Thursday, 26 February 2015

Aphex Twin- Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt.2 EP

Artist: Aphex Twin
Album: Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt.2 EP
Record Label: Warp Records
Release Date: 26th January 2015

Richard D. James' latest experimentation engages some solid and well-worked ideas, but spends a lot of it's time feeling half-finished

There's an old idea that revolves and the music industry and music fans that once a band or artist gets to a certain stage in their career they can "do whatever they want". The most innovative artists, like Richard D. James for example, are able to attain that status sometimes after their first slew of releases. Whether under the guise of Aphex Twin or one of his various other outlets, James has been doing whatever he wants for the past 25 years, and it's mostly been completely solid too. These facts combined mean that a release as diasporic as "Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt.2 EP" is pretty much acceptable in any environment, no matter its duration or impact. 

With that in mind however, it's slightly easy to be cynical about "Computer Controlled...", especially in light of last year's excellent "Syro". Yes, he has every right to release something this lo-fi; it's not like it's totally vapid or poorly produced. There are some moments on here that show James' understanding of depth, texture and rhythm as well as ever. The problem is that these mostly feel like semi-forgotten half-cuts that he's had lying around for 20 years. You may argue in response that it's important to remember that those would be APHEX TWIN half-cuts, but unfortunately it's not quite enough in this case. 

There's a consistently brooding and stripped back tone to this EP that leaves a distinctly dark flavour in the mouth. "Diskhat ALL preparedmix13" is lead by resounding, heavy handed piano keys and an increasingly powerful organic drum groove. It's sparse in terms of melody and replacing it are atmospheric fade-ins and weird squelches; it's more about rhythm than actual music. "Diskhat" rolls along on an unashamed drum shuffle that could have come straight from the B-side of a peak-era Will Smith single. "DISKPREPT4" is one of the highlights; it's layered as well as being subdued and grows distinctly with a definable melody but once again is much more about the instrumentation involved. A gorgeous double-bass melody and nervously odd piano tinker combine mid-way through for a wholesome effect.

Other highlights arrive later on in the shape of "disk prep calrec2 barn dance (s l o)"'s ritualistic, eccentric "Wicker Man"-esque waltz and penultimate track "Piano un10 it happened" is a gorgeous, summery piano melody, one of the few injections into the songs here. But more often than not there are songs with not enough meat on them here, or that feel half-finished. There are random 8 second drum fills and "0035 1-Audio", while possessing a cool rhythm, cuts out abruptly after 30 seconds mid-stride. "hat 2b 2012b"'s deep-seated tub- thumping, although short-lived, feels like it outstays its welcome. 

It feels harsh to say that it's hard to see the point in "Computer Controlled...", because yes, James' artistic expression has always allowed him the space to do whatever he wants. It's just that there's not much in the way of substance here. As an Aphex Twin release, it's just disappointing that it's distinctly average. 


Key tracks: "DISPREPT4", "Piano un10 it happened", "disk prep clarec2 barn dance (s l o)"
For fans of: Squarepusher, BADBADNOTGOOD

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Xibalba- Tierra Y Libertad

Artist: Xibalba
Album: Tierra Y Libertad
Record Label: Southern Lord
Release Date: January 26th 2015

Spanish-inflected California Hardcore crew bring consistently thrilling and crushing weight to their Sludge/Crust hybrid

You know how every now and again you have one of those days where you just want to bulldoze your uptight arsehole of a boss' house down, or drive a steam-roller through your own garden fence just to prove you can DO something? Well it's quite probable that if you listen to Polmona, California mob Xibalba's latest full-length "Tierra Y Libertad" then this relatively short but wholesome LP will become the most satisfying soundtrack to those days. 

Opener "Enemigo" is as good a precedent as any for the brutality that is to come. It flits between monstrously groovy, sludgy chugging and two speeds of furious Hardcore drum pummeling. It melds their proudly worn influences rather seamlessly, and proves that they take just as much from Pantera and Crowbar as they do from Dismember and Madball. Repeated grunts of "I have scars too deep to feel" confirms that Hatebreed's cheesy sense of over-sized optimism this ain't. 

The anti-establishment savagery of "Guerilla" is almost a fists-in-the-air call to arms, whilst the magnificent "En Paz Descanse" starts as perhaps the album's most nail-bitingly harsh Death Metal-inflected turn before becoming a desperately slow battering of which Kirk Windstein would be proud. 

Only twice do they deviate from their admittedly exhilarating down-tuned formula. "Pausa" is a slice of eerie, thick harmonized dueling that at 1.16 in length leaves you feeling like they could have made slightly more of it. The closer "El Vacio", however, is 12 and a half minutes of epic, melodic and suitably miserable sludge in it's heaviest, most atmospheric guise. Despite the potential of becoming one dimensional, "Tierra Y Libertad" never becomes tiresome, and its bone-shattering weight and swagger is so immovable that if you don't violently nod your head at least once then you've a heart of stone. 


Key tracks: "En Paz Descanse", "El Vacio", "Enemigo"
For Fans of: Crowbar, Dismember

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Mark Ronson- Uptown Special


Artist: Mark Ronson
Album: Uptown Special
Record Label: Sony
Release Date: 12th January 2015

The mastermind song-writer's new full-length may not be exactly what people were expecting, but it's a superb lesson in eccentricity and pop craftsmanship nonetheless

There has been much written on this site in the past about the current state of pop music and how, a bit like another organisational body that has the attitudes of many in its palms, it needs to change. Certainly Mark Ronson has never been a totally conventional pop star; a purely music-orientated songwriter, his constantly behind-the-scenes stance on radio play and in videos has meant that he's managed to avoid being seduced in the wrong way by the whole fame thing. "Uptown Special", however, may be about to stake a claim for change in regards to Ronson's appreciation. In what way exactly remains unclear, but one thing's for certain; this is an album rich in artistic expressionism. 

What's clear from the get go on "Uptown Special" is how meticulously written, produced and considered the record is. Fans expecting more of the straight-up, shameless funk-pop that overnight megahit "Uptown Funk" alluded to should dash that expectation immediately, and that in turn is a testament to how Ronson is one of the most important mainstream songwriters of our time. There's no adherence to contemporary pop culture here; this is a joyous, organic excursion into a time-warp dream-scape fusing Ronson's record collection with his excellent craftsmanship. 

It begins with "Uptown's First Finale", a shady but warm interlude-esque intro complete with an understated vocal performance from Stevie Wonder and '80s Baywatch sunrise vibes, and leads straight into the equally as languid but more illustrious shuffle of "Summer Breaking" featuring Tame Impala's Kevin Parker. Tales of road trips and getting high perfectly suit the song's lunch-time beach-front feel. We're then thrust straight into the driver's seat with the fabulous "Feel Right". The track's James Brown/ Sly & the Family Stone sex panther funk's simple and addictive smoothness is spearheaded by an insatiable rhythm section and rapper Mystikal's spleen- rupturing vocal delivery. 

"I Can't Lose", featuring Keyone Starr, on vocals recalls the synth worship present on previous hits like "Bang Bang". Gorgeous keyboard chords entwine with another inexplicably tight rhythm oeuvre. The righteous stabs of brass and classic funk guitar noodling complement Starr's  assertions of "I can't lose when I'm around you" wondrously. The hypnotic lead guitar riff of the second Kevin Parker feature, "Daffodils", leads into increasingly Flaming Lips-style weirdness with its bleepy, oddball synth dalliances and rushes of guitar distortion. 

The sleepy, remorseful hue of "Crack in the Pearl" sees guest vocalist Andrew Wyatt introduce some break-up blues into the proceedings which offers another unexpected dimension, whilst the stomping Toto-esque '70s rock of "In Case of Fire" featuring Jeff Bhasker on vocals is a glorious re-injection of throwback energy; there's a sense of well-honed haze hanging over the track giving it a sense of precise, immediate but rapturous control. 

It's not as if "Uptown Special" is worlds away from the creed suggested by its lead-off single; these are pop-songs in the truest sense, and 30 years ago may have been top 10 charters in their own right. But the idiosyncracy, creativity and flow of the record shows that its about vastly more than shifting units; it's about sunsets on beaches with wine and good friends, or midday cruises along the golden coast... You know, the sort of things modern pop music SHOULD be about. 

Key Tracks: "Feel Right (ft. Mystikal)", "Daffodils (ft. Kevin Parker)", "In Case of Fire (ft. Jeff Bhasker)"
For Fans Of: Tame Impala, Smokey Robinson, Hall & Oates


Monday, 29 December 2014

Gnaw Their Tongues- Wir Essen Seelen In Der Nacht

Artist: Gnaw Their Tongues
Album: Wir Essen Seelen In Der Nacht
Record Label: Self-release
Release Date: 1st November 2014

One man BM project's latest offering is strong at conjuring horrible atmospheres, but not so strong at conjuring memorable tunes

In an age where experimentation in music is consistently taking on a more extreme course, artists like Maurice De Jong (aka Gnaw Their Tongues) could reserve the right to feel slightly gratified. Although Gnaw Their Tongues' appeal has always been confined to those reaching for the most unpleasant depths of the underground, years of hard-graft and boundary-pushing sonic brutality have meant his presence and influence have not been wanton. 

On "Wir Essen Seelen In Der Nacht", a typically understated 4 track release that's hard to track down anywhere besides GTT's bandcamp, De Jong seems more keen to emphasise his artistic expressionism over writing anything that one could really sink their teeth into. The resulting produce is one more categorised by its atmospheres than by craft. Opener "A Calm Friday Night in Hinterkaifeck" broods with a metallic film-score menace, more of a nightmarish scene-setter than a song. The title track starts off like a true psychopath's re-interpretation of the original "Nosferatu" soundtrack before descending into the absolute skull-fucking chaos of improvisational bass flourishes and horrific screams. 

"The Gate of Death" is much more considered in its psychosis; there are waves of tuneless static surrounding a mid-paced bass drum boom that recalls The Haxan Cloak. The closer "Droom Van De Rattenvreger" is where the atmosphere is at its most-horrific. Blastbeats and distortion provide a back-bone for the odd-ball, nerve-wracking male & female opera vocals, whilst its final two minutes are the most musical the EP has to offer. 

Although commendable for its audacity, this is music with shock tactics used purely to be torturous; by no means a new trait of extreme metal, but ultimately deducing any real soul other than a black pit of attention-seeking noise in "Wir Essen..." is problematic. 


Key tracks: "Droom Van De Rattenvreger"
For fans of: Pharmakon, De Magia Veterum  

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Dirty Beaches- Stateless

Artist: Dirty Beaches
Album: Stateless
Record Label: Zoo Music
Release Date: 4th November 2014

Lo-fi darling's final release is an exercise in simple but textured expansiveness

That "Stateless" will be Taiwanese-Canadian prodigy Alex Zhang Hungtai's last release (under the moniker of Dirty Beaches at least) is something of a shame when he's capable of producing works as immersive as this. All of the four songs here have simple, drumless cores that leave plenty of space for presence to be built around them. The title track, with its cavernous and vast synth undertow and imperial horn inflection recalls SunnO))) & Ulver's collaborative efforts on this year's "Terrestrials". 

The gorgeous "Pacific Ocean" reveals slow, lushous keyboard chord progressions throughout its expansive drone, all the while circling its ever more prevalent, pulsating centre. The most manoeuvrability comes on the 15-minute closer "Time Washes Away Everything", who's sense of loss hangs heavy throughout its cacophonous violin swoons and cold, lone brass solos. A soulful farewell from one of lo-fi's blogosphere favourites. 


Key tracks: "Pacific Ocean", "Stateless"
For fans of: Oneohtrix Point Never, SunnO))) & Ulver

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Chartered Territory: The Riviera's Top 40 Songs of 2014

And so we come to it at last! It's taken me a while, but here's my top 40 songs of 2014. There are a few things to mention/ say before we get into the list. Firstly, much like the albums chart I published last week, these songs are ranked in the order in which I have listened to them and enjoyed them most throughout the year. You could, in theory, swap numbers 1 and 2 around; both of them have brought me an equal amount of joy and have proved equally as addictive, so by the point of thinking about their positioning like a shroom-fried psychiatrist you're kind of splitting hairs. Essentially though, this list is much less theory based than the albums list; they're all just excellent songs, with no real margin between them in their brilliance. They're mostly just listed in an order that I feel is most fitting. Also, this list is a mixture of both singles and album tracks. I don't listen to the radio enough to put together a list of tracks that have been officially released as singles, so there's probably plenty here that you've heard and plenty that you haven't, which is a healthy thing, I think. 

Secondly, in the new year I'm planning on re-launching this site (sort of) properly. It won't be as active as it once was, but my plan is to produce two reviews a week (maybe more if I manage to squeeze them in). These will mostly be Rock and Metal reviews, since those are my primary listening preferences. However, when there are notable/ attention-grabbing releases from outside of that world I'll certainly give them the coverage they deserve; for example, I'm already planning on reviewing the new albums by Joey Bada$$, Father John Misty and Mark Ronson. I'm planning on publishing reviews of the new releases by Dirty Beaches and Gnaw Their Tongues before the 31st, so they'll hopefully be up over the course of the next few days. 

Thirdly and finally, just a quick note to say thank you for your continuous reading and support! The site doesn't see much action these days which gives you even less of a reason to bother with it, but to those who do I say thank you very much! I don't really do this for anyone other than myself but when people do check out the stuff I write it makes it all the more worthwhile. 

Anyway, let's get into it. Here are my (un)official top 40 songs of the year. There's a Spotify playlist compiled for your listening needs at the bottom, as well as youtube links for every track listed. Enjoy, and have a very merry Christmas and an equally as grand New Year!



40. Grouper- Lighthouse

Liz Harris' 10th solo LP under the moniker Grouper, "Ruins", was perceived across the board as one of her most affecting and delicate to date. The 5-minute misty, morose and distant piano funeral march of "Lighthouse" was one of it's most tantalising moments, irreversibly sad but also somehow a friend in dark times. 

39. Full of Hell & Merzbow- Blue Litmus

It was occasionally hard to spot just what influence Japanese noise maverick Merzbow had on his collaborative project with US grindcore brutalists Full of Hell this year, and despite being one of these moments, the piercing, unfathomably harsh 2 minutes of "Blue Litmus" was one of the album's most primal, disgusting and electrifying moments. Sonic abuse is this collision's forte, and here it's delivered on a number of garishly brilliant levels. 

38. Comeback Kid- Should Know Better

Just like the rest of Comeback Kid's brilliant, erm, comeback album "Die Knowing", "Should Know Better" made me want to grow my hair long, drink stupid amounts of Dr. Pepper and thrash around on the concrete drive outside my house until I feel off and cracked my elbow. This is the most exhilarating kind of nostalgia trip. 

37. Objekt- Ganzfeld

Along with his excellent debut full-length "Flatland" this year, TJ Hertz released the brilliant "Ganzfeld", which saw him take Aphex Twin's abstract breakbeat blueprint and add discordant but beautiful layers of hazy oddness and atmospheric bleepery. 

36. Caribou- Dive

One of the slower, more sensual moments from this year's critically acclaimed "Our Love", Dan Snaith produced a textured slow-burner that emphasised his ear for reflective beauty and imperative warmth over everything else. If the warm tides of synth don't make you feel like you should be on a Mediterranean beach in mid July glazing over then there's nothing for you here. 

35. Dirty Beaches- Pacific Ocean

A very recent listening experience for me, but one that caught me straight away with its intensely deep and minimal but gorgeous droney crawl. It's easy to imagine the entire expanse of a shimmering but unknown mass encaptured by these 7 or so minutes. 

34. The Twilight Sad- Last January

Frost-bitten, bitter and lonely yet rhythmic and epic in equal measure, the finest track from The Twilight Sad's excellent return LP "Nobody Wants To Be Here..." spends it's first half as a hypnotic post-punk rush before climbing to a cascading, life affirming climax in its final throes. Nothing else on this list spells out "Winter blues" quite like it. 

33. Mallory Knox- She Took Him To The Lake

Mallory Knox are a band who, up until a couple of weeks ago I was quite happy to stay well away from. However, a couple of decent reviews of their new record meant that this gorgeously sad 7 minute wonder from the Cambridge quintet has been getting a fair amount of repeated plays recently. It ends up at soaring levels of atmosphere that very few other bands of this ilk seem to be capable of generating. 

Unfortunately the site won't let me imbed the right video properly, so you can access the song here via youtube:

32. Scott Walker & SunnO)))- Brando

The whole of this collaborative projects album "Soused" was a bit like an especially warped nightmare, or one of the more hallucinogenic scenes from The Shining, but "Brando" was nails-on-a-blackboard level of odd. Droning, cacophonous and intoxicating, Walker's assertions that "a beating would do me good" helped in no way to lift the track's twisted core out of its sublime darkness. 

31. Todd Terje- Inspector Norse

Although initially released in 2012, the inclusion of "Inspector Norse" on Todd Terje's debut "It's Album Time!" earlier this year was a most welcome one. Deliriously groovy and unashamedly cheesey, it's far harder to NOT have fun to this piece of percussive, sunny and woozy synth worship than to enjoy it. 

30. Sleaford Mods- You're Brave

If Nottingham duo Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearne proved anything this year, it's that left-wing working class Britain still very much has a righteously bitter and angry voice. Williamson's hilarious depictions of a first-rate, drug-addled loser in "You're Brave", via anecdotes of wanking in toilets and stealing friends, tied in perfectly with the overall sense of hopelessness that hits when he concludes "oh, aren't we all just pissing in the rain?". 

29. Godflesh- New Dark Ages

Everything about the opening track to Godflesh's blinding comeback LP "A World Lit Only By Fire" screamed "CLASSIC FUCKING GODFLESH!". From the outrageously thunderous and filthy riff to the clanging and motorik bass playing and the nail-grittingly harsh beat-down halfway through, there was absolutely no doubt that the masters of brutal industrial noise rock were back. 

28. Father John Misty- Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)

The Former Fleet Foxes man has a new album dropping in February, and "Chateau Lobby #4...", the first track to drop from it, shows Misty expanding his song-writing chops in increasingly humourous, joyous and catchy ways. The slightly raunchy but lovely brass- inflected ditty is (hopefully) a fine indicator of what to expect upon the album's release. 

27. Run The Jewels- Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck) ft. Zack De La Rocha

EL-P and Killer Mike's furious anti-oppression vitriol is backed by an addictive loop of Zack's "Run Them Jewels fast" refrain, before the Rage Against The Machine man himself drops one of his best verses to date. "I'm Miles ahead of you, you can sip my Bitch's Brew...". One of Hip-Hop's most splendidly fiery releases in 2014. 

26. Busdriver- Bliss Point

The award of one of Hip-Hop's more intellectual and quick-witted moments in Hip-Hop could have gone to any one of the tracks on Busdriver's 10th album "Perfect Hair", but "Bliss Point's" tongue-in-cheek attack on tabloid music journalism over a beautifully bubbling and abstract beat was its most prolific moment. 

25. Elbow- My Sad Captains

Easily one of the most melodically memorable and handsome things Elbow have ever released, Guy Garvey's poetic metaphors for times spent drinking and catching up with old friends via the narrative of a ship's crew proves just how masterful he and his band can be compositionally. 

24. Enter Shikari- The Last Garrison

From it's bracing, furious first 20 seconds to it's almost-One Direction-worthy belter of a chorus, "The Last Garrison" saw the much maligned St. Albans quartet slide closer than ever to pop territory, but with their life affirming sense of epicness and melody still fully intact. "HANDS UP AND THANK FUCK WE'RE STILL ALIVE". 

23. Wiley- On A Level

Over these three minutes of squelchy, old-school grime bass Wiley spits with the kind of vitality that is more than enough evidence that he's still one of UK Grime's most crucial frontrunners. 

22. St. Vincent- Digital Witness

Easily the sassiest thing Annie Clark has ever put her name, "Digital Witness"'s brass-lead, cocksure Prince-esque stomp saw her steer away from the virtuosity of her last album but into much more immediate and celebratory territory. 

21. Leon Vynehall- Butterflies

A track released separaretly to his full-length debut "Music For The Uninvited", the beauty of "Butterflies" was in its revolving-door percussion sequences and meditative, repetitve synth loops that dripped with summery heat. 

20. Animals As Leaders- Nephele

The word "epic" gets thrown around all too frivolously these days, but in terms of the monstrous closer to Animals As Leaders brilliant "The Joy Of Motion" this year it certainly applies. One second grindingly djent-y and ferociously heavy, the next soaring above the stratosphere via huge melodies and furious guitar solos with a particularly '80s shimmer, it was perhaps the band's finest 5 minutes to date. 

19. Primordial- Born To Night

Starting off with 4 minutes of eerie, enchanting solitary guitar strumming and then launching into a ravenous Grand Magus-esque groove of rollicking, reverberating riffs and scorching vocals, the former Irish Black Metal veterans veered into totally assured classic metal territory with a sense of grandeur and imperative force that very few others managed to conjure in Metal in 2014. 

18. Sun Kil Moon- I Can't Live Without My Mother's Love

There isn't much that can be said about the most affecting moment from Mark Kozelek's opus "Benji" other than you just need to listen to it. This is a song to make grown adults weep. 

17. FKA Twigs- 2 Weeks

The first single to drop from Tahliah Barnett's "LP1" was, weirdly, almost an immediate hit. I say weirdly, but in an age where experimentation in r'n'b is almost favoured over Jason Derulo re-hashing old techniques then it makes the success of the breathy and sublime "2 Weeks" all the more satisfying. 

16. Liars- Pro-Anti Anti

Ghostly, weird, noisy and with a myriad of bubbling and pretty synth meshes to boot, "Pro-Anti Anti"'s oddball beat-down was everything that they do almost better than anyone else, as well as being a fantastic spokesperson for the whole album, "Mess". 

15. EyeHateGod- Nobody Told Me

Though their self-titled album wasn't as captivating or consistent as it perhaps could have been, it did contain some of the finest riffs the masters of Sludge have ever put to wax. "Nobody Told Me"'s swaggering, hefty and swamp-mired groove is most certainly one of them. 

14. Wild Beasts- Daughters

A rare excursion into a more political and sociological sphere lyrically for the Kendal quartet, "Daughters" was a bleak, cold but important portrait of what our children may face if the cultural climate and levels of austerity don't change soon. There's an underbelly of anger and despair running it's fingers over the track's skin, summed up perfectly by the discordant power-synths that run the song over the finish line. 

13. The Bug ft. Flowdan- The One

One of the most formidable partnerships in UK dub and bass music proved in abundance on The Bug's "Angels & Devils" that once again they can produce some of the most hard-hitting music in that vein, and the punishing "The One" was the epitome of that. The Bug's brutal, rattling drum barrage and screeching, siren-esque synths that surrounded the hook were as prominent and exciting as Flowdan's monstrous, non-stop delivery. 

12. Mogwai- Ex Cowboy (Cava Sessions)

One of the extra tracks released as part of the re-issue of Mogwai's finest album "Come on Die Young" earlier this year, "Ex Cowboy" in a live setting proved that they had just as much (if not more) finesse, dynamical skill, and were still just as good at making a chest-thumping racket as on record. Majestic. 

I've had to upload the studio version of the track as the re-released live version doesn't appear to be on youtube. You can hear the Cava Sessions version via the Spotify playlist below. 

11. Trap Them- Savage Climbers

Much slower burning but just as discordant and incinerating as their most brutal, riotous work, "Savage Climbers" sounded like what seeing a deranged, almost starved-to-death, mud-caked man claw his way out of a sewer after 15 years of depravity might be like. Ryan McKenney's bellows of "Chuck your rights to ruin!" embody a distinctly political flavour, and in times where social justice seems to be falling short across the globe, he's never sounded more prolific. 

10. Manic Street Preachers- Walk Me to the Bridge

The utterly glorious first single from the latest Manics album was so THEM that, had it been any less euphoric it may have been seen as somewhat parodical. Thankfully, James Dean Bradfield's vocals sounded stronger than they had done in years, and the song's entire oeuvre was wrapped in so much conviction, emotion and massive sound that it was nigh on impossible not to feel your heart-strings tweak a little bit, the presence of Richey Edwards lurking all the while and upping the emotional ante. 

9. Every Time I Die- Idiot

"All I want is for everyone to go to Hell/ It's the last place I was seen before I lost myself/ All I want is for everyone to come to Hell/ There we can be free and learn to love ourselves". Not only was "Idiot", the final track on Every Time I Die's splendid return to form "From Parts Unknown", one of the most unforgiving and savage things they'd written in years, it also saw Keith Buckley's lyricism reach new levels of directness and emotion. 

8. Skepta ft. JME- That's Not Me

The biggest Grime song of the year. The most addictive, catchy and melodically pleasing too, bar one song...

7. Mumdance ft. Novelist- Take Time

...And here it is. Mumdance's penchant for pushing Grime out of its comfort zone reached its ecstatic pinnacle here, with "Take Time"'s bruising bass slams and searing, high-pitched synth stabs on the hook. Young MC Novelist proves that any time the old Grime vanguard might look like they're dwindling in terms of presence or talent, there's plenty of fresh-faced connoisseurs to pick up the pieces. 

6. Mogwai- The Lord Is Out of Control

The slowest, most atmospheric and genuinely moving song on Mogwai's "Rave Tapes" was saved for its final grace. Keyboardist Barry Burns' vocals and fed through a vocoder, making them impossible to make out but adding so much to the building, soaring beauty of the track's lush instrumentation. Also perhaps the best music video of the year. 

5. Taylor Swift- Blank Space

There was no song in 2014 that summed up what a guilt-free, well written and highly addictive pop megahit should sound like better than Swift's "Blank Space". Delivered with brooding yet confident emotion, as well as not running anywhere close to the mundanity most of the stuff that passes for poetry in chart music does these days, "Blank Space" was both a huge breath of fresh air and a sigh of relief. It, along with the slightly more irksome "Shake It Off", was the most pure and joyful that pop appeared all year. 

4. Run The Jewels- Oh My Darling Don't Cry

Production wise, this was the nastiest, grimiest and noisiest thing EL-P had conjured since his 2012 LP "Cancer 4 Cure", and it was all the more addictive for it. He and Killer Mike meanwhile, were as visceral, audacious and clinical with their rhyming as ever. The song oozed dark, oversized arrogance from every pour, and with its catastrophically brutal finale of a whirlwind of almost non-musical synth excursion, you'd be a fool to either doubt or deny it. 

3. Swans- Oxygen

Again, I could have picked any number of songs from Swans' latest Godlike masterpiece "To Be Kind", but in the end I went with the most brutal; the most nose-flattening, the most pummelling, the most repetitive, the most excruciatingly loud. "Oxygen" recalled the visceral, no-holds-barred abandon of Swans' earliest work in the way that it was unrelenting in its barrage of impeccably tight drumming, filthy and fast paced bass plucking and ear-drum bruising stabs of brass. UGH!

2. Mark Ronson- Uptown Funk (ft. Bruno Mars)

Yes OK, so it smacks a bit of the Nile Rodgers Bandwagon that's been affirming its place since Daft Punk's "Get Lucky", but in the case of "Uptown Funk" it really doesn't matter. Infectiously groovy, irreversibly cool and yet so deliberately simple, all of Ronson's vigour oozes into the track until it confirms him as perhaps one of the most capable pop song writers to be doing it. Bruno Mars' vocal delivery is slightly less remarkable, but he still fits over the perpetual sunshine funk pretty perfectly. Try not having fun to this song... I DARE YOU. 

1. Caribou- Can't Do Without You

"Can't do without can't do without can't do without can't do without, can't do without can't do without can't do without can't do without...". It was always slightly arduous to see Dan Snaith ever topping his incredible 2010 single "Sun", but he's apparently done it, and with the kind of silky, smooth, textured and euphoric ease with which he writes his most infectious songs. Whenever you're in a bad mood, or want to evoke memories of glorious summers you wish had never ended, then "Can't Do Without You" is here for you; encouraging, beautiful, and life affirming. Career affirming for Snaith, too.

The Riviera's Top 40 Tracks of 2014 Spotify Playlist

Thursday, 18 December 2014

The National @ O2 Arena, London, 26/11/2014

HEADS UP: Unfortunately I had to leave after the band played "Fake Empire" and so didn't get to catch the encore, hence why it isn't covered here. Sorry. 

In the couple of weeks leading up to Ohio band The National's super-sized show at the O2 Arena in London, everyone who I'd told about it met me with the same reaction; "sorry, who? Nah, never heard of them". It's odd enough that any band playing a headline show at the O2 should be met with such indifference, but the most perplexing thing about The National is why they aren't much bigger than their relatively confining indie status allows them to be. Barack Obama used their brass-fueled opus "Fake Empire" in his 2008 Presidential election campaign, and the amount of adverts on the back of magazines for "High Violet" when it was released in 2010 should have at least alerted the Q-reading community to the increase in their printed appearances. Maybe it's a conscious decision on behalf of the band to rock out on a low profile, and quite right too. All that being said, tonight proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that they're a band for whom a show like this has felt like a long time coming on these shores. 

Tonight, support band Wild Beasts (8) sound more robust and confident than ever before. Their whole stage presence gives off a vibe of natural ease, as if shows like this were more their habitat than the more modestly sized venues they usually indulge on tour. Vocally the tag team of Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming are on magnificent form; the difference between Thorpe's falsetto and Fleming's deep baritone is now smooth and seamless rather than slightly comical. Their songs sound positively cinematic; the shuddering synth finale of "Daughters" is more thunderous than ever. They close on old crowd favourite "All The King's Men", which sees Fleming completely consumed by the bubble of his momentarily bawdy character. It's performed with the kind of conviction that proves they deserve to be here. 

When The National (9) arrive on stage to a satisfyingly rapturous reception, they look as suave and stately as always, oozing a sense of reserved but confident cool. Frontman Mat Berninger is the absolute epitome of this; his stage presence is rather understated but you can feel it perennially all the same. During the glorious instrumental passages of the likes of "Bloodbuzz Ohio" and "Sea of Love" (which soar even higher than on record), he strides back and forth across the stage in an almost schizophrenic manner, clearly lost in the moment. 

And he very much deserves to be. From the moment they kick things off with "Don't Swallow The Cap", the ball is set rolling for an evening that is consistently as energetic as it is spiritual. The succession of a life-affirming rendition of "Demons" into a stark but wholesome performance of the moving "Hard To Find" is resounding, Aaron Dessner's twinkling lead-guitar line bringing the track to its close profoundly. An extended intro encourages a whole-hearted clap along from the entire crowd into "Squalor Victoria", which continues on to become one of the night's very finest moments, resulting in Berninger screaming the title in a feral and totally captivating way at the end. 

The band's dry on-stage humour is received in deservedly high spirits too, perhaps testament to how much of their dark sense of sarcasm is very much at home in Britain. "This one's dedicated to my brother, it's his birthday today", says Mat before just before the band launch into "Abel". "He's a metal-head and fucking hates all our slow songs, so we'll play a fast one for him", he continues. Then, referencing the touching documentary "Mistaken For Strangers", a film made by Tom Berninger about his brother's band and the strain it sometimes has on their relationship, he says, "Happy 35th Birthday, Tom. You can start moving out of my garage now". 

"Shit! Sorry, I forgot you were waiting for me", exclaims Mat with genuine surprise after about a minute of the pensive intro to "Sorrow" has passed. "You're way too happy to be singing this song right now", jokes guitarist Bryce Dessner. "Fuck, have I messed that up?" chuckles Mat. "Yeah, you gotta get into character", responds his friend. It's this kind of accidental and genuine persona of all the band members that adds so much charm to the night's proceedings. It's a resounding signifier of just how at home they feel here. 

"Graceless" is the absolute pinnacle of the night. Moving, loud and absolutely pertinent in its own presence, it's the absolute summation of the power of the band's music. Berninger launches himself into the crowd whilst desperately staying out of reach of security and subsequently getting swallowed up by his adoring fans during the final throes of the song, and it's the kind of sight that works on a number of levels to justify not only this booking, but the band's status as a people's rock band. They close on "Fake Empire", which seems maybe too conspicuous, but it makes perfect sense; it's a fan favourite and easily their biggest record to date. It's a natural candidate for the close of a show that has been undoubtedly career-affirming.  

The overall sense coming away from The National's show at the O2 tonight is that this is exactly where they're meant to be. The crowd was almost certainly made up of well-affirmed fans, so a widening of the sphere that The National will reach because of this isn't particularly likely. However, for those who were there and consumed in the moment, this was a definitive one; the realisation of a band who truly deserve to be much closer to household name status than they are.