#80 High Command: Beyond the Wall of Desolation
Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaars! Do you sense that? Those faint but ever rising embers of putrid hellfire? Can you feel that, underneath your feet? The unmistakable rumbles of the devil’s chord painfully calling at your wordlessly from the depths? Can you smell that? That unmistakable aroma of a Nailbomb t-shirt once used in desperation as a makeshift toilet tissue but now hurriedly discarded in shame in a Castle Donington Portaloo? You know what that is? That’s metal, son, like they used to make it in the old/Black country!
Seth Manchester joins us once again, he had quite the 2020. Except, this album actually came out in 2019. And, actually, one of his albums from part 1 was even from 2018. Whatever, I’ve had quite a 2020 belatedly realising albums that he’s produced!
‘Beyond the Wall of Desolation’- from its ridiculous title down through its ridiculous cover art right down to that freaking guitar solo on Impaled on the Gates– in unashamed, unapologetic, unrestrained and unwavering metal. Oh, and its songs are called things like ‘Impaled on the Gates‘, did I mention that? With a Merciless Steal thrown in there along with a Forged to Kill for good measure? It’s exciting, thrilling and absolutely convincing in its stated belief that this is a world that you should really spend more time inside.
Maybe you think that ‘this sort of music’ isn’t for you. That’s cool. Just as long as you’re aware of one truth evident in that belief.
You’re a dick. Get fucked.
Shit, this album should probably be higher. I am such a coward…
This ain’t it.
‘SAWAYAMA’ is very, very, very good pop album. It absolutely deserves to be named among the 100 greatest of the year on any list worth paying attention to. It’s just not it. For the past three or four years, Rina Sawayama has emerged as an artist encouraging infinite potential and forever threatening to actually make great changes to the entire pop industry around her when she got around to sequencing the ideas in her head and translating her flair in visual art properly onto a debut full length record. I was on board the Rina hype train, and even named her debut EP the fifteenth best record of 2018, I was ready for this album to be one of the most notable pop records in modern history, I was ready for Rina to work the mainstream around her otherworldly charms.
But, no, this ain’t it.
It’s a great album, but it’s very much Rina attempting to win wider acceptance by playing their game, not by dictating how the game should be played. Aside from the wonderful STFU– which really promised a far more ambitious and challenging record when it was released as the album’s first single- this is a crushingly controlled album, a crushingly generic pop album and, perhaps as a result of all the faith I had put in it, a crushingly disappointing one.
Really?? Come on! This can’t just be me! I love Rina Sawayama too, but even accepting that it’s an extremely proficient and well constructed pop album, am I the only one who realises the near chronic lack of personality and ambition here?? Hello? Helloooooo?? Is anyone there??
See? I was overrating Ms Sawayama way before it was cool.
#78 Bon Iver: Blood Bank EP (10th Anniversary Edition)
Boom! Anniversary reissues! Recently, I decided that the Necessary Evil end of year list wasn’t overloaded and difficult enough to manage, didn’t ruin my festive period every year quite enough, so I decided to include rereleases in the countdown to really fatten this irritating and disgustingly corpulent Christmas turkey up a little more. Despite the previously mentioned government oversight that the list has to conform to, it’s basically fucking open season for what’s allowed to be included. Previously I’ve included EPs, live albums, best ofs and even a fantastic album by Jherek Bischoff that only exists in my head. Wanna buy ‘Quartet for Dolores+‘? Well tough, I made the album up, and still ranked it one place higher than Robyn. In your face Robyn!! Oh, and, erm, you might it difficult to get your hands on the number 63 entry from last year, but I encourage every one of you to ask for it in person. But, yeah to cut a long story short, I realised that if I included rereleases, I could talk about the Manic Street Preachers a lot more. Problem?
Of course, it’snot the actual tenth anniversary- the original ‘Blood Bank’ EP came out in 2009, but much like The Manics releasing ‘This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours’ on its twenty year and two month anniversary, it’s eleven year reissue offers further evidence that rock stars have no fucking idea how calendars work. But, hey, this is a great little EP, bolstered by live versions of the tracks that speak to how powerful a performer Justin Vernon and his little Vernonites can be
Dance music is the worst these days, isn’t it? Firstly, it’s not even called ‘dance music’ anymore, but ‘ED-fucking-M’ [obscenity author’s own], which stands for ‘Electronic Dance fucking Music’ [obscenity author’s own]. Most importantly, that abbreviation also sounds a tiny bit like ‘MDMA’ so gives it the totally unwarranted sense of being the tiniest bit illicit so listeners can feel all cool and antiestablishment while they nod their head to a obediently conventional David Guetta fart of nonexistence as they wait in line for their morning Costa. It has become not just the biggest and most ubiquitous form of music, yet also at the same time the genre less likely to experiment and risk messing with a winning formula. Mainstream dance music (I… am not… using that abbreviation…) is now a largely soulless and dispassionate hit machine, much like disco unfortunately became towards the end of its run of popularity, despite once being the centre of all sonic evolutions. What’s worse, the people responsible for a lot of these turgid examples of manufactured assembly line Nothing Pop aren’t faceless people pulling strings behind the scenes or, more appropriately, hiding in shame from the aural napalm they’ve unleashed on listeners’ ears. No, they push themselves front and centre, really wanting the milk all the fame that’s possible as a result of providing Lidl with inoffensive background music. Look! There’s Tiësto, waving his umlauts in our face every chance he gets. Look! There’s the Chainsmokers (who, and I can’t stress this enough- do not actually smoke at all!), hogging the stage and being just awful. Look! There’s Calvin Harris, who had that one naff indie song about things being admissible in a previous decade, then I stopped paying attention for a few seconds and he’s suddenly the biggest star in the world! Or, even worse, some dance music hitmakers wear freaking big Styrofoam heads, which is just unacceptable. There’s one guy who actually wears a pretend marshmallow on his head, I forget his name, Marsh McMallow or some shit. Seriously, if a wrestler started doing that shit, us fans would never hear the end of it!!
C.O.W. 牛 have it all worked out though. They have their heads screwed on correctly and- very importantly- none of those heads is a Sytrofoam fucking marshmallow. We think that they’re a four piece art collective hailing from Germany and China, at least that’s what sources suggest. They work anonymously, and actually prefer C.O.W. 牛 to be thought of as a single female. A single female cow? That’s up for debate. I shall be using ‘she/her’ to refer to C.O.W. 牛 from now on, because that is the reality she has chosen to exist within and, holy shit, why aren’t more artists like this?? C.O.W. 牛 has carefully and deliberately created a distinctive and gorgeous art project around her music, creating a dazzling ‘brand’ that covers her album artwork, her music videos, and is such a complete and well defined character in itself that the music is almost inconsequential.
The music, though, is pretty banging. Good, well crafted and freaking dance music you can very easily dance to. I’m not 100% sure that the music yet lives up to the visual delicacy and perfect heraldry of the project’s wider artistic vision, but considering she’s mastered near enough every other part of being a perfect dance project, she’s allowed a little time to perfect the music that could act as the sprinkles on the top.
Firstly, ‘Ditch Lily’ is an amazing name for a musical act. Like, there’s an actual plant called ‘ditch lily‘! Its name derives from a legend of an old fishwife in Saugatuck, Michigan, named Lily. She was rumoured to remove the fishes’ heads behind close doors and use her fingers to control their jaws in order to perform private fish theatre productions for her own amusement. This was actually illegal in 18th century Michigan, so the husband was urged to ‘ditch Lily’. Which he did. Into a ditch. So there’s also that connection. I’ve obviously made all that up, but ‘Ditch Lily’ still rocks as a name.
Secondly, when I interviewed the wonderful Aqua Girl back in April ahead of the release of her second album (will that album make the list?? Maybe it will, maybe it won’t!! Who’s to know??*), I asked her to predict what the best record of 2020 would be, and one of her choices was this record. I do not take recommendations lightly, and so made sure to give it the required amount of listens before one can legally term something ‘a pile of shit’.
(*me. I’m to know. I know. I know exactly what number she’d be at. If she made the list. Which maybe she didn’t. I’m a God here)
Thirdly, that awful cover is a piece of shit. Is that Ditch Lily? Tell him I hate him.
Fourthly, the album within absolutely is not! In fact, were you a fan of the particular, fragile, humorous, self deprecating, madly-in-love-with-all-sorts-of-things-but-don’t-want to-make-a-scene, at the same time very English but also very American, songs about having a quaint little birthday party, “My love is a kite and you cut the string“, outward feyness camouflaging surprisingly crushing melancholy, brand of bedroom pop that Mr Lily trades in, then ‘Go Lightly’ is pretty much as good as it gets.
Fifthly, this review from the album’s BandCamp page, is this sweet, sad, or deeply disturbing?
Pixx, you know? You know Pixx? I can’t remember how I know her. I do know her, but I’ve no idea how. Nobody’s ever told me about her. I’ve never seen her name written down. You could well be supposed to pronounce her name so that it rhymes with ‘exhaust’, as far as I know, as I’ve never heard anyone speak about her. I collided into contact with her very good 2017 album and wrote a post about it. Unfortunately, that was where Ms. Pixx and I parted ways. I was aware of the release of this 2019 album, but I never investigated further (mostly because- honestly?- there wasn’t a good torrent of it). We parted ways, without either of us making a huge amount of difference on the other’s life. To be honest, I may have even had less of an affect on her life than she did on mine. No, it’s true.
But, all this time, something quite strange was happening. That half-hearted and generally second rate review of Pixx’s rather splendid record kept getting views. Kept getting visitors. That rushed, so obviously the third review I’d written that day, kept getting traffic and attention, way more than pretty much every post that doesn’t mention The Manics, Nick Cave or (bizarrely) Ethan Frome. Let’s just say they weren’t there for the quality of writing. So, I belatedly decided to include Pixx’s next effort on this year’s list, she’s obviously got a hidden fanbase of rabid and, let’s face it, mentally unhinged (have you read that post?? That’s what they want to read?!) acolytes who are desperate to read as much about Chipstead’s finest export. Well, call this my naked appeal to her strange sort of Search Engine Pixxlisation, but I finally (legally!) got the album, so can you please give me those clicks again??
I joke, of course.
That last Pixx post does do pretty incredible numbers for what is, let us not forget, a pretty shit post. There is obviously a fanbase there that isn’t being properly catered to. Lizzo’s album ‘Cuz I Love You’ sold more than 500’000 units in 2019. Do you know how many people read my lengthy and well thought out response to it? Six. As in, not six ‘lots of a thousand’, or six ‘official Blog Units™’. Six people. No, my mistake, it may well be the same person viewing it six times. It’s been viewed six times. It’s been seen by at most six people. This isn’t one o’ dem ‘jokes’ that I occasionally make. Literally six views of that post. Viewed Twice in 2019. Four times this whole year. Most recently in October. Worked so hard on that motherfucker… The point I’m making is, Lizzo fans are very much well catered for- they’ve got their NBC think pieces, their SNL appearances, the mandatory Financial Times coverage– and that’s not a trashpile that I necessary need to be adding to. I think the message I’m getting here is clear: hard worked and incisive Lizzo article= fuck all views; naff bullshit Pixx piece= all the views. I shall hereby become a Pixx fansite.
And I wouldn’t mind that at all, because Pix freaking rock. On some of her slower moments she might warrant as honourable a comparison as Black Box Recorder, some of her rowdier tracks occasionally bring to mind a perverse Britpop parody, but generally nothing quite sounds like Pixx. She’s unique, bizarre in absolutely the right kind of way, and it’s understandable that she has fans desperate enough for info to trawl through blogs as trash as this, as if Pixx’s individual style of music scratches your particular itch, there’s likely to be nowhere else that you will get that satisfyingly scratched.
#74 Don’t Do It Neil: I WANNA SEE WHAT Tinder IS LIKE
I’ve combined Mabel’s two records released this year, getting two thirds of the way to the triple album that she stated in our interview it was initially envisioned as. It was difficult to split them- ‘Tinder Gold‘ might be the more succinct, clearly focused, and consistent record, but ‘I WANNA SEE WHAT DEATH IS LIKE‘ is the more ambitious, the more boundary pushing, and the more varied statement. So, here they both are, buy them both, chuck in 2019’s ‘B/X‘, and boom, there’s your much promised triple album.
And it would be a very good triple album, because it would be made up of three very good albums. Don’t do it, Neil still hasn’t yet made that defining album that’s a true full length example of her talents, the record that she’s definitely capable of that will simply wedgie the underwear of popular music deep between the buttocks of wider culture itself. But these albums are good. For now.
Shit, am I the only person to buy this album on BandCamp?? Underneath the album, yeah? Under the ‘supported by’ thing? No, not there, look up a bit! Jesu Christ,not all the way up! You are so dumb! Listen, it’ll be easier if I just show it:
That’s me! I’m the only fucker there!! Does that mean nobody else bought this record?? That’s fucking re-donk-ulous! This isn’t ‘one sad, fat, lonely, middle aged ginger fan’ music! There are honestly few people these days who make raw but beautifully produced acoustic guitar music with frank and incisive lyrics much better than Mr. Helltown. Sure, I doubt he’ll ever climb higher on this list than last year’s 59 (unless he manages to craft another song as freaking perfect as Novel, of course), but he’s always likely to be on the list, because there’s always a place for music like this, and there’snot really anyone else doing music like this as well as he makes music like this.
Holy shit though, maybe I’m, like, his number one fan??I should write him a letter:
It’s taken me days to write this entry. I might actuallybe going insane.
#72 Black Dresses: Peaceful as Hell
This is why we don’t deserve nice things.
#71 Devi McCallion & Katie Dey: Magic Fire Brain
Holy jumping Jesus, not being funny, and not just doing a ‘bit’, but I honestly only just put it together that the ‘Devi’ that had been abused and harassed so much online that she was forced to disband Black Dresses, and this ‘Devi McCallion’ person who was 50% responsible for the fabulous ‘Magic Fire Brain’ record with Katie Dey
was the same freaking person!! Without knowing this (and, yes, I feel really fucking dumb), I have adjudged the two records to be of incredibly similar quality, and they lie next to each other on the list. I dunno, I think it’s pretty wild, but then I am realy tired right now, and really wanna finish this cocking entry. Devi, you’re fabulous and the world doesn’t deserve you. Katie… like I said, keep an eye out for Katie.
No, not in a weird way, I didn’t mean it in a weird way! Well, I mean, everything I say is meant in somewhat of a weird way, and
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