One and then decide how much of your emotional and physical being you’re willing to share with this band. Trust me, it’s going to be
Have I done that ‘checks notes’ joke too many times…? Nah, it’s got legs that one.
Listen, ‘Dreamland’ gets a lot of shit, and…
OK, some of that abuse might be warranted. After the incredible ‘How to be a Human Being‘, a lot of people might have started assuming that Glass Animals were one o’ dem really good bands that you hear about. You know, your Radioheads, your Arcade Fires, your Young Fathers, your Big Thiefs… bands that generally make very competent works of art and are generally worth paying attention to. This was Glass Animals’ moment– the world was ready for them to step up and join the gliteratti…
Unfortunately, ‘Dreamland’ is essentially what Karlheinz Stockhausen would call
“a bit of a gigantic musical wet fart”. It’s just so underwhelming, it doesn’t feel special, it doesn’t feel like anyone’s grasping for any moment, it certainly doesn’t sound like any band stepping up. Perhaps only because of the expectations put upon it, but even if you’re mostly at fault for unwisely convincing yourself that your mother is going to give you a pony for Christmas, you’re still going to fucking pissed off when you get that guinea pig instead. Fuck that guinea pig, right? Kick it. Hard. Against the wall. No, Mum, you clean it up! It’s the only way you’ll learn, mother!
But ‘Dreamland’, much like Mr Guineawinkles once you got to know him, really isn’t that bad at all. There’s nothing bad here, there are a handful of truly great tracks on it, it has an intro track where the final word is the name of the album which- Oooh!- I love, and it does that thing where the final track’s outro bleeds into the intro of the album, which is always a neat trick…
So maybe Glass Animals aren’t one of those ‘top level’ bands, maybe their quality is naturally closer to their iffy debut ‘Zaba‘ than 2016’s stunning outlier, but by God they still know how to craft a fantastic tune every now and then. Maybe that’s enough?
See? Absolutely fine
You know how Phew is the absolute, if you’ll excuse my ostentatious turn of phrase, the absolute mack-daddy pimp of making shit you ain’t even sure if human’s are supposed to be able to register, never mind actually appreciate? You know how the veteran Japanese artist is more concerned with sonically expressing what happens inside a sentient screwdrivers head when after a good decade of trying to come to terms with its purpose and place in life it’s suddenly forced to process being stuck into an curious 12 year old boy’s urethra and having to deal with the immense ramifications of the very Gods going through a particularly troublesome puberty, rather than being concerned with making music that us docile and pathetic mortals can easily enjoy? You know how her music is the aural interpretation of the human emotion of being ‘unzipped’? You know she’s
pretty weird? Yeah? You with me on all of this??
Well, then imagine what an album of her out-takes sounds like!! Let me tell you, sonny Jim, it sounds…
Well, it sounds about as weird and as gloriously heterogeneous as the main stuff on her records- how exactly do you listen through stuff like this and decide what deserves to be left off a record?? Listen, don’t try and assume that you or indeed anyone else can understand Phew’s creative process, she was put here to appease beings far more mentality and emotionally proficient than you, so just be happy with this collection of material that didn’t make it onto the ‘Light Sleep‘ and ‘Voice Hardcore‘ albums (along with no less hypnotic original songs) and hope that you don’t make her angry. You have no idea what she’s capable of when she’s angry…
I was planning to include Hilary Woods on 2020’s countdown basically as an excuse to tell my own little personal Hilary Woods tale. I was going to ramble in a barely coherent and crushingly unfunny style (you know how I be) about exactly how hard I used to crush on the younger Hilary when she was the bass player in indie also-rans JJ72. About how between the years of around 1999 to 2001 I would have happily and unambiguously told you that she was the most beautiful woman in the world. About how believe it or not one of the first gigs I ever went to was to see was JJ72 in around 1999 in some tiny venue in Manchester that I honestly can’t remember the name of but has probably since been closed down, along with maybe 25 other people. I would have told you about how she actually stood right next to me to watch the support act. Right there! That was my chance and I blew it! That was the Sliding Doors moment of my life, and unfortunately we’re instead living in the timeline were I didn’t become Mr Woods… Sure, I was about 15 at the time, but she didn’t know that! Would we have got September 11th in that timeline? The Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004? Brexit and Trump? That ‘Cats’ movie? There is, quite honestly, no way of saying.
But, no, I’m not going to tell that story (ahem…), because after listening to and being enchanted by the otherworldly ‘Birthmarks’ it suddenly feels crude and disrespectful to discuss Hilary Woods’s talents through the prism of a fair to middling rock band that she played bass in two decades ago. ‘Birthmarks’ is a simmering, visceral but never less than beautiful struggle with the connotations and physical/mental disruption of having a child, recorded when Woods was heavily pregnant. It’s a brooding and yet intense reminder that eventually it’s time to put away childish things and embrace the need to grow and gestate into a new self. Change isn’t just recommended, it’s something that’s going to happen, and your only real choice is to whether to kick against or to learn to cherish it.
Back in 99 though, I totally had a chance, yeah??
No. No I did not.
I feel like I might have been overly dismissive towards JJ72 in this entry. A pretty unblemished career or two extremely good albums, and I honestly think Always and Forever is one of the greatest ever rock songs.
I am a big supporter of artists rerecording albums that they feel for whatever reasons- maybe lack of resources, maybe they are unhappy with the production, maybe they feel they’re more able to now do it justice creatively, maybe they feel the lyric “Sorry, not sorry/Twerked on your basic bae/YOLO” runs the risk of dating the record somewhat- they feel just wasn’t done quite right the first time around. This idea that a piece of art is finished when it for whatever reason becomes available to purchase is a nonsensical one, and an artist’s relationship with their work shouldn’t be considered consciously uncoupled just because it’s now out in the public domain. Fuck the public! What the fuck do they know?? Removing an artist’s intents and desires away from a piece of work after it’s released is like saying a mother can have no more contact with her child after they leave the house for the first time. Then who’s going to do my washing and pay my rent every other month when I’ve spent all my money on retro wrestling action figures again?? Think about the consequences of your beliefs, yeah? And yes, I know, this means that I am technically in support of George Lucas making changes to his Star Wars films. Because they’re dumb films for children and- seriously??- have a word with yourselves. Did you also throw a Twitter shitfit when they changed the design of Tony the Tiger??
Oh. You did.
Well then, I at least admire your consistency. Moving along.
In fact, not so long ago, an outstandingly rerecorded record was named the Necessary Evil album of the year. There’s also at least one more rerecorded album to come on this list, and maybe that’s also going to be number one?! Who knows?? Actually, I know, don’t I? I can actually just check…
No. No it’s not.But it’s there!!
The unremastered ‘Daydream‘ was mentioned on the 2018 countdown, but now the young Mr Holding spruces it up, improves the production quality, adds a lot of the bells and whistles that I’m always going to like, and takes pride of place on the 2020 list, inspiring every person who reads this to buy the marvelous thing! Doesn’t life just work wonderfully sometimes?!
God, this is just fabulous. Released in December 2019 (remember back then?? You could hug people and you had reasons to shower and leave the house and meet friends and everything! It was amazing!), ‘Fates Worse Than Death’ was one of the first albums considered for NE2020, I’ve lived with it for nearly a year, I love it’s mix of near Emo and near Slintish rock musicianship.
And I can’t think of a word to say about it. I’m just happy to finally finish this post.
Wow! I didn’t even use the ‘checks notice’ photo! Thankfully, as the joke might be dead now after using it on
every album on this post!