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December 2018

Here Today’s Top 10 Albums of 2018

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Oneohtrix Point Never — Age Of

Image result for oneohtrix point never age of

From the techno-pastoralism of its opening titular track, Age Of presents itself as altogether different direction in the career of OPN’s Daniel Lopatin. Amid his characteristic hauntological sketches there are some of his most direct approaches towards straight-forward songwriting. The result, in the RnB of “The Station” and the sparse ballad of “Black Snow”, sounds like pop music from a much stranger and darker dimension. 

Trembling Bells — Dungeness

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Since 2018 also marks the departure of the Lavinia Blackwall’s towering soprano from Scottish folk weirdos Trembling Bells, it is worth also remembering this, the last record from that lineup, and one of their absolute best. From the folk-rock of “Christ’s Entry into Govan” to the Anatolian funk of “Devil in Dungeness”, they pull no punches and the result is glorious.

Connan Mockasin — Jassbusters

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Ostensibly a concept album about the relationship between a music teacher and his pupil, Connan Mockasin’s third album, Jassbusters, takes the surrealistic sexuality of his previous works in a more pared-back, intimate direction. However louche and languid tracks like “Charlotte’s Thong” and “Con Conn Was Impatient” might be, they are kept alive by the taught wire of longing that is his slide guitar playing.

Janelle Monáe — Dirty Computer

The personal is very political on Janelle Monáe’s sharp look at modern life and modern love. Monáe owns every aspect of her race, womanhood, sexuality, and humanity, drawing clear lines about who is welcome and who needs to wise up. She’s taken the time to empower those who need lifting up and educate the rest on one hell of a groovy record. And given the way the world is turning, it’s likely we’ll be grooving to it for years to come.

Gazelle Twin — Pastoral

In her new album, Elizabeth Bernholz, aka Gazelle Twin, takes a satirical shot a England that is both terrifying and bizarre. But also highly original. The cover makes you think of romantic landscape paintings and classical recordings rotting away at flea markets. But there’s a twist to it, because Gazelle Twin is the jester who mixes it all up: Looped flutes, backward politics, Brexit, scary technologies and neo-nationalism. Pastoral is like her previous album Unflesh, a conceptual with a snearing bite. 

Courtney Barnett — Tell Me How You Really Feel

Somewhere along the line Courtney Barnett got labeled as slacker rock and people have refused to back down from it, regardless of how ill-fitting it is. Her second full length album, Tell Me How You Really Feel, however, is not only more thoughtful in its guitar rock arrangements and vocal dynamics than she’s given credit for, but is by turns lyrically sensitive, angry, and socially aware. So show some respect, because Barnett gave us an album to rally around emotionally as well as rock out. And that’s no slouch.

Marianne Faithfull — Negative Capability

Marianne Faithfull has at age 71 made an album that rightfully belongs on the same shelf as Leonard Cohen’s I Want It Darker, Johnny Cash’s American Recordings series, and David Bowie’s Blackstar. It’s a haunting yet beautiful album that touches upon themes of death, love, and loneliness. She calls it the most honest record she ever made. We agree.

Idles — Joy as an Act of Resistance

These are tough times and 2018 needed an album entitled Joy as an Act of Resistance. Idles made it. The album was made on the bleak back-drop of creeping fascism, Brexit, a stillborn child, and alcohol abuse, but it is, as the title implies, an act of resistance. The album is the follow up to Idles’ promising debut Brutalism and it delivers raw, undiluted punk spirit from start to end.

Superorganism — Superorganism

We all need a little weird pop in our lives, and the self-titled debut from Superorganism is precisely the kind of weird we want in the world. The art school pop group led by a Japanese American teenager with a perfect deadpan delivery strikes the right balance of neon and sparkly, insightful without trying to hard, and perfectly absurd. They seem like the band kind of band that has the potential to create great art within a decade, but if this is all they ever leave us with, our lives are richer for it.

Low — Double Negative

Double Negative shakes you to the core with its haunting vocals and eerie layers of fuzz. It’s extraordinary that a band can make the album of their career 25 years in, but Low’s Double Negative is the kind of record that could only be born of years of close collaboration and the creeping influence of a drone side project. This is a record that has revived Low in our consciousness beyond their legacy and into the intensity of the present.

BONUS: Jenny Hval — The Long Sleep EP

As it’s an EP and not a full album, The Long Sleep hasn’t earned an official spot on our list. But Jenny Hval wrote the best hook of her career and ticked it in a sprawling, romantic musing on death, then tuck that away into 20 minutes of slowly morphing variations on a theme. It’s a weird call from a different corner of the universe, one we simply couldn’t ignore.

LIVE REVIEW: A Perfect Circle + Chelsea Wolfe, Forum, 12.12.2018

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Photos by Morten Aagard Krogh

Fourteen years after their last album, supergroup A Perfect Circle are back, and judging by the crowd at Forum tonight, they have been eagerly awaited. Their very late album, Eat the Elephant, reached number 1 in the US rock charts and earned what in internet circles is referred to as “generally favourable reviews”. Whatever that actually means, its enough to pack Forum on a Wednesday night.

After having largely seen her in small venues, it’s a revelation to see opener Chelsea Wolfe in a large setting, where her doom-laden songs and soaring voice have a chance to breathe. Given her current trajectory, we should see her as the main act at Forum-sized venue here within a year. 

A major theme of the night is just how much the sound has improved at the venue since the last time we visited, admittedly a couple of years ago now. APC sound incredibly crisp, testament to some truly impressive production values. The drums are all perfectly distinct, the snare in particular having a very pleasing thwack sound. 

The main portion of the sound space is devoted to Maynard James Kennan (him from Tool, as I am being constantly reminded) and his distinctive vocals. At times to night he seems to be channeling Dave Gahan at the cusp of Depeche Mode’s turn into stadium pop, but of course Kennan is hardly one for the limelight. He spends most of his time with his back to the audience, little more than a silhouette against a constantly evolving backdrop.

 The audience don’t to mind that, and of course the Tool-heads–who seem to comprise half the audience–would know to expect this anyway. Though the bulk of the set is taken from Eat the Elephant, there are plenty of singalongs and their distinctive cover songs. AC/DC’s “Dog Eat Dog” is surprisingly light-hearted for a typically angsty Keenan, but I must admit that I found their version of Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” truly unforgivable. But as with much else, I appear to be a minority on this topic.

LIVE REVIEW: Peter Murphy – 40 years of Bauhaus, Store Vega, 11.12.2018

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Bauhaus

As the title of this show tells, this Tuesday night at Store Vega is all about nostalgia.
A look around while listening to the opening act Desert Mountain Tribe, shows an audience that has at least one thing in common:
They prefer to wear darker colors.
The supporting duo’s set of energetic, monotone and dark psych-rock culminating in an exhaustive and repetitive performance by the drummer is well received by the mature crowd. And after only a short moment, the main acts are entering the stage.
Peter Murphy, peacocking in a full beard, full make up and a dark, shiny jacket has teamed up with bass player David J, as one half of the original Bauhaus. As stand ins for the absent members is The Mission guitarist, Mark Gemini Thwaite and drummer Marc Slutsky.
As the show opens with the disturbing guitar riff of “Double Dare”, the opening song from the band’s 1980 debut album In the Flat Field. Most people in the audience is immediately drawn into the the atmosphere of what is by many considered the first goth records recorded. Adding the drums, functioning as both rhythm section as well as a backing melody, transcends the whole room within seconds, even before Murphy opens his mouth.

peter murphy bauhaus

While 61 year old Peter Murphy’s voice may have turned darker during the years he still masters his unique and dramatic vocal that has been his trademark in four decades, always combined with a theatrical mime show, highly influenced by a young David Bowie’s and early European dada avantgarde.
Thwaite’s guitar playing was an impressive imitation of Daniel Ash’ original work, yet still leaving room for his personal interpretations. And in combination with Peter Murphy’s beard and sufi dance, inspired by his years spend in Turkey, made most of the songs seem fresh and relevant.
As the concert developed, Peter Murphy was less tight in his performance and showed a bit more of a traditional rock’n’roll attitude, reaching out to the audience and even during “Nerves” promoting the audience to do hand claps.
This made the second half of the show loose a bit of momentum while at the same time the band also suffered a bit from a few sound issues.
As the band played their big hit “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” Murphy posed as Count Dracula on stage but even though the audience applauded it was perhaps the weakest part of the show. Fortunately the band managed to get back on track, playing “Kick in the Eye”, “Passion of Lovers”, “Dark Entries” and other classic songs a lot more convincing and after several extra songs ending the whole show with a perfect praise to David Bowie with another hit from the Bauhaus catalogue: “Ziggy Stardust”.

Photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)

LIVE REVIEW: Vashti Bunyan, Nørrebro Teater, 06.12.2018

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vashti bunyan live at nørrebro teatre copenhagen

In a genre of soothing singer-songwriters, folk legend Vashti Bunyan is particularly soothing. But if an evening at home with her records is a gentle way to ease your mind, then seeing her play live fills you with warmth and comfort in a way paralleled only by receiving a letter (yes letter, not email) from a friend when you need it most.

Part of this is down to the fact that, aside from being stripped back to just herself and her long time backing guitarist/vocalist Gareth Dickson, her performance is very faithful to her recordings. That unique timbre that makes her voice sound like falling through a cloud carries us through the evening. It’s familiar and consistent and still so unlike any of her contemporaries or imitators.

But part of what makes the evening so relaxing is that Bunyan is as much a storyteller between songs as she is in her lyrics. There are anecdotes to accompany each song, whether it’s a tale from the 60s or reflections that inspired her more recent work, all filled with laughter. Some of these stories bring unique insight to her music; it’s hard not to hear the Beach Boys reference in “I’d Like to Take a Walk Through Your Mind” after learning that she wrote it when Andrew Loog Oldham told her to write a song combining Tim Hardin, the Mamas and the Papas, and Pet Sounds. And there’s also triumph of the spirit as Bunyan recounts her long road to recognition.

“Nobody took much notice at the time. I was told my songs were quite uncommercial,” she says. “And in the last few years, [‘Train Song’ has] been used in commercials.”

It’s quite special that Bunyan is willing to play the old songs, willing to tell the stories behind them, but also willing to look at what she dreamed about in her 20s with clear-eyed experience of someone in her 70s. Bunyan is kind to her younger self and gives us all an opportunity to be kind to the idealistic versions of ourselves that we might keep out of sight. It’s this generosity that has the crowd on their feet cheering at the end of her set, and that we can use to counter a harsher reality.

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