I love Gnod. I love how schizophrenic they are as a band, lurching from the infinite repetition of motoric beats and Kraut rock to mesmerising drone explorations, glitchy landscapes and analogue wig-outs, all while retaining a Gnod-ness about them. I first came across them when Julian Cope mentioned Visions of Load in his much-missed monthly Address Drudion missives and was instantly hooked. Since then every Gnod release has charted a new a sound and seemingly a new line-up too but none of that really matters, as they have failed to wrongfoot themselves every time and the throb remains constant. Their sound has always been unrelenting but Just Say No to the Psycho Right-Wing Capitalist Fascist Industrial Death Machine is fucking heavy, too . I’d go as far to say that it is transcendentally heavy, ushering the listener (me) into a psychedelic reverie despite its unyielding savagery. It’s the kind of thing that you’re happy to allow to beat you into submission. Pounding drums, gut-wrenching bass and visceral guitars playing brutal riffs underpin the band’s least splintered and most overtly political lyrics (not surprising considering the title) creating something that feels more urgent and authentic than almost anything I’ve heard this year. Perry Como it is not. People and Real Man are current favourites, but all of the tracks have made it on to my constant rotation list at some point this year.
I was saved from wallowing in a period of despondency about music just over a decade ago by Giant Drag’s Hearts & Unicorns. The album relit a passion I had been missing for a long time and for that, the band’s singer and songwriter, Annie Hardy, will always be an artist I admire. In the many years since that album, Hardy’s career has been uneven, punctuated by amazing collaborations, debilitating illness, band break ups and personal problems. A second Giant Drag album slipped out without fanfare in 2013 and by 2015 Annie had seemingly left music behind, settled down and had a child. Tragically, when he was less than a month old, her son died of SIDS, followed less than year later by her partner dying of an overdose. Most people would buckle faced with either misfortune, let alone both. Somehow Annie has channelled it all into a truly staggering album. By turns melancholy and furiously angry, it’s a world away from the surreal dream-pop that brought Giant Drag to my attention, instead heading towards torch song country and church song territory (not quite Gospel but almost). Understandably the lyrical themes deal with loss and adversity but it’s never simply maudlin; there’s as much steel as fragility on show, and her voice, although fraying, one assumes from the endless fags she smokes, is still powerful and striking enough to stop you in your tracks, a quality that is only reinforced by the subject matter. Every track has something special going on but Want and Shadow Mode are both astonishing to say the least. Perhaps it’s too raw for the masses but it’s a huge shame that this album has been all but totally overlooked.
The Inheritors, Holden’s previous album, was my top pick of 2013, the last year I felt strongly enough about music to spew forth my half-baked reflections. In the meanwhile, Tom Page of Rocketnumbernine, followed by Etienne Jaumet of Zombie Zombie both joined James on a tour that evidently widened the latter’s off-the-cuff musical horizons. A Terry Riley tribute with Luke Abbott and a collaboration with guembri virtuoso Mahmoud Guinia followed, pushing Mr Holden’s improvisational bent further into the wilds, laying the groundwork for The Animal Spirits. For the album Holden has added Marcus Hamblett, Liza Bec and Lascelle Gordon to his ensemble, jamming out one take of each track as a group in a single afternoon. The spontaneity is obvious, giving the whole thing a spirit and energy that is infectious. Words like jazz and psychedelic folk have been bandied about but the whole thing feels closer to Gong than Coltrane to my ears but fuck the pigeonholing, it’s a glorious album of unfettered expression, which is no mean feat for something that is essentially focussed on a synth, no matter how sophisticated and modular its programming. I still have a soft spot for Each Moment Like the First, but I think the album is best enjoyed, much as it was recorded, in one go.
Although I was aware of King Krule (but not Archy Marshall) I had paid him no attention whatsoever previously. Then, over the course of a fortnight or so, I kept coming across Dum Surfer on the radio and decided he may be worth further investigation. I was correct. He was. The OOZ speaks to me like very few albums ever do. Musically adventurous but still carefully melodic and lyrically bleak but not self-indulgent wallowing, it’s a rich and deep album filled with amazing moments that would be an achievement for a seasoned writer let alone a 23-year-old, however precocious he may be. Sometimes I get a huge whiff of Tricky but a direct comparison would be doing Archy a disservice because there’s a lot of other things going on here too, not least a boundless knowledge of some deeply and delightfully jazzy chord progressions. Aforementioned single Dum Surfer, Half Man Half Shark and the title track all jump out immediately, but repeated listens reveal an abundance of attractively dishevelled highlights. It’s long, but it’s up there with the best albums released this year, and still on heavy rotation round my gaff.
This isn’t an album it’s a single and specifically for the purposes of all the shit I am about to write, it’s all about Rainfall on Red Earth the B-side that lasts about as long as half a good album. It is easily my favourite ‘single’ I have heard this year, and there have been some brilliant singles flying about in 2017. As far as I can make out Auntie Flo’s real name is Brian D’Souza, so why the fuck you would name yourself after either periods or a fat, kids’ cartoon lady (Taoist connections aside) when your real name conjures images of a mysterious, swarthy gentleman who can keep it pumping all night long, I don’t know, so let’s brush over that… Auntie Flo, it seems, is pretty fucking good at taking ‘world music’ (for want of a less hideous phrase) rhythms and riffs and retooling them for mesmerising dancefloor purposes. And just for extra measure he can really eek those fuckers out into 16-minute-long, transcendental bliss factories, replete with just the right touch of blue atmospherics to keep interest piqued. Rainfall on Red Earth brings all of these talents to the fore with a wonderfully unrelenting groove played, I believe, on a Ugandan harp (might be wrong about that). The flip, Soniferous Garden is definitely played on Ugandan harp and is almost equally as good, just a bit less moody (and spelled wrong).
I wasn’t that bothered when LCD Soundsystem split up six years ago because they had just turned in a pretty average album in This Is Happening. I was pretty pleased about their return though as very little had filled the vintage synth-propelled, indie shaped void they left. Naturally, they’ve made life difficult for themselves with some characteristic miscues that have included a rambling defence of the comeback and offering up a (thankfully not representative) U2 pastiche as the album’s lead cut (the live version is far superior). In the end though, American Dream has been done with a fair old dose of the style that is second nature to James Murphy. The album itself is a grower. On first listen you hear all the expected LCD-isms, blatantly wearing influences on their sleeves, insouciant vocal delivery, pulsating synths, repetitive bass figures and stacks and stacks of percussion. Keep on listening though and the subtleties begin to reveal themselves. The song writing is their strongest to date, eschewing the obvious for some rewarding progressions and Murphy’s singing is more ardent and uncompromising than it has ever been. Murphy’s need for the band to be as big as any enormo-dome fillers without selling short the record buyers is contradictory to say the least but his attempt to find the sweet spot has resulted in an unexpectedly rewarding comeback album.
Almost two decades since the sublime melodies and intense rhythms of Radioactive Man’s The Mezz appeared on Fuel’s glorious, if messy, 8-Track compilation, Keith Tenniswood is still going strong with fifth solo album, Luxury Sky Garden. Mixed and mastered by the man himself to ensure the sound he wants is the sound we get, album five is no stylistic departure, creative leap forward or daring new direction. It is, in essence, more of the same, exploring the gravid overlapping edges of electro, techno, and, I suppose, what used to be called IDM by bellends in the mid-90s, all without sounding anything like it’s treading water. Keith’s gift for alloying gnarly dancefloor beats with the lushest progressions and harmonies is sorely underrated and the whole set is laced with an intensity that most producers who’ve enjoyed a similarly lengthy tenure at the console have long since lost. Stuffed full of highlights, from the meditative Ism Schism to the relentless (but, alas, poorly spoonerised) Jommtones, Luxury Sky Garden is Radioactive Man doing exactly what he should be doing.