Friday, 14 July 2017

40 Favourite Albums of 2017 so far... (21-40)

This is part 2 of my favourite albums of the year so far. Go and read part one first if you haven't. Although saying that, they're only in alphabetical order.

Albums that closely missed out include Hot Thoughts by Spoon as well as Snow by The New Year. I've let their people know they were so close to blog immortality, and I'm told they're devastated. Frank Ocean's 2017 singles as well as LCD Soundsystem's new EP would have made the list, but you've got to have rules to follow, and they're definitely not albums. Tough shit.

Justin Walter - Unseen Forces
Favourite Tracks: Unseen Forces, Sixty, Soft Illness, Red Cabin

I've only just noticed this, but that's a great bit of cover art. A late entry, but some of the most enjoyable minimalism I've heard in a long time. 

Kendrick Lamar - DAMN.

Kung-Fu Kenny, King of Hip-Hop. Obviously it's here, you can stop worrying - easily within my top 40 in fact. Naturally, he drops 'b***h' and the n-word left, right and centre, so be careful how you sing along ('HUMBLE' a particular challenge). I think it might be more consistent than To Pimp a Butterfly, and I've played it just as much. It hasn't hit the zeitgeist in quite the same manner, but that surely is the fault of Bono, rather than K-dot. Either way, his name now brings a seal of consistent quality. I thought there would be two albums, I was disappointed.

Laurel Halo - Dust
Favourite Tracks: Sun to Solar, Koinos, Moontalk

Quite different to her previous albums, this is experimental-pop rather than electronic dance music. The production on the album, and synths in particular, are mesmeric and dreamy. One of my favourites of the year so far.

Les Amazones d'Afriques - Republique Amazone
Favourite Tracks: Dombolo, Doona, Anisokoma

When you google their name the first sentence returned is 'Les Amazones d'Afrique are an all-female collective of west African musicians campaigning for gender equality'. Hopefully that sells it. 'Dombolo' is second to 'Chanel' by Frank Ocean for my favourite song of 2017. 

Mac Demarco - My Old Man
Favourite Tracks: Still Beating, This Old Dog, On the Level, Moonlight on the River

Return of the Mac. It's probably not one of the best albums of the year, but I love Mac Demarco. His lyrics are still sweet, with more introspective here than his previous efforts. However, sometimes he knows the perfect mixture of jangly, noodling guitar and synths, and sometimes he doesn't get the instrumentation right. I just want to be his mate mostly.

Man Forever - Play What They Want
Favourite Tracks: You Were Never Here, Twin Torches, Catenary Smile

Driving, pulsating, modern drum-jazz, with appearances from Yo La Tengo and Laurie Anderson to boot? Yes please. (Note for Jazz-ophobes: It's not too jazzy, I promise).

Marco Shuttle - Systhema
Favourite Tracks: Adrift, I Fail. You Fail., Eris

There's huge variety on this album, so it's quite hard to pigeonhole. At times it focuses on melody, other times it's happy to lose melody completely and focus on noisey rhythms and abstract soundboards. But pigeonhole we must. Ambient Techno. Next!

Moiré - No Future
Favourite Tracks: Secret Window, Casual, Bootleg

Piss-poor cover, almost as bad as Babyfather's BBF (I seriously don't get this Union Jack thing at all). However, this is full of bass-driven UK dance/techno tunes. Good stuff.

PAN [label] - Mono No Aware
Favourite Tracks: Fr3sh, Held, Second Mistake, Exasthrus (Pane)

This is actually a compilation album, but all of the artists are on the label PAN - who have also put out records by Keith Fullerton Whitman, Oren Ambarchi, Rashad Becker, Objekt and Aaron Dilloway. The title of the album is actually Japanese, and it means 'an empathy towards things' apparently. I thought it was meaningless English. Anyway, it's a great collection of Ambient pieces. 

Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked at Me
Favourite Tracks: Real Death, Ravens, Forest Fire, Swims, My Chasm, Toothbrush, Crow

Christ. Phil Elverum (of the The Microphones fame) has recorded some good albums as Mount Eerie. This is very different though. It's a very real, detailed, heartfelt and immediate meditation upon the sudden illness and subsequent death of his wife, and the mother of their young child, Geneviève Castrée. Most of the tracks were recorded in the room in which she died, one of which was only 11 days after.  Even though this is one of my favourite albums of the year, I've only managed to listen to it through about 5 times. Have some tissues at the ready, because it will probably make you cry. 

Nicholas Britell - Moonlight OST
Favourite Tracks: The Middle of the World, The Spot, Knock Down Stay Down, Black's Theme

It's the best film I've seen this year, and the best film soundtrack I've heard too (Mica Levi's Jackie soundtrack deserves mentioning, but I think it was released last year). The chopping and screwing of classical pieces, as well as the inclusion of Hip-Hop and R&B classics make for an emotional listen. It's hard to listen without divorcing it from the film, but I think the soundtrack stands up by itself. 

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs - Feed the Rats
Favourite Tracks: Psychopomp, Icon

Is this metal? I hope not. Let's call it rock. Either way, it's groovin', space-y, desert-y and psych-y. I've heard they're great live too. It's like a heavier Kyuss without Josh Homme and his cronies, which can only be a good thing. Also, is their stupid name a riff on the Buffalo sentence thing? Surely not. Surely.

Richard Dawson - Peasant
Favourite Tracks: Beggar, Ogre

At first his voice really grated on me and it's a concept album about the jobs people had in Dark-Ages Northumbria. It does not sound like my type on paper. But, the Quietus eventually ground me down, and I finally gave in. The melodies at times are modal, and typical traditional English folk - think Shirley Collins - but there is experimentalism here too. You might not like it at first, but listen 10 times until you do. That's a good use of time, right?

Rodrigo Amado - The Attic
Favourite Track: Shadow

I could pretend to know about the Lisbon Jazz scene, but I don't. Apparently the quartet are all big names. All I know is it's great improv-jazz and Amado is a sick saxophonist. Warning: this is quite jazzy, and possibly not for everyone.

Saagara - 2
Favourite Tracks: Uprise, Daydream

Wacław Zimpel, alongside an Indian orchestra. Takes from lots of genre's, and Zimpel always seems to hit the mark for me.

Shit and Shine - Total Shit!
Favourite Tracks: Chklt Shk, Excess Laziness Egotism, Dodge Pot

Turn it up loud and treat yourself to a little dance. I have no idea how you're supposed to say 'Chklt Shk', but it's a great track. It's noisy, rock-influenced electronica, that's all about fun. It doesn't take itself seriously at all.

The Moonlandingz - Interplanetary Class Classics
Favourite Tracks: Black Hanz, I.D.S, The Rabies are Back, Neuf de Paps, Glory Hole

Half of Fat White Family team up with some guys from the Eccentric Research Council to present The Moonlandingz. I like the former and had never heard of the latter, but I prefer this to both of them. Yoko Ono is on the album, as is Philip Oakley from the Human League. I feel like the cover conveys exactly how it sounds. I hope they tour more, I think it would be great.

The Necks - Unfold
Favourite Tracks: Rise, Overhear

It is quite long, but it can go by quickly. Even thought it's percussive multi-instrumental jazz, it creates a lovely soundscape to dip in and out of. In fact, you could listen to it on loop several times without realising it. Dare I say it seems to be circular in structure - perhaps even folded? Reign it in, Loughlan. Reign it in.

Vince Staples - Big Fish Theory
Favourite Tracks: Crabs In a Bucket, Big Fish, 745, Yeah Right, Homage, Party People

Looking over my choices, there's much less Hip-Hop on this list than I expected there to be. This, alongside Kendrick, is the only 'rap' from this year which makes my cut - Loyle Carner, Wiley and BROCKHAMPTON just lost out, whilst RTJ and the new Tribe album was last year. Vince Staples is funny on and off the mic, but this is goofy and easy-going in a way his last project wasn't  - true of the lyrics, and true of the excellent production too. It's more mass-market in focus than Summertime '06, and without the chaff of the '06' half.

Visible Cloaks - Reassamblage
Favourite Tracks: Bloodstream, Terrazzo, Moon

Japanese inspired ambient music. Lots of bleeps, bloops, hums and hisses, packed around wonderful, meandering, clicks and melodies. I'm running out of adjectives. 40 is a lot.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

40 Favourite Albums of 2017 so far... (1-20)

I felt bad for posting such a boring second piece, so I thought I'd write something more fun, and much more self-indulgent for the next. Now an egomaniac after writing one blog piece, rather arrogantly I thought I'd list my top 40 favourite albums of the year so far. I'm sure you're desperate to tell me which Uruguayan psych-jazz and Icelandic ambient scat-house albums I've missed. That's why the list very much falls into the category of 'reckons'.

That being said, making the list - which mostly just involved scrolling through Spotify - made me rediscover music I'd forgotten about. If you get a chance, it was more fun than I thought it would be.

Here is the first 20, in alphabetical order. The second 20 will follow later. What a tease.

Actress - AZD

Favourite track: Blue Window, X22RME, Dancing in the Smoke

Raised in Wolverhampton, Actress has tapped into something special. Subdued dance music, that's great to work to.

(Sandy) Alex G - Rocket
Favourite Track: Bobby, Proud, Brick, Powerful Man

Full of great songwriting, this is Alex G blending genres, left and right. It truly pains me that he is so prolific at so young. I just love Alex G, and this is one of his better albums.

Arca - Arca

Favourite Track: Piel, Desafío, Anoche

Quite different to his previous two albums, Mutant and Xen, Arca deciding to sing on the album really changes its focus. I have no idea what he's saying, but I'm sure it's light, happy-go-lucky and playful (It's definitely not - listen with caution).

William Basinski - A Shadow In Time

Favourite Track: For David Robert Jones

There are only two pieces on the album, but 'For David Robert Jones' (Bowie to the rest of us) is my favourite Basinski piece I've heard since Melancholia.

Bing and Ruth - No Home of the Mind
Favourite Tracks: The How of it Sped, Starwood Choker

Minimalist ambient music all acoustically recorded, and released by 4AD. This is really really lovely.

Blanck Mass - World Eater
Favourite Tracks: Rhesus Negative, Please, The Rat

Dumb Flesh was good, but I think this might be better. It's ever so slightly more accessible, but still all consuming. Listen with headphones.

The Caretaker - Everywhere at the End of Time (Stage 2)

Part 2 of James Leyland Kirby's project as The Caretaker, in which he documents the experience of dementia taking hold through the medium of turntable music. Part 1 is great listening, but the distortion of memory is beginning to really take ahold in Stage 2. Listening to this piece becomes quite disconcerting by the end, at least it makes me feel uncomfortable. I haven't listed a favourite track as I really think you should listen to the whole thing (Stage 1 included).

Colin Stetson - All This I Do For Glory

Favourite Tracks: Spindrift, In the clinches, All this I do for glory

Not Stetson's best, but not every album is Catch-22 (or New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges in this case). If you've never heard him play I suggest listening to an album first, and then watching him play on youtube. It still impresses me that all parts of the pieces can be played simultaneously.

Blue Iverson - Hotep
Favourite Tracks: Soulseek, Brown Grrrl

A free release by Dean Blunt, this isn't much more than noodling at times. It's short and sweet, and I've listened to it quite a lot - so something must be good about it, right? I'm bending my own rules here as it's more of a mixtape, but this should still be available to download for free online. He released this alongside another project he recorded in 2014 with Joanne Robertson, called Wahalla, check them both out.

D. Glare - 4 Oscillators & 130 Samples at 130bpm
Favourite Tracks: 1, 2, 4

Of course sampling has always been closely linked to live-performance, but I think to record your first attempt must be some kind of nod towards E2-E4 by Manuel Göttsching. The end result is nothing like that, but there are real moments of brilliance here. There's also a fair amount of filler, but squeezing variation out of such tight restrictions must be difficult. I suppose the clue is that oscillation is central to the piece.

Demdike Stare - Wonderland
Favourite Tracks: Curzon, Hardnoise, Fulledge (Empty-40 Mix)

This really taps into the breakbeat-techno groove I've been in recently. Combines American Footwork influences with British Jungle. Good beard too.

Forest Swords - Compassion

Favourite Tracks: The Highest Flood, Raw Language, War It

I don't really know what genre this album would fall into to be honest. I've seen it described as 'wordless protest music', and that seems apt. How very 2017.

GAS - Narkopop

Favourite Tracks: Narkopop 2, Narkopop 7

The king of Ambient Techno is back. and now it's on Spotify so you can listen all the time. It's not Königsforst, but what is?


Favourite Track: Bodies for Money, Real Man

It really promises a lot with a title like that, doesn't it? It's full-on, so listen when you want to let off steam.

GP Hall - Industrial Blue

Favourite Track: Fahrenheit 451, Charmouth Beach

I can't remember how I found this, but you'll have to go here for this one. As soon as I heard the first track I knew I'd like it. Industrial soundscapes, with all the sound created on guitars. Not recorded this year, but only just issued.

Happy Meals - Fruit Juice

Favourite Tracks: Lá Lábas, Fruit Float, Suivez Moi

Fun, bleepy-bloopy poppy dance. Which is exactly what the fantastic cover-art promises I suppose.

Ibibio Sound Machine - Uyai

Favourite Track: Give Me a Reason

I dare you not to have a dance. British born, West African influenced. Lots of fun. Pretty much here on the strength of the first two songs alone.

Jane Weaver - Modern Kosmology

Favourite Tracks: H>A>K, Slow Motion

I'm going to call this 'Cosmic Pop'. Very easy to listen to, with some lovely lyrics I'm told (I don't know, I rarely take them in). I'm just a sucker for synth pop really. 'H>A>K' really is excellent though.

Jay Som - Everybody Works
Favourite Tracks: The Bus Song, Baybee, Everybody Works, 1 Billion Dogs

This is indie-rock at it's best. It's catchy, and it has strength in depth. Apart from the first track, which I'm not a big fan of, every track is at least quite good. It's very NME, and I don't even care.

Jlin - Black Origami

Favourite Tracks: Kyanite, Holy Child, Nyakinyua Rise, Hatshepsut, Never Created Never Destroyed

One of the best of the year so far, I've probably listened to this at least 20 times. Jlin has cemented herself as the rallying point for her genre. Even though it has Holly Hearndon and William Basinski on, I don't think it's better than Dark Energy - but just go and listen to them both as soon as you can.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Long Read, Short Research

Reading The Guardian back to front, as one often finds oneself travelling, I came across yesterday's long read. When I saw that it concerned Economics I immediately became sceptical - as I began reading, my fears were confirmed. One paragraph in particular was so dense with contradictions and misunderstandings - all too common - that I thought I’d write just about that.

At the risk of sounding polemic, the paragraph that talks about the Efficient Market Hypothesis (EMH) is, frankly, rubbish. The writer defines the EMH as the following:  ‘since a free market collates all available information to traders, the prices it yields can never be wrong’. I have no idea what the writer interprets a ‘correct’ price to be - within the field of Economics or otherwise - but either way the definition simply isn’t correct. The EMH certainly does not make a value judgement about what the price of an asset ‘should’ or ‘should not’ be. A fairer definition would be this:  ‘Given a financial market has many rational[1] agents, and given they all have access to the complete set of past information about relevant variables, then those who engage in arbitrage in the market should lose money as much as they earn money’. Even more simply put, on average, if the market is 'competitive' with 'full information', it will be impossible to earn profit simply through arbitrage in financial markets. Hopefully this reformulation makes clearer why the EMH result was an important milestone within the field of Economics - Fama was able to formalise, i.e. show analytically, that given a set of crucial assumptions, a result which is fairly intuitive (at least to me) follows.

However, the article then continues to detail Robert Shiller’s contribution to the literature on the issue, and seems to claim that the two economist’s conflicting papers is typical of the field's lack of ‘scientific’ grounding. It's true that Shiller found there to be strong evidence to suggest that the EMH doesn’t always hold in the real world. Famous examples would be Warren Buffet and George Soros, who have managed to earn profits from trade in assets for decades at a time. Shiller’s results bring in to question whether those agents who make up the market, do in fact have access to the complete set of past information, or indeed behave 'rationally'. His results actually demonstrate that, at least some of the time, the assumptions that the EMH rest on do not always hold in the real world.

Now, I’m not particularly well versed in the philosophy of science, but correct me if I’m wrong if the following is not the scientific method at work. First, a hypothesis is generated. Secondly, the hypothesis is tested against empirical data. Finally, the hypothesis about the real state of the world is revised in light of the data. The EMH is exactly that - a hypothesis. Fara and Shiller in conjunction carried out exactly this process, and were jointly awarded a prize for it. It seems obvious to me that Fara did not suggest that no one can ever make any money from financial arbitrage - he is not an idiot. In fact all he did was show analytically that such a market is a zero-sum game. To suggest that economists merely ‘believe what [they] want to believe’ is unfair, and certainly doesn’t follow from the above.

It seems that this misunderstanding has arisen from merely a cursory consideration of the importance of analytical results, grounded on assumptions. It's hard not to smile at the irony here, considering that the piece highlights the importance of economists' assumptions earlier on. Without much consideration, the writer criticises economists for not testing assumptions empirically, and then continues to detail exactly where Shiller won a Nobel Prize for doing just exactly that. Moreover, their misunderstanding about the EMH, it seems to me at least, has come about because they have ignored the assumptions the EMH rests upon. In the definition I gave earlier, the two clauses that follow the word ‘given’ are the EMH's assumptions (this trick is one to watch out for - it’s a common hint that an assumption follows). 

If I remember anything from my first tutorial in Economics, it was to always list, and then criticise, the assumptions of the model in question. Academic economists are obsessed with, to the point of being wearisome, being careful with assumptions (possibly due to the directly conflicting results of analytical models, if assumptions aren’t considered). It seems that rather than follow such an approach, the writer has committed the unforgivable sin of ignoring the assumptions Fama listed. 

For full disclosure, I stopped reading the article after this paragraph. But even then, this wasn't the only paragraph in the article where I took issue with something said. But this one did seem to be particularly funny, full of contradiction and peppered with superficial research. Another problem is the way the writer deals with 2008. In one sentence, they are happy to admit there are differing schools of thought about what the response of governments should have been, but then in a later sentence condemns the entire field as having failed - despite any internal contradictions, I think the issue is slightly more nuanced than that. I'm sure The Guardian means well when it publishes it's quarterly 'bash the economists' piece, and there are certainly issues within Economics that need to be addressed - but poorly researched articles do not a field reform. Criticising Economics should really be some of the lowest hanging fruit for a broadsheet in 2017, so it's surprising it can't be done in a more convincing manner. 

[1] Within Economics, a rational agent is usually considered to be one that consistently acts in accordance with their own preferences. Agents that make up financial markets can be fairly assumed to be maximising profit - so in this context, a rational agent is one that maximises profit.

40 Favourite Albums of 2017 so far... (21-40)

This is part 2 of my favourite albums of the year so far. Go and read part one first if you haven't. Although saying that, they're ...