Monday, 30 December 2013

Best of 2013 - Hookworks' Pearl Mystic

One of our Leeds correspondents, @stevenswift, on his home town favourites, Hookworms. 


Pearl Mystic  - Hookworms

My album of the year by some distance . Even in an exceptional 12 months that’s left  me daunted by the sheer quantity and quality of LPs to get through and process Pearl Mystic  has stood out as the collection that most bravely challenged and invented.

A disclaimer first. I’m from Leeds and Hookworms are a Leeds band. They are also the fulcrum of a thriving local music scene that has finally put this historically under achieving city on the music map. They have members in other ascending bands (Cowtown, Menace Beach) and have broken out of their back yard with live shows that have wagged tongues from Liverpool to New York to Brighton.

None of this could have happened without Pearl Mystic. Comprising six epic soundscapes and stitched together by three sonic interludes it’s an album that defies the dreaded shuffle. Listened to at random it loses the carefully crafted subtlety that bleeds between the tracks. There is a structure to the LP which squares the circle – an opaque journey that  touches on the themes of frustration, personal responsibility and  loss – big issues dressed in sprawling, hypnotic arrangements.

The album opener Away/Towards is typical – echo-drenched vocals, detonating drums, pulsing bass and a near nine-minute frag that ends in a Hawkwind daze. The spatial desolation of  In Our Time reminds me of second album Suicide  - whilst the album’s centrepiece – Since We Had Changed – refuses to emerge from its pulsing cocoon serving only to amplify the disorientation of Preservation’s incoming drums. 
The production is joyously drum-heavy against a transcendental wash of keyboard effects and guitars, the voice frequently emerging from the mix to take the songs to that next level.  Form And Function starts with a church organ, call and response vocals and ends -  like their live shows – in a dissonant cacophony and  fuzz.

This debut  is, it seems, set to be followed quite soon by a successor. The competing dynamics of Hookworms mean that this is unlikely to be a consolidation. Pearl Mystic is a precisely configured yet passionate statement from a band with frightening potential. No other LP has touched so many bases. Album of the year from a Leeds band? Well I never. 

Best of 2013 - Bill Callahan's Dream River

@Sweeny99 (who has a music blog here) writes about @lpgrp's Album of the Year, Bill Callahan's Dream River. 


One of the bottomless joys of Christmas time is the privilege of having time to just piss away, heedless of all other normal considerations. And, really, what better way to do this than with some warmed-up Christmas pudding and another leisurely listen to Bill Callahan’s Dream River.
To my surprise, Dream River has won the prestigious @lpgrp album of the year award to be ruminated and cogitated over on Jan 5th. And perhaps even more surprising, given my previously poor record in these matters, is that I actually voted it my favourite of the year.
I’m not going to try to do a serious review of what is at times a pretty formless and hard-to-pin-down record - it’s beyond my ken, to be honest, and would largely spoil the point of the actual evening, even if I could. There are a couple of pretty good reviews at the Pitchfork and Quietus sites, though, which will get you started. Instead I thought I’d mention a couple of pointers and suggest some ways in for folk who are just getting to know this lovely record.

When I am out walking my eyes are still forming the door I walk through

·         The word “unhurried” doesn’t really do justice to Callahan’s deep, laconic delivery or quite prepare you for his gentle, sometimes puzzling images or slowly unfolding songs. Many of the pictures and metaphors he uses develop in your mind, taking substance as they recede and the song moves on. His songs are for stopping and listening to with a slow drink and perhaps a free afternoon, rather than playing on the car stereo or while you’re doing some job or other. Callahan’s style doesn’t force itself upon you, he just doesn’t compete well with the other “stuff” of your life
First thing that I will do, I will wake you too

·         I really like Bill Callahan’s careful, deliberate delivery. He’s hardly a brash, over confident character – he’s bound to be a quiet chap, surely - but he sings with measured confidence. There’s no self-conscious masking of his voice behind multiple layers of sound – for all the sense that life baffles and confuses at time, he’s clear about having something to say and wanting to be heard.
I really am a lucky man

·         I think I read that Callahan is 47 years old now, and there’s something very refreshing about hearing a man of “advancing years” reaching something approaching contentment. This is particularly true when you apply it to such a famously sombre individual as Callahan has been. To be fair, there’s still time spent “looking out of a window that isn’t there”, but there’s a little more light mixed in with the shade these days…

The only words I’ve said today are “beer” and “thank you”

·         Actually, as with many of his best records, there’s also a fair amount of gentle humour in this record: a couple of lines of “beer… … … thank you” here, a Donald Sutherland reference there - enough to make you smile to yourself as you saunter through each song. As with many things, though, the pleasure is all in Callahan’s trademark wry delivery, one which regular fans will recognise. Other familiar features of the old Smog persona also appear: the occasional nod towards an unimagined sensuality; the haunted characters whose life stories take odd twists; the restlessness and bewildering variety of travel metaphors that go hand in hand with it. All of them are reasons in themselves to know and love Bill Callahan, but bundled together in one mature, gorgeous record they make a worthy, worthy winner of this month’s vote.

Dream River is Bill Callahan’s fourth solo record in his own name, but there are a mouth-watering 13 other albums released under the name of Smog, for you to work through, which are effectively Bill Callahan records too. My own favourites are Supper and Knock, Knock, but you can’t really go wrong wherever you start. Dig in (slowly)! 

Best of 2013 - John Grant's Pale Green Ghosts

Thanks, @reev0 for penning this piece about John Grant's follow-up to Queen of Denmark.


John Grant followed up his much-admired debut album with a left turn in terms of production - half of Pale Green Ghosts boasts a heavy electronic sheen. What hasn't changed is the heart he wears on his sleeve and his use of surprising, left-field lyrical turns that undercut any risk of a depressing listen and elevate this to something very special. Surprisingly, both Grant's albums understate the powerful voice that he uses to full effect in his wonderful live shows (his show in Cambridge was my favourite gig of 2013), but it's still a potent weapon. And even a heart of ice would be moved by Glacier, the album closer that tells how he has overcome pain and criticism. This isn't quite my favourite album of the year, only because a couple of the most heavily electronic tracks still haven't won me over; but Grant is far and away my favourite artist.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Best of 2013 - John Hopkins' Immunity

Many thanks to, er, @tunastubbs for his (as-ever) entertaining and educational musings on Immunity by Jon Hopkins. Cracking work, young B. 


Immunity - Jon Hopkins

A few days ago I was down in London and got speaking to some folk about my album of 2013 - Immunity by Jon Hopkins. There was a Nathan Barley type character who as well as working in the studio to inspiring Andy Weatherall to create Screamadelica was incredulous that Immunity could be so good as Hopkins couldn't play a kazoo or hum the theme to Match of the Day without enticing every stray dog in the Greater London area. "No musical background whatsoever," Barleyesque stated.  As I was pretty sure this wasn't the case I checked his Wikipedia entry:

At the age of 12 Hopkins began studying piano at the Junior Department of the Royal College of Music in London, where he continued until age 17. The composers that were greatly influential to him whilst studying were Ravel and Stravinsky, and he eventually won a competition to perform a concert of Ravel's Piano Concerto in G with an orchestra.  For a time Hopkins considered becoming a professional pianist, only to decide classical performance was too formal and unnerving to pursue full time.

None whatsoever then.

Hopefully without sounding too much like Homer Simpson ("Everyone knows rock music attained perfection in 1974. It's a scientific fact"), Immunity would have slotted in seamlessly alongside some of the most innovative albums of the mid 1990s - Leftism, Orbital 2, This Film's Crap, Let's Slash the Seats, Protection, Endroducing....., Exit Planet Dust. Albums I still largely listen to on a weekly basis. 

Immunity documents a typical night I, and thousands like me, would have had at this time. The opener, and possibly the highlight of the album, We Disappear encapsulates the excitement of finishing work, meeting up in the pre-club bar and coming up on whatever you've taken. You can't stop talking. Let's go. Open Eye Signal is a 4:4 stomper with delicate flourishes which drives this feeling on. That grin is spreading across. You're going to dance all night. And then all day. Another half? Why not? 

The album continues in this vein. Tunes that would destroy a dance floor yet offer enough subtlety, nuance and delicateness for this now 40 year old parent to play over and over again whilst sitting in front of the fire having spent the day fixing things in the garden.  The inevitable change of tone arrives with Abandon Window - a 5 minute piano piece that brings last year’s Diamond Mine collaboration immediately to mind.

You're aware it's wearing off, the night isn't going to last forever and it's time to start thinking of home. Little pinpricks of awareness and light. Your throat is so clagged, you can't smoke anymore. But light another one anyway. The pace is slowing, your legs get more weary and your head gets more fuzzy. Form by Firelight and Sun Harmonics are the tracks that lead you home. Then the sun is up and you realise it's another tomorrow you're not going to see. That you're still single. That you smoked a lot of cigarettes. That you will have to work soon. That you are always tired these days. And you want to go to sleep but know that that is at least 7 hours away.

I never wanted to play guitar until a 14 year old me heard Slash. I never wanted to play with turntables until a 20 year old me heard DJ Shadow. And I never wanted to sing until 30-something me heard King Creosote. And it is he, who closes the album, adding vocals to the come down track, a beautiful piece (gently reminiscent of Insane Lullaby by Danger Mouse, Sparkle Horse and James Mercer) that soothes your ragged throat, gives you a hug and makes you think everything will work out.

Everybody knows dance music attained perfection in the 1990s. It's a scientific fact. Sometimes though, science doesn't always get it right.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Best of 2013 - My Bloody Valentine's m b v .

Hopefully, there'll be a flurry of pieces from @lpgrp regulars appearing on this blog, celebrating a raft of great 2013 releases. First up, @brianwrose on My Bloody Valentine's m b v (4th in the @lpgrp year-end poll).


22 Years. Then out of the blue came the news.
February 2013 and its finally here. My Bloody Valentine announces a new album.

mbv, the band’s first since 1991’s Loveless. An album that many consider the band’s finest hour, so good it spawned a generation of future indie rock luminaries.  The music press are teasing us with news that it’s just as good; in fact it’s better.

Please be right, please don’t disappoint, don’t tease me then deliver a
self-indulgent piece of garbage. Though hold on. I actually prefer their other remarkable work, Isn’t Anything.
I don’t want another Loveless.
I want Kevin Shields and co to defy me, challenge me. I want them to re-take the past and embrace the present.
I want, I want, I want, I want.

And on first listen they cook up all the best ingredients of their catalogue into a stew of such richness and diversity. I’m grinning from ear to ear barely a minute in.

From the opening track of she found now to the closing train journey pattern of wonder 2 the emotions are tested.  My head feels like a punch-bag after the battering it takes from nothing is. Then there is the unadulterated joy of only tomorrow, which begs the question; why isn’t my postman whistling this? 

However, above all the experimentation and manipulation of sound, one constant remains; the dialogue between Shields and Bilinda Butcher. The soft lilting vocals that are half buried underneath the organised chaos are so dreamlike that you wonder if you really did hear them or were you too taken in with beauty of it all. This comes to the fore in the track, if I am.

All the aspects I’ve come to love from the band are all here on this album; all familiar friends that transported me away from a shared bedroom in a tenement family flat in Edinburgh that may or may not have given the urge to travel, explore, discover.
I hear noise-pop, landscapes of imagination through wah-wah pedals; dreamy Cocteau Twins inspired vocals and layers of sound that transform with each listen.


Well worth the wait? Completely.

Better than the rest? Damn close but it just misses the vital ingredient that made Isn’t Anything their masterwork, a hook. If mbv had a Soft as Snow (But Warm Inside) then probably we’d have a winner. Then again 22 years hiatus and to comeback with this just goes to show you how gifted a band they truly are.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

@lpgrp 2013 Album of the Year Poll Results

Many thanks to all who voted in the annual @lpgrp poll (frankly the only one the music industry takes any interest in) to find the Twitter-based listening group's Album of the Year.

This year's winner is Bill Callahan's Dream River. We will, collectively, be listening to the album of the year at 9pm, Sunday 5 January 2014.

The Exel document (produced by Paul Higham) with everyone's votes logged can be found here. Useful for 'I wonder what so-and-so voted for?' queries. For ease of viewing, it might be advisable to download this file.

Previous winners of this coveted accolade are Let England Shake by PJ Harvey (2011) and Godspeed You Black Emperor!'s 'Allelujah! Don't Bend Ascend!' (2012). 

The Top 25 (with Paul Higham's words for extra texture):

1. Our winner, by a nose, is the just wonderful Dream River by Knaresborough's favourite son (sort of), Bill Callahan. Splendid.

2. Runner up (but only just) is Pale Green Ghosts by John Grant. A lot of love by many of you for this most personal of records.

3. In 3rd place is another eagerly awaited release: Tomorrow's Harvest by Boards of Canada. Well done chaps

4. 4th is 2013's 'Where were you?' moment. I was watching MOTD when Kev finally released m b v. Yes, it's My Bloody Valentine

5. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds prove Mick Harvey's departure to be no hindrance as Push The Sky Away places at number 5.

6. Proving he has a gift for music after all, the splendid Crimson/Red by Prefab Sprout is your 6th best record of the year.

7. Buoyed by his collaborations with King Creosote, Jon Hopkins scoops 7th place with Immunity. This is a really great record.

8. 8th place has found them: The National and Trouble Will Find Me come in at number 8. In my view, their best since Alligator

9. 9th place: a resurgent Steve Mason with Monkey Minds In The Devil's Time. An important record for these austere times.

Leeds Psych-Heads (no, not ), Hookworms are 10th with their full-length debut Pearl Mystic. A great record.

We were certainly Informed, Educated and Entertained by this release: in 11th place it's Public Service Broadcasting

12. 12
th place is the magical Mug Museum by Cate Le Bon, a record of almost limitless charm. It's lovely.

13. White Denim are 13th with Corsicana Lemonade. Apparently intended as a barbecue record, brrr!

14. Who cares if they sound like Pavement or The Fall, 14th place is Light Up Gold by Parquet Courts. Cracking live band too.

15. 15th place is Ira, Georgia and James. The mighty Yo La Tengo take the plaudits with Fade.

16. 16th place is Brighton's favourite beat-combo with possibly their best record yet: British Sea Power and Machineries of Joy.

17. Walking on a Pretty Daze by the wonderful Kurt Vile is 17th.

18. Despite (sadly for those yet to see them live) going on indefinite hiatus Thee Oh Sees are 18th with Floating Coffin.

19. In 19th position a record that was 3 people's album of the year: Loud City Songs by Julia Holter.

20. In 20th place is one of the comeback albums of the year: David Bowie and The Next Day.

21. Oneohtrix Point Never's R Plus Seven just falls outside the 20.

The beautiful OST to Les Revenants by Mogwai comes in at number 22.

In 23nd place is Matthew E White's Big Inner.

I love the record in 24rd place: Field of Reeds by These New Puritans.

In 25th place is Midlake with Antiphon.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

That Was The Year That Was

Hello, it's here, I'll be organising the Best of 2013 poll. We'll be doing this one slightly differently. Details to follow.

I will take your top 10 long players released this year. You'll need to rank in order of preference. No.1 gets 10pts and No.10 gets 1pt.

As I'm asking for 10 records from each of you it will be easier to submit your votes by email. The address is

You have until Sunday 22 December to submit your votes. I'll hope to compile the list between Christmas and New Year. We listen on Sunday 5 Jan 2014.